Friday, June 27, 2008

Honduras and Pope Benedict XVI

This week the Honduran bishops are meeting with the Pope for their ad limina visits to Rome which the bishops are required to make every five years. When the pope meets with the bishops he usually offers them a special message, related to the situation of their country or region. The pope’s message to the Honduran bishops when he met with them on Thursday, June 26, was very pointed.

The pope noted the deep piety found in the Honduran people, something I have noted, especially in their devotion to the Eucharist and to Mary.
The Honduran people are characterized by a deep religious spirit which can be seen, among other ways, in the many deeply rooted practices of popular devotion, which, carefully purified of elements foreign to the faith, ought to be a valid instrument to announce the Gospel.
There are thousands of catechists and, according to Cardinal Rodriguez, there are more than 30,000 delegates of the word who lead Sunday celebrations in their widely scattered villages. Pope Benedict referred to this crucial role of the laity in a country with all too few priests.
I want to emphasize the significant role that Honduran Catholic laypeople are assuming in parishes as catechists and Delegates of the Word. An important aspect of pastoral ministry consists in working ceaselessly so that the faithful will be increasingly aware of the fact that, in virtue of baptism and confirmation, they are called to live the fullness of charity by participating in the saving mission of the Church. They, through the testimony of their Christian life, can take the light of Christ’s message to all the sectors of society, attracting to the church community those whose faith has grown weak or who are alienated from the church.
To deepen these commitments, the pope advised the bishops that
the lay faithful need to intensify their relationship with God and acquire a solid formation, especially in regard to the social doctrine of the Church. Thus, as leaven in the dough, they will be able to fulfill their mission to transform society according to the will of God.
The pope also noted some of the problems of Honduras and the need to respond in love, in acts of charity.
Just like the proclamation of the Word [of God] and the celebration of the sacraments, the service of charity forms an essential part of the Church’s mission…. I know well how you are troubled by the poverty in which so many of your people live, together with the increase of violence, immigration, the destruction of the environment, corruption, or deficiencies in education, among other serious problems. As ministers of the Good Shepherd you have undertaken, in word and deed, an intense effort to aid those in need. I strongly urge you to continue showing in your ministry the merciful face of God, developing in all your diocesan communities and parishes an extensive and broad service of charity, which will in a special way reach the sick, the elderly, and the imprisoned.
As I read the pope’s address, I felt affirmed again in my call to be here. Amidst all the difficulties and setbacks, despite the frustrations, I still feel that this is where I have been called to be – to help in the formation of people to live their faith and to assist in projects to assist those most in need.

I see the poverty and need when I work in the rural parish of Dulce Nombre and have time to visit and talk with the people in rural villages or help with the formation of catechists and other church workers or talk with Padre Efraín about the needs of the people for enough food to nourish themselves and their families.

I see the way the students at the Catholic University of Honduras are besieged by the same secularism and consumerism as students in US universities.

I see the poverty of the children in Santa Rosa as I help in a kindergarten or visit the home for malnourished kids run by the Missionaries of Charity. I see it in the kids I see throughout Santa Rosa, selling fruit on the streets or helping their families in construction and other jobs. My heart is touched and I look forward to working soon with a comedor infantil, a lunch program for kids.

And so I am here, blessed by God for the opportunity to be here.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

One year later

Last Friday marked the first anniversary of my arrival in Honduras. I spent part of Thursday and Friday reviewing the year and trying to set priorities for the coming year. Planning is a very North American type of thing, since here plans get easily changed.

One of the greatest challenges of the past year was coming to grips with the fact that there is so much here not in my hands. I have had to start over in some sense in the way I think and act. It’s been a lesson in handing things over to the Providence of God. That doesn’t mean passivity but it does mean not investing my sense of whom I am in what I do or what I accomplish. It means seeking more the will of God and trying to see how I can work for the Kingdom of God in an alien culture which is best by much injustice and a lot of passivity, but where there are many people who really seek God’s will.

This is hard to see sometimes in my efforts to aid campus ministry at the local campus of the Catholic University of Honduras. In fact, this has been the most difficult – and frustrating part of my time here. Campus ministry was in a very disorganized state at the university when I came. I really have not been able to do something myself, since I often find myself up against very confusing situations and I have no real authority in the university (even though the bishop asked me to be there); yet I believe that my presence may have motivated some people to work to improve campus ministry. Last week I found out that the campus had finally hired a part-time person to coordinate campus ministry. I sat down with him and offered him my help. I believe there are some real possibilities for the future.

But when I go to the countryside, all this fades into the background. First of all, Padre Efraín Romero, the pastor of the parish of Dulce Nombre de María has welcomed me and treats me as a colleague. I have made overnight visits to villages, helped with Lenten retreats for parish leaders, taught a session in the training of catechists, worked with him to develop some projects, and much more.

This past weekend I was in the village of Plan Grande from Saturday afternoon to Monday morning. I was greeted with open arms and hearts. It helped that this was the village where the spring break group from St. Thomas came and helped with the foundations for the new church they are building. The people were most gracious and grateful for a visit from this “foreign missionary.” But, as I tried to emphasize in my Sunday preaching at the Celebration of the Word, we are all called to be missionaries, to be witnesses to the presence of the kingdom of God.

It was a beautiful experience and I was warmly welcomed. This morning, as I walked to the place where I got the bus to come back to Santa Rosa, three girls came running after me to hug me. they wanted to say good-bye. I was really touched by this and other signs of love and welcome I received in Plan Grande. This helps me get through the times of discouragement and frustration, for this is one way God is shedding his love on me and reminding me of his providential care for me.

What can I say?

Gracias. Thanks.

Or, more specifically, ¡Gracias a Dios! Thank you, God.


A note on Iowa.

News of the floods and tornadoes has reached Honduras. La Prensa, a national newspaper out of San Pedro Sula, Honduras, had a full page article on Saturday, three pages on Sunday, and one page on Monday, complete with photos. In Plan Grande, I asked the people at the Sunday morning celebration of the Word to pray for Iowa and I also asked the kids at the Sunday afternoon assembly.

Monday, June 09, 2008


I am often touched and challenged by the homilies that Padre Fausto Milla gives at the Sunday Mass at the church of San Martín in my neighborhood in Santa Rosa. Many priests here are fairly political in their preaching; some are pedantic; and almost all speak at length. It is not unusual to have a homily last thirty to sixty minutes!

Padre Fausto usually preaches on Sundays for 30 to 50 minutes, but is never pedantic. He almost always combines a deep spirituality, a deep piety, with poignant political analysis. This week was no exception.

Preaching on the call of Matthew (Matthew 9: 9-13), he spoke of God’s love, God’s forgiveness, God’s reaching out to all of us – sinners, failing in love. As he spoke he walked down the aisle and occasionally would hug someone or touch them on the shoulder. He contrasted God's forgiveness to the Pharisees who condemned Jesus for eating with publicans and sinners. The Pharisees were right, he noted, for critiquing tax collected who collaborated with the Roman empire. But some of them didn’t recognize their own weaknesses and sins and so Jesus was very forthright in calling them “broods of vipers” and “whitened sepulchers.”

At this point he paused to reflect critically on the visit to Honduras this past week of John Negroponte, Deputy Secretary of State in the US State Department. Recalling that Negroponte means “Black Bridge,” Padre Fausto recalled that Negroponte had been US ambassador to Honduras in the 1980s (1981-1985). During Negroponte’s time as ambassador, the US supported Honduras as it formed oppressive military groups that assassinated, tortured, and disappeared Hondurans. Padre Fausto recalled that he himself had been abducted by the military during this time but had been released. He also mentioned that after the Salvadoran and Honduran forces had killed scores of Salvadoran refugees trying to flee into Honduras near La Virtud, Honduras, he and some US journalists went to the site the day after the massacre. Negroponte’s helicopter had also arrived there. Yet Negroponte did not speak out forthrightly about these and other human rights abuses. In fact, during this time the US covertly supported the Nicaraguan contras (with bases in Honduras) and openly supported the Salvadoran government – both of which brutally killed civilians. And now Negroponte was again in Honduras – for what reason Padre Fausto didn’t know.

Later in his homily he spoke of the importance of recognizing one’s sinfulness – something that some Pharisees failed to do. He then told the story of a married couple in a parish where he once served. They never missed Sunday Mass. But the young man came to him and told him that while away for a long trip he had sinned and now a young woman was pregnant. What should he do? He didn’t want to leave the woman and child abandoned. He decided that he and his wife should take in the child – which his wife agreed to. But what should he say when people asked him about this baby who suddenly appeared in his home? With Padre Fausto’s advice, he decided to confess openly – at Sunday Mass – what he had done. And so he sought forgiveness and reconciliation within the Christian community.

Padre Fausto said many other things but there was one insight that was central to the rest of his homily. At Mass the prayers are in the plural – we pray, we ask forgiveness, we praise God. We pray “Our Father.” It is not about me – but about the community. It’s not about my will, my daily bread: "Give us this day our daily bread." And so, as he remarked to a few of us after Mass, this is revolutionary – promoting the community and meeting the needs of others and not the individualism which capitalism foments.

Again, Padre Fausto gave me something more to think and prayer about.

Saturday, June 07, 2008


It’s been almost a year since I arrived here in Honduras. My ministry seeks developing in new ways.

I continue helping with campus ministry at the Catholic university, which is not easy since it is somewhat disorganized. But I continue to give talks in the retreats for students, I try to be present at meetings of students, and I am on campus about two days a week to be meet informally with students.

Ministry in the parish of Dulce Nombre continues to offer many opportunities. I had planned to drop by this past week for a workshop on building silos but the workshop was postponed. Only two people showed up on Monday; this is really quite understandable since most farmers have just begun planting. I didn’t go out this weekend since Friday and Saturday I participated in the university’s retreat for student who will graduate. Next weekend I hope to spend two days in Plan Grande, the village where the St. Thomas spring break group helped work on the community's new church.

The last three weeks have also been busy with a new adventure. An Iowa State University student had asked about the possibility of spending two months here this summer, just after graduating. Bree Sullivan arrived May 20. She’s staying with the Spanish Franciscan sisters up the street, helping the girls who stay with them with English and math, and helping with the kindergarten in Colonia Divina Providencia. This past Monday, Darcy Phillips, a graduate student at Loyola University of Chicago arrived for a two month internship for her degree in Theology and Social Justice. She may be working with the Women’s Center in Santa Rosa.

Before I came I had thought of the possibility of trying to offer some opportunities for students and others who might want to come down for two or three months between May and August. This year will be the experiment to see how it works and how it might develop.

I see this and hospitality for visitors as important parts of my ministry, helping bridge the gap between the US and Honduras, helping people from the US understand something of the nature and causes of poverty, and offering chances for people to share their lives and their talents. If all goes well, I will see how to develop this and other efforts to promote solidarity.

But I keep getting reminded that the world is small. When I went to San Pedro Sula to pick up Darcy at the airport I found a different hotel, based on internet suggestions. While signing in the manager asked where I was from; he had studied for two years at Iowa State University. I didn’t think more of it until I went up and left some stuff in my room. I wondered if he was one of the Honduran school teachers who studied in Ames for two years in the mid-eighties. When I returned to the front desk we both had realized that we knew each other. In fact, I had the Hondurans over for a meal at least once. He may try to contact another of the former students to get together some time!

But this wasn’t my first chance meeting with a former ISU student. When I left the spring break group off at the airport I saw someone who looked familiar and called out his name. Sure enough, it was Hector who had studied in Ames and then got an MBA at the University of New Hampshire. We spoke, shared phone numbers and e-mails, and have been in contact at least once.

Yes, the world is small. But how can we make it just, sharing with those in need?