Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Comedor de niños

Within two weeks a lunch program for poor kids will begin in the diocesan building in Santa Rosa de Copán. We first started talking about it a year ago and it is finally coming to fruition.

We hope to serve between 30 and 50 poor kinds between 4 and 11 years old a substantial lunch five days a week.

Monday a group of the people organizing this went to visit some neighborhoods here in Santa Rosa de Copán where there are poor kids.

The first places we went were near the town dump. As we passed the dump we could see vultures and about twenty people (many kids) scavenging in the trash and rubbish. Some were seeking the plastic bottles so they can get about 5 cents per pound. I saw a kid with something that looked like a toy that he had found. The images still haunt me.

We talked to a women who lives about 100 yards from the dump and enrolled two of her kids and a grandchild in the lunch program. We then went below the dump and met with a few families to enroll more kids.

Then we went to the Colonia Divina Providencia, near the kindergarten where I help out. We met with families who live in shacks right next to the stream that carries some of the rain and sewer water of the city. Later we dropped by another house nearby, where I know the one kid who goes to the kindergarten. The mother was not there but we talked with the oldest daughter. While talking with her, I noted a huge rat just few yards away.

That night while I sat in the base community meeting, I could not get these images out of my mind.

There types of experiences help to put things in perspective.

Monday, August 25, 2008

A busy weekend in Dulce Nombre

All day Friday and Saturday morning the parish had a training session for 50 of the newer catechists. I did a workshop on Baptism on Saturday morning but spent much of Friday with them, getting to know them and encouraging them in their ministry.

They are a very interesting mix of people – mostly from small villages, mostly with less than six years of education, and from 15 to 60 or more years old. Some are new to teaching religious education, but some did it in the past and have decided to take up teaching again.

Most of the men are farmers – even the younger men work with their fathers or rent some land to farm on their own. The women mostly work in the house in the never ending labor of making tortillas and meals, washing clothes and cleaning the house. This is a society with pretty strong gender roles, though I have seen men helping around the house in varied ways.

Both men and women serve as catechists; many of the men also lead the Sunday celebrations of the Word in their villages. (There are a few women who lead these celebrations, but, up to this point, most of the celebrators are men.)

On Saturday morning another group arrived for a session of the year long workshop on medicinal plants and preventive medicine. This is being taught by people from an organization founded by Padre Fausto Milla to promote natural medicine and healthy eating habits – including a strong message against coke and chips (which abound here).

About noon, we had Mass for both groups. But it was not your normal Mass since there was a wedding in the midst of the Mass. Interestingly the bride had been a catechist.

Padre Efraín, the pastor, also met with some of those trained to make silos. To provide follow up and to promote the project he is proposing that those who are trained make silos for themselves and pay only 60% of the cost of the materials. This will be possible because of the funds that the students in the Vacation Bible School at St. Thomas Aquinas in Ames raised.

Padre Efraín also has the hopes to establish a project to promote small family vegetable gardens to enrich the diet of the people who mostly eat beans and tortillas, with some rice, eggs, potatoes and carrots. He also will encourage them to plant fruit trees around their houses. His long term dream is to have a two person team hired by the parish to promote family gardens and other agricultural projects.

The parish of Dulce Nombre de María celebrates its feast day on September 8, the birthday of Mary. The bishop will come and celebrate confirmation in two places in the parish. To prepare for this there will be two retreats for those to be confirmed. The first one is in the distant village of El Zapote de Santa Rosa. Padre Efraín asked me to lead the retreat. He’ll be there to hear confessions and to celebrate Mass, but I’ll have to give a few talks, lead a few discussions, and get the music groups to lead us in some singing. You can guess what I’ll be up to this week. There will be another retreat in the town of Dulce Nombre on Saturday, September 6, but others will help me with this.

Fortunately the Catholic University is not in session during this time, but I will also be busy preparing for the opening of the comedor de niños, the lunch program for kids, which we hope to open in the first weeks of September.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


Each month Padre Efraín Romero, the pastor of the parish of Dulce Nombre de María, sends out a letter to all the communities in the parish. The members of the parish council distribute it to all the villages in the hopes that it will be read to all the parishioners.

The letter often covers a wide range of topics and sometimes announces meetings or training session or other opportunities.

This month, the month of the family here in Honduras, he reminded parents of their responsibilities – to provide food for the children, to make sure the kids go to school, to teach the Catholic faith to their children, to make sure the children receive the sacraments and go to religious education.

But he also raised other issues.

Honduras is now in the midst of the election season, with the parties choosing their candidates. But here there are some interesting twists. A few weeks ago the vice-president (who happens to be running for the presidency) revealed that the president called in some members of his party and distributed 1 million lempira (about $190,000) to each of them for projects in their areas. Here many complain that money comes to their communities for projects every four years, just before the elections. It’s just another form of corruption, trying to influence the voting.

In the face of this, Padre Efraín wrote: “Don’t sell your conscience. You’re worth more than a sheet of tin roofing. You ought to know that the tin or the cement is yours, because the money they gave you is yours and what they did was give you something that’s yours?... Wake up; reclaim your rights; don’t let yourself be deceived… I want to tell you very clearly that the evil of our country is bad public administration…”

He went on to describe the social reality of the parish: “Housing for many is very poor; many do not have land to work on; the level of education is very low since many don’t know how to read or write; some roads are in good shape, but others aren’t; health centers don’t have medicine; the young leave us because there are no spaces to develop their dreams and make them real.”

There’s a lot more that he wrote. The parish has formed a small group that will be visiting the mayors of the five municipalities in the parish asking them to be transparent in the use of funds. The parish itself gives the parish council members a monthly report of the income and expenses of the parish, an example of transparency.

And the pastoral work continues. This week he and I will meet together to talk about a few proposals. He has an ambitious proposal to train the catechists and pastoral workers in the parish. He wants to provide follow up in the training program for making silos as well as develop a program to promote family vegetable gardens. He is planning two educational sessions on Saint Paul in this year that is honoring the birth of St. Paul the Apostle.

The needs are great and, though the material resources of the parish are few, there are many people who devote their time in parish projects. And so the work continues – with a little, a lot is being done.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Multiplying loaves – the abundance of God

This last Sunday’s Gospel, found in all four Gospels, is one of my favorites – the multiplication of the loaves and fishes.

I try to spend a few weekends each month in a rural village in the parish of Dulce Nombre de María. This past weekend I visited Pascuingal, being hosted by Ovidio, a member of the villages’ pastoral team.

In most of the villages they have me speak to the children. When it is the first time I visit a village I use the version of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes in John’s Gospel (John 6: 1-13), since it’s a small boy who offers the five loaves and two fish that eventually feed the multitudes. I want to children to realize that they have an important part to play in the church and the world, even if they are just kids.

This past weekend, since the Gospel was Matthew’s version of the story (Matthew 13: 13-21), I got to preach on it at the Sunday morning Celebration of the Word. The first reading is Isaiah 55 – another offer of free food and drink! What a great set of readings.

I started by asking the people if they were hungry. One woman said, "Yes, we’re hungry for the word of God." But I pushed the question and someone mentioned that during these months some are hungry since they don’t have a lot of corn and beans and the harvest isn’t until September for beans and October or November for corn. And so some don’t have enough to eat.

Reflecting on the Gospel I noted that the apostles wanted to send the people away to buy food in nearby villages. When Ovidio and I went over the Gospel early Sunday morning he noted that they were looking at the solution that money seems to offer. Money solves everything, many in the US (and here) think. But one of the commentaries I had read suggested that “the problem is not so much the lack of food as the lack of solidarity.” Or, as Gandhi said, “There is enough for what each one needs, but not enough for each one’s greed.” When I quoted Gandhi at the Celebration of the Word I could see the heads nod in agreement. I read Monday morning that Latin America produces enough food to feed 30% more than its current population. It is not so much a question of production as of distribution.

The reading from Isaiah is really inspiring – eat and drink, without paying a cent. God wants all the people to have enough to eat and when all have enough that is a sign of God’s Kingdom.

And I have seen signs of the Kingdom of God when I visit the rural villages. I always receive a warm welcome; I am offered more food than I could ever eat. In Pascuingal they were delighted to have me taste malanga and macus (chufle), two local vegetables. (Malanga is a root that tastes a little like potato but grainier.) I also left Monday morning with eight majonchos (a type of plantain), a guanaba, two lemons, a guayaba, and a pataste (guiscuil). They wanted me to take even more – including some passionfruit - but I had no room to carry all that. Out of their poverty they offer me abundance!

This hospitality is for me a sign of God’s Kingdom and I spoke about it with the people at the celebration. What I also noticed while preparing to preach was that the words used in Gospel at the multiplication of the loaves and fishes mirror the words used at the Last Supper. As Jesus shares his body and blood with us in the Eucharist so he shared the bread with the multitude and we are called to share with others. Our work to feed the hungry is an extension of the Eucharist!

One of the main joys of visits to the countryside is the chance to visit with people. Saturday Ovidio took me to see his parents who live about twenty minutes away. After greeting his mother, we went out into the woods where we met his eighty year old father Salatiel (cf. Matthew 1: 12), carrying an armful of tall grass to feed his cattle and oxen. he dropped the grass and with both arms extended walked toward me with a huge smile and hugged me. We introduced ourselves, he proudly proclaiming that he came from the department of Lempira and was a son of Lempira (the Indian cacique who fought the Spaniards) but that he had lived in the Dulce Nombre area for decades (probably more than fifty years). I mentioned that I came from Iowa but had been born in Pennsylvania. He immediately asked me if Harrisburg was the capital of Pennsylvania. He is still strong in mind and body.

The next day I went back to his parent’s where we went to the plot of his father’s land that Ovidio is planting with corn (5 manzanas) and bean (a quarter of a manzana). A manzana is roughly 1.7 acres.

We showed me his fields and we fixed part of the barbed wire fence and fed his horses. And we talked about the difficulties of the poor agricultural workers here. Most of the land is owned by a few landowners who often use much of it for coffee or pasture for cattle. And so most of the small farmers have to rent the land – if there is land available. They often rent for a price and then have to give the landowner a percentage of their crop. But one of the biggest problems is the lack of capital. The farmers often don’t have enough money to buy the fertilizer and pesticides needed. (They use about 4 sacks of fertilizer for every manzana – at about $27 a sack.) So the middle men come in and offer them what they need but they have to pay with part of their harvest. They might offer them 400 – 500 lempiras (about $10 - $14) for every carga (200 pounds of corn). Yet when they have to come later in the season to buy corn to eat from the same middle men the people might pay 365 lempiras (about $9) for one hundred pounds of corn.

The silo project that the Dulce Nombre parish is proposing is important but there still remains the problem of the small farmer’s lack of capital as well as the problem of the price of renting land.

As I write this I am again reminded of Sunday’s readings. Our God is a God who wants all to eat. What do we need to do so that all might eat?