Monday, September 22, 2008


The past two weeks have been fairly busy. In two weeks I’ll be leaving for a short visit to Iowa, especially to St. Thomas Aquinas, the parish which has been providing support for this ministry in Honduras. But there’s still a lot to do in the next two weeks.

The comedor de niños – the lunch program for poor kids is up and running. On September 10, the day of the Child here in Honduras, we had a special inauguration. I led the opening prayer., the bishop spoke, and there was a hearty snack for all who were there, including the 20 or so children present. Since then there have been between 15 and 22 kids each day. There are more needy kids but many are in school in the morning or living fairly far away. However, school ends in early November and I expect that more kids will be coming during the three months of vacation.

The Catholic University began classes September 17 for the last trimester of this year. The weekend before I was invited to a retreat for the Administrative staff, led by Father Roel Mejía who teaches at the university, provides counseling for students and others, directs the radio station, and also serves with his brother in a parish in Santa Rosa. it was a good time to get away, to have some special time for prayer, and to spend time with some of the administrative staff.

This trimester there are about 75 new students. Last Friday and Saturday was the first of the two new student retreats; the second will be this week. (The retreats are mandatory.) I’m helping out with both retreats, giving a talk and getting to meet some of the new students. The new coordinator fro campus ministry at the university has reorganized the retreat a bit and initiated other activities in campus ministry which will help improve the ministry – hopefully reaching out to more students. We’ll see where this leads.

My talk for the retreat is entitled “God’s Love.” I emphasizing the unconditional nature of God’s love, using the parable of the Prodigal Son. There are serious issues of low self-esteem here, on the one-hand, as well as pressures on the students to prove themselves. And so I start presentation with the question, “What is your worst fear?” (Hint: not being loved or lovable?)

The university started classes on Tuesday because Monday, September 15, is Central American Independence Day. There were events leading up to Monday – lots of parades of school kids. But the big event here was the parade of September 15 parade with the high schools and their bands. At the end of the parade more than 70 people marched behind the banner for the newly-formed Moviemiento Amplio por la Dignidad y la Justicia – the Broad-Based Movement for Dignity and Justice. The movement calls for justice, an end to corruption, and much more. As their presentation at the march’s end in the city’s central plaza, a small group did a poignant skit, parodying the corruption in the major political parties and other signs of corruption and injustice.

I think their present was important, especially in light of a strange event of the previous week. In the 1980s there were several death squads and para-military groups, often linked to the Honduran military, who intimidated, killed or disappeared hundreds of political opponents.. Last week a list of 130 people was found in the possession of two military officers in Tegucigalpa. One of the women on the list had recently been killed and her name was crossed out followed with the word “dead.” Whether this is a list of a paramilitary group or not, it’s another attempt to intimidate people who have raised questions about government and private sector policies. The list included, beside political and other leaders, the bishop of Santa Rosa, Monseñor Luís Alfonso Santos, who has spoken strongly against corruption and mining interests; Father José Andrés Tamayo in Olancho who has forcibly opposed illegal mining; and Father Ismael Moreno, a Jesuit from El Progresso who is active in the Movement mentioned above and edits a highly critical monthly alternative newspaper.

This past week was the week for those deprived of liberty. I as asked to speak to the women in the local jail about Mary and women in Honduras. I started noting how inadequate I was for this topic – I’m neither a Honduran or a woman. And so I asked them to tell me about the situation of women here. They talked about who women are marginalized, how they suffer, how they encounter machismo and lower salaries than men. But one woman strongly affirmed that women here are valiosa - valuable, in terms of all they do. I had planned to speak of Mary as valiente – courageous and noted that at the crucifixion the men had fled away, except for the beloved disciple, and that is was the women who were there. Mary had suffered many things and therefore we can see her as one who is present for and with all who suffer – an example of God’s merciful love in the face of fear, terror, and violence.

On Friday, I saw another example of compassion. For about a year I have been a member of a nearby base community. However, some neighbor are trying to start one in our immediate neighborhood. What impressed me about these folks is their sense of mission. They’ve gone and visited almost all the Catholics in the neighborhood. At last Wednesday night’s meeting, while reflecting on the scriptures of the day, we talked about the needs of the poor. Not intent on just talking, on Friday two couples and I went to visit a family that one couple had helped before. – a family with three kids, raised by their grandmother. the idea was to invite them to the comedor de niños. We went and found the youngest, a six year old with a cough, huddling in the cold by a small fire. The house was a tiny shack – not poverty, but misery! We talked a bit and then Francisco went and got some bread and fruit drinks to leave. The grandmother and a little girl arrived and we talked. Two of the kids go to school in the morning but the oldest goes in the afternoon and so can come to the comedor.

While I spoke to the grandmother about the comedor, the women talked about inviting the six year to come in the afternoons to play with their sons who are about the same age. I was moved by their willingness not just to help this family but to welcome the little boy to come into their homes. That evening at I laid in bed, I was really overwhelmed by the love these couples had shown.

Grace abounds!


These days people are harvesting elotes – the early harvest of corn that is eaten in tamales, in other food and drinks, as well as just like corn on the cob. It is not sweet, like sweet corn in Iowa or New Jersey, but it’s a great treat.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

September 11 and the Gospel

The Gospel from the lectionary today – Luke 6: 27 – 38, is very appropriate for the anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Love your enemies; do good to those who hate you….Do to others as you would have others do to you.
Would that the US government had paid heed to these words in 2001, when people throughout the world felt a great sympathy with the US. What power that solidarity in suffering could have brought to the world.

But the US government began one war, against Afghanistan, and then initiated another one a few years later against Iraq. Today I even hear threats of a war against Iran. More violence, more deaths, greater insecurity. More terrorism, not just from fanatics but the terror of war and torture which the US and some other governments have engaged in.

And then there is the “terror,” the “violence” of poverty. While trillions are wasted on weapons and war, so many suffer and die from hunger. Here in Honduras, in a nation of 7 million, 300,000 children suffer from malnutrition.

This morning, I heard a priest at the Mass broadcasted by the diocesan radio station speaking about President Bush as a terrorist and about the political and economic terrorism that Latin America has suffered from US policies. The language was strong, some would say harsh – though combined with a deep sympathy for the victims of the attacks. The Mass was offered for all of them.

The priest did not mention that September 11 is also the anniversary of the overthrow of Salvador Allende, the elected president of Chile, in 1973, with the assistance of some US companies and , very possibly, the CIA. That coup left in its wake thousands killed, tortured, and exiled.

The priest did not mention the charges of torture and maltreatment of prisoners of the “war against terror” held by the US. Just yesterday I learned that Joshua Casteel has recently published Letters from Abu Ghraib, a collection of the e-mails he sent while an interrogator in Iraq., I heard him speak in January 2006 at the Iowa Social Action conference. about his experience there and the struggles that led him to leave the army as a conscientious objector. I hope to find and read his book when I visit Iowa next month.

For me, the response to terrorism has to be love, solidarity, and strong nonviolent resistance to injustice and tyranny of all sorts.

It’s a challenge – but what I think we lack most is imagination.

Walter Wink’s commentary on the passage about turning the other cheek in Matthew’s Gospel has intrigued me. His little book, Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way (Fortress Press, 2003), is a great summary of his exegesis.

Turning the other cheek is not giving in to violence. It is a type of moral jujitsu – a type of creative resistance; It says that you cannot treat me like a think you just bat around; I am a person. Know that if you hit me, you are hitting a real human being, like yourself.

Of course, this won’t always work. Nor does violence. But there are many personal and historical instances when creative nonviolent resistance has worked.

Even so, I think this is more like what Jesus calls us to do. For “the measure with which you measure will in turn be measured out to you.” (Luke 6: 38)


On another theme:

Yesterday we had the formal inauguration of the lunch program for poor kids - the Comedor de Niños. The bishop, Monseñor Luís Alfonso Santos, blessed the comedor after a few speeches. I gave the invocation, in which I reminded the people that the site had been the chapel of the diocesan office, where people had been fed on Jesus, the Bread of Life, and now we are planning to feed chidlren with their "daily bread." That's worth an extended meditation on the significance of the Eucharist for hunger.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Confirmations and comedor

Monday, September 8, the Nativity of Mary, was the feast of the parish of Dulce Nombre de María – the Sweet Name of Mary – where I’ve been helping.

This year Bishop Santos came to confirm 100 or so in Dulce Nombre in the morning another 50 in the village of El Zapote in the afternoon. I had led the retreat in Zapote and helped with the retreat in Dulce Nombre. About 100 confirmation candidates and their sponsors arrived fro the retreat – more than we had expected. During the retreat Padre Efraín heard the confessions of all the candidates and many of their sponsors.

I was unable to get to the confirmations in Dulce Nombre on Monday, since we were opening the comedor – the lunch program for poor children – on the same day. The comedor has been a dream of Bishop Santos and a group started working on it last September. Finally we are beginning this work of mercy.

The comedor has spurred some local support. A teacher at the Catholic University, Kevin Cruz, had his class bring some basic food stuff; and so we have more than 100 pounds of rice, beans, and sugar, more than 60 pounds of pasta, and much more which will cut down the costs for the first month or so. In addition, he arranged that a university conference of the Marketing Department made a generous financial contribution. A class from the Santa Rosa Catholic High School also made a contribution. There is hope that more will support. My hope is that a fair number of people will begin to come and help us each day.

Monday, despite having enrolled about 30 children, only 14 arrived, and some of the parents of those who came were concerned about the distance they had to walk to get there. We will be re-evaluating how to respond to the nutrition needs of these and other children here in Santa Rosa.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008


I have been following the presidential race in the US a bit, reading articles in The New York Times and other sources. But Honduras is also in the midst of electoral campaigns.

In November of 2009, Honduras will have elections for the presidency, for congress, and for mayors throughout the nation. But this November there will be the elections within the parties – a bit like US primaries.

But elections here are another matter altogether.

People complain that the politicians arrive just before the elections with promises but never fulfill them when they’re elected. They also note that there are often a lot of projects begun in the year or so before the elections – to sort of show that the politicians can do something. This arouses a lot of cynicism.

During a visit to a rural village last weekend that doesn’t have electricity, a delegate of the Word told how a group supporting one of the presidential candidates arrived and promised to get their village electricity if they supported the candidate and his slate of candidates. A few thousand lempira would arrive soon but the rest would come after the candidate is elected. Isn’t this a form of corruption and bribery?

But it sometimes gets nastier than this.

Recently a presidential candidate for the withdrew, saying that he and his family had received death threats, presumably for his opposition to corruption.

People thus feel somewhat powerless in the face of this type of politics. I have found both cynicism and fatalism in many people.

In the face of this, many church people here castigate both of the major political parties for corruption, for inefficiency, and worse. They really hope for a different type of politics.