Thursday, October 30, 2008

RAIN, RAIN . . . and chill

Today it’s been drizzling and about 59°. It’s been cold and rainy since I got back home in Honduras on Friday night, October 24. In some parts of the country it has been raining more than fifteen days straight.

As a result there have been landslides, flooding, and more. There are more than 33 dead and tens of thousands homeless due to the rains.

Just south of Santa Rosa de Copán there was a great landslide in a village named Suptal, in the municipality of Corquín. About 80 manzanas (138 acres) of land slid down the mountainside and formed a dike in the stream which filled up as a lake behind it. Fortunately, the water flowed out in an orderly manner. If it had broken it could have devastated some towns and villages downstream.

Sunday, in Dulce Nombre, I met the director of a high school in Corquín who had gone to Suptal the day before. He showed Padre Efraín Romero, the pastor, and me the photos he’d taken there. In one there was a house that looked in fairly decent shape. But it had originally been about 30 meters (about 48 feet) higher up the mountain.

People have also been evacuated from a number of towns and villages, especially in Belén Gualcho where there have been earth movements and tremors, because the earth is so saturated by water.

The bishop told me that there are more than 490 people in this area who have had to leave their homes. (I have heard higher figures.) The people are living in shelters, but many have lost almost everything and have to depend on donations. What is a blessing is that many people have provided help. But it has been quite cool here – low sixties and below – but it is a piercing cold due to the rain and the humidity. Some people even are living in higher altitudes where it is even colder.

This doesn’t take into account the long terms effects. People need to rebuild their homes. Also, many people have lost some of their crops, washed away. A friend who works in Belen Gualcho told me that one small farmer told him that only about 40% of his crop remains. The bean crop was already being affected in September by the rains. In addition, a friend told me that some lending agencies are not providing people with loans for next year’s planting.

What this means is that there will be more hunger, more suffering, more need.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


I am still in Ames, Iowa, but I am very anxious to get back to Honduras after a little more than two weeks away.

Sister Nancy Meyerhofer alerted me from Gracias, Lempira, Honduras, that there has been massive devastation due to several days of intense rains.

I checked in the Honduran press on line and found out that there have been more than 20 deaths and more than 22,000 persons forced to flee their homes due to the flooding and landslides and threats of landslides.

Several areas in the diocese have been severely affected. Belén Gualcho, where a friend works, has been devastated with more than 59 houses destroyed. Some people from the municipality of Vera Cruz (in the parish of Ducle Nombre where I work) have had to move because of the danger of landslides.

What makes this difficult for many is that it has been ten years since Hurricane Mitch devastated Honduras.

I am, thus, really anxious to get there to see what I can do. In the meantime, prayers and solidarity are needed.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Soeur Emanuelle

I just read that Soeur Emanuelle, a French nun who worked in the slums of Cairo, Egypt, died today. Many years ago I read a book of hers. This is a quote I wrote down at that time:
...the root of the problem must lie in the fact that, above all else, people need to be loved — to be loved for what they are, beautiful or ugly, rich or poor, good or bad, dishonest or otherwise. Love them, I can, and when it comes down to it, that’s what they expect of me.
Sister Emmanuelle, To Share with God’s Poor, p.11

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Back in the USA

I'm back in Ames, Iowa, for a few weeks to connect with St. Thomas Aquinas Church and Catholic Student Center where I worked fro 24 years and which is supporting me and providing a means for others to support me and the other ministries in the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán, Honduras.

It is good to be back, to see old friends, to relax a little. But it has been really a blessing to spend some time with the children in St. Thomas Aquinas' Religious Education program. They have provided a lot of support. The Vacation Bible School had Honduras as a sub-theme and raised more than $1000 for the silo project in the parish of Dulce
Nombre de María. See their photos at

The children in Vacation Bible School had sent a number of drawings and messages to the children of the Dulce
Nombre parish which I passed out to the catechists. The children in one village, Plan Grande, sent back small hand-made cards which I'm sharing with St. Thomas.

Ames, a university community, seems not to be too much affected by the current economic crisis in the US, but I am sure that there are more people suffering here and that contributions to churches and other groups have suffered. But all the indications are that the economy here is in trouble.

People are asking me about how this affects Honduras. It is hard to tell, since I am not in touch with all the figures. But the cost of living has increased significantly in Honduras in the last few months and people are having a hard time meeting basic needs.

That's why I am glad that I have been able to help with the Santa Rosa
comedor de niños (lunch program for kids) and that Fr. Efraín in Dulce Nombre and others in the diocese are looking at ways to assist people with some agricultural projects, including a projected project to encourage and support small family gardens, with both fruit trees and vegetable gardens. That's one project I hope I can support when I get back.

In the meantime, it's a privilege and a blessing to be able to help connect St. Thomas and my friends and families with the diocese of Santa Rosa and the parish of Dulce
Nombre - to help us share each other's joys and pains.

And our hope for you is confident,
since we know that, sharing our sufferings,
you will also share our consolations.
2 Corinthians 1, 7

Saturday, October 04, 2008

I lost it

October 2 through 4 there was a conference in Copán Ruinas sponsored by Project Honduras ( which brought together over 170 people, mostly from the US, who work in Honduras or support programs in Honduras. It was a great opportunity to make connections with others working in – or with – Honduras. Over all, it was a very good conference and I made a lot of connections. In future years I may try to make it back to the yearly conferences – at least to try to connect with more people and to hear about other projects throughout Honduras.

However, I lost it at one point.

I had read in the program that some people from US Task Force Bravo, which is headquartered at the Soto Can0 (Palmerola) Air Force Base would be there. They do some humanitarian work and I presumed they would talk about it. But I was uneasy, since many Hondurans I know are very critical of the presence of US troops (about 520 of them, I found out) on Honduran soil. It feels like an occupation to some, especially as they remember the role the US government had in the 1980s supporting a repressive regime in Honduras and using the US base at Palmerola to support the Contra in Nicaragua and the repressive regime in El Salvador.

The Ambassador spoke the first morning, commending the people assembled for their efforts to help Honduras and laying out what he saw as the problems of Honduras. What I found most amazing is he did mention corruption at all, when many Hondurans consider this a major problem and both source and symptom of other ills. (In fact the word corruption was not mentioned once until the afternoon of the second day!)

Friday morning a woman from Task Force Bravo spoke. She proceeded to describe what they did as well as how they help humanitarian efforts. But she also gave a short history of the base. She stated that the base was there in the 1980s to combat aggression. That deeply affected me because I know the role of the US government at that time and have seen the effects of US support of Central American regimes like Honduras and El Salvador in that time. It was, I believe, far from combating aggression. Using the excuse of “Communism,” the US supported militarily and financially regimes that killed and disappeared civilians. This was well-documented by Americas Watch and Amnesty International.

So, I was upset and walked to the back of the hall to try to compose myself – praying and breathing deeply. Calmed down a bit. I returned to my seat, still trying to breathe deeply and pray the Jesus Prayer. I had decided not to ask a question.

However, someone, noting that the power-point was labeled “unclassified,” asked if she could share something more specific about their efforts against drug trafficking. The woman said that she couldn’t share that information since it was classified. And, she added, “ If I told you that, I’d have to kill you.” And the people laughed.

That was it. I got up, first just thinking I’d move to the back . But as I walked I could not hold it in. I turned and said to her something like this. “That is not funny. It is not right to make a joke of killing. I know people who have been killed by governments in this region.” She insisted it was just a joke. I repeated my objection again. And then walked to the back.

As I got to the back, an attendee mentioned his support of what I had said. But it took me probably about three hours to restore some semblance of serenity in my spirit.

As I think back, perhaps I still harbor pain at the suffering I have seen in Latin America, often perpetrated in the past with the support of the US military and with the silence of diplomats.

But as I reflect I think my breaking point has something to do with the apolitical nature of the conference, with little social analysis except that provided by the ambassador and the woman from the airbase. The very fact that corruption was hardly addressed bothers me. But I think the fact that the person I work for, Bishop Luis Alfonso Santos, has received death threats (along with others) deeply affects me. There is structural violence and structural injustice here which must be addressed. People in Honduras are killed and threatened for less than seeing classified documents.

One cannot cover the injustices of a society by mere acts of charity. Transformation is necessary.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Last minute details

In a week I’ll be back in the US for about 16 days, spending most of my time in and around Ames, Iowa. But it is not as if I have been slacking off. In fact last weekend was quite busy.

It started Friday morning when I accompanied about 40 new students of the Catholic University for the first morning of their new student retreat. The retreat was held in San Juan de Opoa, about 15 miles from Santa Rosa. I gave a talk on God’s Love and then got a ride to a bus to get to Dulce Nombre.

Friday and Saturday the parish was offering a workshop on Saint Paul – for the Year of Saint Paul. I helped work on it and we’re using materials from the Jesuit University of El Salvador – the UCA – which is oriented to the poor and those without a lot of formal education.

I arrived and led an activity which went quite well. I gave each group a section on St, Paul in the Acts of the Apostles and they had to prepare a skit. I told them they could use humor, if they want. Well, most of the skits were fantastic, full of energy and imagination.

I also had to lead two study sessions, using the materials from the UCA, which are very participatory. It went well, although it was hard to lead a session at 6:30 am – yes, AM – without coffee! But it went well enough.

We’ll have another workshop in March, using the rest of the chapters of the booklet. But then the different sectors of the parish will be n charge of leading most of the sessions. I told them that I’ll come out and visit with them between late January and early March to help them, since this might be quite a challenge for some of the groups. But, with a little help, I think they’ll do a great job. It is amazing how much people with six years of schooling or less do.

I returned to Santa Rosa Saturday afternoon but left Sunday for La Campa, a remote village with a beautiful colonial church. I had to pas through Gracias and so I had a chance to visit with Sister Nancy Meyerhofer who works there. We had a quick lunch together.

In La Campa I spoke with Father Cándido Pineda, the pastor, who is also the diocesan director of social ministry. Social Ministry has no funding but manages to do a lot with almost nothing.

Fr. Candido’s vision is to help develop the capacities of people in the countryside, using sustainable practices, utilizing the wisdom and experience of many of the members of the diocesan social ministry commission which meets about every two months. When I attended their meeting two weeks ago I was astounded by the knowledge of alternative agricultural practices these small farmers (campesinos) have. I had seen some of this when I visited Moises Rodriguez’s farm last year. But Moises is only one of the people on the commission who have incredible stores of knowledge and experience.

The problem is that there is no financing. There will be a four day conference in Gracias – and at Moises’ farm – in November, but the people will have to pay for food and for travel. There is so much that could be done with incredible human resources, but there is not a lot of financing available.

Father Candido and I talked about a good number of his projects – small gardens with vegetables and fruit trees, household water filters (costly less than $5), reforestation projects, etc. It was exciting to be able to dream and discuss possibilities. When I’m in Ames I’ll be talking to a number of folks about these possibilities.

I only stayed one night in La Campa since I had a number of things to do in Santa Rosa – including the lunch program for kids and a visit ot the jail to help with the literacy project (and buy two hammocks for the silent auction at St. Thomas on October 12.)

This Thursday to Saturday I am off to Copán Ruinas for a conference run by Project Honduras which will bring together people from the US and Honduras to share about projects here which have support from the US. I hope it’s a good way to make connections with others here.

Then a few days back in Santa Rosa and back to Ames on Tuesday. I look forward to the time there – to thank people for their support, especially the kids in religious education classes, and to spend some time visiting with friends. This is for me an important part of my ministry – promoting solidarity and making connections. This, I believe, is central to our identity as members of the Body of Christ, the Church.

As the US bishops wrote in 1986:
Christian communities that commit themselves to solidarity with those suffering and to confrontation with those attitudes and ways of acting which institutionalize injustice, will themselves experience the power and the presence of Christ. They will embody in their lives the values of the new creation while they labor under the old. The quest for economic and social justice will always combine hope and realism, and must be renewed by every generation. It involves diagnosing those situations that continue to alienate the world from God’s creative love as well as presenting hopeful alternatives that arise from living in a renewed creation. This quest arises from faith and is sustained by hope as it seeks to speak to a broken world of God’s justice and loving kindness.
US Catholic Bishops, Economic Justice for All, 55