Thursday, December 31, 2009

A new priest

On Wednesday, December 30, Monseñor Luis Alfonso Santos ordained Celeo Castro a priest for the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán. Padre Celeo is the 48th diocesan priest the bishop has ordained in his twenty-five years as bishop.

Monseñor Santos came to a diocese with only 16 diocesan priests and made it a priority to find diocesan priests among the people. There are now over 50 diocesan priests to serve the 1.2 million people who live in the five departments of southwestern Honduras. There is one parish served by Capuchin Franciscans and five parishes served by Spanish Passionists. There are also 20 seminarians at this point.

Several thousands of people came to a field outside San Antonio, Intibucá, just a few kilometers from the Rio Lempa which separates Honduras from El Salvador. About thirty priests concelebrated the Mass.

This was the second ordination I’ve ever attended and it was so different from the Mass in the Newark, New Jersey, Cathedral more than 30 years ago.

During his homily the bishop noted that a priest promises obedience to his bishop – and thus to the whole church. The priest also should make an option for the poor and, though he should care for all people, he should not be identified with the rich and seek their favor. The priest should be effectively and affectively poor because Christ was poor and so he should make make special efforts to serve the poor.

The priest should see the Eucharist as central to his life as a priest. The bishop also commended Eucharistic adoration and added that he would hope that with Eucharistic adoration in the villages there would be less homicides, rapes, domestic violence and drinking bouts.

The bishop was well received by these people and when he commended their pastor, Padre Rigoberto, for his opposition to the coup they applauded heartily.

It was a moving day and another sign of God’s presence here in Honduras. And what again impressed me was the combination in the celebration of deep piety and concern for social justice. The stance of the diocese for the poor, against the coup, against the exploitation of the land by mining and other interests is not more politics; it flows from a deep spirituality of the Incarnation – God becoming a poor human being to save us, to liberate us, from all forms of oppression.

Thank God for this diocese and for the commitment of so many people - bishop, priests, and lay pastoral workers - to spread the message of a God who is on the side of the poor.


The first photo shows the mother of Celeo wiping off the chrism with which Padre Celeo was anointed as part of the rite of priestly ordination. In the second photo Bishop Santos ordains Padre Celeo by the imposition of the hands (which occurs before the newly ordained priest's hands are anointed with chrism.)

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

"When the bishop comes"

There is a saying in some parts of Latin America, to indicate that something will almost never happen, “cuando venga el Obispo – when the bishop comes.” Many Catholics in remote areas almost never saw their bishop in their towns and villages.

But here in the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán, Monseñor Luis Alfonso Santos, makes the effort to get out to the remote parishes and the people know and recognize him.

The bishop invited me to come with him for a few days to visit the southern part of the department [state] of Intibucá, one of the poorest areas of Honduras.

After 5 hours on buses from Gracias, Lempira, to La Esperanza, Intibucá, and then over rough dirt roads from there to southern Intibucá, I arrived in Camasca about 2 pm on December 26 . The colonial church in Camasca, dedicated to the apostle Saint James - Santiago Apostól, dates from the 1550s.

The bishop had confirmed several hundred young people that day in the towns of Magdalena and Santa Lucía. On December 27 he confirmed about 172 young people, mostly between 12 and 17 in Camasca. The celebration was very impressive - the young people in white shirts or blouses and black pants or skirts accompanied by their parents and sponsors. It gave me great joy to see a young man with Downs Syndrome among those being confirmed.

Monseñor Santos, despite the long schedule of the day before and the terrible dirt roads over which he had traveled, lead the celebration with a lot of energy. He is an educator and motivator at heart and encouraged the young people to respond with gusto to the responses at Mass and to sing energetically the songs – often with a theme of liberation.

His homily – somewhat stream of consciousness – was filled with gems. He strongly affirmed the dignity of the human person, especially the poor, encouraging them to see that their dignity does not come from what they have but from being children of God.

He spoke of the need for those who were confirmed to be witnesses in their country, their villages, their families. He urged them to know the Constitution of Honduras and suggested that this be one of the themes that should be part of the preparation for confirmation. He specifically referred to article 2 (“The sovereignty belongs to the people…”) and article 3 (“No one owes obedience to a usurper government nor to those who assume functions or public jobs by the force of arms or using media or procedures that violate … this Constitution and the laws. The acts verified by such authorities are null and void….”)

He clearly sees the de facto government as a usurper government. (Many people in this part of Honduras agree with him - and not only the poor.) The bishop noted that Honduras is governed by irresponsible persons of two main political parties that are virtually the same and who have maintained the people in misery.

On December 28, I went with Padre Rigoberto, the pastor of the parish of Camasca, to visit two villages as well as to check on the preparations for an ordination of a young priest on Wednesday, December 30, in the town of San Antonio, near the border with El Salvador. The land is beautiful, though there is a lot of deforestation.

The one village, San Francisco in the municipality [roughly, a county] of San Antonio. It is one hour by car from San Antonio (which is about an our from Camasca.) When we got there, we found out that we had to walk 30 minutes to the site of the Mass. They had brought a horse and offered it to me, but I told the priest to take it (since I thought it was best he arrived fresh at the Mass.) But he insisted that I ride back to the truck on the horse. It was getting dark and was glad to ride the horse since we traveled half the time following a stream and the last ten minutes was up hill! I had taken a picture of the priest on the horse but it was too dark to take one of me. The next time I have the opportunity, I'll be sure take a photo so that you’ll be able to see me, a horseback rider!

We didn’t leave San Francisco until about 7 pm, because one of the tires on the truck was going flat. The priest had to borrow a tire from someone in the village. Then we stopped in San Antonio to check out the site of the ordination and encourage the people working on the preparations. On the way to San Francisco we had stopped where they were preparing the meal, by killing three large cattle which were all donated! We went to one of the slaughter sites in the field behind a house. (My vegetarianism was reconfirmed.)

We got back in Camasca a little after 10 pm. It was a long, but good day to see people who live their faith and struggle to live decent lives.

The people in this region are isolated. The road from La Esperanza is poor – and there is only a wooden plank bridge to cross the Rio Negro to get to the southern part of the department. There is no gas station nearby and so they have to bring in gas from La Esperanza, three hours away by bus. Someone sought to set up a gas station here in Camasca but was refused permission. Why? I don’t know.

What I noted as I traveled on the bus is that in the southern region of Intibucá they plant a lot of sorghum, which they use for animal feed as well as for tortillas. I’ve tasted a few sorghum tortillas and they are quite bitter. I think sorghum is raised in places where the soil is not good enough to raise corn! Of course, most of the sorghum is planted on the sides of hills.

Tomorrow, Wednesday, I’ll be off to the ordination in the town of San Antonio. The Mass and ordination will be held in an area at the edge of town. Interestingly, it is at the site of a refugee camp for Salvadorans fleeing their war in the 1980s.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

True Reconciliation

Earlier this month I wrote a few remarks on peace and reconciliation. Saturday, December 26, the front page headline of La Prensa, owned by a major backer of the coup, read:
A reconciliarse y olvidar rencores llama la Iglesia.
[The Church calls for reconciliation and forgetting of resentments.]
The call comes from the editorial of Seminario Fides, the weekly newspaper of the archdiocese of Tegucigalpa.

Quoting from the editorial the sub-title reads
“No tiene sentido alimentar diferencias que solo conducen a profundizar el atraso del páis.”
[“There is no sense in feeding differences which only lead to deepening the backwardness of the country.”]
I managed to track down the original editorial, which I don’t find very inspiring or prophetic. In parts, I find it very problematic.

It calls for peace and reconciliation and then notes that
It makes no sense to insist on feeding the grudges and differences which lead only to deepen the backwardness in which the nation is submerged, and which we are all called to put to an end in the shortest time possible.
It makes no sense to cling to the situations of the past when we have, right in front of our noses, a future which we have to construct. Perchance the past can serve us so that we may avoid committing the same errors and may assume our responsibilities as citizens with better faith and hope, with better responsibility and seriousness.
This strikes me as trying to build peace and reconciliation in a vacuum. Reconciliation must be based in reality, on the truth. One doesn’t cling to them, but one acknowledges them, faces the truth. Trying to build a new Honduras without acknowledging the injustice, the human rights violations, and the corruption is like trying to build a house of cards on jello. Truth is essential.

Furthermore, though the editorial notes the extreme poverty in Honduras, it says nothing about structural injustices and doesn’t identify the profound inequality in Honduras, one of the worst in the hemisphere.

In addition, I think the editorial opens a way to blame those who raise serious questions about the history of injustice in Honduras and the radical inequity between rich and poor which predates the current political crisis by decades.

But what I fear – from the headline in La Prensa – is that reconciliation will lose its deep significance and become a term bandied about only to serve one party’s advantage. The supporters of the coup seem to have taken the initiative in this sad game.

The first manipulation in an article in La Prensa is saying that this is the stance of the church. It is the stance of the editorial of the Tegucigalpa archdiocesan newspaper and therefore probably reflects the thinking of Cardinal Oscar Rodríguez. But it does not necessarily represent the stance of the entire Honduran church.

The article also quotes (and misquotes) sections of the editorial from Fides, but selectively – and at times out of context.

Speaking of the birth of Christ, the Fides editorial says:
In the face of the incommensurable goodness and generosity of God with us, we are called to respond in a like manner. Putting to the side hate, sterile confrontation, the differences which have been keeping us apart.
A nice thought, but vague. Yet look what La Prensa did, misquoting and putting it into a context of adversarial politics, not faith:
The pro-Zelaya groups and those of the new government [Micheletti's] have confronted each other. The editorial [from Fides] emphasizes that God calls us "to put to one side the sterile confrontations [note the plural] which separate us.
Presumably in their eyes the pro-Zelaya groups are responsible for sterile confrontations.

The La Prensa article, not surprisingly, does not quote the most prophetic paragraph of the Fides editorial:
It constitutes a crime of lèse majesté [insulting the king; treason] to be indifferent to the conditions of life in which those who are struck down by extreme poverty subsist. That indifferences means that one makes oneself an accomplice of the causes which are the conditions for the profound needs which offend the human rights of thousands.
La Prensa does quotes parts of the next paragraph, which reads in full in Fides,
Only the attitude which get translated into solidarity can lead to unity among all Honduras. And only by forging unity and being in solidarity, in the way Jesus did, can we have a capability to construct a country for all, full of justice and peace.
But La Prensa misses its meaning (or perhaps deliberately manipulates the text):
Finally it [the Fides editorial] points out that Hondurans are called to forge unity in the way Jesus did, since only in this way “can we have a capability to construct a country for all, full of justice and peace.”
No mention of solidarity, nor the context of the crime of indifference to the extreme poverty experienced by thousands of Hondurans.

Reconciliation has a long way to go in Honduras. The Honduran church as a whole clearly sees the need of dialogue and reconciliation, though I wonder if all the leaders know the depth of the divisions and the need to face the scandalous inequality here.

I think they’d do well to listen to the bishop of Santa Rosa de Copán. In an interview with Catholic News Service in August Monseñor Luis Alfonso Santos urged dialogue and reconciliation – but with a twist:
And, taking into consideration our preferential option for the poor, we urge a dialogue between the unions, peasant groups and popular organizations on the one side and the economic powers behind the coup, which are linked to the transnational mining companies, the fast food chains and the petroleum distributors. The dialogue should be between these powerful groups and the poor and weak. ... The international community doesn't have anything to do with it.
Who lives with the shocking misery here—the lack of education and medicines, the lack of even sheets in the hospitals—are the poor of Honduras. So national reconciliation needs to be between the poor, represented by their leaders, and these economically powerful groups.
The need for the powerful to include the poor in any dialogue and reconciliation was not mentioned in the Fides editorial. Perhaps because it had a different purpose. But the failure to note the divides in Honduran society which date well before the coup and even before Zelaya’s presidency and the continuing exclusion of the poor and marginalized will most likely make reconciliation even more difficult.

I hope and pray we can work through these difficulties, challenging them faithfully and truthfully, seeking true reconciliation, where
"Kindness and truth will meet; justice and peace shall kiss."
Psalm 85

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


Greetings of the peace of Christ from Honduras;
despite our coup and poverty Christ lives among us!

This week has been fairly quiet, since the Caritas office is closed until January 11.

But I have managed to get to the Comedor de Niños, the lunch program for kids, twice this week. There were not many kids Monday and Tuesday, partly because it’s been cold and rainy here since Saturday. This is normal weather for this time of the year but we were spoiled by several weeks of warm, sunny days and cool nights. However, that wreaked some havoc on people in the countryside who depend on the October through December rains for their crops. In some parts of the country there has been so little rain that they are calling it a drought.

Today, it was sunny and warmer. So I took time out to make cinnamon buns. I will be going to Gracias, Lempira – a 90 minute bus ride from here – to spend Christmas eve and Christmas morning with Sisters Nancy and Brenda, two Dubuque Franciscan sisters who are serving in the parish of Gracias. It is a blessing to have good friends and mutual support.

The next week will be adventure. The bishop, Monseñor Luis Alfonso Santos, invited me to go with him for several days as he visits parishes in the southern parts of the departments of Lempira and Intibucá for confirmations and an ordination. These are very poor regions of the diocese inhabited, for the most part, by indigenous people, mostly Lenca. It will be good to see another part of the diocese, meet the people, and have time to talk with the bishop.
If during these days the coming of the Lord sets our hearts on fire and if we respond by our commitment and solidarity to the gift of love which God gives us in his Son, we will become the fireflies who will gradually transform the threatening darkness into a human, peaceful, and luminous night.
Gustavo Gutierrez, Sharing the Word through the Liturgical Year, 27

The icon was written by Yaroslava Surmach Mills, a gift she sent me several years ago.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Christmas quotes

Here are a few quotes to challenge and sustain us during this season of Advent and Christmas:

"And when we give each other Christmas gifts in His name, let us remember that He has given us the sun and the moon and the stars and the earth with its forests and mountains and oceans — and all that lives and moves upon them. He has given us all green things and everything that blossoms and bears fruit – and all that we quarrel about and all that we have misused – and to save us from our own foolishness, for all our sins, He has come down to earth and gave us Himself."
Sigrid Undset, Norwegian novelist

“Today there is neither the glorifying of God nor peace on earth. As long as a hunger is not stilled and as long as we have not uprooted violence from our civilization, Christ is not yet born.”
Mohandas K. Gandhi

“No one can celebrate a genuine Christmas without being truly poor. The self sufficient, the proud, those who, because they have everything, look down on others, those who have no need of God — for them there will be no Christmas. Only the poor, the hungry, those who need someone to come on their behalf, will have that someone. That someone is God, Emmanuel, God-with-us. Without poverty of spirit, there can be no abundance of God.”
Archbishop Oscar Romero, December 24, 1978

A "nacimiento" at the Catholic University campus, Santa Rosa

"Preparing for Christmas means experiencing the joy of knowing that God loves us....
"...our faith has to become present in daily life as a message of hope in the midst of discouragement, of life in the midst of violent and unjust deaths. this is what believing in the child born of Mary means."
Gustavo Gutiérrez, O.P., Sharing the Word through the Liturgical Year

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Return to normalcy?

A December 14 headline from an editorial of The Voice of America, a US government supported radio station and web site, reads, “Honduras Seeks Return To Normalcy.”

I hope not.

What is normalcy here?

What was normal here before the coup of June 28?
400,000 malnourished children; only 33% of students go beyond sixth grade; 60% live in poverty and about 28 % live in extreme poverty; massive corruption at all levels; some efforts and promises from the president.
And then the coup came.

What was the legacy of the coup?
human rights violations by the de facto government; restrictions of basic freedoms; more than 20 deaths of people opposed to the coup; fear; major divisions in the populace; a lagging economy made worse; demonization of the opposition; a largely non-violent movement against the coup.
Some claimed that the elections of November 29 would bring a “solution” to the crisis. This is despite the fact that most nations of the world had major reservations on the legality of an election under the coup regime.

So, in order to “put things behind them,” some in Congress seek an amnesty. But an amnesty in their mind means impunity - no one will be held accountable for their crimes.

Such an amnesty is the equivalent of amnesia which I believe will leave a festering sore within the heart of the nation. The deaths, the human rights violations, the restrictions on basic freedoms, the corruption, the coup itself, and any alleged crimes of Zelaya or Micheletti - all forgotten, swept under the rug?

Amnesty is often justified in terms of reconciliation. Honduras needs reconciliation, but reconciliation has to be based on seeking the truth. The experience of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission is a better example. As I understand it, people who had committed heinous violations of human rights were brought before the commission. If they acknowledged their deeds, they could be reintegrated into society, If not, they had to face judgment. There are amazing stories from the commission, especially when the mother of one victim openly forgave the man responsible for his death. True reconciliation, like true peace, is based on justice and truth.

What is needed? Not a return to normalcy nor a forgetting of the past.

Honduras needs to face the poverty, the immense divide between a few very rich families and hundreds of thousands living in misery, the corruption, the racism and classism which perpetrates a lack of self-esteem among the poor.

Honduras needs efforts to work honestly and civilly toward reconciliation – in families, in the church, in society.

Honduras doesn’t need a return to normality; it needs steps forwards to participation of all – especially the poor – in their lives and the life of their country.

This may sound revolutionary – and it is. But it is the revolution of the Gospel, of the God who became human as a poor babe in a land occupied by foreign powers who had co-opted rich religious, political, and economic forces to support its rule. (Does this sound a little like Honduras?) It is a revolution which will not need violence – for violence would be counter-revolutionary. But it needs the violence of love, of solidarity, of sacrificing for the common good. It will also need a lot of forgiveness.

I know Hondurans are capable of this because I see it every week in my ministry in the parish of Dulce Nombre and in the work of Caritas.

This week we had the national director and associate director of Catholic Relief Services (CRS) with us for two days. We discussed possible projects that they might support in the coming year as well as the re-initiation of a maternal and infant health project which we began in June but was put on hold because of the coup (since its funding came from the World Bank).

On Tuesday we went out to the countryside and saw some of the work that our Caritas worker Manuel López has been doing, supporting people to diversify their crops. We visited Ernesto’s small field with mandarins, oranges, oregano, avocado, lorocco, and much more. He offered us mandarins and asked me if I wanted to take more home. I politely said no since I already have some I bought a few days ago. Such generosity. But, he mentioned, a real problem is getting them to a market since they are far from the main highway on a treacherous dirt road.

The visit with CRS was an “up” for me. The new country representative/director is a delightful young man, Juan Sheenan; the associate director is an Honduran, Miguel Flores, who has worked with CRS for 25 years. They talked about the possibilities for projects in Honduras next year. I hope we at Caritas Santa Rosa de Copán can work with them to make life more human for the people in our diocese.

In January, God willing, Caritas Santa Rosa de Copán will re-initiate a program for maternal and infant health that we began in cooperation with Catholic Relief Services.

CRS also has programs in water and sanitation, agriculture, peacemaking and reconciliation, and much more here in Honduras.

In the US, I regularly supported CRS and so it is fascinating to be on the other end – helping them serve those in need here in Honduras. (Check out their website and donate, if you can.)

Saturday, December 12, 2009

La morenita

Today is the feast of our Lady of Guadalupe, recalling the apparition of Mary as a native person, the black Virgin - la morenita, to the campesino Juan Diego, Cuauhtlazin (the talking eagle), at the hill called Tepeyac, outside Mexico City, in 1531.

The prayer for today in the Catholic sacramentary is most appropriate for Honduras, as well as many other places in this world:
God of power and mercy,
you blessed the Americas at Tepeyac
with the presence of the Virgin Mary of Guadalupe.
May her prayers help all men and women
to accept each other as brothers and sisters.
Through your justice present in our hearts
may your peace reign in the world.

Friday, December 11, 2009

What a week!

So what have I been doing?

Just to let you know that I'm not slouching too much, I decided to give an account of an extraordinarily busy week.

Last Friday and Saturday I took part in the evaluation and planning meeting of the parish of Dulce Nombre. More on that later.

Sunday I was in Dulce Nombre again, this time to celebrate the first anniversary of the ordination of Padre Julio César Galdámez, the associate pastor. I really appreciate Padre Julio for his real love of God and the people. He also has a special gift of working with youth.

Monday I spent the morning with the program staff at Caritas in their weekly meeting, though at this time of the year a lot of the work is preparing year-end reports.

About 11:45 am Padre Efraín asked me to go to Tegucigalpa for a meeting with Misereor, a German Catholic church funding organization. A funding request for working on mining issues had been turned down and Padre Efraín thought that a meeting connected with it had been canceled. Wrong! So I went home, took wash off the line, packed a change of clothes, and got a quick lunch before returning to the office to leave for Tegucigalpa at 2 pm. Luckily I didn’t have to drive and the driver, a young guy whose father is also a driver for Caritas, was great to talk with and respected my need to read over the grant request and also get a little nap.

We arrived about 8:30 pm after trying to find our way to the hotel where I was meeting. I arrived and found not only two people from Misereor but two people from the Tegucigalpa Caritas office. Hum? The one hour meeting was tense but important and I am glad I went.

Tuesday we returned to Santa Rosa – another six and a half hours in the car. I went right away to a meeting on Citizenship Participation with members of the national Caritas office and teams from our diocese and the dioceses of Trujillo and Comayagua. I spent two hours there and then went home and crashed! But they didn’t end their work till about 9:30 pm.

Wednesday morning I went back to the meeting for a bit.

Then I went to the Comedor de Niños – the lunch program for kids in the diocesan building, partly to tell them about a party for 40 of them this Saturday at the Catholic University. There were probably 50 kids there that day.

In the afternoon there was a meeting with the national director of Progressio, an English Catholic group, that sends professionals to work with projects.

I spent a little time later Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning with the Caritas Political Participation groups. It’s interesting to observe the conflicts that the current situation have created even in groups that work with the poorest in terms of promoting their participation.

The archdiocese of Tegucigalpa and as far as I can tell all of the Caritas groups except ours promoted the elections, with different degrees of enthusiasm. But I sense there are even deeper areas of potential conflict because many of those working in the area of political particiaption find that many people conscientized by this process are sympathetic to the Resistance. And so…

Yesterday afternoon and today I have been at the Caritas office, trying to catch up on things. I did, however, go back today to the Comedor de Niños and there were about 48 kids. While there I entered the list of kids who had signed in the last few weeks and it was exactly 100. They don’t all come every day but in the past two months there have been between 40 and 60 most every day. Some of this increased demand may be due to the fact that there is no school. But I also think that there may be more hunger and so the kids are willing to walk 30 minutes or more for a decent lunch.

Tomorrow I’ll be taking about 40 kids to a project at the Catholic University. I told them we could only take the first 40 and so we may have some disappointed kids. But I bought a bag of candy to share with those who don’t get a chance to go.

Next week will also be busy. Monday and Tuesday the country director of Catholic Relief Service will be here. I hope we can persuade him to look at some programs for our area.

Thursday and Friday we’ll have an evaluation and planning meeting here at Caritas but after that the office is closed for a few weeks for the Christmas holidays.

Speaking of Advent and Christmas, I hear that Iowa got over a foot of snow. Ah. It doesn’t feel like Advent here since it’s uncommonly warm and dry. But we’re all waiting for the coming of the Sun of Justice, Jesus, whom we all need.

Come, Lord Jesus, and break the chains of injustice and poverty.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Jesús in Latin America

December 10, 1968, Thomas Merton, Trappist monk, spiritual writer, companion of peacemakers and justice seekers, died. His work has been an inspiration for me since I read his autobiography Seven Storey Mountain during high school.

I think the following quote is quite appropriate today, especially in light of US policy toward Honduras.
If only North Americans had realized . . . that Latin Americans really existed. That they were really people. That they spoke a different language. That they had a culture. That they had more than something to sell! Money has totally corrupted the brotherhood that should have united all the peoples of America. It has destroyed the sense of relationship, the spiritual community that had already begun to flourish in the years of Bolivar. But no! Most North Americans still don’t know, and don’t care, that Brazil speaks a language other than Spanish, that all Latin Americans do not live for the siesta, that all do not spend their days and nights playing the guitar and making love. They have never awakened to the fact that Latin America is by and large culturally superior to the United States, not only on the level of the wealthy minority which has absorbed more of the sophistication of Europe, but also among the desperately poor indigenous cultures, some of which are rooted in a past that has never yet been surpassed on this continent.

So the tourist drinks tequila, and thinks it is no good, and waits for the fiesta he has been told to wait for. How should he realize that the Indian who walks down the street with half a house on his head and a hole in his pants, is Christ? All the tourist thinks is that it is odd for so many Indians to be called Jesús.
Thomas Merton,
“A Letter to Pablo Antonio Cuadra Concerning Giants”
in Emblems of a Season of Fury
I include this quote in materials I give to folks visiting here, though most of my visitors aren't the tequila-drinking tourists. The message that the US is not superior to Latin America, though, can be quite disturbing. And meeting Jesús can evoke conversion.


By the way, in some Latin American countries Jesús is used as a name for both men and women. In El Salvador, Jesús is sometimes shortened to Chus for men and Chusa for women.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

WIth the people

Friday and Saturday morning I took part in the year end evaluation and planning of the parish of Dulce Nombre de María. This year the pastor, Padre Efraín Romero, was not there to lead it and so the associate pastor, Padre Julio César Galdámez, led it. And I had the role of writing the evaluations and then the planning on my computer as it was projected on the wall! A challenge but I think it went very well. (Luckily Word has spell check in Spanish and that Word only crashed once!)

It is always good to be with these people – most of whom have limited formal education but many of whom are quite sharp and articulate. Only two or three of us in the room had more than a high school education – the priest, a sister, and me. There were a few retired teachers (I argued very pleasantly with two of them, about the “coup”) but I would guess that the rest had no more than six years of schooling.

But what really struck me were two conversations I had after the meeting.

Standing around in the park before lunch, one man asked if there was anything I could do to help him. He is a devoted pastoral worker in his community. He talked about the poverty of many people in his area who work for the church. He mentioned how many people in his area get handouts from the Missionaries of Charity and then also go to get handouts from evangelical groups. he felt that pastoral workers (all volunteers) really weren’t getting anything.

He was concerned most of all about housing. He mentioned how his fourteen year son had talked to him about improving their house. They made adobe bricks and used what tin they could find for roofing. But he felt he needed more.

These are great needs – but what I told him is that he should try working through the church, talking with the pastor. I don’t want to get into the position of finding funds for individuals and undercutting the structures. What I think might be worth discussing is establishing a revolving fund or a micro-finance project for pastoral workers in the parish which would help them with small loans.

As I walked away I had a conversation with another pastoral worker, Ovidio. I visited his community last year and he asked me when I was coming back. He’s very astute and has an inquisitive mind. I think he gets this from his father, Salatiel. The first I met this man who is about 80, he asked me where I was from. When I told him I grew up in Pennsylvania, he asked me if the capital of Pennsylvania was Harrisburg .

Ovidio also places value on education. His daughter is studying in the Catholic girls school in Santa Rosa on a scholarship and his son is going (on bicycle) each day to the Honduran equivalent of junior high, in a town near his home.

He is also blessed with having land to use since his father has a nice plot (which I think he got after the land invasions and land reform of the 1960s and1970s.)

Ovidio proudly told me that this year he has gotten double the yield on his corn field than last year. Why? He claims it’s because he is not using chemical fertilizers and between he is using frijol de abono, the velvet bean, to fix the nitrogen in the soil. He has learned some of this through the agricultural education programs the parish has offered.

These are some of my encounters with Hondurans that, though different, shape my view of mission – being with the people, accompanying them as they seek to live in the light of the Kingdom of God, sharing their joys and their sorrows. (Cf. 2 Corinthians 1, 3-7)

Thursday, December 03, 2009

The letter, maybe – but the spirit?

Yesterday the Honduran Congress reiterated its support of the June 28 coup, 111 -14.

This seems to fulfill the letter of the San José/Tegucigalpa Accord that demanded a congressional vote on the restitution of president Zelaya. But I have my doubts.

First of all, I wonder why it took so long, especially since the vote was so one-sided. The hope was that soon after the accord was agreed upon in late October that the Congress would vote. But delay followed upon delay and the vote came after the disputed elections. I have my theories but I won’t speculate here.

Secondly, Pepe Lobo who won last Sunday’s election talked about national reconciliation, but it was his party, the Nationalist Party, that proposed the resolution that was voted on. I hope Lobo has the courage to do something dramatic.

What concerns me most is that none of this really seems to deal with the real problems of Honduras.

First of all, I fear that the election and the Congressional vote will increase the polarization in the country - not only between supporters and opponents of the coup, but between the economic and political elites and the poor.

Secondly, I have my doubts whether the new Congress and Pepe Lobo will take drastic steps to deal with the dramatic inequality in Honduras, but will continue with neoliberal policies that have widened the gap between rich and poor.

Thirdly, I have my concern that hopes of the poor for more participation in determining the direction of their country have been frustrated.

Also, this leaves in place the bi-party system which distributes favors among their activists and uses programs and money to garner votes and support.

And, what does this mean for Latin America which has been moving toward strengthening democracy? Honduras was a “fragile” democracy and is even more fragile, especially in light of the failure of the US to be consistent in its opposition to coups. Will this give the green light to disenchanted economic and political elites in other Latin American countries to join with the military and overthrow leaders they don’t like?

Yet, there may be signs of hope – but not from the powers that be. (I originally wrote “not from above” but changed it, since hope really comes from “Above,” from God who identifies with the poor and oppressed.)

During these months since the coup, a movement has grown in resistance. It is distinct from the followers of Zelaya (and should be). People have raised questions and have been willing to take risks by advocating against the coup. Some have been beaten and about 21 or so killed. They have endured this without taking up arms. (Thank God.) There have been some violent outbursts in a few occasions, but the Resistance has adhered to nonviolence for the most part.

The struggle for justice and for real participation in Honduras will be long.

But this passage from today’s Catholic lectionary reading from Isaiah 26: 4-6 is a telling warning:
the Lord is an eternal Rock.
He humbles those in high places
and the lofty city he brings down.
He brings it down, down to the ground,
flings it down in the dust.
It is trampled underfoot
by the feet of the needy,
by the footsteps of the poor.

slightly corrected, 2:00 pm, December 3, 2009

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Find what gives life meaning

On December 2, 1980, four US missionaries to El Salvador were martyred by Salvadoran government forces: Maryknoll Sisters Ita Ford and Maura Clarke, Ursuline Sister Dorothy Kazel, and lay missionary Jean Donovan.

There's a beautiful letter that Sister Ita Ford wrote to her sixteen year old niece in Brooklyn:
This is a terrible time in El Salvador for youth. A lot of idealism and commitment are getting snuffed out here now. The reasons why so many people are being killed are quite complicated, yet there are some clear, simple strands.One is that people have found a meaning to live, to sacrifice, struggle, and even die. And whether their life spans sixteen, sixty or ninety, for them their life has a purpose. In many ways they are fortunate people.
Brooklyn is not passing through the drama of El Salvador, but some things hold true wherever one is, and at whatever age. What I'm saying is that I hope you can come to find that which gives life a deep meaning for you, something that energizes you, enthuses you, enables you to keep moving ahead.
A message for all of us - especially for those struggling for justice in and for Honduras.

Monday, November 30, 2009


Last night before going to sleep I was thinking about the elections. The National Party candidate, Pepe Lobo, won. He is the more conservative candidate of the more conservative of the two major parties. (By the way, lobo is the Spanish word for “wolf.”)

Will this make a difference, I wondered. Leaving aside questions of whether most nations will recognize the election, I am not sure it will make a major difference for what I do – at least in the short term.

I recalled how the church in our diocese has been critical of the government since I’ve been here. Though the church saw some of Zelaya’s initiatives as worthy - e.g., raising the minimum wage, that didn’t stop the church from being critical of the corruption found in both parties, the lack of responsiveness of both parties to the needs of the poor, the close ties of many members of congress with special interests and the economic elite, and the bureaucracy that rewards people for belonging to a party rather than for their qualifications and service to the people.

I recalled how Caritas program for citizenship participation works on the local level, empowering the local civil society to demand transparency and foster participation. Responding to the crisis, Caritas will begin a series of “schools for popular formation” in the seven deaneries of the diocese but this is, in some ways, more an extension of the work that has been done in three municipalities.

But will the election really affect the lives of the poor in our area – the poorest diocese of the country? I have my doubts. But it would have probably been the same if Elvin Santos had won.

The problem is the structural injustice which seems endemic here, where the desires of the rich are more important than the needs of the poor. This is in direct contradiction to what Pope John Paul II said several years ago in Canada, “The needs of the poor have priority over the desires of the rich.”

As I reflect on this I recall part of Padre Fausto’s homily yesterday. He asked, rhetorically, if there would be so many candidates for Congress here in Honduras if they were paid the minimum salary.

He also mentioned, referring to the Second Vatican Council’s 1965 Constitution of the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes, 66), the need “to remove as quickly as possible the immense economic inequalities which now exist.”

That concern was echoed, 44 years later, in Pope Benedict XVI’s address on November 16 to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations:
In the current situation there is a continuing disparity in the level of development within and among nations that leads to instability in many parts of the world, accentuating the contrast between poverty and wealth. This no longer applies only to models of development, but also to an increasingly widespread perception concerning food insecurity, namely the tendency to view hunger as structural, an integral part of the socio-political situation of the weakest countries, a matter of resigned regret, if not downright indifference. It is not so, and it must never be so! To fight and conquer hunger it is essential to start redefining the concepts and principles that have hitherto governed international relations, in such a way as to answer the question: what can direct the attention and the consequent conduct of States towards the needs of the poorest? The response must be sought not in the technical aspects of cooperation, but in the principles that lie behind it: only in the name of common membership of the worldwide human family can every people and therefore every country be asked to practise solidarity, that is, to shoulder the burden of concrete responsibilities in meeting the needs of others, so as to favour the genuine sharing of goods, founded on love.
(Italics mine)
The continuing and growing gap between rich and poor is not some Marxist ideology about class struggle. It is a reality here in Honduras - as in many places in the world, including the US. It has been a continuing ethical concern that is not being addressed. But I don't think it will be addressed until the haves support the struggles of the have-nots to change structures of injustice.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Mass in the midst

Today, as usual when I’m in Santa Rosa, I went to Mass up the hill in the little church of San Martín de Porres.

On the way to Mass, about 9:55 am, I passed a polling place at a school up the street. There were about four army troops outside and one at the entrance. There were a few people entering. (When I came back from Mass, about 11:15 am, there was only one military person at the entrance.)

Most Sundays Padre Fausto Milla presides at Mass, as he did today.

Padre Fausto began his commentary after the first reading, Jeremiah 33: 14-16, and then also spoke after the Gospel.

Padre Fausto was very impassioned and spoke of the current situation as a war between the Fatherland and Money (Patria y Dinero). He seems to think that what happens in Honduras will presage what may happen in other countries of Honduras – coups to preserve economic elites.

He mentioned a series of events that provide a snapshot of the situation. I have read other reports that the situation is quite tense in other parts of the country and that even a non-profit, RED Comal, founded by Quakers, which works with campesinos was raided by the military yesterday and computers and other materials were taken.

Padre Fausto spoke of a village where authorities are going around, from house to house and threatening the people with ten years of prison if they don’t vote.

He mentioned a case of the town of San Nicolas, Santa Barbara, where the military did a 4:00 am raid and forced the people out onto the streets.

But one story is almost comical. Padre Esteban in Lepaera, Lempira, has been very outspoken against the coup. Yesterday the military surrounded the parish center, where he also lives and thus would prevent him from coming out. However, their intelligence was really poor. He was out in one of the rural villages and so their encirclement of the parish house was in vain.

A few days ago Padre Esteban was denounced to the authorities and got a visit from the intelligence/investigative arm of the police.

But here in Santa Rosa it’s very peaceful. I pray it stays that way.

A Saint for Today

Twenty nine years ago today, November 29, 1980, Dorothy Day died at Mary House, the Catholic Worker house in the lower east side of Manhattan. She and Peter Maurin had started the Catholic Worker in 1933 and it has spread throughout the world: communities living with the poor, providing their basic needs, and advocating for justice and nonviolence.

Robert Ellsberg who has collected her writings and edited her diaries includes her in his classic book All Saints. He notes how she combines seeming opposites:
The enigma of Dorothy Day was her ability to reconcile her radical social positions (she called herself an anarchist as well as a pacifist) with a traditional and even conservative piety.
I sense this too among many of the campesinos I meet here in western Honduras.

For Dorothy, there was no conflict between charity and justice. Her radical commitment to love was expressed in the works of mercy as well as in political advocacy. As Ellsberg wrote:
She represented a new type of political holiness — a way of serving Christ not only through prayer and sacrifice but through solidarity with the poor and the struggle along the path of justice and peace.
She is truly a saint for today - rooted in God's love and rooted in the reality of poverty and injustice.

She is a saint for Honduras today, suffering under intense poverty and a coup, where "elections" are being held.

She is also a saint who tried in her writing - she was, at heart, a journalist - to speak the truth to power and to show love.

A few days ago I got an e-mail from Jim Forest with this quote from Dorothy Day:
Writing is an act of community. It is a letter, it is comforting, consoling, helping, advising on our part as well as asking it on yours. It is part of our human association with each other. It is an expression of our love and concern for each other.
Dorothy Day, "On Pilgrimage" column, The Catholic Worker, October 1950
Since June I have been doing a lot of blogging and in the process connecting with many people whom I have never met in person. Their notes and comments, as well as the notes of friends, have been for me a sign of that love and concern for each other we all need. Thanks.

This all reminds me of the first verse of the second reading from today's liturgy, 1 Thessalonians 3, 12. The Spanish reads:
Que el Señor los llene y los haga rebolsar de un amor mutuo y hacia todos los demás, como el que yo tengo a ustedes...
I found no English translation that captures the force of this Spanish translation. So here's mine:
May the Lord fill you and even make you overflow with mutual love and love toward others, as the love I have for you.
Here in Santa Rosa we get water only a few times a week and so most houses have tanks on their roofs to store water. But some tanks don't have shut off valves and so when the tanks are full they run over, they overflow - "rebolsan." And so may love run over the tanks, the cups, of all our hearts.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Future of Honduras

Tomorrow, Honduras - tense and militarized - will hold elections for the president, mayors, and members of the national Congress.

What will tomorrow hold?

According to a Brazilian official, US president Obama in a letter to President Lula of Brazil said that the situation would “start from zero” after the election. I doubt that.

Honduras is probably already below zero. The economy is, I believe, experiencing negative growth as a result of the coup.

Hunger is increasing and is being used in the elections. For example, in the department of Intibucá last Sunday a rally of the one of the traditional party brought out lots of people, clogging the road – because the party was offering a meal!

But today I saw another side of the future of Honduras.

In 1994, Santa Rosa bishop, Monseñor Luis Alfonso Santos, a Belgian, Tony Limere, and others started Fondación Polígono which has hired and trained many young people in the production of loofah bath scrubs from paste, a local plant. The products are sold in Europe but they don’t, as yet, have a US outlet. (Hint!) The foundation also has been a site for the weekend classes of Maestro en Casa. Students listen to radio classes at home during the week and come to the campus of the foundation for reviews and tests on Saturday or Sunday.

Today 16 young men and women graduated from the high school program. (I use the term high school and junior high even though the system is not the same as the US system.) I went to the program, as a representative of Caritas. It was moving to see these young people and their proud parents come up and get their diploma. They come from poor families and would never have been able to get a high school degree if it weren’t for this program. Some of them come from villages that have no high school. Others have to work during the day and so cannot go to school.

Monseñor Santos began the celebration with Mass. Before the diplomas were given out, certificates and medals were given to the students in junior high and high school with the best grades. After one young man who is finishing junior high got his medal, it was announced that he has done this with a family and a full-time job from Monday to Saturday noon.

There’s one other aspect of this effort which is quite impressive. The program has received assistance from Irish Aid. But many of the costs of the education program are paid for from the profits of the loofah plant. As Monseñor noted, here’s a case of the poor helping the poor.

That’s what give me hope.

Speaking of hope, this morning I read an essay of Henri Nouwen, “Waiting for God,” in the collection of Advent, Watch for the Light, originally published by the Bruderhof but now an Orbis book.

Several sentences struck me:
“We can only really wait if what we are waiting for has already begun in us.”

“The secret of waiting is the faith that the seed has been planted, that something has begun. Active waiting means to be fully present to the moment, in the conviction that something is happening where you are and that you want to be present to it.”
Nouwen is very clearly speaking about waiting in a religious sense. But I wonder if we cannot have hope – and wait in hope – if there are no signs of what we hope for present. I wonder if the present feeling here in Honduras may not be related to the fact that the presidential elections don’t offer the people much to really hope for. The two major parties leave a lot to be desired.

But the eight young women and eight young men who graduated this morning offer hope.


A few odds and ends:

El Tiempo is one of Honduras’ major newspapers. Its owner is one of the richest men in the country, Jaime Rosenthal. But, unlike the other papers which are totally in favor of the coup and the Micheletti regime, El Tiempo has been a little fairer in its reporting. Jaime Rosenthal even came out against the coup about a month ago. But still I was a little surprised at these paragraphs of an editorial from Friday, November 20:
12,000 soldiers, 14,000 policemen and 5,000 reservists are directly involved in the control of the polling centers and the electorate. The armed forces have asked mayors to compile lists of "enemies" of the electoral process in order to "neutralize" them. The Attorney General has ordered all 530 public prosecutors around the country to stand ready to prosecute "electoral delinquents."
How can one speak of free and fair elections under these conditions? What reasonable citizen would feel comfortable voting, along with his or her family, in a climate dominated by threats, fear and the lack of trust?
Soldiers and police have been very evident in the streets of Santa Rosa de Copán today. A group of soldiers seems to be guarding a public building just off the central plaza, presumably where the ballots are being held. But I saw army foot patrols this morning and several patrols of police – on foot, on motorcycle, and in a pick up – several times today.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Machine gun

Here's a photo I took today of the machine gun on the pick up at the turn off to Gracias, Lempira, near Santa Rosa de Copán. I mentioned it in my Sunday, November 22 blog entry.

Om my way to Gracias to celebrate Thanksgiving with Sisters Nancy and Brenda, two Franciscan sisters from Iowa, I did not see a lot of troops. But I have heard that they are guarding closely the ballots that are in the municipalities.

It is always to good to meet with the sisters who are a real blessing for the parish of San Marcos in Gracias. Their presence is also a great source of support for me.

A Guatemalan Franciscan priest who is serving a parish in Olancho joined us for a simple meal and great conversation.

It was good to be able to celebrate Thansgiving in Gracias - which is the Spanish word for "Thanks."

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Seeing the poor

It's hard knowing what one should be when seeing the poor and when they ask for help.

The other night an older man knocked at the outer door to my house and asked for something. I explained to him that I don't give out money and then thought if I had any food to share with him. At that point I couldn't think of anything I could share with him. I didn't have any fruit and I forget that I had crackers. And so he left.

I felt bad, and still do, especially reading James 2: 15-16

If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day and one of you says, "Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well, but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it?
I think I will try to always have something in the cupboard so that I can share.

And then I came across a photo that struck me - it's the de facto president at Mass on Monday in Tegucigalpa. I think it was a Mass in the basilica of the Virgin of Suyapa, the patroness of Honduras, where four of the presidential candidates were present. (The Wall Street Journal's description states: "IN THE AISLE: Honduras' interim president Roberto Micheletti looked at a homeless woman sitting in an aisle during Mass in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Monday....")

According to a news report, at the end of the Mass Micheletti told the four candidates:
 "I ask you, four extraordinary men, that if God wills to place you in the post [of president] that you will never try to place yourselves above the law of God and the law of humans, that we dedicate ourselves to this Honduras which needs so much."

But then there's this passage from James 2: 2-4:

For if a man with gold rings on his fingers and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and a poor person in shabby clothes also comes in, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say. "Sit here, please, while you way to the poor one, "Stand there," or "Sit at my feet," have you not made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil designs?"
We are all judged and found wanting by the Word of God.

Revised slightly November 25, 2009, 10:09 am

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A week of waiting

Next Sunday elections will be held here in Honduras.

Today I passed a window with a sign that read "They all lie. Nobody fulfills [their promises]. Vote for nobody."

The June 28 coup that removed the elected president, José Manuel Zelaya, from his home and the country and placed transport mogul and long-term congressman (28 years?), Roberto Micheletti, as de facto president.

Various efforts to mediate the crisis have ended up as failures and so the crisis of constitutional order has not been resolved. No nation of the world recognized the de facto regime but that has not stopped the regime from going forward with the elections.

The campaigning is largely over and we await elections which most of the world probably won't recognize as legitimate. (Sadly the U.S. seems intent on recognizing them.)

What will it mean here? I really don't know.

I know that some people will not go out to vote because they are opposed to the coup and are boycotting it and urging others to boycott. (They face prospects of legal prosecution.) Others will not vote because they are just fed up with the politicians. The 2006 election had a 56% turnout, the lowest since the 1983 constitution went into effect. People I know see the two party system as corrupt and non-responsive to the people. The parties award their cronies and punish their opponents. (Getting a teacher's job sometimes depends on your connection with a party and politicians.) And so they might say, as I heard in the US, "Why vote? it only encourages them."

There may be some who go and vote because they really believe the elections may be a way to provide a partial resolution to the crisis. Others may vote out of fear since not voting is a crime.

The Vatican Radio interviewed Father Germán Cálix, the executive director of the national Caritas office. You can read an article based on the interview at Zenit. He's a lot more sanguine than I am about the possible effects of the elections. I know a few priests here who would dispute his take on the situation. They might agree with his statement that Honduras needs to "mend the social fabric that was torn by the conflict, and channel energies," but they would add that there is a need to "re-found Honduras." There is a need to work for reconciliation - but this must go hand in hand with a struggle for justice.

As I have said often, elections will not solve the crisis since its roots are much deeper, in a structure of injustice that enables economic and political elites to remain in power and increase their influence and wealth.

Where will this go? I do not know. I'll have to wait.

But I do know that there is another way to wait, a way more appropriate to the Christian season of Advent which is approaching - preparing for the Lord, by making straight his paths, by being and working with the poor and marginalized so that they may begin to construct structures of justice in their villages and neighborhoods and towns.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Who rules in Honduras?

Since about two weeks ago the country has become more militarized, with more police and military throughout the country.

Last Wednesday friends came to visit from Gracias and told me that there were at least two armed military on every bridge between Gracias and Santa Rosa. A friend who traveled from the San Pedro Sula airport to Santa Rosa de Copán at 1 am on Friday mentioned that they passed 20 checkpoints. (I think the number may be an exaggeration.) But I have seen more police and a good number of soldiers at the checkpoint outside of town by the road to Gracias. There are often transit police there but the presence of the military is new. Yet Sunday, returning from Dulce Nombre, as the bus passed the checkpoint I saw something I haven’t seen since El Salvador in the early 1990s – a machine gun on the top of a pick up truck.

Some are afraid and, I believe, sowing fear by the presence of so many troops. There are others who are fearful for the situation. One parish in the diocese canceled its evening Mass on election day because of concerns that there might be violence - between partisans of the two major parties!

But there was a very different message this Sunday in the village of Candelaria in the parish of Dulce Nombre. Over 1000 gathered on the lawn outside the church for the parish Mass for the feast of Christ the King. Their faith tells them something different. As they sang as a response to the prayers of petition, “May Jesus reign, may His heart rule – in our county, on our soil.”

To make it clear who should rule in Honduras, Padre Efraín Romero, the pastor of Dulce Nombre and the director of the diocesan Caritas office, gave an impassioned twenty minute homily, broadcast on the diocesan radio station. Here are some excerpts:
This is a time of both joy and sorrow. It is a joy to work together with all of you seeking the people’s liberation, a liberation which Jesus gives us, liberation from sin.

But this joy has been turned into sadness with the situation we have in our country which is for me a pity, a shame. I feel very ashamed to have politicians of the type we have here in Honduras…

Cowardice cannot blind [us to] the essence of the structure of sin which is concealed within, which does not liberate but oppresses, which leads to more illiteracy, hospitals without medicine, teachers who don’t give classes, school without teachers. This is very sad….

Celebrating this Eucharist signifies for me to say to the Lord that you are the king and only you have the words of eternal life.
He then noted how it is easy for priests and pastoral workers to become comfortable and accommodate themselves to injustice and fail to denounce it. (Interestingly this was also a concern that surfaced at the diocesan assembly two weeks ago.)

Recalling that Christ is our peace, Padre Efraín, he continued:
Christ denounced sin offering his life, shedding his blood.
There have been many deaths, but these people have not had weapons…
We must ask the Lord that we may resist with peace.

Many people have struggled, been provoked to take up arms, but these Hondurans have not done it . They are us….We will not take up arms – we must not do this. If any of you are thinking of this, you must not do it for any reason at all.

We must make the battle as Mohandas Gandhi did, as Jesus Christ did – without weapons….

We must ask the Lord to illumine each one of us, all the people who make decisions in our country….
He then noted that, within the area of the parish, some people have being buying cedulas (i.d. cards) for 200 Lempiras (about $11). Representatives of one of the traditional parties is buying the cedulas and holding them for six days and because of this the person won't be able to vote.

But then he returned to the struggle, the conflict.
Don’t let yourselves be deceived…. Our enemy ought to be not another person, but the devil…. Our enemies ought not to be any person but the forces of evil which poison some hearts and through them there is the shedding of blood, there’s exploitation….

We must ask the Lord that the combat not be against persons but against the forces of evil. Now. If it’s against the forces of evil, Jesus has already conquered sin… Jesus has crushed the enemy And if the enemy is already crushed, the people has to crush the structure of injustice – because all Hondurans deserve a better destiny….

Ask the Lord to give the light, the light of truth – to the People, for he is the way the truth and the life. If Jesus is the life, no one has permission to kill – no one!
Then he made an appeal to the armed forces and military, reminiscent of Salvadoran archbishop Romero’s appeal the day before he was killed and echoed in the July 2 statement of the Santa Rosa Diocesan Pastoral Council: “No one ought to obey an order to kill.”

He repeated this appeal to any civilians who might be armed: “No one ought to obey an order to kill.”

And he urged a different type of struggle: “We must use the arms of faith – take up the weapons of faith – prayer, fasting, and charity. We must ask God to transform us – each of us – that he transform me…”

Concluding, he asked all present and all those listening on the radio to take time to pray, asking the Lord to transform us – in the depths of our hearts, asking the Lord for our conversion, for the conversion of those who have decisions in this country, for our family’s conversion and the conversion of the departmental and municipal authorities. “Pray that Christ guide our thoughts.”

He asked all of us to bow our heads in prayer, asking for conversion. He concluded by leading the congregation in a popular hymn which reflects the popular religiosity of the people, but took on a deeper meaning: Señor, yo quiero ser un verdadero adorador – Lord, I want to be a true adorer.

The Mass continued and concluded with a ceremony for the delegates of the Word who lead Sunday celebrations in the 45 villages in the parish. Close to 100 men and women were given small crosses to wear, as signs of their commitment to preach the Word in their villages.

It was a moving day. I was close to tears during the homily. One thought went through my mind toward the end of the homily. Before Mass I had been going around meeting with many of the pastoral workers in the parish, talking with some of the kids I had met while visiting their villages, and seeing so many people – some of whom had walked several hours to get to the site of the Mass.

What I found myself thinking – as a type of mantra – was: “These people deserve more.” Only when I listened to the tape I had made of the homily did I realize that Padre Efraín had said the same.

Yes, these people deserve more.

Who rules Honduras? And for whom is Honduras ruled?

My prayer is that the Kingdom of God, the Reign of God, may begin to rule here – a Kingdom which is, in the words of the liturgy today, a Kingdom of justice, love, and peace.

Of course, I don’t expect the Kingdom to come in its fullness here on earth. We await another Kingdom. But Catholic teaching calls us to look for and work so that the signs, the glimpses, of this Kingdom may be seen and experienced here on earth – especially by the poor.

"Your Kingdom come."
Luke 11:2

"Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God."
Luke 6: 20

corrected November 23 2009, 8:45 pm

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

At the side of the road

Monday it was my turn to lead the reflection on the Gospel for the meeting of program staff at Caritas. We usually read the next Sunday’s Gospel, but I goofed up and we read the Gospel for Monday, Luke 18: 35-43. A fortuitous error.

In this passage a blind man in Jericho, seated at the side of the road, calls out for Jesus but people try to shut him up. But he persists. Jesus then comes and asks the blind man, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man is healed and follows Jesus.

During our reflection, Manuel, who works on agricultural projects, noted that Jesus almost always deals with the people at the side of the road. He also noted how we try not to listen to them; in fact, we often try to shut them up!

Those at the margins of society have a special place in the heart of God – because they are marginalized. They call out and many try to shut them up, for disturbing the peace (our “peace”), for being a nuisance to society. But Jesus listens, draws them near– and heals them.

What a marvelous God – who listens to those we want to shut up, to those who disturb us, to those who make us uncomfortable. And who listens to us.

Manuel’s wisdom really reminded me of what we’re called to be, disciples and servants.

This week is a little less busy than the past few weeks and so I was able to get to Hogar San José (the home for malnourished kids under 5) on Sunday and to the comedor de niños (the diocesan lunch program for kids) on Tuesday.

At the comedor an older kid – about 11 – whom I don’t remember seeing before, came up to me and hugged me. I don’t know why – but it touched me. And he was barefoot!

At the side of the ride Jesus finds those in need. And so the blind man “immediately received his sight and followed [Jesus], giving glory to God. When they saw this, all the people gave praise to God.”

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

No comment

From an article in the Wall Street Journal on Honduras Cardinal Óscar Rodríguez:
Cardinal Rodríguez sees the rule of law as an important link to development. "The key is to assure justice," he says, "because if you don't have legal security, you are not going to invest. Investment is very important. With investments there are more jobs for our people."

Speaking of investors, the cardinal says, "of course they are not all saints," and human rights must be protected. "But what should we do without those jobs?" he asks. Then he adds, "Maquilas [assembly plants] are especially important for women, because their jobs have been a source of dignity. When they earn their own money they are no longer slaves to the macho man in their lives, who often is not even their husband."
From a press release for a new book from Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR):
“Gabriela Saavedra worked seven days a week in a Korean-owned sweatshop in Honduras. Her days typically began at 7 a.m. and ended at 6 p.m. … Employees were given an ultimatum: either they worked mandatory overtime or they lost their jobs. Some days Gabriela had gone without sleep because she had been forced to work until 5 a.m. She had little time to eat or go to the bathroom.”

Monday, November 16, 2009

A civilization of poverty

Twenty years ago today six Jesuit priests at the Central American University in San Salvador and two women, a worker in the university and her daughter, were brutally killed by troops of the Salvadoran army, an army financed by the United States.

The crime of the Jesuits was to take a stand for the poor and to demand justice. The crime of the women was to be poor and to be witnesses to injustice.

Padre Ignacio Ellacuría, the rector of the university, had written on “the civilization of poverty.” The concept – paradoxical as it may be – has captured my imagination and I really would like to pursue it more thoroughly. It’s related to concepts of austerity and moderation but it implies much more. Ellacuría wrote:
“Rather than capital accumulation, the civilization of poverty proposes as dynamizing principle the dignifying of work, of work that will have as its principal object not the production of capital but the perfecting of the human being. Work, viewed at once as the personal and collective means to assure the satisfaction of basic needs and as a form of self-realization, would supersede different forms of self- and hetero-exploitation and would likewise supersede inequalities that are both an affront and the cause of domination and antagonism.”
Ignacio Ellacuría, S.J., “Utopia and Prophecy in Latin America,”
in Towards a Society that Serves Its People, p. 75
Jesuit Dean Brackley has noted that this approach subordinates the production of capital to production to satisfy the basic needs of everyone. What a different world that would be.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Good news and bad

The Santa Rosa de Copán diocesan assembly ended today, a day earlier than planned. It was a fruitful meeting with about 100 priests and lay leaders meeting with the bishop to plan for the coming years – and to prepare the way for the diocese’s third pastoral plan.

The third pastoral plan will be prepared by a commission based on the deliberations and recommendations of several diocesan assemblies as well as meetings of the priests’ council. The diocese hopes to have it written and approved some time next year. It’s a twelve year plan to be reviewed every three years.

In the bishop’s official naming of the commission he noted the six theological pastoral principles for the diocese:
  1. Option for the poor
  2. Participation, Communion, Liberation
  3. Three fold ministry [prophetic, liturgical, social]
  4. Proclamation of the Good News of the Kingdom
  5. Creation and Life
  6. Common Good, Faith and Life
Not a bad choice of basic principles, I’d say. If course they fit well with the diocesan general objective:
to work for a diocese organized in church base communities which are in solidarity, prophetic, missionary and transformative, contributing to the integral formation and liberation of the human person, preferencially those most in need, to make presence the Kingdom of God.
During the assembly Caritas did a little survey to pull together some data on the 41 parishes of the diocese. The results will be tabulated later but I did a quick look and found out, to my surprise, that there are more than 5630 church base communities formed or in process of being formed in the diocese. That’s impressive and provides a very useful means for the diocese to continue its process of evangelization.

The meeting, though, closed early because of two deaths. The mother of the priests died of cancer and some were going to her funeral.

But what had really shocked the assembly was the violent death of a Capuchin Franciscan priest who served in the parish in Nueva Ocotopeque and in the Capuchin community there. (Nueva Ocotopeque is in the diocese of Santa Rosa.) Padre Miguel Angel Hernández Salazar. ofm cap, a Guatemalan, had been missing since Saturday when he went to an area in nearby Guatemala, reportedly to buy some materials for religious education. His body was found on Tuesday. It does not seem that this was politically motivated since the area in Guatemala where he was passing through is known for its crime and, according to one report, he was not very politically engaged. However, he was somewhat involved in the local church's ministry to migrants.

But at the assembly we also heard of another case of threats against a priest in the diocese, in addition to the one I mentioned yesterday. Padre Julián Diez, CP, a Spanish Passionist priest, is pastor of the parish of San Juan Bautista in Quimistán, Santa Barbara. He has been supportive of the diocesan position against the coup and received threats for his stance.

Where this will lead I do not know. But as the November 29 elections come closer and as there seems to be no hope of a solution of the constitutional crisis, the next two weeks are bound to be tense.

Veering from my normal course:

And now for a bit of my commentary on my own country.

I hear a lot of people here stating that the US was behind the coup. I’ve tended to be somewhat skeptical about such claims.

However, in my estimation, the US has not played a very good, just, or even-handed role in regard to coup. It has been half-hearted in its calls for a reversal of the coup. It has been quick to critique Zelaya and slower than a turtle in critiquing Micheletti. It has been almost silent in the face of human rights violations and repressive measures of the coup. The statements of the US representative to the Organization of American States have been disgraceful. Its latest maneuvers in the face of the failed San José/Tegucigalpa accords, especially the remarks of Shannon intimating that the US will recognize the elections, have set back the possibility for a just solution. I fear that the US administration – especially the State Department – has not supported the cause of justice, human rights, and democracy.

I would have hoped for better.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

With the diocese

This week the bishop, the priests, and lay leaders of the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán, more than 100 of them, are meeting to evaluate the past year and to plan for next year – as well as to work on the third Pastoral Plan of the diocese. The plan has been in the works for a few years, but as the bishop said at Mass the other night it will have to be looked at again, since the situation in Honduras is different since June 28, the day of the coup.

The meeting is taking place in a difficult time for Honduras with elections scheduled for November 29 and no solution in sight to resolve the mess created by the coup.

Tonight I took a walk and had a wonderful conversation with a leader from a town in the hills of the department of Lempira. He insisted on buying me a Coke! We talked about his life, his family, his eight year old son who is, in his eyes, a little genius. (I’m only slightly exaggerating.) We talked about all sorts of things. His wife is a primary school teacher, but because many of the openings for teachers are given out based on one’s political politics, she leaves on Monday and returns on Friday. We also talked about how the economy has worsened here – mostly due to the world-wide economic crisis but also partly due to the effects of the coup.

Many are saying elections are the solution. I have even heard that there are some church programs and priests urging people to vote. But Monseñor Santos, our bishop, told the priests not to tell the people either to vote or not to vote. He sees the need for long-term resistance to the economic and political injustice which pervade Honduras.

But that could be costly.

This became a little more real when Sister Nancy pointed out a priest to me who had been getting death threats, presumably because he had been speaking out on the coup. About a week ago the deanery issued a public statement in his support. A translation follows:

Public Statement

The priests and the pastoral workers in the Deanery of the North of [the department of] Lempira, in the face of the political instability brought on by the coup d’état of June 28 declare in the following terms:
  1. We are in solidarity of the pastoral work of Father Salomé Peñate on behalf of Justice, Truth, and Peace.
  2. We reject the campaign of slander and calumny which some individuals of the traditional [political] parties, anonymously, are making against Father Salomé Peñate and other priests of the diocese.
  3. We forcefully condemn the death threats against Father Peñate and the psychological pressure against some pastoral workers.
  4. We hold responsible the traditional [political] Parties for whatever political and moral harm may come to any of the priests and pastoral workers of the deanery and of the diocese (of Santa Rosa de Copán).
  5. We vehemently request the entities (both civil and military) in charge of the security of the civilian population to take note of this [communication].
  6. We exhort all Catholic Christians to remain faith and firm in their commitment to Christ and his Kingdom – a Kingdom of Justice and Truth of Peace and Love. We recall what Saint Peter said in the Acts of the Apostles 5:29:
“We must obey God before humans.”

Released in Lepaera, Lempira, November 4, 2009.

“Yes to Justice and truth; no to lies and corruption.”

Sunday, November 08, 2009

So many witnesses

I have this attraction to saints and holy people. Some would call it devotion, but it’s more than that. I have even put together a calendar of saints and witnesses with quotes from many of them.

November is a month particularly full of saints and witnesses. Today is the birthday of Dorothy Day (1897-1980) as well as the feast of Blessed John Duns Scotus, the medieval Franciscan theologian and philosopher from whose name we get the word “dunce” who died on November 8, 1308.

Dorothy Day’s witness of simple care for the poor and advocacy for justice has been an inspiration for many years. I was in her presence a few times. Once in the early 1970s, it was after a Friday night "Clarification of Thought" at the New York City Catholic Worker. I don’t remember much except that she came across as a simple caring grandmother.

Maybe that is the secret of her appeal. As she once wrote:
People say, "What good can one person do? What is the sense of our small effort?" They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time. We can be responsible only for the one action of the present moment. But we can beg for an increase of love in our hearts that will vitalize and transform all our individual actions, and know that God will take them and multiply them, as Jesus multiplied the loaves and the fishes.
This morning I read a little on John Duns Scotus in Daniel Ellsberg’s Todos Santos that also spoke of love - in a slightly different way. One quote struck me (translated by me into English): “I am of the opinion that God wished to redeem us in this way, above all by attracting us [enticing us] to his love.”

Maybe this is why I love to go out to the countryside.

Yesterday I went out to Dulce Nombre. I attended part of a meeting of pastoral workers from one of the zones, but I also spent a fair amount of time with about eleven young people who are helping the parish prepare part of the parish grounds as a soccer field. The associate at Dulce Nombre, Padre Julio César Galdámez, has been working with the youth and was there with them – raking the land and spreading earth. But it was amazing to see these young people, mostly guys from the town of Dolores, working hard and then, after lunch, playing hard.

It’s a blessing to be able to be with them.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Speaking out

Today is the birthday of Albert Camus (1913-1960), French philosopher, novelist, journalist, and activist who was born in Algeria. His writings have had a major impact on my life. In the mid-1960s I came across this quote from a speech of his, “The Unbeliever and the Christian,” at a Dominican monastery in 1948:
“What the world expects of Christians is that Christians should speak out, loud and clear, and that they should voice their condemnation in such a way that never a doubt, never the slightest doubt, could rise in the heart of the simplest [person]. That they should get away from abstraction and confront the bloodstained face history has taken on today.”

His novel The Plague is one of my favorite pieces of fiction. Interestingly, it was written during World War II while Camus was staying at Le Chambon-sur-Lingon, a French village notable for its efforts to save Jews, led by the pacifist Protestant pastor, André Trocmé, and his wife Magda.

This novel, set in Algeria, explores how people respond to a plague. Written during the Second World War it is hard to see that this is not a metaphor for Nazism and anti-Semitism. I heartily recommend the novel and the set of essays, Resistance, Rebellion, and Death, to challenge people and institutions to respond directly to the evils around us and to be straight-forward, not mincing words, when faced with evil.

I just wish that some sections of the church here in Honduras and the US government were more direct in confronting the evils found here.

What has especially bothered me has been the one-sidedness of the condemnations of the Cardinal and others against Zelaya and the failure of the US to condemn the human rights abuses that have been noted by international groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

This is not to say that Zelaya is exempt from critique. Anyone who knows the history of the last few years here will recognize that he has done enough to deserve judicial proceedings and that Bishop Santos and Jesuit Ismael Moreno and others who oppose the coup were also critical of many of the policies and actions of Zelaya, and even more critical of the way that the Honduran Congress, led by Micheletti, opposed some major changes, especially in the mining law.

What I long for, though, are clear voices, like our bishop and the statements of the priests of our diocese.