Saturday, January 31, 2009


I am a little surprised how hard the robbery has been on me. I don´t want vengeance and I don´t plan on leaving. I may seek a new place to live unless the security is improved. But it´s been more of a spiritual test.

Thursday night Father Efrain came over. I thought we were going to talk about some work in CARITAS and Dulce Nombre, but it was reqlly a pastoral visit - and a great help. At one point he spoke of how the devil puts obstacles in our way when we´re doing good work.

I think in the past I´ve not seen this or believed it. But more recently I am beginning to think that Satan - the Hinderer - does act in this way. Not only does the theft of my computer make me feel depressed, closes me off from others, and makes me feel helpless and useless - but it also hinders the work of CARITAS as well as the work of my ministry in Dulce Nombre and in the Catholic University.

I really feel numb and don´t really know what to do. The one option is to spend mopre to recuperate my possessions (viz., buy a new computer) - money I have but not in abundance.

There have been other more personal ways that it seems that the devil - the diabolos, the one who throws things against us - ssems to have been trying to undermine my work.

No. I´ve not become a raving lunatic in this. St. Ignatius of Loyola´s Spiritual Exercises and Dean Brackley´s book speak of the"evil spirits". Even the liberal theologian Walter Wink speaks of the principalities and powers and I also think that the Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder spoek of them.

But in all this I find that I´m being called to trust more in God´s providence, to throw myself into the arms of the Lord.

And, yet in all this, God has been good. There have been any number of people who have been helpful as well as many who´ve been sympathetic.

And then there´s the clincher. I don´t know how many times I´ve been in a situation and happened to pick up a book that really helped. And so it happened again.

While waiting for the poilcie to arrive at the house Thrusday morning (about an hour late), I picked up Henri Nouwen´s With Burning Hearts.

He speaks of five steps from recsentment to gratitude, the first of which is "mourning our losses".

That´s where I´ve been - feeling lost and having lost important things, things that in a sense helped me establish my identity, or at least my work.

And so I still wonder if this is a way God is offering me an opportunity to strip down even more.

The second step is discerning the presence of God, who reveals our sadness "as part of a larger sadness in which joy was hidden."

As Nouwen writes (p. 42): "You have been complaining about your losses, not realizing that these losses are there to enable you to receive the gift of life."

And then Thursday´s lectionary reading from Hebrews 10:32-39 spoke to me. The author is speaking to a persecuted church who "endured a hard struggle with sufferings," who "cheerfully accepted the plundering of [their] possessions." My loss was merely the result of a robbery, but others suffer because of their faith and their commitment to Christ and the poor.

But the reading advises us: "Do not abandon - throw away - your confidence....You need endurance to do the will of God.

But the last verse is a clincher¨¨We are not among those who shrink back...¨ What a temptation it has been to shrink back, to pull back from everything.

But "We are among those who have faith,¨ those who place their confidene in a God who loves us and was not afraid to sufffer with us.

One last quote from Nouwen (p. 27):
To grieve is to allow our losses to tear apart feelings of security and safety and lead us to the painful truth of our brokenness.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


This morning while I was out at the lunch program for kids someone forcibly broke into my house, stole my computer, the old broken computer, computer speakers, a radio, a flash drive or two, and a number of other things. I have some things saved on an external drive but I haven´t updated it for a month or more. I also lost the material I was working on for CARITAS, for several groups that are coming and much more.

To help me please send me your e-mail address at


Saturday, January 24, 2009


President Obama in some ways offers hope to the US. I was very pleased that he plans to close the prisons at Guantamo and that his first overseas call was to the president of Palestine.

However, two recent actions of his administration worry me.

On Friday, January 23, President Obama rescinded the restrictions on US aid to international aid organizations that provide or promote abortion.

Secondly, almost the very same day, air attacks were made by US forces on assumed terrorist sites in Pakistan, without consulting the Pakistani government. As the Washington Post noted, “Two remote U.S. missile strikes that killed at least 20 people at suspected terrorist hideouts in northwestern Pakistan.”

What leads people to believe that violence solves problems?

Some people believe that the poor of the world need abortions. Some would take this as a racist and classist position: “Why do we let all these people keep producing more and more kids each year? Why not give them easy access to abortion?”

What the poor of this world need is justice – enough food to eat, secure work that supports their families, peace. It is clear that more security and more opportunities has an effect on the birth rates.

Here in Honduras there are many teenage pregnancies. The causes are many, but consider the fact that only 30% of those who could go beyond sixth grade actually go to school. There are kindergartens and primary schools in most villages, although they are not always very good, since education is politicized here. But to go to beyond sixth grade a child would have often have to walk to a nearby town. And there are even fewer high schools.

That’s why the church’s program “Maestro en casa” is a great way to help people – young and old – get an education; there are workbooks and programs on the radio which are reinforced by sessions with teachers usually on Saturdays or Sundays. This week I was talking with one of the women in the CARITAS who works with the program who told me that last year there were about 1400 students in the program in the department of Copán – and she and another woman were entering the grades in the official books by hand!

Studies have shown that investment in the education of women has an effect on the population growth. They’re studying!

The Pakistani missile attacks also trouble me. It would be unwise, I believe, for the US to get out of Iraq and deepen its military involvement in Afghanistan. What we need is a need diplomacy. Even more a real commitment to seeking – together with all nations - real solutions to the violence in the world.

The way to peace, I believe, has to go through the tough work of justice. Abortion and missile strikes don’t solve problems; they are “short-cuts” that may, I fear, result in short-circuiting the real hard work that mist be done.

And so, I pray that President Obama and the US will seek the way of peace, justice, and life. May God give them – us – the courage and the imagination needed for the task.


Another note on education

Father Efraín Romero, pastor of the parish of Dulce Nombre, told me of an initiative in the town of San Agustín in the parish. A group is planning to start a Catholic primary school for very poor children in a barrio (neighborhood) where there is no access to education. They will have to buy land, build the school, pay for teachers, and go through the bureaucracy so that the school is recognized. This will probably take a year, but it’s an effort by people who are not rich to provide for the education of the poorest, who are so often ignored by the government here.

I hope and pray that this will happen. It appears that some financial aid will come from a European source for the initial capital costs. But it will need ongoing support and some creative projects to make it sustainable.

Please keep these people in your prayers.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

In the light of the increasing gulf between the rich and the poor in the world and within many nations - including the US and Honduras - let's take these words to heart:

"...a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous."
President Barack Obama

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A prayer for the nation

This morning I found this prayer on the blog Whispers in the Loggia - This is a blog of the American correspondent of The Tablet, an English Catholic weekly.

The "Prayer for the Nation and the Civil Authorities" was written and first delivered in 1791 by John Carroll of Baltimore, a cousin of a signer of the Declaration of Independence and the nation's first bishop...
We pray, Thee O Almighty and Eternal God! Who through Jesus Christ hast revealed Thy glory to all nations, to preserve the works of Thy mercy, that Thy Church, being spread through the whole world, may continue with unchanging faith in the confession of Thy Name.

We pray Thee, who alone art good and holy, to endow with heavenly knowledge, sincere zeal, and sanctity of life, our chief bishop, Pope Benedict, the Vicar of Our Lord Jesus Christ, in the government of his Church; our own Bishop, N., all other bishops, prelates, and pastors of the Church; and especially those who are appointed to exercise amongst us the functions of the holy ministry, and conduct Thy people into the ways of salvation.

We pray Thee O God of might, wisdom, and justice! Through whom authority is rightly administered, laws are enacted, and judgment decreed, assist with Thy Holy Spirit of counsel and fortitude the President of these United States, that his administration may be conducted in righteousness, and be eminently useful to Thy people over whom he presides; by encouraging due respect for virtue and religion; by a faithful execution of the laws in justice and mercy; and by restraining vice and immorality. Let the light of Thy divine wisdom direct the deliberations of Congress, and shine forth in all the proceedings and laws framed for our rule and government, so that they may tend to the preservation of peace, the promotion of national happiness, the increase of industry, sobriety, and useful knowledge; and may perpetuate to us the blessing of equal liberty.

We pray for his excellency, the governor of this state, for the members of the assembly, for all judges, magistrates, and other officers who are appointed to guard our political welfare, that they may be enabled, by Thy powerful protection, to discharge the duties of their respective stations with honesty and ability.

We recommend likewise, to Thy unbounded mercy, all our brethren and fellow citizens throughout the United States, that they may be blessed in the knowledge and sanctified in the observance of Thy most holy law; that they may be preserved in union, and in that peace which the world cannot give; and after enjoying the blessings of this life, be admitted to those which are eternal.

Finally, we pray to Thee, O Lord of mercy, to remember the souls of Thy servants departed who are gone before us with the sign of faith and repose in the sleep of peace; the souls of our parents, relatives, and friends; of those who, when living, were members of this congregation, and particularly of such as are lately deceased; of all benefactors who, by their donations or legacies to this Church, witnessed their zeal for the decency of divine worship and proved their claim to our grateful and charitable remembrance.

To these, O Lord, and to all that rest in Christ, grant, we beseech Thee, a place of refreshment, light, and everlasting peace, through the same Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Savior. Amen.

Monday, January 19, 2009

CARITAS – Santa Rosa de Copán

CARITAS is the Catholic Church’s official international aid agency, with CARITAS offices in most countries of the world, as well as in many dioceses.

CARITAS of the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán has worked on a number of projects through the years. Currently there are projects in education through the radio and weekend classes, preparation for disasters/risk management in rural communities, training for democratic participation, and two small enterprises - a bakery and a meat preparation project. There have been some agricultural projects, but none currently due to lack of funding.

There has been some concern in the diocese that CARITAS was not working with the parishes and with the Social Ministry of the diocese. The social ministry of the diocese is part of the “triple ministry” approach which pervades the diocese. Each base community is supposed to have people committed to each of the three ministries: prophetic (religious education, etc.), liturgical (Mass, Celebrations of the Word, choirs, retreats, etc.), and social.

Each base community is represented in the church council in the village. The villages send representatives to the sector meetings which send representatives to the zone, which in turn sends representatives to the parish council. Each of the three ministries has a diocesan committee composed of one priest from each of the six deaneries and a layperson from each parish.

For the last few years, the diocesan social ministry has not been integrated with CARITAS. But this is changing.

Recently a new director of CARITAS was appointed, Father Efraín Romero, and the bishop appointed me as associate director. Father Efraín is also the new diocesan coordinator of social ministry. He is concerned with formation in Catholic Social Teaching as well as with projecting the work of CARITAS in the parishes for the integral development of the people. As he says, a key concern is feeding the people and a critical part of this is helping them produce what they need.

This new ministry will be quite a challenge – not only formulating proposals and overseeing them, but finding financial support for projects. I also look forward to finding ways to educate people in Catholic Social Thought. This diocese is one of the poorest parts of the country with immense needs, but also with great potential. And so this is one way for me to try to help those most in need.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The campesinos

In Spanish the word used for people who work in the countryside is campesinos, which some people translate as peasant or farmer. One dictionary translates it also as “hick.” I prefer to keep the Spanish word since it refers to people who live and work in the campo, the countryside and, at least in English, doesn't have the negative connotations of words like "peasant".

Yesterday two visitors – Bobby Hunter and Joey Dobson – and I went out to three rural villages in the parish of Dulce Nombre with Father Efraín Romero, the pastor. It was a cold, misty and rainy day.

Because of the rain two of the roads we traveled were very muddy and we had to push the four wheel drive pick-up out of the ruts. I helped a little and got fairly muddy. Luckily we had picked up some people on the way and they helped push.

Father was going out to celebrate Mass and Baptisms for the feast of El Cristo Negro de Esquipulas, the black Christ of Esquipulas. Esquipulas is a pilgrimage site in Guatemala not too far from here where there is an image of the crucified Christ as a black man. Wes Meier, a friend who is a Peace Corps worker, wrote me about the celebration of the black Christ of El Sauce, Nicaragua. There is also a black Christ in the town of Esperanza, Intibucá, Honduras. In some places this feast is called the Lord of Mercies. The three villages we visited have a special devotion to the black Christ of Esquipulas. The first town we visited, Bañaderos, has an image of the black Christ.
In the three communities Father Efraín heard confessions before Mass. In two of them there were baptisms. Before Mass we had a chance to speak with people in all three places. Joey was a great hit with the little girls and with an older woman in the last place we visited (El Zapote de Santa Rosa). Bobby had a bad cold but was quite the trooper watching what was happening and talking occasionally with kids in his elementary Spanish, which has improved significantly while here.

Wednesday night we had dinner with a Honduran university student I know. We told him that e were going out to the countryside on Thursday. He was glad Joey and Bobby would have this experience because, he said, the campesinos are sincere, simple folks.

They are also a very devout people. Some walked for almost two hours to get to Mass, in order to have their children baptized. The confession line was long in all three places and, in contrast to some Latin American countries I’ve visited, many people go to communion.

I had time to speak with a few friends, mostly catechists and pastoral workers I’ve met in the training sessions I’ve helped with. I find myself more and more talking with them about their work. Many are now picking coffee. Some on their own small plots, many on the large plantations which cover this part of the country. One person told me that the producers like himself are getting only about 180 lempiras ($9.53) a gallon of beans that have had the pulp removed. Other years it was close to 400 lempiras ($21.16). The workers on plantations may make as little as 15 lempiras for a gallon, though one local plantation owner pays up to 30 lempiras. (He is a good Catholic, Father Efraín noted and financially supports the parish.)

But the most encouraging conversation was with a twelve year old in El Sapote de Santa Rosa. He will be in fifth grade this year, but wants to study beyond sixth grade. He loves math, science, and Spanish classes. He wants to be a teacher, but I think he also talked about getting into health work. He also talked about wanting to learn about computers and many other things. It’s so encouraging to see a young person who really wants to study.

Yet, sad to say, the educational system here in poor. Most students don’t go past the sixth grade, mostly because there are only primary schools in most villages. Yet the church in Honduras has a system of education called “Maestro en Casa”. The students, mostly in what we would call junior high and high school, have work to do during the week and there are radio programs to listen to. They then go to a central location on Saturday or Sunday where volunteer teachers go over the lessons and give the exams. Last year there were over 1000 students in the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán. There is a site in Ducle Nombre for a few hundred students run by the sisters who live there, Oblates of the Divine Love.

Father Efraín and the Dulce Nombre parish are pushing education this month. In his homily at Bañaderos he spoke forcefully. Referring to the crucified Christ of Esquipulas, he said that Christ is being crucified today and he noted that Christ is being crucified when children who want to study do not get the chance to study. He later spoke about the new site for “Maestro en Casa” which will open in El Zapote, near Bañaderos. He also mentioned the possibility of some sites that were even closer if they cold find some volunteer teachers.

This is encouraging, even though it’s just a small effort.

One a more personal level, this week I’ve begun to help with CARITAS of the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán as associate director. CARITAS is a bit like Catholic Charities but more involved in development projects as well as emergency relief and formation. Father Efraín is the new director and it will be good to work with him. He is the pastor of the Dulce Nombre de María parish and I’ve enjoyed working with him. His work style – at least with me – is very collegial and I look forward to helping him develop projects to help those in need in the diocese. He has a great love of the campesinos and a deep senses of the need for rural agricultural development in a sustainable manner.

To put it mildly, I am grateful for this new way of serving Christ in the poor.

Monday, January 12, 2009

God become poor

"The birth of Jesus in Bethlehem reveals to us that God chose poverty for himself in his coming to be among us. Love for us has moved Jesus not only to become man, but to become poor."
Pope Benedict XVI, January 1, 2009

Friday, January 09, 2009

Suffering in Gaza

I would be remiss if I didn't write something about a series of events that threaten peace in our world - the invasion of Gaza by Israeli forces.

Four years ago I visited Palestine and Israel since a friend was volunteering with the Lutheran Church Center in Bethlehem. It was an eye-opening experience. And so I feel called to write a little - though the devastation appears overwhelming.

Violence breeds violence. An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind, said Gandhi. The attacks of Hamas should be condemned, but the brutal retaliation of Israel must be condemned - not just the current bombings and invasions, but the history of a blockade that devastated Gaza.

I am also appalled by the failure of the US government to speak out truthfully, blaming all this on Hamas.

A friend sent me this article from The Guardian by Avi Shlaim, an Israeli academician at Oxford. It bears reading since it sets the current events in context.

In the meantime, let us pray for the people of Gaza - for peace with justice. And let us pray for all those inPalestine and Israel. May God give them peace and may we not block the peace which God wants with guns and walls.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009


A few days ago Father Efraín told me that Francisco Machado had fled Honduras.

Francsico Machado was the director of ASONOG here in Santa Rosa de Copán. ASONOG is an association of non-governmental agencies which includes an organization helping coffee cooperatives become fair trade partners, to a group that invesigates the mining issue and has been outspoken in its opposition to the open pit gold mining in nearby San Andrés.

Machacho has also been at the front of Acción Cívica por la Democrácia (Civic Action for Democrary) as well as the recently formed Movimiento Amplio para la Dignidad y la Justicia (the Broad-Based Movement for Dignity and Justice.)

As such he has joined others, such as the local bishop, Monseñor Luís Alfonso Santos, in speaking out not only against environmental threats such as open-pit mining but against the corruption which is rampant in Honduras.

Machado left on November 28, 2008, because of the threats he had been receiving since September 22.

There were two people who were watching his home and his workplace. “They were following us around and they intended to harm us,” he told the press, “but God’s hand guarded us”

Machado is a Mennonite, active in his church here in Santa Rosa. He and the local bishop have often cooperated in their concerns for the poor, for justice, and the environment. He is a forceful speaker and peppers his talks with scriptural references.

Last September 10, his name, together with that of the bishop, was found on a list of 135 popular leaders which was taken from two plain-clothed members of the Honduran National Police who had infiltrated a meeting of the National University’s union on the Tegucigalpa campus and were following the union leader.

The Washington Office on Latin America wrote that this “suggested that key defenders of human and labor rights may be targeted for persecution.”

In September, a lawyer who was on the list and who was involved with a lawyer’s fast against corruption in May, was the victim of an assassination attempt. He fled in October.

It is disheartening to hear of these attempts to squelch efforts for justice here in Honduras, but it is heartening to know that I am working in a diocese and with a bishop who truly believe in justice for the poor and is willing to take risks.

Friday, January 02, 2009

The Human Farm

In November, I attended a workshop on alternative agricultural methods at the farm of Moisés Rodríguez, outside of Gracias, Lempira, with others connected with the Ministerio Social [Social Ministry] of the diocese.

The first day Moisés spoke about the human farm which is based in the person who farms and not in lands or agricultural methods. He noted that “if the mind of the campesino is a desert, his farm will look like a desert.”

Later he mentioned that he owed much to Elías Sánchez, who wrote and taught about the human farm and the importance of a new way of thinking and living as a part of the way to develop one’s land.

I just finshed a book about Don Elías’s work, The Human Farm: A Tale of Changing Lives and Changing Lands, published in 1994 by Kumarian Press. It tells the story of Don Elías and his co-workers and their efforts to promote a new agriculture, a new culture of the land.

He must have been quite a character, often haranguing people when he first met them about personal hygiene – “How often do you change your underwear? How often do you bathe?”

But he really sought to find ways to help people transform their lives and their land – protecting their soil, using organic fertilizers. He worked with people who promoted cover crops, like velvet beans (“frijol de abono”), to enrich depleted soil. He seemed to be a great teacher.

He died in 2000 and so far I haven’t figured if his work has been continued in a “centralized” way or if there are only people like Moisés who have taken on his mantle and continued promoting development which is transformative. I hope to find more in the next few months.

But here are a few provocative quotes from Don Elías Sánchez:
“Human misery is not lack of money; it’s not knowing who you are…. Dissatisfaction is the beginning of change.”

“If the mind of a campesino is a desert, his farm will look like a desert.”

“ ‘Technology transfer’ is an offensive concept; you have to transform people.”

“Development is a process of displacement – good ideas displacing bad ones. We don’t teach., we share information in two directions.”

“International organizations should act a yeast – they should help national efforts rise.… Spark plugs are the only specialists we need in development.”

“Agronomists are pests.”

“Christ didn’t preach religion, he preached equity, liberty, justice, and love. If you don’t love a person, you will never help them.”

Thursday, January 01, 2009

“To alleviate burdens, first weep with the suffering.”
Katie Smith, The Human Farm (Kumarian Press, 1994), 74