Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Letting Go

Ash Wednesday – a day of renewal, of beginning anew.

When I was a campus minister at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Ames, Iowa, I loved to go to the Ash Wednesday liturgies. They were mobbed with people. Many times I was privileged to distribute the ashes, signing people with a cross of ashes.

I don’t know how many times I filled up, close to tears, as I distributed ashes or watched hundreds of young people come forward. There is something marvelous about being signed with ashes – we remember we are dust dependent on God.

This is my first Ash Wednesday in Honduras. Last year I was in the US for a visit. Lent is bound to be different here, since for many every day is a Lent, a time of fasting – forced fasting.

A few weeks before he was martyred, Salvadoran archbishop Oscar Romero said,
“Lenten fasting is not the same thing in those lands where people eat well as is a Lent among our third-world peoples, undernourished as they are, living in a perpetual Lent, always fasting. For those who eat well, Lent is a call to austerity, a call to give away in order to share with those in need. But in poor lands, in homes where there is hunger, Lent should be observed in order to give to the sacrifice that is everyday life the meaning of the cross.”
Homily of March 2, 1980
I don’t know exactly what this Lent will be for me, but I have an inkling it will be a calling to let go even more.

The theft of my computer and many other things has really affected me. I miss some of the things that were stolen, even though I’ve been able to buy a new computer and some other things. The rain jacket, the radio, the Keen sandals, my Dad’s wedding ring, some CDs, some of the work I had saved on the computer that is gone.

I have been looking for a more secure place to live. With the help of the Spanish Franciscan sisters who live up the street, I found one today. It’s $50 more a month but it’s in the same neighborhood and seems more secure. But I need to face the precariousness of life here.

But I am also thinking about letting go in another sense. When I left Ames I stored hundreds of books with friends. One friend is moving to a smaller location and I have to think about what to do with the books being stored there.

I have a list of most of the books I’ve stored and where they are stored. This evening I began looking at the list and decided that I really need to give away many of them. I even began highlighting which ones to give to the St. Thomas library, which ones to give to the ISU philosophy department library, which ones to pass on to other folks. In some ways this is hard, since I’m a pack rat (like my Dad) and also find security in books, even ones I have already read and ones that I may never get around to reading. But it’s time to let go, even more – to share these books with others.

But letting go is not something good for its own sake. Letting go can be a way of becoming free – to serve, to be present, to love.

And that’s the challenge for me this Lent – to let go so that I may be free to love.

Monday, February 23, 2009


February 16 – 17, CAMEXPA, CARITAS for the Central America, Mexico, and Panama region, held a forum on mining in San Salvador. Fr. Efraín asked me to go as the Santa Rosa CARITAS representative. The meeting was very informative, with representatives from all five Central American countries, as well as representatives from CARITAS Spain, Catholic Relief Services, and the Observatorio de Conflictos Mineros.

Though I doubt much has been heard of the mining issue in the US, all five Central American countries as well as several countries in South America and Africa have experienced serious conflicts over mining of metals, especially gold and silver.

Each country at the forum presented one of the conflicts, emphasizing the church’s role in helping the people respond to the danger proposed by the mining industries.

The problems are many and distinct in each country, and even in different parts of a single country. But the first major concern is the damaging effect of mining on the local environment.

Much of the gold mining uses open pit mining and most use a cyanide leaching process which uses cyanide to separate the gold from the crushed rock. Not only does this uses an incredible amount of water but there is the danger of contamination of water and the land with cyanide as well as other toxic chemicals used in the process. In our region a mine released cyanide into a stream a few years ago; many fish were killed and the drinking water for Santa Rosa de Copán was contaminated. Near another mine in Honduras in the Valle de Siria near Tegucigalpa there have been major health problems, including serious skin rashes and lesions.

Another concern is that the companies get their concessions from the national governments, almost always without the consent of the local population. Also, in Honduras and El Salvador the mining companies only pay 2% tax.

How do they get away with this? A major cause is probably the rampant corruption in the region, where there is more than a little greasing of the palms of politicians.

The lack of information easily available is one problem. The meeting suggested putting information on the regional CARITAS CAMEXPA website and also the preparation of materials in a popular style which will make the information available to the people most affected, many of whom have had limited educational opportunities.

The lack of organization of local people is a major factor. But CARITAS groups throughout Central America have been working with local people in many places to pressure local and national government bodies to change laws and regulations and to have careful monitoring of any mining activities.

There is a lot of work that needs to be done in this area, but it is encouraging to see that CARITAS and the church here in Central America – and throughout the world – is struggling at the side of the people affected.

It gives me great joy to be a part of this.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A busy weekend

All day Friday and Saturday morning I will be quite busy. The parish of Dulce Nombre is having catechist training in two different sites, in the parish center as well as in a remote village, El Zapote de Santa Rosa. We are having the training in two places, not only to make the size of the sessions more managable but also to save some people from extremely long walks.

I will be in El Zapote, a reomote village on the top of a hill, without electricity. I know a fair number of people from he area and so I will be glad to be there. But I found out today that I have six sessions to lead (instead of the three I had thought). I´ll have to work on them in the next two days, but I´m not worried too much. I just hope I can find ways to make the sessions participative.

Most of the catechists have six years of education or less, even though they are very motivated. And so I need to find ways to help them learn that really speak to them, from their experience. This has been an intriguing challenge and I´ve found that I can be somewhat creative. I´ve had a few flops, but that´s part of the learning process. And the people are very patient with me!


More on education

I have written a few times of the program ¨Maestro en Casa¨- the program of education that uses radio programs and a one day weekly follow up session in a central location. Several new locations have opened up in the parish of Dulce Nombre, including one in El Zapote which will have 28 students. This is very encouraging.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Dom Helder Camara

Today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Dom Helder Camara, archbishop of Recife, Brazil, one of the saints of the last century. He died in August 1999.

He was a thin small man, under 5 feet, but full of love and energy. He was a true man of God who got up at 2:00 am to pray, but worked and struggled for the poor during the day.

In the early 1980s I heard him speak in New York City and took this picture. His English was very accented and I don´t remember what he said, but I remember the energy that flowed out from him.

He put his life on the line for the poor and struggled for a nonviolent world. One of my favorite stories is when a hired assasin came to his door. He opend it and welcomed the man who then told Dom Helder that he was sent to kill him. But "I can´t kill you; you are a holy man of God."

His bishop´s cross was of wood and he lived very simply. But he was such a threat to the Brazilian dictatorship in the 1960 and 1970s that newspapers were not permitted to mention his name.

But he made a great impact on the world - and on me.

Today I pray one of the prayers he wrote:
Come, Lord,
do not smile and say you are already with us.
Millions do not know you,
and to us who do,
what is the difference?
What is the point of your presence
if our lives do not alter?
Change our lives,
shatter our complacency.
Make your word our life’s purpose.
Take away the quietness of a clear conscience.
Press us uncomfortably.
For only thus
that other peace is made,
your peace.