Monday, March 30, 2009

Something really new for me

I thought I had seen it all – dogs and kids running around in church. But Sunday night’s Mass in Dulce Nombre was very different.

I had been in Dulce Nombre since early that morning, helping lead a retreat for the youth group in Dulce Nombre. It was a very good experience for me – and I hope for them. I had two themes – sin and conversion. I used some activities so that they wouldn’t have to listen to me in Spanish too much.

The thirty or so young men and women (from 12 to 21) were supposed to be silent from about 9 am to 4 pm. Some really tried but a number just couldn’t resist talking.

Since it ended about 4:30 I decided to stay overnight in Dulce Nombre and go to the 7 o’clock Mass.

In the Gospel that evening, some Greeks approach the apostle Philip and ask to see Jesus. Padre Efraín talked a bit about seeing Jesus in the poor and marginalized and even seeing Jesus in the drunks.

Just a sort time after he said this a drunk, came walking up the main aisle in the church. He knelt on the steps in front of the altar and later knelt right in front of the altar and put two lempiras (worth about 11¢) on the altar (his offering?). Padre Efraín at first stopped and then continued his homily. One of the church leaders came up to the man and spoke quietly with him. But the drunk didn’t move.

The drunk stayed in front of the altar until the end of Mass – sometimes kneeling, then sitting, then laying down. At one point, while Communion was being distributed the drunk took out his bottle and took a few swigs.

What amazed me was that no one got really upset. Father kept his cool and no one rushed up to drag the guy off. (That was probably good since Padre Efraín later told me that the guy could get violent.) I don’t know why nobody did anything, but in one sense I think that was the best thing that could have happened – especially after Padre Efraín had talked about recognizing Christ in the drunk during his homily.

After Mass, Padre told me that he’ll probably have someone at the front door of the church in the future. They have no ushers here; so this may be the beginning of a hospitality ministry!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Citizenship and corruption

One of the major problems in Honduras is corruption, from national government leaders to the police on the street, from the large corporations to the little businesses. In many ways, I believe that corruption makes the problems of poverty and insecurity worse here in Honduras.

But there are some efforts to alleviate this.

A few groups are trying to mobilize the people to demand transparency and prosecution of corruption. Last year several district attorneys (fiscales) went on a hunger strike and obtained promises of some changes. Some of these later became involved in Movimiento Amplio para la Dignidad y la Justicia (the Broad-Based Movement for Dignity and Justice.) But an attempt was made on the life of one of the district attorneys involved.

However, CARITAS in Honduras is trying to promote civic participation with a number of programs throughout the country, including several in the diocese here. Last Thursday I went to Gracias, Lempira, for part of the second day of a program for members of several municipal Transparency Commissions and councils to help them do analyses so that they can oversee what’s happening in their municipalities.

What I saw was some "hands on" training in analyzing health and education programs as well as projects that receive money for the reduction of poverty. These funds are a result of the debt reduction that Honduras received. As I understand it, some of the funds that would have gone to paying off some debts must now be used to alleviate poverty. The money typically goes to the local municipalities, but there has been a lot of concern about the use of funds.

In the workshop a trainer from the national CARITAS office provided information and training in how one can prepare and write reports to present to the municipal governments. Though the local Transparency Commissions have often denounced lack of transparency in government, it seems that they haven’t really prepared reports and made proposals like those proposed in the workshop.

The people were very enthusiastic and I hope they can really make a difference. What was fascinating was the presence for a short time of the current mayor of Gracias who seems supportive of these efforts.

These are little efforts – but very much needed.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Saint Thomas is gone

Yesterday the group of six students from St Thomas Aquinas in Ames left after 11 days visiting, working, having fun.

It was a very busy time for me – arranging events, rides, meals, and doing most of the translating. Thank God that one person in the group – Shzamir, a student from Puerto Rico – was totally bilingual and that two more could follow a lot in Spanish.

Visits to several sites that serve children here in Santa Rosa moved them deeply. Children do have a way of touching our hearts.

For me, a highlight was the time we spent in El Zapote de Santa Rosa, one of 45 towns and villages in the parish of Dulce Nombre. The parish is using the church and small hall there for training sessions but there was only one bathroom and an inadequate shower. So we helped build another bathroom and two showers together with people from that area of the parish. Though we didn’t finish everything we got a lot done in two days.

After working we spent some time playing with the kids in the village – throwing around a Frisbee and showing them games with jump ropes.

The first night we went in two separate groups to base community meetings, there was a short meeting with people in the church. We introduced ourselves and then people spoke. One woman noted that this was the first time that people from the US came and stayed with them. (I think there may have been a Peace Corps worker here many years ago and I have brought a few people here for short visits.) But the presence of Catholics from the US working with them really encouraged them. They often see fundamentalist groups coming in and so many think that there are no Catholics in the US. So our presence gave them a sense of the wider Catholic Church!

But working with the men was quite interesting. As opposed to the normally macho society, they treated the women and men equally well. In fact, at one of the base community meetings one of the men mentioned that women can do work like men and men can help out in “women’s” work.

In many ways what happens during these types of experiences is what I call “building bridges,” making connections so that the poor of the world are not faceless. Hopefully that will lead to changes in the lives of the participants as well as in the lives of people here.

It’s what solidarity is about – not money, but relationships. We need to be able to feel the concerns of others as our own.

Monday, March 16, 2009

St. Thomas is here

Not exactly. But six students from St. Thomas Aquinas Church and Catholic Center are here in Honduras for ten days. They arrived on Friday night in the San Pedro Sula airport.

Having visitors is a lot of work – but it’s a great chance to share the beauty of the people here and offer them a chance to get to know people and “help” in some small ways.

The group will work with kids on Monday and Tuesday here in Santa Rosa de Copán and spend Wednesday and Thursday in the village of El Zapote de Santa Rosa building toilets and showers for the church center there that we’re using for training sessions in the parish.

But most of the time is getting to know the people and the situation here in Santa Rosa.

Saturday night was an example. We were planning to go to the evening Mass in the parish of Our Lady of Fatima in the lower part of Santa Rosa. We got there only to find out that the Mass wouldn’t be till later that evening, but Erlin, a university students active in that parish, showed up as planned and we decided to go and eat baleadas – a Honduran fast food of flour tortillas, refried beans, cream, cheese, and what ever else you want to put inside. We went and then his mother, sister, and two cousins arrived. We sat around the plastic tables in the “restaurant” (really the first floor of someone’s house) and ate and talked for almost two hours – twelve of us around a table.

We didn’t go to the Mass because I thought it best that the group get some sleep since they had been traveling all Friday an Saturday morning. But we had sat around a table – speaking both fluently and haltingly in Spanish – sharing not only food but life. It was a real sign of table fellowship, table solidarity – a type of pre-Eucharist.

In a real sense this is what the relationship between Saint Thomas and Santa Rosa de Copán is about – recognizing our relatedness.

Sunday afternoon we went to the poor neighborhood of the Colonia Divina Providencia (the Divine Providence neighborhood). I have been going to the kindergarten in the area since I got here. The community was inaugurating their new community center and the project that had brought electricity to the neighborhood.

Through money that friends had sent me I was able to contribute a thousand dollars to the community center. But most of the funding came from Canada, through the help of a group from Québec called Solidarity-Sur (Solidarity with the south). Yet the inspiration for the community center (and the workshops that are being funded by Canada) is Sor Ines Cornago, a short Spanish Franciscan sister who lived up the street from me. Sor Maria Jesús, another Spanish Franciscan, helped arrange the project that brought the community electricity.

After the ceremonies the people danced. It was great to see Canadians, folks from the US, a Spanish sister, and Hondurans dancing and celebrating together. Another sign of the Kingdom – where rich and poor, people from many nations, share and celebrate together.

And so every night as we gathered together, the group from St. Thomas prayed the Lord’s Prayer – “Thy Kingdom come.” And in some small ways the Reign of God is showing signs of His presence among us.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

The Young Offer Us Hope

Saturday and Sunday morning I was in Gracias for a workshop for youth on leadership, sponsored by Sister Nancy Meyerhofer with Joan Condon from Capacitar. There were 20 young people there – 8 from Sister Nancy’s youth group in Gracias, Lempira; 4 from other youth groups in the Gracias parish; 4 from the parish of La Entrada, Copán; and 4 from Dulce Nombre parish.

Capacitar works with simple wellness techniques, but Joan Condon added a lot on leadership and conflict resolution. The young people loved it. It was delightful – not only the movement exercises and the small group discussion – but to be in the presence of so many leaders.

None of them is well off; some of them have only had six years of formal education; some in Gracias are studying at the special school for teachers; others are workers – baking bread or making horseshoes; others are working at home.

In the presence of these young Hondurans, I have hope, a hope which needs to be nourished. Part of the work of the church here – and part of the work of international missionaries – is to encourage these young people, help them acquire what they need to be creative and faith-filled citizens of the Church and of their country.

There are so many problems here – poverty, crime, cor
ruption, lack of opportunities in education and work – that it would be easy to become burdened by all the evil. But when you encounter young people like these, experience their energy, and walk with them, you see the possibilities.

As we proceed on the Lenten journey, it is clear that there is violence and war and sin. But there is hope - for death and sin do not have the final world. The crucified Lord is risen.

Joan Condon & Sister Nancy Meyerhofer

Tuesday, March 03, 2009


Monday, the Gospel reading was Matthew 25: 31-46, the famous judgment scene where the nations are judged on how they treat the least of God’s people. It’s played a central part in my spirituality for many years.

Yesterday morning as I read a commentary, I was reminded that Jesus speaks of direct contact with those in need – feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, visiting the imprisoned, sheltering the stranger. It’s direct service.

Last night as I met with my base community and we reflected on the Gospel, I was frustrated when one member – who talks a lot – was insisting on speaking a word to someone in need or someone whose life needed straightening out because of alcoholism or something similar. I spoke up forcefully that the Gospel is talking about direct presence to those in need, not just a word. We need to accompany people and not just tell them some thing’s wrong with their life. We also need to be directly in contact with those in need, sharing their sufferings. Others agreed with me and as I left someone said to me, “Presence, it is important.”

And so I took it to heart this morning. For the past month I haven’t made it to the kindergarten in the Santa Rosa neighborhood Colonia Divina Providencia, where I used to go once or twice a week. Part of this has been due to responsibilities at Cáritas; part due to dealing with the emotional baggage of the robbery. But I went this morning. And what a joy it was.

The teacher, Matilde, greeted me with a hug and many of the kids remembered me. Serving them their snack and then playing with them outside renewed my spirit, even as I noticed the new kids who were very shy and laid back. Some warmed up, especially when I helped the kids do the monkey bars or let them pat my bald head – “Pelón” – “baldy” – they love to say.

After that I went to the Comedor de Niños in the diocesan offices, to help with the noon meal for poor kids. These include some older kids who are quite challenging, but it was worth it.

I will have to try to fit these two activities into my schedule as well as find a way to get to the jail every once in a while. It’s a way to be present to those most in need in very simple ways.

In a real way my work in the Dulce Nombre parish is another way to do this. Last Friday and Saturday I coordinated a workshop on Saint Paul, using materials from the UCA, the Jesuit University in El Salvador. Several groups led some sessions, though I had four to lead. But it was a good experience just to share with them. It was well worth the time spent there.

I look forward to more opportunities to help in the formation of pastoral workers here. It’s a challenge since I have to think of ways that will speak to them, most of them with six years of education or less. But this helps me to learn the material better – as well as seek to understand how it relates to their lives and to mind. It’s a process of making theology and faith alive for them – and, most of all, for me.