Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Golpe de estado – day three

For a few minutes the quiet of the streets of Santa Rosa was broken by the shouts of people marching in support of the ousted president, Mel Zelaya. There were over 200 on foot followed by at least twenty cars with at least 100 people. They had blocked the highway near Santa Rosa since early this morning, joining with roadblocks in other parts of Honduras of people against the coup.

The mainstream press, mostly owned by the economic elite, largely downplayed these protests and claimed that they were controlled and guided by Venezuelans and Nicaraguans. However the well attended rallies in support of the coup in San Pedro Sula and the capital city of Tegucigalpa were well covered here.

There are continuing reports of arrests of opposition leaders. From a report I got from a US friend with contacts in the capital, there are warrants out for the arrest of many people including two Protestant pastors who are the leaders of the Movimiento Popular Cristiano (Popular Christian Movement).

The international pressure is building. The Central American countries are withdrawing their ambassadors from Honduras as did several other Latin American nations. Most troubling is the decision of the World Bank to freeze its aid to the government. This means that at least 16 projects are affected, possibly including a program for maternal and infant health that I know of.

President Mel Zelaya spoke at the United Nations and received their support. The UN General Assembly in a voice vote urged that the government be immediately and unconditionally restored and that Zelaya be allowed to conclude his term of office.

Zelaya has stated that he will return to Honduras on Thursday, possibly accompanied by the president of Argentina and the Secretary General of the Organization of American States, which has also opposed the coup. Micheletti’s Attorney General has said that he will be arrested on his return and a member of the Supreme Court has issued an arrest warrant. It should be a tense day.

Opposition groups have called for a general strike tomorrow. We will see how this all plays out.

The Catholic Church has been a little slow on a public response, though Micheletti keeps thanking the Catholic and Evangelical Churches for supporting him. I am not sure that is exactly true, because the situation is very complicated.

What the local Catholic Church has been saying is that the people should be consulted, there should be political participation. The local bishop is meeting with advisers today and with all the priests tomorrow in a previously scheduled meeting of all the priests in the diocese. This morning on the diocesan radio the bishop warned about letting the church be used by any group.

The church's concern before last Sunday has been about the legality of the proposal of President Zelaya. But there is also great skepticism among many people about the willingness of Micheletti and the present congress to allow even legal referendums and polls.

I am safe and I feel safe. The US government has called US citizens to avoid unnecessary travel to Honduras. On Monday they urged people to stay close to their houses or hotels and avoid unnecessary travel. Needless to say, I did what I normally do. Today I went to Caritas, then to the lunch program for kids, then back to Caritas in the afternoon.

What troubles me most now is the increase of rhetoric in an extremely polarized society. The specter of Communism is even being raised. I thought we had gone past that. However, here in Central America this is serious; in the 1970s and 1980s many who worked with the poor – especially the Church – were labeled “Communist”. I know we are not at that stage, but the rhetoric, especially from the supporters of the coup is troubling. This is not to ignore the rambling tirades of Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, but rhetoric of this type, no matter which group uses is, just adds fuel to the fire.

Some other US citizens I know here are afraid of an invasion by Venezuela. One of them asked me what I’d do if there was an invasion or war. “I’ll stay here with the people.” That’s why I am here. It is not a question of courage; it’s a question of calling.

Yet I don’t see this as a real possibility, despite the ravings of Chávez, because there is so much international diplomatic and economic pressure on the Micheletti regime. I only pray that this can be worked out with equity and justice and without much bloodshed.

Pray for us.

Monday, June 29, 2009

A statement from some Honduran Jesuit ministries

This statement was released two days before the coup. I especially like paragraph 7 which might offer a way out.

Rationality and dialogue: our proposal

  1. As soon as we can we need to create an environment of calm and civility and it is necessary that reason takes its place in the present environment of passions and political and ideological confrontations. We have already reached the heights of political conflictiveness which puts us in a real dilemma: either we now seek a way out of the political crisis which includes reason, dialogue, and negotiation or we go forward without recourse to ungovernability in which we will all go away as losers.
  2. Already the moment has passed for continuing to throw wood on the fire and it is to our advantage to take a little distance form all that which stokes the postures which radicalize whichever of the poles define the present conflict. We find ourselves in an extreme moment of turning inward in which what alone will save us is wagering on setting of minimum consensuses around the preservation of the institutional nature of the state of law.
  3. This minimum consensus has to start with the absolute rejection of all that has to do with a coup d’etat, whether it be technical or violent, since in a situation of ungovernability the entire society remains exposed to violence and expressions of decomposing which only benefits the sectors that nourish themselves in the shade of instability and the absence of
  4. The positions of the two poles continue becoming more radicalized. Neither the president appears to take a step toward dialogue nor is the other sector disposed to step back from its decision to disqualify the holder of the Executive branch. To advance toward a stage of minimum consensus there is the need for the action and presence of other forces which contribute to breaking the logic in which both sectors demonize each other and seek to crush each other.
  5. In the face of this dangerous polarization, it is very important to pass on and keep available as much information as possible for the whole society, since only with an informed population can we advance toward a political way out which is not manipulated and only thus can we hope for a conscientious and civil response on the part of the diverse sectors of the Honduran society.
  6. The deeply radicalized polarization involves in a special way those who lead the three powers of the State, and for this very thing their proposals and decisions now enjoy very little acceptance and credibility. Therefore we consider relevant the need for the intervention of sectors of the society which, from their independent and dispassionate positions, can call together the sectors involved in the present political and institutional crisis with the purpose of seeking, as quickly as possible, a negotiated exit to the crisis created within the powers of the State.
  7. We suggest the need to seek the formation of a Commission of well known actors – in the spheres of politics, law, and ethics – nationals and internationals, as a factor which contributes to opening the dialogue toward a negotiated solution to the present crisis. A Commission which could be made up of representatives of the United Nations and the Organization of American States, perhaps a Nobel Peace Prize recipient, an international human rights association and the president of a prestigious university.
  8. Rationality which comes from the inclusion of all sectors of the society is what the present political moment of unrest is most urging us toward. Reducing closed positions, and looking toward the nation and the common good, far beyond individual groups or sectors is what the nation needs to turn away from the ungovernability and instability of those of us who are victims and to advance toward the recovery of the state of law, democracy and peace which are so lacking, so that we can face the true tasks of the development of our country.
  9. Now we are at a moment - the politicians, the major directors of the powers of the State, the means of mass communications, the churches, the diverse sectors of the civil society – we have to give each one of us a step forward in the construction of an exit of dialogue and negotiation. Tomorrow, no doubt, it will be too late, and we of the present and the future generations will forever lament this.

El Progreso, Yoro, June 26, 2009
Radio Progreso and Equipo de Reflexión, Investigación y Comunicación,
[Team of Reflection, Research, and Communication],
apostolic works of the Jesuits in Honduras.
Golpe de estado – day two

Things are still fairly quiet here in Santa Rosa de Copán. There have been demonstrations in many cities throughout the country, but word about them is being passed around mostly by word of mouth.

There were no classes in the public school throughout the country because the teachers are on a work stoppage in protest of the coup. When they will go back is undetermined.

In several parts of the country people have blocked the highways; there will be one near here tomorrow. In Tegucigalpa people have blocked the Presidential Palace and, supposedly, prevented Roberto Micheletti from entering. Police have fired tear gas to break up opponents of Micheletti.

There have been demonstrations in other cities, including nearby Gracias.

Though I haven’t see it here. there has been military presence in the area. Yesterday the military had two road blocks on the road outside town leading to San Pedro Sula. At one of them armed soldiers in camouflage entered some buses.

And last night and tonight there is a curfew from 9 pm to 6 am.

One of the serious items is the decision of the governments of El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala to close their borders to commercial traffic with Honduras for 48 hours. That probably means that trucks with commercial supplies, etc.., will not be allowed to cross the borders. With the road blockages this may mean problems of getting fuel in our region and other parts of the country.

The pressure is great on the Honduran government - and the US has continued to hold that the action was illegal. However, there are some here who believe that the coup could not have gone through without the implicit permission of the US government. I hope this is just their paranoia. Some countries have withdrawn their ambassadors to Honduras in protest.

It is still hard to get information, but from what I have heard it is even harder in other parts of the country. In the capital many cable television stations have been prohibited from broadcasting CNN Español and other stations. There is still access here; though I have no television, least of all cable, I dropped down the street to visit the Franciscan sisters and talk with them. I saw a little of CNN-Español.

Some people who were supporters of the president or his poll, including the mayor of San Pedro Sula, have been jailed; some of the members of his cabinet are jailed or under house arrest or in hiding. The foreign minister was flown out of the country to Mexico and joined the president in Nicaragua for a series of meetings with other heads of state.

Keep us in your prayers as we hope for peace and justice – most of all for the poor.


Some other thoughts.

The campaign for the poll was full of all sorts of corrupt practices – people being paid to sign petitions, public workers being forced to get petitions signed. The Zelaya’s administration has been very corrupt.

There are concerns about what he would do if he were returned, since both the legislative and judicial branches of the government were involved in the coup.

Some are concerned about the influence of Venezuela’s president Hugo Chávez, which may be a legitimate concern (especially when he seems to threaten to invade Honduras). But there is also so much Cold War rhetoric that Mel was trying to bring Communism to Honduras.

Something different is needed. The people here don’t have a voice in what is important in their lives.

A friend in the US just sent me an analysis from a Jesuit group in northern Honduras. I will translate and post it as soon as I can.

Pray for us.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Golpe de estado – day one

Today there was supposed to be a national poll about whether to have a referendum in November about setting up a National Constituent Assembly to rewrite the Constitution. The president, Mel Zelaya, proposed this months ago and was opposed by all sorts of people – including congress, the attorney general, the supreme court, and the electoral commission. (Note that, as I understand it, congress chooses the other posts, with suggestions from the president. Don’t think this is like US politics – almost everything in politics is tainted with corruption!)

Early this Sunday morning military, under orders from the Supreme Court of Honduras, arrested Mel Zelaya, the president of Honduras. After a reportedly bloody confrontation he was whisked off to Costa Rica.

The Foreign Minister, Patricia Rodas, was also arrested and as of late Sunday afternoon it was unknown where she was. The Cuban and Venezuelan ambassadors were also arrested – supposedly while trying to prevent her arrest. The Cuban ambassador has been released but he is supposedly in a clinic recuperating from some injuries. Supposedly eight other cabinet members have been arrested.

This Sunday afternoon there suddenly surfaced in the Honduran Congress a letter from President Mel Zelaya, dated Friday, resigning from office. Sounds suspicious to me. Well, Congress accepted the resignation with a voice vote. Then it proceeded to choose the president of congress, Robert Micheletti, as the “president” of Honduras.

Micheletti has been in congress for many years (29 years, one person told me) and is the owner of a bus fleet around Progreso. Micheletti is, as I hear, one of the many corrupt legislators. Micheletti was a presidential candidate for the primaries last year, but did not attain his party’s nomination. He had been one of the most vocal opponents of the poll that President Zelaya wanted to hold today.

I fear we have gone from bad to worse. At least Zelaya seemed to speak out for the poor. As one priest said this morning, despite all his errors and his vanity, Zelaya was the first major leader in many years to offer people a little bit of openness to the needs of the poor. The priest said he is not supporting the person Zelaya, but the cause of the poor. Micheletti is closely tied with the economic powers to be. An indication of his position is his support of privatization of water in his own district.

In Tegucigalpa the situation is very tense. Opponents of the coup have surrounded the Presidential Palace.

Here in Santa Rosa things are calmer. The military confiscated the ballot boxes at about 8 am this morning. However, people were meeting in the central plaza - Liberty Park – and signing sheets in favor of the referendum – a sort of alternative poll. They have been there on and off all day. Some folks met to draft a position paper and there was supposed to be a march – or a gathering. I however left before it started since it was about to rain and I had a blanket on the line. (Domestic me!)

But what has been very interesting is the almost unanimous condemnation of the coup by the nations of the world. The European Union and many nations of Latin America reject the coup and still recognize Mel Zelaya as president. Even Hugo Llorens, the US ambassador to Honduras, following the comments of President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. has said that the US recognizes only Zelaya as president. The president of Argentina said, “I am deeply concerned about the situation in Honduras, that looks like a return to barbarism in our hemisphere.”

What this means I don’t know. Will this mean that these nations refuse to send aid to the Honduran government? That would be quite serious and would affect the poor.

The United Nations and the Organization of American States will hold emergency meetings on Honduras on Monday.

Tomorrow at Caritas I hope to learn more. It is very hard to get good information, partly because the means of communication are largely in the hands of the economic powers of the country. Also, rumors keep flying. But I’m searching out alternative sources and will try to keep this blog up to date.

In the mean time, pray for us – and do what you can so that the US government seeks to support real democracy here.

One last word, yesterday Father Efraín Romero, the director of Caritas, quipped about the situation, "The poor are not going to lose anything, because they've already lost everything."

Yet we were off to a village where, with the help of Caritas and the cooperation of the local mayor, the village had a new water tank for drinking water. We will continue to seek alternatives to help the Honduran people build a more just and equitable society.


Late breaking news. We are under a curfew tonight and tomorrow between 9 pm and 6 am, by the order of "president" Micheletti.
A coup d'etat - a golpe de estado

This morning about 5 am the president of Honduras, Mel Zelaya, was arrested by soldiers and taken from his home. He is now in Costa Rica.

The ambassadors from Nicaragua, Cuba, and Venezuela were also detained by soldiers as was the Honduras foreign minister.

Today was to be a national poll to determine if a referendum would be added to the November elections about calling a National Constituent Assembly to rewrite the constitution.

Here is Santa Rosa de Copán, it is relatively quiet. When the ballot box was seized by the military people came to the public square and started signing in favor of the referendum - an alternative ballot. There were speeches and other activities on the square and there will be a march at 2 pm.

That's about all I know now.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Rumors abound here. I won't comment until I have some real information.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Language and politics

The situation here in Honduras is serious. It’s very tense in the capital, Tegucigalpa, though it’s seemingly very calm here in Santa Rosa.

The President, Mel Zelaya, against the decisions of the Congress, the Supreme Court, the Electoral Commission, the head of the Human Rights Office, is going ahead with a referendum this Sunday to see if the people are in favor of a fourth ballot box – to determine if the people support a constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution. Congress is investigating the president to see if he is competent – mentally and otherwise – to continue serving. If deposed, the president of Congress, Roberto Micheletti, would become president. Yet, according to an AP report, Zelaya seems to have the support of many “labor groups, farmers and civil organizations who have long felt marginalized in a country where a wealthy elite controls the media and much of politics.”

In a previous post I noted my thoughts. Yet as I try to understand what is really happening, I am finding a lot of rhetoric – in the worst sense of the term — that may only serve to deepen the crisis.

There are charges that the current president, Mel Zelaya, is trying to make Honduras like Venezuela, that he is leading the country toward communism, etc. He has not been a good president and has not exactly done a lot for the poor, though he did raise the minimum wage. His call for a referendum on the question of a new Assembly to rewrite the constitution might be self-serving (so that he can run for the presidency again). He has made alliances with ALBA, the group the includes the presidents of Bolivia, Ecuador, and Venezuela.

But when I read reports on the situation in the press, whether in English or Spanish, I find the language very slanted. When Mel and his followers went to get the ballots from the army base where they were stored – perhaps in fear they’d be confiscated by Congress and cognizant that some military leaders had opposed distributing the ballots – the crowd was called a “turba” in a Spanish article – and a “mob” in one column from the US.

An Associated Press report began “With backing from Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez, Honduras' leftist president…” Other reports present him as almost a Chavez clone, noting that during a two hour speech he “at one point burst… – Chavez-like – into song.”

Anther report on remarks of the President of the United Nations General Assembly bluntly identified the Maryknoll priest Miguel D’Escoto as “a left wing Nicaraguan priest” as if to undermine his concern about a potential coup.

I have received an e-mail from a US person involved in Honduras with a video from the right wing Human Rights Foundation with the sender’s concern that “Decision (sic) are being made to force a revolution.”

Such inflammatory rhetoric is exactly what Honduras (and any true politics) do not need.

Zelaya and his supporters are also not beyond exaggerating. At the speech noted above, he said “"Congress cannot investigate me, much less remove me or stage a technical coup against me because I am honest, I'm a free president and nobody scares me." He has called Congressional President Roberto Micheletti “a pathetic, second-class congressman who got that job because of me, because I gave you space within my political current.”

The Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez had said “There is a coup d'etat under way and it must be stopped.”

Will this rhetoric escalate – into a coup or into violence? I pray not.

I know that a mere re-writing of a constitution will not make life better for the people of Honduras.

But what really galls me is that many of those who are opposing Zelaya in the name of the constitution do not really respect the constitution in practice. They are corrupt politicians, in power to enrich themselves and their followers.

Caritas Honduras recently sent out a booklet with three very interesting documents on the crisis. If you can read Spanish you can find them at the following sites. All of them were written before the latest news reports.

Hacia una verdadera Transformación Nacional

Comunicado de la Conferencia Episcopal de Honduras

Comunicado de la Comisión Nacional de Pastoral

But the editorial on the first page of the publication is to the point:
The political and social crisis the country is now going through is the result of the wearing out of the representative democratic model which hasn’t proved able to respond to the needs and aspirations of the Honduran people and this is shown in the deepening of poverty, the concentration of riches in the hands of a few, the increase of unemployment and social exclusion, the insecurity, as well as the lack of access to health, education, housing, and land – problems which have deep historical roots….
It is undeniable that the country is living at a difficult juncture, but it is a valuable opportunity that can help us pass from a formal democracy to a real democracy, which is manifested in the well-being of all. To do nothing, or let others take advantage of this opportunity for themselves would mean strengthening the unjust political and economic structures which are the causes of this crisis.

Thursday, June 25, 2009


A few months ago, President Mel Zelaya whose term end this year, decreed a poll over the question whether there should be a fourth issue in the elections of November. In November new president will be elected (presidents here can serve only one term), new members of the legislature, and new mayors and municipal officials. The fourth ballot issue (la quarta urna – the fourth ballot box) would be over whether there should be a constituent assembly to revise or rewrite the constitution.

Almost immediately the fur began to fly. Some questioned whether this was legal; there is a provision in the Honduran constitution to hold polls and public referendums, but the legislature has not set up a procedure to do this. Some questioned whether this was needed since there is provision in the constitution for amendments. Some thought this was an attempt of the president to try to stay in power for four more years.

The idea of consultation of the public seems like a good idea – and the Honduran bishops in a recent statement affirmed this. But many questions remain: Is this legal? If passed, who would make up the constituent assembly? Would this really benefit the poor? What would this assembly mean and what would it do? What is the purpose of all this? Is this a ploy of the president to stay in power? Ambiguity reigns!

I have heard all sorts of responses. Last Sunday a priest I know who is very committed to the poor preached about the need to vote yes this coming Sunday. Another priest I know is bitterly against it. The Honduran bishops released a diplomatic message which seems to lean against the ballot initiative, though they affirm the need for consultation of the people. They are concerned about what they call attempts to impose “un pensamiento único” – “a single way of thinking” – or “the power of a determined group.” They also express concern about the possible illegality of the ballot initiative.

A priest I know is very concerned and considers this one of the worst days Honduras has experienced. When I asked him why, he replied that the three branches of he government are in serious conflict. (What I learned later is that the military is also in a precarious situation.)

There are all sorts of rumors going around. The president, some say, is getting money from Hugo Chavez of Venezuela to take control of the country. Many have talked about the efforts to make public workers seek signatures for petitions in favor of the ballot.

Earlier this week the congress passed a law that virtually declares illegal the attempt to hold the ballot this coming Sunday. They declared illegal referendums or plebiscites within 180 days of a general election.

Wednesday night the president fired the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for not supporting his position. The Minister of Defense and several military leaders have resigned.

Thursday the Supreme Court ordered the reinstatement of the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. President Zelaya defiantly refused.

For a few weeks people have been fearing a coup d’etat, a golpe de estado, in which the president is overthrown. Others fear an auto-golpe in which the president will take power. With the changes in the military, who knows what this will mean?

What do I think?

As an outsider what strikes me first is the real need in this country for a democracy in which the people can participate and make a difference. I see so many who have lost faith in the political system, most of all because of the corruption. Some small local efforts, like those that Caritas is working on, show small signs of hope. But much more is needed.

Another concern is the lack of transparency. What does the president really want to do? What do those in opposition really want? (This is complicated since people change their stated positions, seemingly at random.) Even if there is a constitutional assembly, will it be composed of the same people now in power (politically and economically) and thus just entrench them in power?

There is so much corruption and a history of self-serving politicians that there needs to be a major effort to re-establish trust - first of all, by a determined effort to eradicate corruption.

Honduras is in a crisis situation. Poverty abounds and millions are spent in support of a ballot box initiative. Medicine and medical supplies are unavailable for many rural people, while politicians play games with the people. A coup d'etat might be upon us. But does the world know - or care?

What can be done?
  • Pray.
  • Watch for news on Honduras and the situation here.
  • Seek solidarity for the poor, helping them with projects that change their lives. (More on this is a later post.)
  • Work to change national and international political and economic policies that favor the super-wealthy and those in power whose only purpose is to enrich themselves and their corporations.
  • Support those persons, organizations, and corporations that really have the needs of the poor at the center of their concerns.
  • Become people of justice, love,and solidarity.
  • And, again, keep us in your prayers.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

In the face of tempests

“Quiet! Be still!” or, to translate the Spanish over-literally “Shut up! Calm yourself!”
Mark 4, 39

This Sunday’s reading – Jesus calming the waves – is one of my favorites. It’s also one I really need to take to heart these days.

It’s been a had month for me. In late May I had a bad bout of diarrhea – mal de mayo they call it hear. A lot of people get sick I May when the rains begin and the water is more contaminated than usual. I don’t know how I got sick, but it has stuck on for a little more than a month with bouts of diarrhea and general stomach upset. I jokingly say that I have the May sickness in June.

It’s also been a time when I have been re-evaluating my time in Caritas. I don’t always feel that I have enough to do and especially that this is the best use of my gifts. At some times I really feel useful – this week I interviewed 10 people for a project on maternal health in the nearby department of Ocotopeque and I took part in the closing session for the training session for those in the project here in Copán. I also have four funding proposals nearly finished and hope to send them out in the next two weeks. But I wonder if this is really what I should be doing now. I’ve talked with Padre Efraín the director and there may be few changes; most of all, I’m hoping that I can have a hand in drafting an agriculture proposal. But we shall see. In the meantime, I’ll continue to help at Caritas.

And so the tempest that the apostles experienced on that sea with Jesus finds an echo in my heart.

A number of years ago Father Dries Van Ootegem, a Belgian priest friend, sent me a card with a photo of a miniature from a monastery on an island in Switzerland. What is unique about the miniature is that there are two images of Jesus - he is asleep and he is standing, calming the waves.

What this has meant to me is that I need to remember that Christ is present with us whether it is stormy or calm. I tend to forget the presence of Christ in the storm.

And so this reading deeply affects me today – in the midst of my little ‘tempests in a tea pot.”

And this commentary by Father John F. Kavanaugh, S.J., touches me:
Our faith is not a guarantee that we will not go under. But it is a promise that, even if we nearly drown, Jesus will be with us. Not every storm of ours is miraculously silenced before his command, but all can be transformed by the abiding presence of love that disarms all fear.
John F. Kavanaugh, S.J., The Word Encountered, pp. 80-81

After writing these words I went off to Sunday Mass at St. Martin’ de Porres Church in the neighborhood. There Padre Fausto Milla spoke strongly and at length on the current political crisis here.

On Friday the Honduran bishops’ conference released a statement that indicated their deep concern for the future of Honduras. They wrote, in part,
The current political juncture which has been produced by the internal elections [primaries] of the political parties, the election of the Supreme Court of Justice, the naming of the Attorney General of the Republic, the rumors of a coup d’etat and the preparation for the [June 28] survey about a fourth ballot [whether to have a ballot question in November over naming a new Constitutional Assembly to rewrite the Constitution] have produced in us a profound preoccupation over the divisions and the polarization of forces which are sharpening every day in our society.
The full text in Spanish can be found at http://www.zenit.org/article-31627?l=spanish

Friday, June 19, 2009

The witness of the saints

Everybody loves a story. I really like biographies; they reveal in concrete lived lives the values that people say they have. I especially cherish the stories of those who have given their lives for others – for the poor, for justice, for peace. In fact, for many years, I have been assembling a calendar with dates of witnesses and a few quotes. You can find it on my website at <http://home.igc.org/~jdonaghy/calendar.doc>.

painting of Father Rafael Palacios and Monseñor Romero on a building in Suchitoto

Saturday, June 20, is the thirtieth anniversary of the death of Father Rafael Palacios in Santa Tecla, El Salvador. Father Rafael was a priest active with the base communities and very committed to the poor. He is buried in the church in Suchitoto. He grew up in Suchitoto and in 2000 they renamed the street where his family lived in his honor. He is buried in the Sacred Heart chapel in the church of Santa Lucía in Suchitoto, El Salvador.

His pastoral style and his work with the poor earned him the scorn of many and for this he was killed.

A hymn written in his honor notes his attempts to have people understand their faith and live it, not as mere individuals seeking to save their souls, but as members of the community seeking the Kingdom of God.
Nuestro Dios no está en el templo
sino en la comunidad.
Our God is not in the church building
but lives in the community.
A few weeks after his death, Archbishop Oscar Romero noted in his July 8, 1979 homily:
When Father Rafael Palacios was murdered in Santa Tecla,
and his body was laid out here,
I said that he was still preaching,
calling attention
not only to crimes outside the church
but to sins within the church.
The prophet also decries sins inside the church.
And why not?
We bishops, popes, priests, nuns, Catholic educators–
we are human, and as humans we are sinful
and we need someone to be a prophet for us too
and call us to conversion
and not let us set up religion
as something untouchable.
Religion needs prophets, and thank God we have them,
because it would be a sad church
that felt itself owner of the truth
and rejected everything else.
A church that only condemns,
a church that sees sin only in others
and does not look at the beam in its own eye,
is not the authentic church of Christ.
Prophetic words!

Sunday is the anniversary of the death in 2005 of Cardinal Jaime Sin, Archbishop of Manila in the Philippines who was a major force for justice in his country and very outspoken against the dictator Ferdinand Marcos. He supported the nonviolent efforts in the People Power Movement in 2006 which eventually led to the flight of Marcos from the Philippines and the presidency of Corrie Aquino.

There’s a great quote from him I ran across a few years ago:
Strength without compassion is violence.
Compassion without justice is sentiment.
Justice without love is Marxism.
And… love without justice is baloney!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A Homage to John Hickey

Last weekend some of the guys I went to high school and junior college seminary with had a reunion in Mystic, Connecticut. I had hoped to go, but I had so many responsibilities during this time that I decided not to go. John Hickey was another member of the class who had been responsible for getting some of us in contact with each other via Facebook. He didn't make it because his health was failing.

John was a lawyer, but not your usual kind. He had been working for several years in some of the former Russian republics to help the legal systems there - at least, that's what I think he was doing. John was a great guy, full of life, very thoughtful, intelligent, caring. I remember that he asked me to do a reading at what I think was his first wedding.

But John died on Monday morning in Tbilisi, Georgia. (I wonder if he waited until the reunion weekend was over so that his death wouldn't put a damper on the weekend. Sometimes the dying do that, I believe.)

When I heard the news my heart ached. We had seen each other a few times after we both left the seminary. But I hadn't been in contact until about two years ago, soon after I got here in Honduras. There were occasional e-mails or Facebook messages.

He's not the first of our class to die, but his death left an emptiness in my heart. He was a good man - and his daughter has written how she owes her love of justice to him. Yeah, who but John would leave the US and work in remote places in Asia?

So, may God bless you, John.

"The wise shall shine brightly like the splendor of the firmament, And those who lead the many to justice shall be like the stars forever." (Daniel 12, 3)

Shine, John, like the star you are!

Monday, June 15, 2009


Last Friday and Saturday there was a training of catechists in the parish of Dulce Nombre. I helped out on Friday in the session being held in the village of El Zapote de Santa Rosa.

I was originally scheduled to do three of the session, but Thursday night about 10 pm the sister in charge of the trainings called me and asked me to do three more since one of the persons scheduled couldn’t do it. I had done one of the sessions before and one was a repeat of one I had prepared. When we got to the site of the trainings I talked with the others involved and we combined some sessions; so I only gave four presentations!

There is a recently ordained priest who was recently appointed the associate in the Dulce Nombre parish, since the pastor, Father Efraín Romero, has so many responsibilities in Caritas. Father Julio César Galdámez went out with me in the morning to do one session.

I drove out to El Zapote with Father Julio and then drove him back to Dulce Nombre since he had to give his talk to the group of catechists in the training there. Then I drove out again – and back at the end of the day. It’s a 45 minute drive over a bumpy dirt road that is gravel in a few places. However, you’ve got to watch out for the potholes. Yet there are a few places on the road where the view is stupendous. Riding along a ridge, you can see valleys and mountains on both sides. Truly, God’s creation is wondrous.

On Saturday I went to pick up Sarah Hood, who graduated from ISU in 2001, who’s here for a month. Things went relatively smooth, though she did have to wait over two hours between deplaning and finally getting through customs. The lines were long and slow.

On Sunday we went out to Dulce Nombre for the feast of Corpus Christi, the Body and Blood of Christ. The people here have a great devotion to the Eucharist, even if they do not have easy access to Mass, especially in the countryside.

But this Sunday there were processions in many places. As we left Santa Rosa, groups were preparing alfombras – carpets of colored saw dust – for the procession.

In Dulce Nombre the community finished Forty Hours of adoration of the Eucharist just before the Mass that began at 9:00 pm (sort of ). The procession after Mass was simple but moving. There were scripture readings, prayers, and a reflection at four altars set up around the main square outside the church. The theme that pervaded the reflections was the called to discipleship and mission - a very strong message that the Latin American Bishops emphazied at their meeting in Aparecida, Brazil, in May 2007.

In the afternoon Sarah and I went out with Padre Efraín to Plan Grande for Mass, first communions, and baptisms. The Mass was celebrated in the new, still unfinished church – the first Mass celebrated there. I felt that this was a great blessing for me. This is the place where the March 2008 St. Thomas Aquinas, Ames, spring break trip helped with the foundations. It was a great joy to see the church nearly finished and to realize that St. Thomas had a role in building this church.

The community worked hard on this church - not only working on the building but raising funds. They sold tamales and ticucos; they held raffles; they even went, as a community, to pick coffee to raise funds.

This is also the community that has responded the most in trying to connect with the religious education at St. Thomas. Cards have been sent back and forth between kids in religious education at St. Thomas and in Plan Grande.

This week should be fairly busy for me with Caritas, orienting Sarah to Santa Rosa, and just the ordinary work and events. I hope all turns out well. For the last month I have had my first bouts with stomach ills – I’ll get to a doctor this week if I’m still feeling out of it. But it’s not been fun, though it’s not been as bad as some people experience here.

When I mentioned this to Father Efraín yesterday, he talked about the “mal de mayo” – the May sickness – that afflicts a lot of people. The rains begin in May and so the water can be infected with all sorts of nasty microbes. And so the health centers are mobbed with people suffering al sorts of intestinal problems. I don’t think this was my problem, but I guess my illness is an act of solidarity with the people here (though I would rather have the solidarity be reflected in efforts to prevent all of us from getting sick.)


A happening I missed was a reunion of some of the guys I went to high school with. We connected primarily through Facebook and a first get together was set up for June 13-14. I had to back out because of commitments here, but the chance to connect again with guys I knew in a formative stage in my life has been a blessing.


The Corpus Christi photos and more can be found at http://www.flickr.com/photos/johndonaghy/sets/72157619790334163/

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

What is up?

Two years ago Saturday, I arrived in Santa Rosa de Copán. It’s been a good two years – filled with joys and challenges and lots of new experiences.

The bishop originally wanted me to spend most of my time in campus ministry at the local campus of the Catholic University of Honduras. I have done a lot trying to connect with the university but it’s a very difficult situation. The local campus is part of a national Catholic University of Honduras system with campuses throughout the country and administration in Tegucigalpa. Here there are now about 900 students, most of whom live here in Santa Rosa, though they come from all over western Honduras. There is now a person who coordinates campus ministry part-time as well as a priest who serves as chaplain. When I arrived there was no one hired to do campus ministry and the chaplain at that time was not very involved.

I found it very hard to enter into the university system, though the local campus director has been very welcoming. Partly I think because the local university has the feel of a community college. Many students work; some are older students; though there are classes all day, you find most of the students on campus between 2 and 8 pm.

I am still helping a little, mostly with a talk on retreats and I have helped get some students to help with a lunch program fro kids as part of their service learning class. I will be talking with folks there later this week or next to see how I can still be of service.

But it was at the university, at their feast day Mass in June 2007, that I first ran into Father Efraín Romero. He invite me to visit his nearby parish of Dulce Nombre de Mariá. After a few visits, I talked with him, the parish council, and the bishop and decided that it would be good for me to help there.

A lot of my work is accompanying the parish visiting villages and taking part in parish meetings. I also have done a lot of education and formation work with catechists and pastoral workers. I have to give three presentations at a workshop for catechists this Friday. I also have been a bit involved in projects that have been proposed by Father Efraín and that St. Thomas Aquinas in Ames has been helping. I hope that I can get more involved in some of these projects – especially the family gardens.

One of the joys of this relationship has been trying to connect St. Thomas in Ames with the diocese and especially with Dulce Nombre. Two spring break groups have helped in rural villages of the parish and there have been some sharing of greetings between children in religious ed in St. Thomas and children in the village of Plan Grande. St. Thomas has also aided some projects in the Dulce Nombre parish. This sharing and solidarity, I believe, opens a lot of possibilities for future connections.

I have also been helping a bit, especially since last September, with a lunch program for poor kid in the diocesan offices. The program has had its ups and downs, especially when the couple in charge dropped out and didn’t tell anyone. But by that time I had helped get some things in place – including a system of control of funds and paying the cook. I had also managed to get groups from the Catholic university to help. Next week some of us involved will be meeting to see what we can do to make the program more effective. It is providing lunch for between 24 and 35 children between 3 and 12. Some of the kids are really quite a handful, but the need is there.

Since January I have also been helping in the local office of Caritas, which is the social action outreach of the diocese. The new director is Father Efraín, whom I’ve been working with in Ducle Nombre, and I’m named the “associate director” – “sub-director” in Spanish. I’m still trying to feel my way in this and have been a little frustrated with the office stuff. (I find more fulfillment in direct work with the poor than office work.) But I’m working on writing up some funding proposals (in both English and Spanish) and also I have been going out with some of the program staff as they visit and work in rural villages. There are so many possibilities that I hope I can really get involved more directly in a few of the programs – especially a major training of leaders in Catholic Social Thought and some pilot programs in sustainable agriculture – if and when we get funding.

That’s what I am up to these days. There are other things, including occasional visits to a kindergarten in a poor neighborhood here in Santa Rosa and to a home for malnourished kids under 5. I am also welcoming visitors. An Iowa State grad who was active at St. Thomas and is now a Spanish teacher in Houston is coming for a month and I’m arranging a number of opportunities for her time here. I also hope to welcome a young priest who also was active at STA and is now studying Spanish in Guatemala.

That’s a bit of what I’m doing. I’ll leave to another blog a reflection of what I’ve learned and how I’m growing, as well as some thoughts on the current political situation here (which is quite a mess.)

In the meantime, please keep us in your thoughts and prayers.