Sunday, September 13, 2009

The bishop and the resistance
The true church is in the streets?

Last week, from Tuesday to Thursday, three of us from Santa Rosa de Copan’s Caritas office went to a retreat in Siguatepeque organized by the National Caritas office for their staff and for any other Caritas staff from the various diocesan offices.

After the retreat I decided to visit a friend and her family in La Esperanza, in the department of Intibucá. I was planning to return to Santa Rosa on Saturday but found out that our bishop, Monseñor Luis Alfonso Santos, was going to celebrate a Mass after a march against the coup d’état.

On Saturday, September 12, there had been a march in Santa Barbara and the bishop concelebrated the Mass there with eight priests.

Today, more than 1500 from all parts of the department of Intibucá and some from the city of Siguatepeque in a nearby department gathered at one end of town and march to the grotto for Mass. (La Esperanza and Intibucá are cities that are contiguous; I haven’t yet figured out which is which and were the dividing line is. It doesn’t help that the two parish churches are only four blocks away from each other!)

The march included people of all ages, with a large number of indigenous, since there are many Lenca in Intibucá. Short indigenous women, often with their children, were prominent in the march.

Father Andrés Tamayo, the priest from Olancho who has been involved in the anti-logging movement and the resistance to the coup, came to the march and was invited to concelebrate the Mass. He has been relieved of his parish in Olancho but, as he said, he is now able to minister to the resistance.

Padre Tamayo wore a tee-shirt that had “Resistance to Honduras” on the back, but the front bore a religious slogan which is very popular here: “Jesus, my best friend.” This combination of a deep piety and a strong commitment to justice is what has impressed me in Honduras since I began my ministry here a little more than three years ago.

The march was spirited with one group leading some slogans that were a little raunchy. A band from the southern Intibucá town of Colomancagua helped liven up the march.

I walked through the march, taking pictures and talking to a few people. Why were they there – to restore their president, to restore the constitutional order. Some of them saw Zelaya as the only president who was really listening to the poor and trying to help them. The other politicians were seen as just interested in their own interests or those of the rich elites.

When the group arrived at the grotto, which is on a hillside up about 25 steep steps from the street, there was a very short program with a message from one of the leaders of the resistance in the department of Intibucá, a former priest.

After the singing of the national anthem, Bishop Santos began the Mass, with five priests from Intibucá, and Padre Tamayo as concelebrants.

After the Gospel the bishop gave his homily that showed his solidarity with the poor.

He began by expressing his strong support for the resistance, since he feels in communion with their actions and ideas. Later in the homily he noted that though some priests in the dioceses might not support the resistance, “We cannot be against the resistance.”

He recalled how people admire the faith of the indigenous people of Intibucá who had suffered from colonialism and more. He noted how the country suffers from a new colonialism, what Pope Paul VI called the "international imperialism of money." Honduras has 7 million people, but “five million of us are poor” and 2.5 million are indigent, severely poor.

Why? There are about ten families who control much of the wealth, many of whom were behind the coup.

Bishop Santos also severely criticized the bipartite political party system, backed by the wealthy elite, that has controlled and decided who are the political leaders. For too many years this system has kept the people poor: this is the great injustice and the cause of division in the country.

He directly criticized de facto president, Roberto Micheletti, calling him one of the most corrupt politicians in Honduras and called for the removal of the Human Rights Commission, Ramon Custodio, from office. He also identified former president Carlos Flores Facussé as a major force behind the coup.

He also noted that the bishops are not infallible. The Cardinal is fallible in his political opinions. When Bishop Santos added that Pope Benedict (in a July statement) expressed his concern for the people of Honduras but did not express support of the coup, the people burst into applause.

Monseñor also speculated openly about possible US knowledge of and even involvement in the coup – not implicating the civil government but wondering about the role of the CIA and the Pentagon. He noted that soon after Zelaya was elected president he was called to visit the US Ambassador to Honduras who gave him a list of ministers fro his government. It should be noted that there is widespread belief among opponents of the coup that the US was involved, even though they do not see Obama involved in this.

Echoing the words of Salvadoran archbishop Oscar Romero’s last Sunday homily, Bishop Santos called on the Police and the Armed Forces to respect the people: “We are not anybody’s enemy,” and reminded them that they too “belong to the people.”

In an effort to reach out he said, “We are not meeting against anyone…. We want to embrace everyone.” And he offered to serve as a mediator if asked, bringing together Hondurans to dialogue among themselves, including looking at the corruption that has siphoned off so much of the aid htat has come to Honduras.

Bishop Santos is not a mere political figure but he sees his message as based in his faith and the faith of the people. He recalled the second reading of the Sunday’s liturgy where James states that “Faith without works is death.” If we are Christians we must respond to the needs of the poor.

Christ became human and was born poor, he continued. The King of the universe, who could do everything, “did not wish to be born among the rich. He was born poor” and died on the cross. “This is the God we believe in!”

A few years ago a military leader in Santa Rosa asked the bishop his position on liberation theology, if he believe in Christ the Liberator. “Is there, by chance, any other god,” he replied. God has committed himself to the cause of the poor, the bishop also said, but this doesn’t mean that it is wrong to be born in a rich family – or in a poor one. But, he implied, there is the need to commit oneself to the poor, as Jesus did.

The deceitful politicians must be rejected. “Never again” should these politicians be elected.

I may not have gotten the full sense of one of his last sentences, but he expressed concern about the elections. I believe he asked this question: “If you are against the coup, does it make sense to go to the ballot boxes since the newly elected president could be overthrown by a coup in six months?”

On an advisory note, the bishop said that the one who wins in politics is not the one who destroys the opponent.

His final words were full of encouragement and advice, “The resistance doesn’t end with the November elections, nor does it end in two or three years; the resistance has to be permanent.”

As I write this blog I remember that term that the Brazilian nonviolent movement used for nonviolent action – firmeza permanente - permanent, ongoing firmness.

It’s a long process, the bishop was telling the people. And "they must not let this opportunity pass by for the poor, for the people.”

These and other photos can be found in my set of photos "La Esperanza March and Mass" in my Flickr photo pages.

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