Thursday, December 31, 2009

A new priest

On Wednesday, December 30, Monseñor Luis Alfonso Santos ordained Celeo Castro a priest for the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán. Padre Celeo is the 48th diocesan priest the bishop has ordained in his twenty-five years as bishop.

Monseñor Santos came to a diocese with only 16 diocesan priests and made it a priority to find diocesan priests among the people. There are now over 50 diocesan priests to serve the 1.2 million people who live in the five departments of southwestern Honduras. There is one parish served by Capuchin Franciscans and five parishes served by Spanish Passionists. There are also 20 seminarians at this point.

Several thousands of people came to a field outside San Antonio, Intibucá, just a few kilometers from the Rio Lempa which separates Honduras from El Salvador. About thirty priests concelebrated the Mass.

This was the second ordination I’ve ever attended and it was so different from the Mass in the Newark, New Jersey, Cathedral more than 30 years ago.

During his homily the bishop noted that a priest promises obedience to his bishop – and thus to the whole church. The priest also should make an option for the poor and, though he should care for all people, he should not be identified with the rich and seek their favor. The priest should be effectively and affectively poor because Christ was poor and so he should make make special efforts to serve the poor.

The priest should see the Eucharist as central to his life as a priest. The bishop also commended Eucharistic adoration and added that he would hope that with Eucharistic adoration in the villages there would be less homicides, rapes, domestic violence and drinking bouts.

The bishop was well received by these people and when he commended their pastor, Padre Rigoberto, for his opposition to the coup they applauded heartily.

It was a moving day and another sign of God’s presence here in Honduras. And what again impressed me was the combination in the celebration of deep piety and concern for social justice. The stance of the diocese for the poor, against the coup, against the exploitation of the land by mining and other interests is not more politics; it flows from a deep spirituality of the Incarnation – God becoming a poor human being to save us, to liberate us, from all forms of oppression.

Thank God for this diocese and for the commitment of so many people - bishop, priests, and lay pastoral workers - to spread the message of a God who is on the side of the poor.


The first photo shows the mother of Celeo wiping off the chrism with which Padre Celeo was anointed as part of the rite of priestly ordination. In the second photo Bishop Santos ordains Padre Celeo by the imposition of the hands (which occurs before the newly ordained priest's hands are anointed with chrism.)

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

"When the bishop comes"

There is a saying in some parts of Latin America, to indicate that something will almost never happen, “cuando venga el Obispo – when the bishop comes.” Many Catholics in remote areas almost never saw their bishop in their towns and villages.

But here in the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán, Monseñor Luis Alfonso Santos, makes the effort to get out to the remote parishes and the people know and recognize him.

The bishop invited me to come with him for a few days to visit the southern part of the department [state] of Intibucá, one of the poorest areas of Honduras.

After 5 hours on buses from Gracias, Lempira, to La Esperanza, Intibucá, and then over rough dirt roads from there to southern Intibucá, I arrived in Camasca about 2 pm on December 26 . The colonial church in Camasca, dedicated to the apostle Saint James - Santiago Apostól, dates from the 1550s.

The bishop had confirmed several hundred young people that day in the towns of Magdalena and Santa Lucía. On December 27 he confirmed about 172 young people, mostly between 12 and 17 in Camasca. The celebration was very impressive - the young people in white shirts or blouses and black pants or skirts accompanied by their parents and sponsors. It gave me great joy to see a young man with Downs Syndrome among those being confirmed.

Monseñor Santos, despite the long schedule of the day before and the terrible dirt roads over which he had traveled, lead the celebration with a lot of energy. He is an educator and motivator at heart and encouraged the young people to respond with gusto to the responses at Mass and to sing energetically the songs – often with a theme of liberation.

His homily – somewhat stream of consciousness – was filled with gems. He strongly affirmed the dignity of the human person, especially the poor, encouraging them to see that their dignity does not come from what they have but from being children of God.

He spoke of the need for those who were confirmed to be witnesses in their country, their villages, their families. He urged them to know the Constitution of Honduras and suggested that this be one of the themes that should be part of the preparation for confirmation. He specifically referred to article 2 (“The sovereignty belongs to the people…”) and article 3 (“No one owes obedience to a usurper government nor to those who assume functions or public jobs by the force of arms or using media or procedures that violate … this Constitution and the laws. The acts verified by such authorities are null and void….”)

He clearly sees the de facto government as a usurper government. (Many people in this part of Honduras agree with him - and not only the poor.) The bishop noted that Honduras is governed by irresponsible persons of two main political parties that are virtually the same and who have maintained the people in misery.

On December 28, I went with Padre Rigoberto, the pastor of the parish of Camasca, to visit two villages as well as to check on the preparations for an ordination of a young priest on Wednesday, December 30, in the town of San Antonio, near the border with El Salvador. The land is beautiful, though there is a lot of deforestation.

The one village, San Francisco in the municipality [roughly, a county] of San Antonio. It is one hour by car from San Antonio (which is about an our from Camasca.) When we got there, we found out that we had to walk 30 minutes to the site of the Mass. They had brought a horse and offered it to me, but I told the priest to take it (since I thought it was best he arrived fresh at the Mass.) But he insisted that I ride back to the truck on the horse. It was getting dark and was glad to ride the horse since we traveled half the time following a stream and the last ten minutes was up hill! I had taken a picture of the priest on the horse but it was too dark to take one of me. The next time I have the opportunity, I'll be sure take a photo so that you’ll be able to see me, a horseback rider!

We didn’t leave San Francisco until about 7 pm, because one of the tires on the truck was going flat. The priest had to borrow a tire from someone in the village. Then we stopped in San Antonio to check out the site of the ordination and encourage the people working on the preparations. On the way to San Francisco we had stopped where they were preparing the meal, by killing three large cattle which were all donated! We went to one of the slaughter sites in the field behind a house. (My vegetarianism was reconfirmed.)

We got back in Camasca a little after 10 pm. It was a long, but good day to see people who live their faith and struggle to live decent lives.

The people in this region are isolated. The road from La Esperanza is poor – and there is only a wooden plank bridge to cross the Rio Negro to get to the southern part of the department. There is no gas station nearby and so they have to bring in gas from La Esperanza, three hours away by bus. Someone sought to set up a gas station here in Camasca but was refused permission. Why? I don’t know.

What I noted as I traveled on the bus is that in the southern region of Intibucá they plant a lot of sorghum, which they use for animal feed as well as for tortillas. I’ve tasted a few sorghum tortillas and they are quite bitter. I think sorghum is raised in places where the soil is not good enough to raise corn! Of course, most of the sorghum is planted on the sides of hills.

Tomorrow, Wednesday, I’ll be off to the ordination in the town of San Antonio. The Mass and ordination will be held in an area at the edge of town. Interestingly, it is at the site of a refugee camp for Salvadorans fleeing their war in the 1980s.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

True Reconciliation

Earlier this month I wrote a few remarks on peace and reconciliation. Saturday, December 26, the front page headline of La Prensa, owned by a major backer of the coup, read:
A reconciliarse y olvidar rencores llama la Iglesia.
[The Church calls for reconciliation and forgetting of resentments.]
The call comes from the editorial of Seminario Fides, the weekly newspaper of the archdiocese of Tegucigalpa.

Quoting from the editorial the sub-title reads
“No tiene sentido alimentar diferencias que solo conducen a profundizar el atraso del páis.”
[“There is no sense in feeding differences which only lead to deepening the backwardness of the country.”]
I managed to track down the original editorial, which I don’t find very inspiring or prophetic. In parts, I find it very problematic.

It calls for peace and reconciliation and then notes that
It makes no sense to insist on feeding the grudges and differences which lead only to deepen the backwardness in which the nation is submerged, and which we are all called to put to an end in the shortest time possible.
It makes no sense to cling to the situations of the past when we have, right in front of our noses, a future which we have to construct. Perchance the past can serve us so that we may avoid committing the same errors and may assume our responsibilities as citizens with better faith and hope, with better responsibility and seriousness.
This strikes me as trying to build peace and reconciliation in a vacuum. Reconciliation must be based in reality, on the truth. One doesn’t cling to them, but one acknowledges them, faces the truth. Trying to build a new Honduras without acknowledging the injustice, the human rights violations, and the corruption is like trying to build a house of cards on jello. Truth is essential.

Furthermore, though the editorial notes the extreme poverty in Honduras, it says nothing about structural injustices and doesn’t identify the profound inequality in Honduras, one of the worst in the hemisphere.

In addition, I think the editorial opens a way to blame those who raise serious questions about the history of injustice in Honduras and the radical inequity between rich and poor which predates the current political crisis by decades.

But what I fear – from the headline in La Prensa – is that reconciliation will lose its deep significance and become a term bandied about only to serve one party’s advantage. The supporters of the coup seem to have taken the initiative in this sad game.

The first manipulation in an article in La Prensa is saying that this is the stance of the church. It is the stance of the editorial of the Tegucigalpa archdiocesan newspaper and therefore probably reflects the thinking of Cardinal Oscar Rodríguez. But it does not necessarily represent the stance of the entire Honduran church.

The article also quotes (and misquotes) sections of the editorial from Fides, but selectively – and at times out of context.

Speaking of the birth of Christ, the Fides editorial says:
In the face of the incommensurable goodness and generosity of God with us, we are called to respond in a like manner. Putting to the side hate, sterile confrontation, the differences which have been keeping us apart.
A nice thought, but vague. Yet look what La Prensa did, misquoting and putting it into a context of adversarial politics, not faith:
The pro-Zelaya groups and those of the new government [Micheletti's] have confronted each other. The editorial [from Fides] emphasizes that God calls us "to put to one side the sterile confrontations [note the plural] which separate us.
Presumably in their eyes the pro-Zelaya groups are responsible for sterile confrontations.

The La Prensa article, not surprisingly, does not quote the most prophetic paragraph of the Fides editorial:
It constitutes a crime of lèse majesté [insulting the king; treason] to be indifferent to the conditions of life in which those who are struck down by extreme poverty subsist. That indifferences means that one makes oneself an accomplice of the causes which are the conditions for the profound needs which offend the human rights of thousands.
La Prensa does quotes parts of the next paragraph, which reads in full in Fides,
Only the attitude which get translated into solidarity can lead to unity among all Honduras. And only by forging unity and being in solidarity, in the way Jesus did, can we have a capability to construct a country for all, full of justice and peace.
But La Prensa misses its meaning (or perhaps deliberately manipulates the text):
Finally it [the Fides editorial] points out that Hondurans are called to forge unity in the way Jesus did, since only in this way “can we have a capability to construct a country for all, full of justice and peace.”
No mention of solidarity, nor the context of the crime of indifference to the extreme poverty experienced by thousands of Hondurans.

Reconciliation has a long way to go in Honduras. The Honduran church as a whole clearly sees the need of dialogue and reconciliation, though I wonder if all the leaders know the depth of the divisions and the need to face the scandalous inequality here.

I think they’d do well to listen to the bishop of Santa Rosa de Copán. In an interview with Catholic News Service in August Monseñor Luis Alfonso Santos urged dialogue and reconciliation – but with a twist:
And, taking into consideration our preferential option for the poor, we urge a dialogue between the unions, peasant groups and popular organizations on the one side and the economic powers behind the coup, which are linked to the transnational mining companies, the fast food chains and the petroleum distributors. The dialogue should be between these powerful groups and the poor and weak. ... The international community doesn't have anything to do with it.
Who lives with the shocking misery here—the lack of education and medicines, the lack of even sheets in the hospitals—are the poor of Honduras. So national reconciliation needs to be between the poor, represented by their leaders, and these economically powerful groups.
The need for the powerful to include the poor in any dialogue and reconciliation was not mentioned in the Fides editorial. Perhaps because it had a different purpose. But the failure to note the divides in Honduran society which date well before the coup and even before Zelaya’s presidency and the continuing exclusion of the poor and marginalized will most likely make reconciliation even more difficult.

I hope and pray we can work through these difficulties, challenging them faithfully and truthfully, seeking true reconciliation, where
"Kindness and truth will meet; justice and peace shall kiss."
Psalm 85

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


Greetings of the peace of Christ from Honduras;
despite our coup and poverty Christ lives among us!

This week has been fairly quiet, since the Caritas office is closed until January 11.

But I have managed to get to the Comedor de Niños, the lunch program for kids, twice this week. There were not many kids Monday and Tuesday, partly because it’s been cold and rainy here since Saturday. This is normal weather for this time of the year but we were spoiled by several weeks of warm, sunny days and cool nights. However, that wreaked some havoc on people in the countryside who depend on the October through December rains for their crops. In some parts of the country there has been so little rain that they are calling it a drought.

Today, it was sunny and warmer. So I took time out to make cinnamon buns. I will be going to Gracias, Lempira – a 90 minute bus ride from here – to spend Christmas eve and Christmas morning with Sisters Nancy and Brenda, two Dubuque Franciscan sisters who are serving in the parish of Gracias. It is a blessing to have good friends and mutual support.

The next week will be adventure. The bishop, Monseñor Luis Alfonso Santos, invited me to go with him for several days as he visits parishes in the southern parts of the departments of Lempira and Intibucá for confirmations and an ordination. These are very poor regions of the diocese inhabited, for the most part, by indigenous people, mostly Lenca. It will be good to see another part of the diocese, meet the people, and have time to talk with the bishop.
If during these days the coming of the Lord sets our hearts on fire and if we respond by our commitment and solidarity to the gift of love which God gives us in his Son, we will become the fireflies who will gradually transform the threatening darkness into a human, peaceful, and luminous night.
Gustavo Gutierrez, Sharing the Word through the Liturgical Year, 27

The icon was written by Yaroslava Surmach Mills, a gift she sent me several years ago.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Christmas quotes

Here are a few quotes to challenge and sustain us during this season of Advent and Christmas:

"And when we give each other Christmas gifts in His name, let us remember that He has given us the sun and the moon and the stars and the earth with its forests and mountains and oceans — and all that lives and moves upon them. He has given us all green things and everything that blossoms and bears fruit – and all that we quarrel about and all that we have misused – and to save us from our own foolishness, for all our sins, He has come down to earth and gave us Himself."
Sigrid Undset, Norwegian novelist

“Today there is neither the glorifying of God nor peace on earth. As long as a hunger is not stilled and as long as we have not uprooted violence from our civilization, Christ is not yet born.”
Mohandas K. Gandhi

“No one can celebrate a genuine Christmas without being truly poor. The self sufficient, the proud, those who, because they have everything, look down on others, those who have no need of God — for them there will be no Christmas. Only the poor, the hungry, those who need someone to come on their behalf, will have that someone. That someone is God, Emmanuel, God-with-us. Without poverty of spirit, there can be no abundance of God.”
Archbishop Oscar Romero, December 24, 1978

A "nacimiento" at the Catholic University campus, Santa Rosa

"Preparing for Christmas means experiencing the joy of knowing that God loves us....
"...our faith has to become present in daily life as a message of hope in the midst of discouragement, of life in the midst of violent and unjust deaths. this is what believing in the child born of Mary means."
Gustavo Gutiérrez, O.P., Sharing the Word through the Liturgical Year

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Return to normalcy?

A December 14 headline from an editorial of The Voice of America, a US government supported radio station and web site, reads, “Honduras Seeks Return To Normalcy.”

I hope not.

What is normalcy here?

What was normal here before the coup of June 28?
400,000 malnourished children; only 33% of students go beyond sixth grade; 60% live in poverty and about 28 % live in extreme poverty; massive corruption at all levels; some efforts and promises from the president.
And then the coup came.

What was the legacy of the coup?
human rights violations by the de facto government; restrictions of basic freedoms; more than 20 deaths of people opposed to the coup; fear; major divisions in the populace; a lagging economy made worse; demonization of the opposition; a largely non-violent movement against the coup.
Some claimed that the elections of November 29 would bring a “solution” to the crisis. This is despite the fact that most nations of the world had major reservations on the legality of an election under the coup regime.

So, in order to “put things behind them,” some in Congress seek an amnesty. But an amnesty in their mind means impunity - no one will be held accountable for their crimes.

Such an amnesty is the equivalent of amnesia which I believe will leave a festering sore within the heart of the nation. The deaths, the human rights violations, the restrictions on basic freedoms, the corruption, the coup itself, and any alleged crimes of Zelaya or Micheletti - all forgotten, swept under the rug?

Amnesty is often justified in terms of reconciliation. Honduras needs reconciliation, but reconciliation has to be based on seeking the truth. The experience of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission is a better example. As I understand it, people who had committed heinous violations of human rights were brought before the commission. If they acknowledged their deeds, they could be reintegrated into society, If not, they had to face judgment. There are amazing stories from the commission, especially when the mother of one victim openly forgave the man responsible for his death. True reconciliation, like true peace, is based on justice and truth.

What is needed? Not a return to normalcy nor a forgetting of the past.

Honduras needs to face the poverty, the immense divide between a few very rich families and hundreds of thousands living in misery, the corruption, the racism and classism which perpetrates a lack of self-esteem among the poor.

Honduras needs efforts to work honestly and civilly toward reconciliation – in families, in the church, in society.

Honduras doesn’t need a return to normality; it needs steps forwards to participation of all – especially the poor – in their lives and the life of their country.

This may sound revolutionary – and it is. But it is the revolution of the Gospel, of the God who became human as a poor babe in a land occupied by foreign powers who had co-opted rich religious, political, and economic forces to support its rule. (Does this sound a little like Honduras?) It is a revolution which will not need violence – for violence would be counter-revolutionary. But it needs the violence of love, of solidarity, of sacrificing for the common good. It will also need a lot of forgiveness.

I know Hondurans are capable of this because I see it every week in my ministry in the parish of Dulce Nombre and in the work of Caritas.

This week we had the national director and associate director of Catholic Relief Services (CRS) with us for two days. We discussed possible projects that they might support in the coming year as well as the re-initiation of a maternal and infant health project which we began in June but was put on hold because of the coup (since its funding came from the World Bank).

On Tuesday we went out to the countryside and saw some of the work that our Caritas worker Manuel López has been doing, supporting people to diversify their crops. We visited Ernesto’s small field with mandarins, oranges, oregano, avocado, lorocco, and much more. He offered us mandarins and asked me if I wanted to take more home. I politely said no since I already have some I bought a few days ago. Such generosity. But, he mentioned, a real problem is getting them to a market since they are far from the main highway on a treacherous dirt road.

The visit with CRS was an “up” for me. The new country representative/director is a delightful young man, Juan Sheenan; the associate director is an Honduran, Miguel Flores, who has worked with CRS for 25 years. They talked about the possibilities for projects in Honduras next year. I hope we at Caritas Santa Rosa de Copán can work with them to make life more human for the people in our diocese.

In January, God willing, Caritas Santa Rosa de Copán will re-initiate a program for maternal and infant health that we began in cooperation with Catholic Relief Services.

CRS also has programs in water and sanitation, agriculture, peacemaking and reconciliation, and much more here in Honduras.

In the US, I regularly supported CRS and so it is fascinating to be on the other end – helping them serve those in need here in Honduras. (Check out their website and donate, if you can.)

Saturday, December 12, 2009

La morenita

Today is the feast of our Lady of Guadalupe, recalling the apparition of Mary as a native person, the black Virgin - la morenita, to the campesino Juan Diego, Cuauhtlazin (the talking eagle), at the hill called Tepeyac, outside Mexico City, in 1531.

The prayer for today in the Catholic sacramentary is most appropriate for Honduras, as well as many other places in this world:
God of power and mercy,
you blessed the Americas at Tepeyac
with the presence of the Virgin Mary of Guadalupe.
May her prayers help all men and women
to accept each other as brothers and sisters.
Through your justice present in our hearts
may your peace reign in the world.

Friday, December 11, 2009

What a week!

So what have I been doing?

Just to let you know that I'm not slouching too much, I decided to give an account of an extraordinarily busy week.

Last Friday and Saturday I took part in the evaluation and planning meeting of the parish of Dulce Nombre. More on that later.

Sunday I was in Dulce Nombre again, this time to celebrate the first anniversary of the ordination of Padre Julio César Galdámez, the associate pastor. I really appreciate Padre Julio for his real love of God and the people. He also has a special gift of working with youth.

Monday I spent the morning with the program staff at Caritas in their weekly meeting, though at this time of the year a lot of the work is preparing year-end reports.

About 11:45 am Padre Efraín asked me to go to Tegucigalpa for a meeting with Misereor, a German Catholic church funding organization. A funding request for working on mining issues had been turned down and Padre Efraín thought that a meeting connected with it had been canceled. Wrong! So I went home, took wash off the line, packed a change of clothes, and got a quick lunch before returning to the office to leave for Tegucigalpa at 2 pm. Luckily I didn’t have to drive and the driver, a young guy whose father is also a driver for Caritas, was great to talk with and respected my need to read over the grant request and also get a little nap.

We arrived about 8:30 pm after trying to find our way to the hotel where I was meeting. I arrived and found not only two people from Misereor but two people from the Tegucigalpa Caritas office. Hum? The one hour meeting was tense but important and I am glad I went.

Tuesday we returned to Santa Rosa – another six and a half hours in the car. I went right away to a meeting on Citizenship Participation with members of the national Caritas office and teams from our diocese and the dioceses of Trujillo and Comayagua. I spent two hours there and then went home and crashed! But they didn’t end their work till about 9:30 pm.

Wednesday morning I went back to the meeting for a bit.

Then I went to the Comedor de Niños – the lunch program for kids in the diocesan building, partly to tell them about a party for 40 of them this Saturday at the Catholic University. There were probably 50 kids there that day.

In the afternoon there was a meeting with the national director of Progressio, an English Catholic group, that sends professionals to work with projects.

I spent a little time later Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning with the Caritas Political Participation groups. It’s interesting to observe the conflicts that the current situation have created even in groups that work with the poorest in terms of promoting their participation.

The archdiocese of Tegucigalpa and as far as I can tell all of the Caritas groups except ours promoted the elections, with different degrees of enthusiasm. But I sense there are even deeper areas of potential conflict because many of those working in the area of political particiaption find that many people conscientized by this process are sympathetic to the Resistance. And so…

Yesterday afternoon and today I have been at the Caritas office, trying to catch up on things. I did, however, go back today to the Comedor de Niños and there were about 48 kids. While there I entered the list of kids who had signed in the last few weeks and it was exactly 100. They don’t all come every day but in the past two months there have been between 40 and 60 most every day. Some of this increased demand may be due to the fact that there is no school. But I also think that there may be more hunger and so the kids are willing to walk 30 minutes or more for a decent lunch.

Tomorrow I’ll be taking about 40 kids to a project at the Catholic University. I told them we could only take the first 40 and so we may have some disappointed kids. But I bought a bag of candy to share with those who don’t get a chance to go.

Next week will also be busy. Monday and Tuesday the country director of Catholic Relief Service will be here. I hope we can persuade him to look at some programs for our area.

Thursday and Friday we’ll have an evaluation and planning meeting here at Caritas but after that the office is closed for a few weeks for the Christmas holidays.

Speaking of Advent and Christmas, I hear that Iowa got over a foot of snow. Ah. It doesn’t feel like Advent here since it’s uncommonly warm and dry. But we’re all waiting for the coming of the Sun of Justice, Jesus, whom we all need.

Come, Lord Jesus, and break the chains of injustice and poverty.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Jesús in Latin America

December 10, 1968, Thomas Merton, Trappist monk, spiritual writer, companion of peacemakers and justice seekers, died. His work has been an inspiration for me since I read his autobiography Seven Storey Mountain during high school.

I think the following quote is quite appropriate today, especially in light of US policy toward Honduras.
If only North Americans had realized . . . that Latin Americans really existed. That they were really people. That they spoke a different language. That they had a culture. That they had more than something to sell! Money has totally corrupted the brotherhood that should have united all the peoples of America. It has destroyed the sense of relationship, the spiritual community that had already begun to flourish in the years of Bolivar. But no! Most North Americans still don’t know, and don’t care, that Brazil speaks a language other than Spanish, that all Latin Americans do not live for the siesta, that all do not spend their days and nights playing the guitar and making love. They have never awakened to the fact that Latin America is by and large culturally superior to the United States, not only on the level of the wealthy minority which has absorbed more of the sophistication of Europe, but also among the desperately poor indigenous cultures, some of which are rooted in a past that has never yet been surpassed on this continent.

So the tourist drinks tequila, and thinks it is no good, and waits for the fiesta he has been told to wait for. How should he realize that the Indian who walks down the street with half a house on his head and a hole in his pants, is Christ? All the tourist thinks is that it is odd for so many Indians to be called Jesús.
Thomas Merton,
“A Letter to Pablo Antonio Cuadra Concerning Giants”
in Emblems of a Season of Fury
I include this quote in materials I give to folks visiting here, though most of my visitors aren't the tequila-drinking tourists. The message that the US is not superior to Latin America, though, can be quite disturbing. And meeting Jesús can evoke conversion.


By the way, in some Latin American countries Jesús is used as a name for both men and women. In El Salvador, Jesús is sometimes shortened to Chus for men and Chusa for women.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

WIth the people

Friday and Saturday morning I took part in the year end evaluation and planning of the parish of Dulce Nombre de María. This year the pastor, Padre Efraín Romero, was not there to lead it and so the associate pastor, Padre Julio César Galdámez, led it. And I had the role of writing the evaluations and then the planning on my computer as it was projected on the wall! A challenge but I think it went very well. (Luckily Word has spell check in Spanish and that Word only crashed once!)

It is always good to be with these people – most of whom have limited formal education but many of whom are quite sharp and articulate. Only two or three of us in the room had more than a high school education – the priest, a sister, and me. There were a few retired teachers (I argued very pleasantly with two of them, about the “coup”) but I would guess that the rest had no more than six years of schooling.

But what really struck me were two conversations I had after the meeting.

Standing around in the park before lunch, one man asked if there was anything I could do to help him. He is a devoted pastoral worker in his community. He talked about the poverty of many people in his area who work for the church. He mentioned how many people in his area get handouts from the Missionaries of Charity and then also go to get handouts from evangelical groups. he felt that pastoral workers (all volunteers) really weren’t getting anything.

He was concerned most of all about housing. He mentioned how his fourteen year son had talked to him about improving their house. They made adobe bricks and used what tin they could find for roofing. But he felt he needed more.

These are great needs – but what I told him is that he should try working through the church, talking with the pastor. I don’t want to get into the position of finding funds for individuals and undercutting the structures. What I think might be worth discussing is establishing a revolving fund or a micro-finance project for pastoral workers in the parish which would help them with small loans.

As I walked away I had a conversation with another pastoral worker, Ovidio. I visited his community last year and he asked me when I was coming back. He’s very astute and has an inquisitive mind. I think he gets this from his father, Salatiel. The first I met this man who is about 80, he asked me where I was from. When I told him I grew up in Pennsylvania, he asked me if the capital of Pennsylvania was Harrisburg .

Ovidio also places value on education. His daughter is studying in the Catholic girls school in Santa Rosa on a scholarship and his son is going (on bicycle) each day to the Honduran equivalent of junior high, in a town near his home.

He is also blessed with having land to use since his father has a nice plot (which I think he got after the land invasions and land reform of the 1960s and1970s.)

Ovidio proudly told me that this year he has gotten double the yield on his corn field than last year. Why? He claims it’s because he is not using chemical fertilizers and between he is using frijol de abono, the velvet bean, to fix the nitrogen in the soil. He has learned some of this through the agricultural education programs the parish has offered.

These are some of my encounters with Hondurans that, though different, shape my view of mission – being with the people, accompanying them as they seek to live in the light of the Kingdom of God, sharing their joys and their sorrows. (Cf. 2 Corinthians 1, 3-7)

Thursday, December 03, 2009

The letter, maybe – but the spirit?

Yesterday the Honduran Congress reiterated its support of the June 28 coup, 111 -14.

This seems to fulfill the letter of the San José/Tegucigalpa Accord that demanded a congressional vote on the restitution of president Zelaya. But I have my doubts.

First of all, I wonder why it took so long, especially since the vote was so one-sided. The hope was that soon after the accord was agreed upon in late October that the Congress would vote. But delay followed upon delay and the vote came after the disputed elections. I have my theories but I won’t speculate here.

Secondly, Pepe Lobo who won last Sunday’s election talked about national reconciliation, but it was his party, the Nationalist Party, that proposed the resolution that was voted on. I hope Lobo has the courage to do something dramatic.

What concerns me most is that none of this really seems to deal with the real problems of Honduras.

First of all, I fear that the election and the Congressional vote will increase the polarization in the country - not only between supporters and opponents of the coup, but between the economic and political elites and the poor.

Secondly, I have my doubts whether the new Congress and Pepe Lobo will take drastic steps to deal with the dramatic inequality in Honduras, but will continue with neoliberal policies that have widened the gap between rich and poor.

Thirdly, I have my concern that hopes of the poor for more participation in determining the direction of their country have been frustrated.

Also, this leaves in place the bi-party system which distributes favors among their activists and uses programs and money to garner votes and support.

And, what does this mean for Latin America which has been moving toward strengthening democracy? Honduras was a “fragile” democracy and is even more fragile, especially in light of the failure of the US to be consistent in its opposition to coups. Will this give the green light to disenchanted economic and political elites in other Latin American countries to join with the military and overthrow leaders they don’t like?

Yet, there may be signs of hope – but not from the powers that be. (I originally wrote “not from above” but changed it, since hope really comes from “Above,” from God who identifies with the poor and oppressed.)

During these months since the coup, a movement has grown in resistance. It is distinct from the followers of Zelaya (and should be). People have raised questions and have been willing to take risks by advocating against the coup. Some have been beaten and about 21 or so killed. They have endured this without taking up arms. (Thank God.) There have been some violent outbursts in a few occasions, but the Resistance has adhered to nonviolence for the most part.

The struggle for justice and for real participation in Honduras will be long.

But this passage from today’s Catholic lectionary reading from Isaiah 26: 4-6 is a telling warning:
the Lord is an eternal Rock.
He humbles those in high places
and the lofty city he brings down.
He brings it down, down to the ground,
flings it down in the dust.
It is trampled underfoot
by the feet of the needy,
by the footsteps of the poor.

slightly corrected, 2:00 pm, December 3, 2009

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Find what gives life meaning

On December 2, 1980, four US missionaries to El Salvador were martyred by Salvadoran government forces: Maryknoll Sisters Ita Ford and Maura Clarke, Ursuline Sister Dorothy Kazel, and lay missionary Jean Donovan.

There's a beautiful letter that Sister Ita Ford wrote to her sixteen year old niece in Brooklyn:
This is a terrible time in El Salvador for youth. A lot of idealism and commitment are getting snuffed out here now. The reasons why so many people are being killed are quite complicated, yet there are some clear, simple strands.One is that people have found a meaning to live, to sacrifice, struggle, and even die. And whether their life spans sixteen, sixty or ninety, for them their life has a purpose. In many ways they are fortunate people.
Brooklyn is not passing through the drama of El Salvador, but some things hold true wherever one is, and at whatever age. What I'm saying is that I hope you can come to find that which gives life a deep meaning for you, something that energizes you, enthuses you, enables you to keep moving ahead.
A message for all of us - especially for those struggling for justice in and for Honduras.