Thursday, January 28, 2010

Seeing with other eyes

Interior of the El Rosario church, San Salvador, El Salvador

I've been here in Santa Rosa for a little over two years and seven months. It's largely been a ministry of accompaniment
  • in Caritas since last January as volunteer associate director, writing grants, doing some monitoring of projects, accompanying the workers out to their projects on occasion, looking for ways to increase the outreach of Caritas in the diocese, and this year a diocesan project of training lay leaders in Catholic Social Teaching and preparing a manual on that teaching for use in the 5000 plus base ecclesial communities in the diocese.
  • in the parish of Dulce Nombre de Maria in Dulce Nombre de Copán, helping in the formation of catechists and other lay pastoral leaders as well as accompanying some of the social projects they have.
  • with the comedor de ninos, a lunch program for poor kids in Santa Rosa, which has been in the obispado (the building where the bishop lives and works) but which we will be moving to the grounds of Caritas this weekend.
  • some accompaniment of the pastoral work in the local campus of the Catholic University.
Another major part of my ministry is a pastoral of hospitality. I've hosted visitors, mostly from St. Thomas Aquinas parish in Ames, Iowa (which is supporting my ministry here). There have been several groups and individuals. This not only helps people see and experience the people, the reality of Honduras and a diocese committed to the poor, it also is helping establish a relation between the parishes of St. Thomas and Dulce Nombre.

At times these visits help me see the reality with new eyes, at times full of surprises.

This happened, very literally, when I met my current visitor, Cody LeClaire, in San Salvador and showed him around there for a day before bringing him back to Santa Rosa with me.

Cody is a student of landscape architecture. A brief remark after visiting the cathedral in downtown San Salvador reminded me that he might find the nearby church of El Rosario interesting.

The church, ministered to by the Dominicans, is a concrete and glass building that some might find boring, but it fascinated Cody.

When we entered with the sun coming through the windows from the west the space was alive with color. Such a simple, almost boring, architecture had allowed the space to be transformed - as Christ transforms the daily grit and grime of our lives with his presence.

The church also has one of the most fascinating Stations of the Cross I've ever seen - it's all concrete and rebar. The Risen Christ at the end is all rebar - and, when viewed with the western wall behind, is striking.

But this time I saw something I hadn't noticed before. In the Blessed Sacrament alcove there is a tabernacle with a glass door through which you can see the ciborium with the consecrated hosts. But the glass is broken - looking as if a bullet had pierced it or if it had been hot with a baseball bat. (I think that it was designed that way since a booklet on the church architecture from the 1970s showed the broken glass.)

For me this spoke very deeply on the deep relation between the suffering Christ and the suffering peoples of the world - Christ, pierced for our healing, shares the wounds of the oppressed.

That solidarity with the victims is also clear in El Rosario. Near the entrance a plaque in the floor notes that 21 persons were buried there in 1979 after they were killed in a demonstration and people sought refuge in the church.

We stayed for Mass at 5:30. Before Mass, Father Gerardo, a German Dominican who has been in El Salvador many years, showed us a bullet hole in the center of the presider's chair beside the altar. In the late 1970s, a bullet from government forces shooting in(to) the church reached the other side of the church and a bullet penetrated the chair, about where the heart of a priest would be if he were sitting there.

Earlier that day we had stopped at the Carmelite sisters' cancer hospital where Archbishop Romero was killed on March 24, 1980. He was shot in the chest and the single bullet penetrated the artery by his heart.

We also visited the little house where he lived on the hospital grounds. The sister showing us around mentioned that his heart was preserved in the grotto of our Lady next to the house.

As we looked at his possessions in the house I noticed a reliquary. The document in Latin next to it affirmed that they were relics of two of the Ugandan martyrs who died in the 19th century. A martyr had relics of martyrs - witnesses strengthening another witness.


A set of photos from El Rosario church can be found on my Flickr site.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A few days outside of Honduras

Monday I left to meet a student from St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Ames who will be with me for two weeks. Cody LeClaire will be studying in Costa Rica this semester but wanted to visit and see what is happening here before his semester begins.

So much is happening especially in Caritas that I had thought of just spending one night in San Salvador and returning to Honduras on Tuesday. Thanks be to God that I stayed until Wednesday. A little time away can provide a bit of perspective.

Although El Salvador is poor, it has a much better infrastructure than Honduras. One example: The road from San Salvador to the Honduran border, though full of curves in the mountains, has very few pot holes. In contrast, the road from the Honduran border to Santa Rosa is a disaster; it is only a slight exaggeration to say that there are more potholes than paved highway.

But this time another thing struck me. During both this visit and when I briefly passed through El Salvador earlier this month, when I mentioned I was in Honduras, people asked me openly about the situation.

In early January a taxi driver and I had a civil discussion as he spoke in favor of the Honduran coup. But then he went on to praise a Salvadoran president, General Maximiliano Hernandez. He insisted that he was one of Salvador’s best presidents and would not admit that he was responsible for the 1932 massacre. It was bizarre.

This time I spoke with a night watchman who proceeded to compare the Honduran situation to El Salvador in the 1970s and 1980s. I told him that I don’t think it is that serious. He then revealed that he had been a soldier in the Salvadoran army in the 1980s. During that time, he said, they were told that El Salvador was in danger of being invaded and controlled by “Martians, Venezuelans, and Cubans.” He had playfully replaced “Marxists” with “Martians” but his remark was pointed. How many times in the last seven months have I heard from coup supporters and the coup regime that that was what was threatening Honduras!

Today Pepe Lobo was inaugurated president of Honduras and outgoing President Mel Zelaya flew off to the Dominican Republic.

Many people are saying it’s all over, that Honduras is returning to normal. In a December blog entry I questioned what was normal. Today Bloggins by boz also questioned whether a return to normal was enough.

Normal is not enough for normal is unjust. It is not the will of God that Hondurans continue to suffer injustice, that a few control the economic and political sources of power. And it is not just that the poor struggle so hard to survive.

I was reminded of this on the bus ride from Ocotopeque to Santa Rosa de Copán. There was a young kid in the seat next to Cody and I. We were talking and the kid seemed really curious. Cody sat back for awhile to relax and I decided to initiate a conversation with the kid. He was born in Tela, grew up in Quimistán, Santa Barbara, and was now working in a car wash in the San Pedro Sula area, in a town this side of Choloma. He’d been in SPS for six years.

Life is hard he said and told briefly how he had been robbed several times by gangs. I asked him how much school he had - four years, he said. I urged him to go back. The line I used with him was what I use with others – so you don’t get taken advantage of. He mentioned he was going to try to go to night school.

I asked about his family. Two brothers are in the US. Others are still in Honduras except for one sister who was killed by her husband.

He also mentioned that today had not been a good day for him. He had lost his wallet or it had been stolen. His id and the money for his trip back were gone. However, the bus driver or the fare collector had agreed to give him a free ride. (That really surprised me!)

I also asked him his name – Selvin – and his age – 14. Working away from home since he was eight years old.

That’s injustice. That’s abnormal. That’s not the will of God.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

What is good news for the poor?

This Sunday, as usual, I went to Mass at St. Martin’s church up the hill from where I live. Padre Fausto Milla presided at Mass. The Gospel today was Luke 4, 14-21; Jesus in the synagogue in Nazareth reads from Isaiah, what is his mission: “The Spirit of the Lord … has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.”

Padre Fausto gave a brief homily, which surprised me because the reading is so strong – good news for the poor, liberation for the oppressed. He did note the situation of oppression and asked what is good news for the poor.

I was surprised that he was so restrained – but it was because he had another “mass” - a meeting in Santa Rosa of the Resistance, in part to honor Argentina Valle, a congresswoman with the Resistance who removed her name from the November elections in opposition to the coup.

After going to the farmers’ market (Feria del Agricultor) I dropped by the site of the rally. There were about 150 to 200 people, not a large crowd.

Argentia Valle (left), Escarleth Romero (second from left), Padre Fausto (right)

Padre Fausto gave the invocation which he closed with the Lord’s Prayer. After the prayer was concluded he made a pointed remark on the phrase “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

“If someone steals my cow Saturday night,” he commented, “I have to forgive him – but he has to return my cow.”

Quite a pointed commentary on the talk about amnesty and reconciliation.

I ran across a few people I know – though I think most were from out of town. I talked for awhile with one young man whom I know from the Catholic University. He speaks a very broken English which he learned while doing construction work in the US. He returned to Honduras after an accident that left him with a back injury, which his employer did nothing to alleviate.

He remarked that there were few from the Catholic University – most of whom would be apolitical or supporters of the coup, since many come from families with money.

We talked about many different things, but I don’t know how many times he referred to “my country.” He is proud of Honduras – but, for him, the coup and those who support it are not “my country.” He and others are trying, I believe, to recover their country, to make it truly theirs.

He wants to work in politics, he told me. (His father knows and worked with Argentina Valle.) But it’s something he wants to do for the poor and with them.

Isn’t his motivation good news for the poor?

I left early – partly because I had forgotten my hat and the sun was very strong. When I got back it was ending. Andres Pavón, president of CODEH, the Human Rights Defense Committee, had spoken, as well as Argentina Valle and Padre Fausto.

This week I took part in the diocesan pastoral council meeting since Padre Efraín, the director of Caritas and the head of the Social Ministry of the diocese, had a meeting on the mining issue with the Caritas offices of the other dioceses of Honduras.

I was very happy to able to share with them that the diocese received a $15,000 grant from the Latin American office of US Conference of Catholic Bishops. We will be having three sets of workshops for leaders in the diocese on Catholic social teaching. There will be three sessions for the lay leaders of the seven deaneries of the diocese who will then repeat the workshops in their deaneries for three leaders from every parish.

This should start in May. I will be working on this with several other folks in the diocese. We will also be working on a booklet to be used by the church base communities on Catholic Social Teaching in their weekly meetings. In this way we hope that Catholic Social teaching will penetrate to the church base communities in the remotest villages of the diocese.

That, I pray, will be good news for the poor.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Santa Rosa radio station

The radio stations of the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán have a website. There are still some bugs that need to be worked on but soon you should be able to hear Radio Santa Rosa on the web. The URL is

More than threats

On Saturday, Salomon Orellana went in Padre Fausto Milla’s car to investigate a human rights violation in the municipality of Talgua, Lempira, which is just south of Santa Rosa.

On his way back, about 7:00 pm, near El Higuito in the municipality of Talgua, Salomon encountered several large rocks in the road which would scrape the undersides of a low car. Salomon slowed down to pass over them. Four shots were fired and one hit a rear window of the vehicle. Salomon fled the car to seek refuge in a nearby house. He escaped unharmed.

Salomon Orellana and Misael Cárcamo had received identical death threats by text messages to their cell phones a week ago after the Saturday morning radio program “Dando en el clavo – hitting the nail on the head” on the diocesan radio station. The message read: "U 2 SOB troublemakers from what is left of the resistance prepare yourselves for your shrouds." [“Uds dos hdp agitadores de lo que queda de la resistencia vayan alistando la mortaja”]

Both Salomon and Misael cooperate with the Santa Rosa diocesan station and with the diocesan Caritas office.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Back in Santa Rosa

Saturday was the end of a full week training session by World Vision Honduras in their program on response to HIV and AIDS, Canales de Esperanza – Channels of Hope. There were 25 of us from western Honduras, mostly Catholics, interestingly.

Father Efraín, director of Caritas Santa Rosa, sent me to understand their methodology and to see what we might be able to do in the diocese. The young woman who is the coordinator of the social ministry for the parish of Santa Rosa de Lima here also was there, as well as several people from two other parishes in the diocese.

World Vision is a largely evangelical development agency but is now recently out to work with Catholics especially in Latin America. Their representative for outreach to Catholic, Tadeuz Mich, was part of the training team. Tadeuz is an anthropologist, born in Poland, with experience in the Colombian Amazon who has a Ph.D. from Georgetown. An interesting and colorful character who was a delight to be with.

Except for Tadeuz, all the trainers were Hondurans and World Vision/Visión Mundial Honduras employees. The regional director of the program, a Salvadoran, was there but didn't lead any of the sessions.

The training was intense and we even had exams over the material and we were evaluated for presentations we gave in small groups. (The last time I took an exam was my doctoral oral exam in 1983!) Of course, all this was in Spanish, though they gave me the option to answer some parts of the written exam in English (which I only did for one question.) I passed and am certified to lead three day training sessions on the Channels of Hope process for religious leaders.

Not a lot of the material surprised me, though I learned a lot about HIV and SIDA that I never knew. But what was surprising was the fact that World Vision has been promoting this program worldwide. The program is based on the work of several evangelicals in South Africa. I would not call it a radical program, but it is far from conservative. I also find it interesting that they are trying to include a Catholic dimension to the progam and that they even have a program that they use with Muslims.

The week closed with a commissioning service and presentation of diplomas. Toward the end of our prayers the Salvadoran director of the program in Central America asked us to pray for Haiti. He nearly broke down as he remembered that he had been part of a program in Haiti last year.

The tragedy of Haiti is overwhelming. Why do the poor always suffer more? To look at this in a different way I recommend Jon Sobrino’s Where Is God? Earthquake, terrorism, barbarity, and hope, published by Orbis in 2004.

I am glad to see that the Vatican has designated Catholic Relief Services (CRS) as its official agency to respond to the earthquake. From what I’ve read there are already over 300 CRS folks on the ground there already and more are coming. It’s a blessing to see that they are they.

I also received an e-mail from a high school classmate whose son just went there. I also know a young Honduran who is thinking of trying to join a Honduran response team. As always, it is a blessing that people are so willing to go into troubled areas. I hope and pray that this is not just a short term effort that fails to deal with the real structural issues that have plagued Haiti for ages.

Honduran Jesuits statement, January 2010

Statement of the Society of Jesus in the face of the national reality

Toward the search for an integral human development,
which is just and in solidarity in Honduras.

We are on the eve of a new public administration and, under normal circumstances, this event is always an opportunity to awaken hopes for society as a whole. Nevertheless, the constitutional rupture which happened after the coup d’etat on June 28, 2009, brought to a head a conflict which had been building up for many years. The assumption of a new public administration can only be a real opportunity for all of the society if it is situated in the fundamental national challenge of seeking a true route to the deep division and polarization which are eating away the entire Honduran family.

[The year] 2010 receives us with the entire human, social, political and religious fabric broken. We need to open new paths through a route where all sectors of society commit our words and our hearts because consensuses have disappeared and we need to commit our fate to a new National Convocation around a New Social Compact which leads us to a new project for peace with the purpose of remaking the broken fabric and orienting ourselves along a path of authentic reconciliation.

To advance toward this convocation of a New Social Pact, the members of the Society of Jesus in Honduras (Jesuit priests and brothers) suggest that we take into account the following factors so present in the current national crisis:

1. Conversion:

“Social institutions do not guarantee by themselves, in a mechanical way, the good of all: “the interior renewal of the Christian spirit” ought to precede the commitment to better society.1 In the face of the current national situation, we consider that a starting point ought to be the recognition that in this Honduran crisis no one is exempt from responsibility and no one can blame everyone else, much less consider themselves to possess the truth. To seek a way out, a condition to make this possible is that each person and each sector of the country move away from its position to encounter the positions of the others. If we all move away from our own positions, we will be able to advance toward the construction of a path which would be the expression of shared consensuses. From our Christian faith that self-critical recognition of openness and moving toward listening and discernment of what others believe and think, are characteristic expressions of an authentic conversion: a conversion which leads to decisions to change in the interior of the heart being expressed in not only sensing, looking at and listening to how everyone lives but ends up accepting the way others live, the others we normally categorize as our adversaries and enemies. Without a decision which is the fruit of authentic conversion, whatever agreement over a way out of the current crisis would always be only a partial way out, which in fact would signify letting conflict in the state and in society always keep its place.

We recall the words of Pope John Paul II in his message for the 1997 World Day of Peace:

“the weight of the past which can not be forgotten can be accepted only in the presence of a pardon which is received and offered reciprocally: it is a question of a long and difficult journey, but it is not impossible.”2

“Reciprocal pardon does not negate the demand for justice, and much less does it obstruct the path which leads to truth: justice and truth, instead, represent the concrete requirements for reconciliation.”3

2. Economic Model

“Experts in economics, workers in sectors, and those responsible in politics ought to pay attention to rethinking the economy, considering on the one had the dramatic material poverty of missions of persons and on the other hand the fact that by means of the current economic , social, and cultural structures it is very difficult to take charge of the demands of authentic development.”4 A true way to resolve the present conflict ought to include historical and verifiable signs of transforming the present economic model which causes an increasing gap, which presently appears unstoppable, between the rich and the poor. While this model supported by social exclusion will always be a decisive factor in regard to political instability and will produce violence. Let us remember that “underdevelopment … is an unjust situation which promotes tensions which conspire against peace.”5 Whatever may be a true and wide-reaching way out of the conflict it ought to have the will of all sectors to transform the bases of the current model, starting with a commitment, also verifiable, with those sectors of society which find themselves with fewer advantages to move their lives forward with respect and dignity.

3. Preferential option for the poor.

To decenter ourselves from our own interests in order to seek a way out which has as its center the life and dignity of the most defenseless sectors is what we in our Christian faith take as the Mystery of the Incarnation, the mystery of a God who saves all of humanity by becoming flesh in the weakest of this world 6 and which, from the perspective of the bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean we call the preferential option for the poor. This option “is one of the characteristics which mark the physiognomy of the church in Latin America and the Caribbean(…) If this option is implicit in christological faith7 we Christians as disciples and missionaries are called to contemplate in the suffering faces of our brothers and sisters the face of Christ which calls us to serve him in the,: the suffering faces of the poor are the suffering faces of Christ…8 Everything that has to do with Christ has to do with the poor and everything related to poor calls out to Jesus Christ…” 9

It is clear that the option for the poor is an intrinsic making our faith concrete and in is one judges the sense of one’s own life. This option has to be personal and communitarian, has to intersect with the person in concrete and with structures, has to come from the heart and has to be expressed in actions in history.

4. Truth Commission:

“The truth will make us free.”10 A true way out in order to resolve the present conflict would be to go through a commitment to know the truth about what in fact happened, in regard to human rights violations, crimes of treason [insulting humanity] and of violation of freedom of expression before, during and after the events of June 28, 2009. If we really want to advance toward a way out that leads to reconciliation within the whole Honduran family, we must thoroughly investigate and scrutinize those deeds where abuse of power left human injuries which cannot be healed while the victims are not recognized [do not receive their dignity] and those responsible are not held accountable by a serious and impartial judicial process. For this, an independent authority [instancia] is indispensable, made up of very credible persons and sectors, national and international, who are impartial in their judgments so that, in the space of ninety days from when it is set up, it offers to the government and society at large an initial report about what happened in the period noted, identifying the deeds, the authors and victims, and with the commitment on the part of the state to bring to judgment those responsible for these barbarous situations.

5. Political Corruption

For a way out of the conflict with an enduring and decisive reach, there must exist a commitment, with verifiable mechanisms to confront the political corruption of the state in which factors are involved which link various sectors which are responsible for the political and business life of the country. Political corruption is one of the most acute illnesses which our country suffers, and its damage is so profound that in many occasions those who most often speak about it and propose measures to combat it are the very ones who are most questionable in their commitment to it. In our country, many things don’t work, or work only halfway or work poorly. Nevertheless there is an authority [instancia] which has functioned faultlessly, the two party system [bipartidismo] with its impressive capability to obtain monetary advantage [capitalize] in its favor by means of all the reforms it makes. For the most part the institutions which are created to diminish corruption end up being made up of members elected or named by the elites of the political two party system.
This is called political corruption and the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church identifies very well the dangers and damages which this corruption represents for society: “Among the deformities of the democratic system, political corruption is one of the most serious because it betrays at one and the same time both moral principles and the norms of social justice. It compromises the correct functioning of the State, having a negative influence on the relationship between those who govern and the governed. It causes a growing distrust with respect to public institutions, bringing about a progressive disaffection in the citizens with regard to politics and its representatives, with a resulting weakening of institutions. Corruption radically distorts the role of representative institutions, because they become an arena for political bartering between clients' requests and governmental services. In this way political choices favor the narrow objectives of those who possess the means to influence these choices and are an obstacle to bringing about the common good of all citizens.” 11

6. Depoliticization and social oversight [vigilance]

To combat corruption, we value as necessary strengthening of institutional order [institutionality] and the Rule of Law for the purpose of fulfilling accepted position [currency] that all citizen are equal before the law and that there are no privileges because the Rule of Law guarantees that no one is above the law. In this sense, we see that it is necessary to remember that “the authority ought to issue just laws, that is, conforming to the dignity of the human person and according to the dictates of right reason…when on the other hand the law is against reason it is called a wicked law; in that case, it ceases to be law and becomes, rather, an act of violence.”12

Likewise, we consider it necessary that mechanisms be created which guarantee the institutional independent of the state from the political parties and that control organs of the state be formed of members whose election does not depend on the leaders of the political parties; we likewise suggest that it is necessary to create authorities [instancias] of diverse sectors of society, connected with the state’s control organs with the function of social oversight over national and municipal budgets and the budgets of autonomous and semiautonomous authorities/agencies of the state.

7. Insecurity and violence:

For a true way out of the conflict which holds us polarized, we consider the need to move forward toward a commitment in the face of the problem of the insecurity of citizens and the violence which affect the lives of the entire society and which has managed to establish itself with expressions of viciousness and cruelty as an extreme manifestation of the deterioration and contempt for the life and dignity of human beings. We do not believe that the signs and manifestations of violence are solved with public policies that stress coercive means and even less do we believe that violence is solved by legislative decisions that criminalize specific social sectors on the base of the single fact that they are young people and live in urban areas or in marginalized rural areas. We do not believe in public policies that give a priority to harsh responses instead of preventive response because, instead of advancing toward solving violence, they generate environments of revenge. We want to aim at the root causes which produce violence and insecurity. Therefore, we propose that the state promote and put into action policies which revive the agricultural sector in order to thus avoid the immigration of youth into the cities, policies for ongoing and worthwhile/dignified production and employment in the cities as well as in the countryside; that they put into action strong measures for a true purification and formation of the structures and personnel of the police, beginning with the officers; reforms of the penal system; putting into action new and decisive policies against drug-trafficking and illicit enrichment which runs through the social fabric of our nation.

In this way, the Society of Jesus confirms its commitment to the service of faith and the promotion of justice in Honduras and declares its interest in seeking ways which bring a true peace, the fruit of justice.

Given in Honduras, on January 6, 2010, the day of the Epiphany of the Lord Jesus.

1 Pius XI, Quadragesimo anno, 218.
2 Cfr. John Paul II, Message for World Peace Day, 1997
3 Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 518
4 John Paul II, Encyclical Sollicitudo rei socialis (1988), 570
5 Second General Conference of Latin American Bishops. Medellin (1968), p. 109
6 Cfr. Juan 1,14
7 Cfr. Benedict XVI, Deus caritas est (2005)

8 Benedicto XVI, Discourse at CELAM Aparecida (2007). Cf. 2 Cor 8,9.

9 Fifth General Conference of Latin American Bishops, Aparecida (2007) # 391, 393
10 John 8: 32.
11 Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 411
12 Saint Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I-II, Ed. Leon 7, 164
13 Isaiah 32, 17

Translation mine. Suggested corrections are most welcome.

The Spanish text can be found on my blog in Spanish or at Vos El Soberano.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


At 1 am Tuesday morning, January 12, an explosive device went off in the window of the bedroom of the priest’s residence in San Marcos, Santa Barbara. Father Neftaly Portillo, who was asleep in the room at the time, escaped unharmed.

The device – not a bomb but more like a very powerful firecracker – broke the jalousie window.

The bishop and some priests went to visit Father Neftaly and the attempt on the life of Father Neftaly was denounced on Radio Progreso, the radio in Yoro owned by the Jesuits.

There are reports that there are two suspects. The reasons for the attack are not yet clear but it seems to have been a deliberate attempt to harm Father Neftaly. I’ll update this blog entry if I get more information .

Whatever the reason, this attack reveals the insecurity that many experience here in Honduras.

It is at times worse for those who have taken positions critical of the coup regime. There are reports of serious human rights violations in other parts of Honduras but even in Santa Rosa there are some cases.

Every Saturday morning one of the Santa Rosa diocesan radio stations has a program that discusses the political situation. The topics are often controversial and people call in to discuss.

Last Saturday afternoon two of the commentators on the morning program received death threats in text messages to their personal cell phones. Someone who opposes their critique of the coup regime obviously had access to their phone numbers.

This week I am in San Pedro Sula, taking part in a week long workshop run by Visi´øn Mundial (World Vision) on their program on HIV and AIDS.

What has been good is not only the information and the style of popular education used but also the opportunity to meet people working in other parts of western Honduras. Some work with Visión Mundial or their projects but most are Catholics and some work with Caritas in another diocese and many work with their parishes in a variety of projects.

And so we continue the work of the Kingdom of God in Honduras - in the face of insecurity, but confident of God's grace and love.

But this confidence doesn't blind us to the suffering in the world. Please pray for Haiti, the poorest country in Latin America devastated by an earthquake that has killed 100,000 and left 3 million people homeless. The Spanish word used for the victims of disasters who are alive is "damnificados" - those who have been damned. The poor of Haiti were already living int he hell of poverty and corruption - but this has now been multiplied exponentially by the earthquake. May God have mercy on them and may all people who can come to their assistance in a way that leads to life and justice for the poor.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Pope Benedict XVI and Honduras

The pope in his "state of the world" message to diplomats accredited to the Vatican said:
I hope that Honduras, after a period of uncertainty and unrest, will move towards a recovery of normal political and social life.
It's a statement that most people in Honduras might accept, although some would question the "normality" of the political and social life before the coup. It might have been normal for corrupt countries with radical social inequality and massive poverty; but it can not be called a "norm" for just social and political life.

However, if you read the report in today's La Prensa you would note quotes from what the pope said about violence and terrorism in the paragraphs in the news article before and after they noted the pope's quote on Honduras. The quotes are not related to Honduras and are not anywhere near the sentence about Honduras. But the article might make one think that the pope was condemning terrorism and violence in Honduras.

This is typical of La Prensa and most of the press here in Honduras. I wrote about La Prensa a few weeks ago in my blog entry on reconciliation. Most of the newspapers are owned and controlled by the oligarchy that is behind the coup. Only El Tiempo, owned by the multi-millionaire Jaime Rosenthal, has been somewhat balanced in its reporting and Rosenthal has critiqued the coup.

This is the press we have here in Honduras.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

What is happening?

I have tried not to pass on what I can’t verify personally but there are reports from several sources, including the on-line journal Revistazo, about two very serious violations of human rights. So I feel called to write a bit about them.

On Friday 600 families were forcibly removed from their lands in Bajo Aguán, in Colón, in northern Honduras. As their crops and shacks were destroyed by 300 members of the Armed Forces and the National Police, the people fled and one news source reported that they fled through the palm plantations in the area and were hunted down by the government forces.

It appears that the people had been working with the government, before the coup, to legalize their claim to the land. But three rich landowners who had rented the land years ago and now wanted it again are believed to be behind this violence.

The other event is also in northern Honduras.The Garifunas are Hondurans on the coast of Afro-Caribbean ancestry who maintain their culture. On Wednesday a small Garifuna-run radio station in Triunfo de la Cruz was burnt and its equipment plundered. The radio supported the efforts of the Garifuna to protect their ancestral lands against efforts to appropriate it by business, political and foreign interests. I'm not sure if this is why the station was destroyed, but it's probably related.

The issue is land.

In the US we tend to think of land and private property as absolute rights. But Catholic theology starts from the biblical premise that the earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it. And, following in the Jewish tradition, we recognize that we are but stewards of this world. And, in the tradition of Thomas Aquinas and others, Pope John Paul II noted that all property has a social mortgage.

Thus we need to look at the need for land of the poorest.

In the document from their meeting in Aparecida, Brazil, in 2006, the Latin American and Caribbean bishops noted:
Most small farmers suffer from poverty, made worse by the fact that they do not have access to land of their own. Yet there are large landholdings in the hands of a few. In some countries this situation has led the people to demand an agrarian reform, while being mindful of the evils that free trade agreements, manipulation by drugs, and other factors may bring upon them. (¶72)
More than 42 years ago Pope Paul VI, in his 1967 encyclical Populorum Progressio, stated the issue much more forcefully:
… the right to private property is not absolute and unconditional.
No one may appropriate surplus goods solely for his own private use when others lack the bare necessities of life. In short, "as the Fathers of the Church and other eminent theologians tell us, the right of private property may never be exercised to the detriment of the common good." When "private gain and basic community needs conflict with one another," it is for the public authorities "to seek a solution to these questions, with the active involvement of individual citizens and social groups." (¶23)

If certain landed estates impede the general prosperity because they are extensive, unused or poorly used, or because they bring hardship to peoples or are detrimental to the interests of the country, the common good sometimes demands their expropriation. (¶24)
Something needs to be done. Some people here are fortunate to have land for their sustenance, even though it may be mostly steep hillsides. But there are others without land who have to rent land if they want to plant corn and beans for the sustenance of their families. Some will rent in an arrangement that appears feudal – the landowner gets one-fifth of the crop!

There is a right to private property, but it is not a right solely of the rich. In fact, wide ownership of land can be a blessing, when “everyone under their own vine and fig tree can live in peace, and unafraid.” (Micah 4)

a family garden
Quebrada Grande, Copán

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Cold, rain, and mud

The last few days have been cold (50s and low 60s) and rainy – typical rainy season weather. Tim Malone, who had been a student peer minister at St. Thomas in Ames, has been here for a short visit. (See him at right warming himself in Quebrada Grande.)

Tuesday we went out to Dulce Nombre so he could see one of my areas of ministry. But first we got up early – I was going to say bright and early, but it wasn’t bright – to get to the 6:00 am Mass at the Catholic radio station here in Santa Rosa. After Mass Padre Efraín Romero invited us to be with him on the 7 am program, “Cafecito con Pan” – “Coffee with [sweet] bread.” (There was coffee, but no one had bought pan!)

After Mass we went out to Dulce Nombre where we went around with Padre Julio Cesar Galdámez, the associate pastor, and four young people who are directing the agricultural project. They were going out to check on the results of the project in Quebrada Grande. It was cold but seven of us jammed ourselves into the pickup.

We visited an extended family in Quebrada Grande who have a large family garden. There are fourteen children in the family, their father told me. I knew three of them already because they are pastoral workers in the parish and two of them had been pestering me to come and visit.

After they shared with us some of the music they had written, we set out to see the garden and walked through coffee fields, getting quite wet and muddy in the process.. It was quite an impressive garden – one of several hundred being promoted throughout the parish by a project funded by the Spanish organization Manos Unidas (and also helped a bit by donations from St. Thomas Aquinas’s Vacation Bible School). The project benefits some of the poorest families in 23 villages in the parish as well as pastoral workers.

There were carrots, beets, cabbage, onions, peppers, and more. On the way back we stopped at a field where we harvested a few potatoes.

When we got back they were milling sugar cane in the trapiche to get jugo de caña – sugar cane juice for lunch. After lunch, wet and muddy, we left for a quick visit to another village, even further up in the mountains, Granadillal, where we picked up some firewood the people there were donating to the parish.

The road was muddy and slippery and so Padre Julio asked me to do some of the driving. Despite four wheel drive it was still slippery and several times I wondered if we would make the steep incline. But all came out well.

Tim got a good chance to see the countryside – and I got a chance to see where some friends live and work as well as to see some of the results of a project in the Dulce Nombre parish.

This gives me even more impetus to try to see what Caritas can do to implement more agricultural and development projects in the diocese.

This will become more important as the poverty has increased in the past few months and may well increase more. As I was told last week, the poor in the countryside had been receiving government grants under President Zelaya, but the coup regime has cut back or eliminated some of these. In addition, just this week the cost of gasoline has risen. These affect the poor and thus major private sector and church efforts will be needed to help the people attain some type of food security - preferably being able to produce much of the food they need.


More photos from the visit to Quebrada Grande can be found at

Friday, January 01, 2010

World Day of Peace

For more than thirty years the popes have designated January 1 as World Peace Day and issued statements on peace, justice, environment, poverty and other related themes.

This year's theme, from Pope Benedict XVI, is "If you want to cultivate peace, protect creation." It's an important theme but in light of the violence and injustice in Honduras, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the continuing unrest in Palestine and Israel, and the role of the US in these and other conflicts, I'd like to offer this quote from the Trappist monk Thomas Merton:
Instead of hating the people you think are war-makers, hate the appetites and disorder in your own soul, which are the causes of war. If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed - but hate these things in yourself, not in another.
- Thomas Merton,
 "The Root of War Is Fear," New Seeds of Contemplation