Sunday, February 28, 2010

Praising the Lord and a New Honduras

Friday, as I mentioned in my previous post, I went to Dulce Nombre to help in a liturgy workshop in the parish. It was the first of a series of six workshops in the next two years for those involved in liturgical ministry in their towns or villages. It is also part of the training for about 17 candidates to become extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist; they will be given two extra workshops/retreats as part of their two year preparation.

Fifty seven people showed up! There was someone from every one of the eleven sectors of the parish, with people from early twenties (about 3) to over sixty (about 7). Seeing that there are about 45 towns and villages in the parish, that’s a really good turnout.

Oblate of Divine Love Sister Sor Pedrina who works in the parish did the morning session. My task in the afternoon was to give an overview and introduction to the parts of the Mass.

Now you have to realize that most of these people have a sixth grade education - or less! So, my challenge was to make it as participative as possible and to get them to learn as much as possible.

I think I succeeded in making it participative with singing, group activities, and a contest to see who would be the first to find the scriptural texts for part of the Communion Rite.

Will they remember what I taught? That’s another question – though they have a 30 page booklet I prepared to help them go over the material.

They were full of questions. Some were very pointed: Why don’t we receive both the bread and the wine while the priest does? Others expressed a little confusion about different ways that some priests or parishes celebrate the Mass. In this, I tried to get them to see what aspects of some celebration are cultural adaptations and what are the essential aspects of celebrations of the Mass. I tried to be as respectful as I could on local customs.

One woman noted that she had heard a priest saying that after receiving communion one needn't genuflect to the tabernacle since you are carrying the Body of Christ within you, though that is a common custom here. What a marvelous insight this woman shared. I proceeded to note that after we receive we too are a "tabernacle," bearing within us the Body of Christ.

What was really fun for me was having them sing hymns or parts of the Mass when we discussed them. When we got to the Great Amen they sang the usual one that is used here – The Lilies of the Field “Amen.” So I gave them a challenge – which I’ll have to reiterate – to have their village music groups write an “Amen!” If they do it, I may have to record them and send them around the diocese and even to St. Thomas in Ames.

These types of activities are very life-giving for me. The faith and commitment of these people is outstanding. Not only did they travel significant distances but they also paid 50 lempiras (about $2.60) to participate. I look forward to the next workshop at the end of May.

I didn’t stay for the Saturday morning session since I wanted to be in Santa Rosa de Copán for the Forum on the National Reality that Caritas Santa Rosa was co-sponsoring with ERIC-SJ and Radio Progreso, two Jesuit-funded projects in the northern town of El Progreso, Yoro. You might remember that Radio Progreso was temporarily closed down by government forces just after the June 28 coup.

And so I got up early Saturday and rode into Santa Rosa with Padre Efraín Romero who is both the pastor of the Dulce Nombre parish and the director of Caritas of the diocese of Santa Rosa. He had the 6:00 am Mass at Radio Santa Rosa. (He is also director of communications for the diocese.)

After Mass, I walked home for a shower and breakfast. Then a little before 10 I headed to the “Casa de Cultura” where the Forum was being held. Needless to say, it started late.

The crowd was a little disappointing, about 100 at most, but the forum was broadcast on all the radio stations of the diocese as well as on Radio Progreso.

The commentator was Father Ismael (Melo) Moreno, a Honduran Jesuit priest who, I think, is a very perceptive commentator on the situation of Honduras. He is, I believe, the director of Radio Progreso and ERIC-SJ, as well as the head of the Jesuits in Honduras.

Padre Melo speaking in the Casa de Cultura in Santa Rosa

Padre Melo began with a note of true humility. The situation in Honduras, he said, is so complex that nobody can be sure that what he is saying is the truth. Recognizing this, he offered his remarks as an effort to construct space for discussion.

I won’t give you a play by play summary of his talk, but I’d like to share a few of this comments that struck me. (If you want a copy of my notes, e-mail me.)

Padre Melo is very critical of “bipartidismo,” a system here whereby the two major parties (the Liberal party and the National party) basically control government and share it. He noted how many government cabinets has members from both parties, at times related to the representation of the parties in Congress. Now this might sound like good bipartisanship but it’s really a system to maintain the parties in power (and I would aid let them both get their share of government projects and the fruits of corruption). Padre Melo and others would see this bipartidismo as a way to continue the hold of “monopoly capitalism” on Honduras.

He noted that one of the threats to the political and economic elites here was the opening to competition in the pharmaceutical industry (when President Zelaya negotiated cheaper prescription drugs from Cuba) and in the petroleum industry (when Zelaya negotiated a deal with Venezuela).

For Padre Melo, these and other efforts of Zelaya were tiny efforts to make changes to assist the poor, but the elites took these as major threats to their power.

He also proposed that the coup and the events before and after must be read continentally, in relation to the power blocks at work in Latin America. He also expressed his concern that the government of the newly inaugurated president, Pepe Lobo, might be – or become – an authoritarian regime.

But what I found interesting is his analysis of the groups involved in the Resistance and his proposals for the future.

The Resistance included the followers of Zelaya in the Liberal party as well as social movements traditionally connected with the left. But there was another group – the people who came out because they felt that the June 28 coup was an insult to their dignity.

What should the Resistance do?

It should define the content of the struggle, including a) the demand to preserve Honduras’s patrimony, its natural resources – the land and the environment; b) the social demands, including salary, health, work, housing; and c) demands regarding institutional politics in order to transform the Honduran government. This includes the demand for a constitutional convention (una asamblea constituyente). But, he noted if the demand for the “constituyente” is not linked with the other demands, it could be used against the Resistance. Even Pepe Lobo might call for a "constituyente."

The three task for the future of the Resistance include, first of all, to politicize the people. Politics is not necessarily a dirty word. (In traditional Catholic teaching it is the pursuit of the common good.) And so there is the need for political formation. For this purpose, ERIC-SJ will be leading a 7 month political formation school in Progreso, Yoro, and in Santa Rosa. In addition, Caritas Santa Rosa de Copán has begun a five session school of political formation throughout the diocese, training about 160 people in democracy and political participation.

The second task that Padre Melo mentioned is to organize the people. Here he is thinking about communitarian approached to community development in the communities where people live. As I understand it, this type of organization is not something that happens top down but is the effort of people at the local level, in the towns and villages, to organize so as to improve their lives, working together.

The third task is to mobilize the people.

In some ways a lot of what the Resistance has done, and has been able to do is to mobilize the people. The harder task of raising the political consciousness of the people and assist them in organizing at the local level is the long-term very hard work, which I think is necessary for any social change here.

Where will this lead? I hope that all sorts of efforts can be made for a Honduras where the life of every person is respected and where the people can participate actively and effectively in the life of their village, their neighborhood, and their nation.

But there are major obstacles – not least of which is the power of the elites to use their political and economic clout to suppress the initiatives of the people.

Father Melo sees Honduras at a crossroads: either an authoritarian regime or the construction of a democracy which is popular and participative, not merely representative.

I hope and pray – and will work – so that the future may be like what I experienced in Dulce Nombre on Friday, a people with great faith, working together for God and for their community.

The people I worked with are committed and they are generous. I was touched Friday night after dinner (beans, tortillas, a little cheese, and an egg) when one of the men offered me a packet of four cookies. What generosity, what a sign of what Honduras is – and can be.

Friday, February 26, 2010

In Dulce Nombre

Today, Friday, I spent the day in Dulce Nombre in a workshop on liturgy with 57 pastoral workers. I spent four hours this afternoon explaining the parts of the Mass. I had a lot of fun and I think they got much of what I tried to pass on.

I pulled together a thirty page booklet for them - with lots of room for writing and with lots of graphics. I tried to do the workshop in a popular education style - helping them discover what they might already know and connecting what they don't know with their personal experiences. This is one of the greatest challenges for me in my work in the parish, but I really enjoy it. And I learn a lot from the people.

And I have fun. Sometimes I think I am just entertaining - the crazy gringo who makes lots of grammatical errors and is quite animated. But the evaluation was encouraging.

Internet access is very slow here but I manages to find this article by Tom Padgett on Honduras in the most recent America magazine. It's fairly good and recognizes the complexity of the situation. I will need to study it more in order to do a more detailed analysis.

It also reminded me that I really need to write a short article on my experience the last few months and another on the role of the church. Finding the time and disciplining myself are the greatest challenges, but it is Lent!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Odds and ends

This week I am reminded of the variety of ministries I am involved in or which I accompany.

Last Saturday, after the week-long Caritas workshop on Peace and Reconciliation, I went to Dulce Nombre for the Parish Council meeting (and to try to capture Padre Efraín to talk about several major issues).

The Parish Council meeting went normally with the presence of Padre Julio César Galdámez, the associate pastor. But toward the end, they began to talk about the educational situation in their villages. At times the teachers arrive late in the week and leave early; there is one teacher who has the tenured position (plaza) in one village, collects the salary, but sends and pays, poorly, a high school graduate to do the teaching! The parish council will take back to their village church councils the proposal to monitor the presence of teachers in their village and their effectiveness. This is a good step – not just for the education of the children of Honduras but also for the empowerment of the people in calling for accountability.

Padre Efraín arrived at the meeting late and he spoke about the group from St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Ames that is coming in mid-March. As part of his efforts to improve the church property in Dulce Nombre, the group will be working with people in the parish to construct a retaining wall for the football field; the wall will also serve as one wall for the combination kitchen and dining the parish plans to construct for groups. Now there is no place for people to sit down and eat and the kitchen is totally inadequate.

Work on the wall will begin the Monday the St. Thomas group is here, but it will continue into the next week. Each of the three zones of the parish will send 10 to 15 people to work for three days; the first group with the St. Thomas folks and the others on their own.

This will continue our way of working – not doing something for the people here, but working with them. Groups are here to accompany the work and ministry of the Honduran people – not do it for them.

This week the priests are on retreat. Padre Efraín will be explaining to them the workshops on Catholic Social Teaching which we hope to be able to offer the base communities as well as details of a grant we got from the Raskob Foundation to provide new computers and initial internet access for the parishes. As is often the case here, things were left to the last moment and so Padre Efraín asked me to prepare a sign up sheet for the computer project for the parishes. – Oh, how I wish people would plan ahead more here. This is one of my cultural biases that I don’t think I’ll ever get over.

At Caritas, I end up doing a lot of accompanying and monitoring work, as well as what some might call “human resources.” This week at Caritas I’m going to try to meet with many of the employees to see how they are doing.

At the urging of one employee I am also seeing that we put into effect one of the suggestions of the December planning and evaluation meeting we had. We’ll initiate a prayer and reflection session every Monday morning. Padre Efraín also offered to celebrate a Mass here on March 19.

What else?

The lunch program for kids has moved from the obispado (the diocesan office) to a space in the school and program center run by the Salesian sisters here in Santa Rosa. They moved last week and I haven’t made it there yet. I hope to get there today.

Two women from the Alternatives to Violence Program passed through Santa Rosa two weeks ago and they would like to offer at least one workshop here. So I’m trying to see when and where this could happen. The program started with a request to the Quakers from prisoners in New York State to provide help with violence in the prisons. It has expanded beyond that and now has a presence in Africa as well as in Latin America (El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Colombia). They hope to begin work in Honduras, supporting nonviolent efforts for social change.

I am preparing for the spring break trip from St. Thomas which is always good – but demands a lot of preparation. There may also be a May trip!

There’s more – but I don’t want to bore you.

However, I do want to inform you that I was chosen "King" at the Caritas Peace and Reconciliation workshop last week. I will "reign" until the August workshop when I'll have to give up my crown - unless I decide to stage an "auto-golpe."

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Peace and Reconciliation Workshop

There’s a lot of talk in Honduras about reconciliation. Even more there is a lot of hope for peace among the people. But what kind of peace? What kind of reconciliation?

This past week I participated in the second of three week long workshops on Peace and Reconciliation sponsored by Caritas Honduras and led by peace workers from Caritas Honduras.

I went with a bit of skepticism, wondering if this was an attempt to cover over the injustices with the veneer of reconciliation – as, I believe, the government is hoping to do.

I was not the only one with such concerns as some participants expressed their concern that the injustices suffered the past few months – and the history of systemic injustice and inequality might be covered up in processes of working for peace and reconciliation.

I still have my concerns after the workshop, based on materials developed by Caritas International. You can download the manual in English here. But there were many things that impressed me.

First of all, this was not primarily about resolution of conflicts. It’s about transformation of conflicts.

Conflicts are not necessarily bad. Liliana, one of the facilitators, recalled the example of Rosa Parks and how her act of refusing to give up her seat in the bus ignited the active phase of the civil rights movement, a quite conflictive – but necessary – movement for social change.

Part of the workshop was an analysis of stages of conflicts - likened to a fire.
  1. Collection of materials, events, grudges, injustices, etc. that might lead up to a conflict.
  2. The spark that ignites the fire.
  3. The full-fledged fire, the conflagration.
  4. The lessening of tension – the ashes, sometimes hot, sometimes cold - but where there is still the possibility of major conflict.
  5. Finally, the period of regeneration when the original conflict has been transformed into another situation, which might have its own conflicts
But what really impressed was the session where strategies for transformation of conflicts were related to these stages. Here I began to see that the process is really a type of community organizing.

In the first stage, there is the need to reduce prejudices, to resolve conflicts, to intervene politically, to educate in human rights, and to plan agricultural and economic projects.

The second stage, where the open conflict begins, is best accompanied by nonviolent political action and training in political action, continued education in human rights, economic and agricultural projects which might bring together people in conflict, as well as working with, or creating, new means of communication.

The third stage – the conflict is open and intense – would best be accompanied by continued political advocacy, action to limit or lessen the effects of violence or repression by human rights observers, finding persons who can serve as intermediaries among the parties involved in the conflict, and psychosocial assistance and work to overcome trauma.

The fourth stage is when the conflict has calmed a bit, when the conflagration has ended and there are ashes, some still with the possibility of re-initiating the fire. Here there are many types of activities which aid the construction of peace:
  • redirecting the parties to learning and using nonviolent methods of change and conflict resolution.
  • becoming part of local organizations that work in reconciliation and peace-building or helping get them started
  • continuing economic development and agricultural projects.
  • reconstruction of needed infrastructures
  • continuing psychological and personal assistance to overcome trauma
  • continuing helping to develop alternative means of communication to share positive stories and opportunities for peace
  • demobilization of soldiers (especially in situations of armed conflict).
The final stage when the fire is totally extinguished is the time for regeneration. In this stage those who seek to construct peace and transform conflicts need to continue helping those who have been traumatized, to assist in the integration of soldiers into society and the return of those displaced by the conflict as well as any refugees, and to promote micro-businesses and agricultural projects as part of a process of development.

I think Honduras is somewhere between the third and fourth stages, though some would suggest that there is continuing - perhaps increasing - pressure on those in opposition, including some suspicious killings.

It’s interesting to note that in the diocese of Santa Rosa there have been major efforts to improve the diocesan radio stations, to seek more assistance in agricultural projects, as well as the formation of schools for political formation and advocacy in all the deaneries of the diocese.

It will be good to take some time in the next few weeks to sit down with folks and analyze where we are and what we can do to transform the situation in Honduras, to regenerate the civil and political society, or - as some in the Resistance propose - to help re-found Honduras.

It won't do to tell Zelaya to stop bothering Honduras, as Pepe Lobo recently did. This seems to me to be a way of trying to silence the cries of people who see things differently. Reconciliation means real change - since reconciliation cannot be built on silencing the truth. All the truth needs to come out - and people need to find new ways of living and working together.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ash Wednesday

Justice, love, and faith are intimately related. In his 2010 Lenten message Pope Benedict XVI alludes to this:
Conversion to Christ, believing in the Gospel, ultimately means this: to exit the illusion of self-sufficiency in order to discover and accept one’s own need – the need of others and God, the need of His forgiveness and His friendship. So we understand how faith is altogether different from a natural, good-feeling, obvious fact: humility is required to accept that I need Another to free me from "what is mine," to give me gratuitously "what is His." This happens especially in the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist. Thanks to Christ’s action, we may enter into the "greatest" justice, which is that of love (cf. Romans 13, 8-10), the justice that recognizes itself in every case more a debtor than a creditor, because it has received more than could ever have been expected.

Strengthened by this very experience, the Christian is moved to contribute to creating just societies, where all receive what is necessary to live according to the dignity proper to the human person and where justice is enlivened by love.
I am spending this week at a training session on Peace and Reconciliation with Caritas staff from all the dioceses and the national office. Two trainers from Caritas Colombia are leading the sessions. This is the second of a series of week long workshops for Caritas workers in Honduras.

The challenge for true is great, especially as the need for justice is so pressing and true reconciliation in Honduras is not possible without a commitment to truth and justice.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Audiencia de los Confines

I took this photo Sunday of the entrance to the Gracias, Lempira, parish radio station which is the site of the Audiencia de los Confines where Fray Bartolomé de las Casas went to try to get assistance against the people of Chiapas who were revolting against his defense of the Indians. (See the previous post.)

The church in the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán, which includes Gracias, continues this tradition. It openly opposed the coup, its bishop was called crazy (as was Bishop Bartolomé de las Casas), but it is a sign of hope.

I recently heard someone from another diocese say that the rebel diocese of Santa Rosa is helping rescue the church from hypocrisy.

There is a concern that the official church is supporting government truth and reconciliation processes which may not face the truth and might offer "easy" reconciliation which may cover up the injustice in Honduras.

I've also heard people from other dioceses who've criticized the church's stand on the coup, noting that bishops and Cardinals may be wrong. And though some look on the hierarchy as THE priests, this person noted that all the baptized are prophets, priests, and kings - as noted in the baptismal rite. And so we must use our baptismal prophetic gift.

On the other hand there are some disturbing reports of a priest who is in favor of the resistance claiming to excommunicate anyone in his parish who voted, claiming that they cooperated in corruption and sin. They cannot participate in base communities or in church ministries. In a situation which is rather complicated, this is overkill and unwarranted.

But many others in the church are seeking to be both prophetic and reconciling. That's what needs to happen.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Fray Bartolomé de las Casas (1484-1566)

The other day I picked up a book I bought many years ago but never read: Witness: Writings of Bartolomé de las Casas, edited by George Sanderlin. (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1992). Nevertheless, I brought it down here to Honduras thinking I should read it some day. The day has come and fortuitously.

Bartolomé de las Casas came to the “New World” a few years after Columbus “discovered” it. Even though he was a priest he eventually settled in Cuba with land and Indian servants in an encomienda. Well, God works in strange ways and, reading a passage from Ecclesiasticus (Sirach), chapter 34, he realized he had to give up this privilege and began to preach against the enslavement of the native peoples.

Eventually he became a Dominican, went to the Spanish court and interceded for the native peoples. He tried to start a Utopian experiment on the northern coast of what is now Venezuela, but it failed – mostly due to the rapacity of Spanish settlers.

Eventually he was appointed the bishop of Chiapas in what is now southern Mexico. He got in trouble here when he preached against slave holding and forbade his priests to grant absolution to any slaveholders, unless they gave up their slaves.

Things got so bad he went to the Audiencia de los Confines in Gracias a Dios, currently Gracias, Lempira. The president of the Audiencia, a sort of royal court, called Las Casas a “lunatic,” and didn’t really help him.

Las Casas also made a visit to Gracias in November 1544 to ordain his fellow Dominican Antonio Valdivieso as bishop of León, in current day Nicaragua. Valdivieso was martyred February 26, 1550, by Spanish settlers in Leon for his defense of the native peoples.

Las Casas gave up his bishopric and returned to Spain where he spent many years in controversies over the native peoples of the Americas and writing about the “Destruction of the Indies,” and many other topics.

What struck me was a book where he defended the “rationality” of these “Indian peoples. Las Casas defended them and praised their political prudence as well as their sanguine temperament.

He might have been a little overenthusiastic but he saw the good and the capacities of these peoples, as well as their possibilities. One commentator called his work an “anthropology of hope.”

This stuck me because I have learned, especially in the last year, the great capacities and possibilities of the people in the countryside here. I have also been frustrated by those who would denigrate them and see them only as victims of injustice or poverty. These include some groups who come from the US to “help” the people here, without realizing that the people here have capabilities.

I have also been frustrated by those who see education as “the way” to develop the lives of the people and don’t spend enough time learning from the people and their native knowledge. Many of these don’t see that the lack of “development” here is not due to the lack of outside help – thousands come here from the US each year and there are hundreds of non-governmental organizations working here. But many of these fail to see the unjust structures and the tremendous disparity of wealth and land-tenure that keep people poor.

And so it was refreshing to read Bartolomé de las Casas. It was also refreshing to hear a recent visitor reflect on his trip to the countryside, noting that the people know how to plant on slopes that would possibly provide headaches for many US farmers and agronomists.

And so our work as “outsiders’ is to accompany the people in their journey toward a just society where all may eat. At times we bring resources – material as well as intellectual, but we must remember that the people here also have resources, material, intellectual and SPIRITUAL.

And so, let’s work together, learn from each other, in solidarity.


Here's an image of Fray Bartolomé de las Casas by Cerezo Barredo - added July 18, 2020

Sunday, February 07, 2010

A lazy read - a strong message

Saturday I went with my current guest, Cody LeClaire, to Copán Ruinas, so that he could see the impressive Mayan ruins there, notable for their sculptures.

I have been to the ruins several times with groups and, noting the somewhat steep entry fee for non-Hondurans ($15), I decided not to go in but to walk around the nearby town and also sit down and do some light reading.

Friday night, having finished G. K. Chesterton’s The Amazing Adventures of Father Brown, I picked up a book I’d bought in a San Pedro Sula book store, a Penguin abridged edition of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables.

I know - I should (or should have) read the full version, but I’ve never even sent the musical. And it was the only edition in English I had at hand.

I finished it last night. What a delight. One day I should read the unabridged version.

What first impressed me was the opening portrait of the bishop, Monseigneur Charles-François-Bienvenu Myriel. First of all, the people called him Monseigneur Bienvenu, the Welcoming Bishop, for his hospitality to all, especially the poor.

The bishop has given away almost everything to the poor and only had some silver cutlery and two silver candlesticks.

One night the gives hospitality to Jean ValJean, the released convict who is the protagonist of the novel and who has been unable to find lodging for the night, because of the people’s fear of an ex-con. The bishop treats him with ultimate respect. But Jean’s ingrained habits move him to steal the bishop’s silver.

The next morning, the housekeeper finds the silver stolen and ran to the bishop:
“Monseigneur, the man’s gone! The silver has been stolen!’
The bishop after a moment’s pause turned his grave eyes on her and said gently:
“In the first pace, was it really ours?”
Mm. Magloire stood dumbfounded. After a further silence the bishop went on:
“I think it was wrong to keep it so long. It belonged to the por. And what was that man if not one of them?”
“Saints alive!” exclaimed Mme. Magloire. “Its no on my account or Mademoiselle’s. But Monseigneur – what will Monseigneur eat with now?”
He looked at her in seeming astonishment, “There is always pewter.”
“Pewter smells.”
“Well, then, wooden forks and spoons.
That interchange – and what follows when Jean ValJean is brought in by the police – moved me. Not only do I recall that much of the anti-clericalism of the French Revolution was due to a church that favored the rich and considered riches its right and duty, but I have been reading recently in Catholic Social Teaching about the Catholic notion of the universal destination of the goods of this earth and the condemnation of inequality and the breach between the rich and the poor.

In the course of this I ran across this quote from a homily preached to agricultural workers by Pope John Paul II on July 4, 1980, in Recife, Brazil.
The earth is a gift of God, a gift He made for all human beings. men and women, whom He wishes to be united in a single family, connected with each other in a fraternal spirit. Therefore, it is not licit (lawful/just), because it is not in conformity with the design of God, to use that gift in such a way that its benefits favor only a few people, leaving others, the vast majority, excluded.

Friday, February 05, 2010

The Virgin of Suyapa - without comment

An altar of the virgin of Suyapa in a house in Misiora, Lepaera, Lempira

On Wednesday, February 3, Honduras celebrated the Virgin of Suyapa, the patroness of Honduras. In Tegucigalpa the tiny state has been an object of veneration since the statue was found by a campesino in 1747 outside Tegucigalpa. Information on the story can be found on Wikipedia. There is also a short, interesting note on the blog Honduras Culture and Politics.

I spent the morning in Plan Grande, in the municipality of Concepción, Copán, at a beautiful celebration of the consecration of their new church. Bishop Santos came and for the people it was a great joy, for it was the first time the bishop had come to their village (though he’s been at other nearby villages several times in the past.)

Mass lasted more than two hours because the consecration of a church is quite a unique liturgy – beginning outside the church where the community hands over the keys to the bishop. Inside the liturgy proceeds as usual until after the homily when the church is blessed with holy water; then the altar and the five crosses on the wall are anointed with chrism (which is otherwise reserved for baptisms, confirmations, and priestly and episcopal ordination.) These are followed with incensing and lighting of candles. And then placing a white cloth on the altar. (All this reminded me of the liturgy of baptism.)

Hundreds of people were there – and the music was led by La Gran Familia, a musical group from Plan Grande who have written their own music.

It was a beautiful celebration on a beautiful, sunny day in a community where I feel really at home. The village has some special connections with St Thomas Aquinas Church in Ames. The first spring break trip from St. Thomas in 2008 spent a day in Plan Grande helping to carry rocks for the foundations.

The St. Thomas group of university students – 4 women and 1 man - with the pastor, Padre Efraín Romero, and me, arrived to see the men and boys of the community carrying rocks, mixing cement, and filling in the foundations. We joined them and I think they were surprised to see the women carrying the large rocks. Within thirty minutes the little girls of the village were joining us in carrying rocks for the foundations. One major step forward in promoting the equality and dignity of women – without speeches or external cultural imposition. It was a real sharing.

There has also been some sharing of drawings between the students in religious education at St. Thomas and the students in religious education in Plan Grande. It’s been the one place where this type of interchange has made the most inroads.

The Mass was festive - though long. And after Mass there was food for everyone.

But one thing struck me during the Mass. Here there is a strong Eucharistic piety and they often sing a short refrain during the elevation of the consecrated bread and wine – the Body and Blood of Christ. The refrain during the elevation of the Blood of Christ touched me: “The Blood of Christ has power to undo the evil of my being.” I thought of the great need Honduras has for undoing the evil that afflicts the people here and has afflicted them for years before the June 28 coup and that I believe was exacerbated by the coup.

It was therefore with some consternation that I read a report in Zenit about the Mass Cardinal Rodriguez celebrated in Tegucigalpa at the sanctuary of Our Lady of Suyapa.

I will translate a few paragraphs from his homily, some are words that Hondurans truly wanted to hear:
Reconciliation is necessary because there has been a effort to present the lie as the truth, evil as if it were good, and justice as injustice….

This new stage for Honduras which seeks reconciliation and social justice, reminds us of the prayers which pray that in a humanity divided by enmity and discords God may direct our wills to open them up to reconciliation….

The Holy Spirit is able to move hears so that enemies recover their sight, that adversaries shake hands, and the peoples seek union.
But the Cardinal, in the presence of the newly elected president, Pepe Lobo, as well as present and former coup government officials, including General Romeo Vásquez, added:
Today is a special day to give thanks to God, through the mediation of the Virgin Mary, for our Honduras, for our liberty, sovereignty and independence which Don Roberto Micheletti [former de facto president] knew how to defend with the Armed Forces together with thousands of us Honduran men and women who wish to be part of the solutions and not of the problems….

We don’t need to wait to 2021 to celebrate 200 years of independence. History will tell the truth because in the months that have just gone by we have had authentic founding fathers/heroes [proceres] struggling for our independence.
The cardinal closed his homily calling for a concern “for the poorest, for those most in need, for the marginalized and excluded, for the elderly among us, for children and youth who are the greatest riches we have.”

And so I recall the refrain we sang at the Mass in Plan Grande:
La sangre de Cristo tiene poder de deshacer el mal de mi ser.

The Blood of Christ has power to undo the evil of my being.

The work site in Plan Grande in March 2008.
(The old church is the white building in the background.)

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Monseñor Leonidas Proaño

Rebel Girl on her blog, Iglesia Descalza [the Barefoot Church], has a nice entry on the Bolivian bishop who was a light for the poor, Monseñor Leonidas Proaño, who was born one hundred years ago on January 29, 1910. He died on August 31, 1988.

A few years ago a creed he wrote was published in Cartas a las iglesias, a publication of the pastoral center at the UCA in El Salvador. Here's my translation.
Above all, I believe in God.

I believe in God the Father. It is he who has given me life. He loves me infinitely.

I believe in Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh. According to God’s plan, he became poor, lived among the poor and preached the Good News to the poor.

I believe in the [person] that is within me and that is being saved by the Word of God. I believe in the person that is within all of my brothers and sisters because this same Word of God was sent to save all of us.

Therefore, I can also say that I believe in hope. And for the same reason, I believe in justice. I believe in reconciliation, and I believe that we are walking toward the Kingdom of God.

I believe in the poor and the oppressed. I believe that they are tremendously capable, especially in their ability to receive the salvation message, to understand it, and to put it into practice. It is true then that we are evangelized by the poor.

I believe in the church of the poor because Christ became poor. He was born poor, he grew up in poverty, he found his disciples among the poor and he founded his Church with the poor.

Hope in bad times

“To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”
Howard Zinn,
You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train:
A Personal History of Our Times

(Boston: Beacon, 2002), p 208

A friend of mine, Jim Forest, sent this quote to friends on his list. Howard Zinn, the author of A People's History of the United States, died last Wednesday. He was a radical to the end of his days, getting to the root of problems. Jim found the quote
in a lecture by Peter Dale Scott at an antiwar conference.