Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The poor in the time of Jesus

Tyler Wheeler, who visited here with his family last August, sent me this quote from Raymond Browns' An Introduction to the New Testament. He noted that the poor in Honduras suffer a similar situation to the poor the time of Jesus:
Wealth/poverty and the class society found in cities of the Roman Empire created their own problems for early Christians, and both need to be discussed lest they be misunderstood in the light of modern experience. There are many references in the NT to the "poor"; and readers might envision their poverty as similar to that of the Third World today where people have no place to live or even scraps to eat and so are in constant danger of perishing. In the Gospels, however, which in part reflect Jesus' own life situation in Galilee, the poor were small farmers with inadequate or barren land, or serfs on large estates; in the cities without the assistance of produce from the land the poor were somewhat worse off.
How true here with many rural people living on inadequate or barren land or working as virtual serfs on rented lands.

I'd also note that the poor here suffer under an imperialism similar to the Roman Empire, as noted in Richard A. Horsely's Jesus and Empire: The Kingdom of God and the New World Disorder.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Another side of the bishop

The bishop of Santa Rosa de Copán, Monseñor Luis Alfonso Santos, is known for his outspoken advocacy for the poor and for justice, based in the Gospel call for conversion.

His Palm Sunday homily was characteristic. “The Kingdom of God has already arrived, but how do we build it up? accepting Jesus and trying to change your lives. And if you don’t change your ways of living, Catholicism is only a story,” he said.

He also pleaded with the people not to accept the yokes being imposed on them, recalling the proposal of taxes on rents and on universities as well as some proposals to raise the value-added-tax (the hidden sales tax) from its current rate of 12%.

He castigated the rule of the rich, having noted that the goods of the earth are for all. He urged the people to change their ways of thinking and to stop believing in lying leaders and false promises.

He strongly critiqued the two major parties who’ve been part of 120 years of oppression. And he recalled the coups he’s experienced in his lifetime, noting that they have often been justified as responses to communism or, as in last year’s coup, to "twenty first century socialism." "Everyone who wants to do something for the poor experiences a coup," he lamented.

A delegation from Pax Christi International is visiting Honduras and was here in Santa Rosa. They heard his homily and afterwards they went out for lunch with him. The bishop met us outside the cathedral and we walked to the restaurant.

As we walked by the cathedral the bishop walked over to a poor man sitting on the pavement, talked with him, and gave him a donation.

In the restaurant a little boy came up trying to sell us trinkets. He had sold us a few erasers while waiting for the bishop in the park. But now he had some little flashlights that he was selling for 10 lempiras, about 55 cents.

Hector told us he was 13 years old, but he was no taller than most seven year olds I know. He was also very timid and seemed to be a little developmentally disabled intellectually. The effects of chronic malnutrition were obvious.

The bishop spoke with Hector, looked at his trinkets, told him about the lunch program for kids the diocese has, and bought one of the tiny flashlights. He also bought the kid a sandwich.

The bishop’s tender care for the poor old man and for the little kid touched me deeply. Here’s a man with a strong public position for justice who also takes time to be kind and compassionate to God’s little ones.

Oh, that we might have more bishops like him!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Diocesan Via Crucis

The diocesan stations of the cross is a moving experience of faith and commitment to social justice.

Today thousands of faithful came to Santa Rosa de Copán. Some had left their homes at two in the morning to get here.

Beginning at about 9:30 am, they walked the main street of town stopping to pray the traditional fourteen stations of the path of Christ from Pilate’s praetorium to the tomb. The Mass – a celebration of Christ’s death and resurrection – ended about 1:30 pm.

But the stations were far from traditional. The meditations connected the reality of the lives of the people in this, the poorest diocese in Honduras, with the suffering and death of Christ.

Among the hymns was the Nicaraguan hymn “Vos sos el Dios de los pobres” – You are the God of the poor, a God with tanned face who sweats in the streets. The final station – the Mass – featured the Salvadoran hymn “Cuando el pobre crea en el pobre” – When the poor believe in the poor we will be able to sing freedom, we will build fraternity.

The Way of the Cross was also an expression of the deep faith of the people as they knelt on the hard road during the stations, approached a priest to confess their sins, or received Christ in the Eucharist.

This is really the Church at prayer and at work.

Rather than write much, here are some photos.

They gathered for the first station, Jesus is condemned to death.

Second Station: Jesus carries his Cross.
En Honduras more than 70% live in extreme poverty.

The bishop and several priests wait at the third station.
The boy in front, Christian, lives in my neighborhood and is selling frozen fruit ices.

Mary, the sorrowful mother.

An indigenous woman, kneeling, deep in prayer.

Jesus falls the second time:
Our country lives the Calvary of Jesus, crushed and without the power to raise itself up from poverty and it abandonment by the state.

The poster at this station reads:
Corrupt politicians with their briefcases, seeking only to fill their pockets
and forgetting the people who suffer.

Confessions in the street during the procession.

Eleventh Station:
Jesus is nailed to the Cross.

Sister Nancy Meyerhofer, OSF, Dubuque Franciscan Sister,
missionary in Gracias, Lempira,
read the reflection for the eleventh station.

Twelfth station: Jesus dies on the Cross.

Mass - When the poor believe in the poor.


More photos from the 2010 and the 2009 diocesan stations of the cross can be found in the Via Crucis Diocesano set on my flickr site.



After the stations I had lunch with Sister Nancy and then went home for a short time. I headed to the Caritas office about 3:00 pm and noticed there were two police and one soldier at every corner on the street parallel to the main street, Calle Real Centenario. I figured some big wig was in town. Leavign Caritas at 5 there was still the armed presence on the corners of Calle Real Centenario. I asked one of hte poiliceman what was up. "The President is in town," he told me.

I have no idea why Pepe Lobe was here - perhaps to visit the meeting of coffee producers. It's a shame that he didn't arrive a few hours earlier to hear the pleas of the poor in the stations or be disturbed by the bishop's strong social justice homily at Mass. It might have helped the future of Honduras.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Diocesan Stations of the Cross

Before changes in the Catholic calendar after Vatican II, the Friday before Holy Week was a feast of Our Mother of Sorrows.

Faithful to that tradition, tomorrow the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán will celebrate a Stations of the Cross in the streets of Santa Rosa. I expect that more than a few thousand people will come, mostly from rural parishes, to walk with Christ who shares their sufferings and offers them hope.

Yesterday Padre Efraín Romero, director of Caritas, asked me to sit down with him and edit the text of the Stations they will be using. (We edited it down from more than 42 pages to about 29!)

A phrase repeated several times throughout the stations gives you an idea of the orientation of these prayers:
Christ, the Head, continues living His passion in His Body, which is His people; and the Passion of the People is the continuation of the Passion of Christ, because what you do to one of his least brothers or sisters, you do to Him.
The text for the sixth station, Veronica wipes the face of Jesus, gives a taste of the prayers:
In Honduras we urgently need for all of us who live here to come closer to Christ, especially we need the laity among us who can take on public responsibility to show that we can clean the image of a country subjected to a bad reputation internationally and to the lack of trust of a people who can not see the clarity of a better world. Since there is an increase of robberies, killings, drug-trafficking, corruption, illiteracy, and of all the values that tear apart our families. We need to transform all of this. No more lies or false promises! The West [of Honduras] continues being humiliated and subjected to impotence and the place that gets priority only during election campaigns and so it continues being the poorest departments [states] in Honduras with few hopes for a better future.

Jesus left us his disfigured face to orient our search for God which necessarily passed through applying law in the pursuit of justice, from which peace is born.
All this points to the spirituality of the Suffering Christ and the Suffering People which is found throughout Latin America (and other poor regions of our globe.) Martyred Jesuit Ignacio Ellacuría wrote about the Crucified Peoples and our obligation to take them down from the Cross.

Paragraph 32 from the Final Document of the 2007 Latin American and Caribbean Bishops Conference (CELAM) in Aparecida, Brazil, puts it this way:
In the face of Jesus Christ, dead and risen, bruised for our sins and glorified by the Father, in this suffering and glorious face, we can see with the eyes of faith the humiliated face of so many men and women of our peoples, and at the same time, their calling to the freedom of the children of God, to the full realization of their personal dignity and to brotherhood among all. The Church is at the service of all human beings, sons and daughters of God.


The top photo is a work of German artist and activist Kathe Kollwitz in the Neue Wauche (New Waterhouse) memorial, Berlin, Germany. The other photo is from last year's Diocesan Stations of the Cross; note the anti-mining placard, "Life is worth more than gold."

Friday, March 19, 2010

Romero – witness of love of God and justice for the poor

Thirty years ago this coming Wednesday, March 24, Archbishop Oscar Romero, the voice of the voiceless in El Salvador, was killed by forces related to the military and the death squads. They hope to silence his voice.

Tens of thousands are gathering in San Salvador to celebrate his life. I’d love to be with them but decided to stay here.

In January I was in El Salvador to meet an Iowa State University student visiting here for a short time. We went to the hospital where he lived and the chapel there where he was killed.

I have visited the chapel many times, but I remember the visit I made in January 1986, a few weeks before my mother died, of cancer. It struck me then – and having learned more – strikes me still that he lived at a hospital for poor terminal cancer patients.

He used to visit the hospital and consecrated the chapel in July 1964. When he was bishop of Santiago de María, he would stay at the chapel when he came in for bishops meetings.

When he became archbishop of San Salvador, he insisted on staying in the sacristy of the chapel instead of a nice residence that some of his rich friends might have build for them.

Only later, after the sisters insisted, did he move from the chapel to a small three room house on the hospital grounds.

Romero’s compassion for the weak, for the poor, for terminal cancer patients, predated his prophetic years as archbishop of San Salvador and I believe shaped his life, in preparation for his later prophetic mission as archbishop. Something in the depths of his being called him to listen to their pleas, even as a young priest.

But when his good friend, Jesuit Father Rutilio Grande, was killed travelling between Aguilares and El Paisnal while fulfilling his pastoral ministry, something struck the archbishop and he began to see the need to face the structures of oppression.

The witness of Rutilio Grande, not really a radical priest but a priest committed to the poor and their rights, moved Monseñor Romero to deepen his commitment and to add another dimension to his ministry.

Not only did he feel called to preach the Gospel, but he was called to live the Gospel in the midst of the poor, listening to their voices, advocating for them, encouraging them in their struggles for life.

He combined what I think is essential for a Christian life – prayer and a deep relationship with Jesus, compassion and a personal contact with the poor, courage a willingness to face injustice and call it by name.

That’s a message we all need to try to live.

Today, Friday, March 19, I took the Iowa State University/St. Thomas Aquinas Church group that is here to the Hogar San José, a home for malnourished kids. We were there last Saturday and had hoped to spend more time with the kids. But, being the feast of St. Joseph, there was a special Mass at 3:00 pm, celebrated with Father Rudy Mejía, the pastor of the parish next door.

We decided to stay for Mass. As Mass was beginning one of the women who works there handed me one of the infants to hold. As I prayer during the Mass and as I listened to Father Rudy’s homily, I held this beautiful little girl. Beautiful despite the prickly heat sores and insect bites on her body. But, as Father Rudy said, one human person is worth more than the entire universe.

Carrying that baby made that Mass one of the most prayerful I’ve had for some time. It awakened my love for God and for others.

As I write this I recall our meeting earlier this week with Edgar, one of the coordinators of a maternal and infant health program in Caritas. The area where he’s working includes parts of the parish of Dulce Nombre. He mentioned that in the villages where the program is set up the malnutrition rate is 64%, higher than the 38% average for the whole country. I have to check with him whether this is just the child malnutrition rate or the general rate. But either way, it’s scandalous.

So tonight I think and pray for those children, the innocent victims of injustice, an injustice that appears to be engrained into the system here.

But I also remember the witness of Romero – and the challenge he calls us to, a challenge reflected in the words of the prophet Micah (6:8)
I have told you, oh human, what is good and what the Lord demands of you – only this: to act justly, to love tenderly, and walk humbly with our God.

NOTE: There’s a nice extended BBC report on Romero at their Heart and Soul web page.

Monday, March 15, 2010

A busy Sunday

A group of eight students from St. Thomas Aquinas in Ames arrived on Friday – four women and four men.

Their plane arrived two hours late and so they didn’t arrive in Santa Rosa de Copán until about 9 at night, after a very long journey. Thus Sunday was a little more relaxed. We walked around town, went to the market to buy food, and spent a few hours in the afternoon at Hogar San José, the home for malnourished children under five run by the Missionaries of Charity.

But Sunday was a work out.

We got the 7:30 am bus out to Dulce Nombre. There we joined Padre Efraín Romero, the pastor, on his pastoral visits to the countryside.

The first Mass was scheduled for 9:30 am in Plan Grande. (It started about 9:45 because there were so many people going to confession before Mass.)

Plan Grande has a special place in my heart. The people are really hospitable, devoted to their faith, and hard working.

It was at Plan Grande that the first spring break group from St. Thomas spent a day hauling rocks for the church they were building, which was dedicated February 3.

The religious ed classes there wave responded well to efforts to begin a sort of connection with the ST. Thomas religious ed, sending a few cards and greetings.

There are also a few precocious young girls, who have greeted those who have visited and spent time talking with them.

And there is La Gran Familia, the village’s music group, which is quite good.

Most of the people didn’t know we were coming but provided the usual hospitable welcome. When the group was introduced at the end of the Mass there was a hearty applause. Padre Efraín invited someone to say something in welcome. The man who spoke recalled the students who had come two years before and then made an outrageous joke that I had lost the hair on my head when we were hauling all the rocks. The congregation was laughing uproariously and I could hardly translate it.

After Mass, Marlene Jolany and a few other kids spent about 15 minutes talking with the group.

We then went and had lunch in the home of a family Padre Efraín knows.

Then it was on to San Augustín for another Mass.

At San Agustín Mass started abut 30 minutes late, again because of the people going to confession. The group was tired and we sat in the back but at the greeting of peace they were greeted by so many people, including a kid who ran from the front to give the peace to the “gringos.”

We returned to Dulce Nombre. The group was tired and so I told Padre that they needed to rest, instead of going to the 7:00 pm which he celebrated – his third Mass of the day. But the group went in at the end of Mass to be presented to the congregation.

It was a full day.

For me, one of the most difficult moments was during Mass, seeing Elsa and Fernando in the front row. I’ve eaten a number of times at their house. In October where I was visiting in the states, their seventeen year old daughter died. (I don’t know the causes.) They are a comparatively well-off family, poor but with land and enough income to provide a decent life for their kids.

But death hit them – as it hits all too many people in this area.

Yet, despite all this, Elsa wants the group to come out later this week for merienda – a mid morning snack – and a chance to see how sugar cane is processed. I hope we can get out there. [Follow-up: we didn't manage to arrange the visit. Alas!]

This morning I sat outside for morning prayer and reflected on the first lectionary reading for the day from Isaiah 65: 17-21 and continued to the end of the chapter. What a promise – and a prayer – of hope for the new Jerusalem, new heavens and a new earth.
No more shall there be in it an infant who lives but a few days,
or an old man who does not fill out his days,
for the child shall die a hundred years old…
They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit…
They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity…
Isaiah 65: 20, 21, 23 (RSV translation)

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Land issues - again!

I just got back from three days in the municipality of La Unión, Lempira, a very isolated area in the north of the department of Lempira, settled among the mountains.

The first person who visited me in Honduras was Greg McGrath, one of the co-founders of a new organization of young engineers (all Iowa State University grads, I believe): Emerging Opportunities for Sustainability. Through him I learned another organization founded by young college grads (of the university of Michigan) “Unión Microfinanza,” which is beginning work in La Unión on microloans. Some supporters were coming for the weekend and they invited me to come and see the project and its prospects.

We ended up visiting communities, several small coffee fields, and a local coffee processing cooperative– seeing problem and possibilities. The founder, a Michigan doctoral candidate, Derek Stafford, explained the theory behind what they are doing. If things go well, this will be an impressive project to assist 32 rural communities in the La Unión area.

Yesterday at the last village we visited the group got a taste of some of the issues beyond loans and improvement of coffee production.

The town has about 90 families, but only about 20 own enough land for coffee growing. About 80% of the land in their area is owned by a few large coffee plantations and by cattle ranchers who use the land for grazing.

Since many people in the village have little land – one person with less than .4 acres), the group asked them about buying the land.

First of all the land would cost about 80,000 lempiras (about $4234) per manzana (1.68 acres.) That’s about $2574 per acre. I just checked Iowa farm land prices; in 2009 the average value per acre was $4371.

The prices are thus very high – especially for people who for the most part make less than $1200 a year – the average for that area.

But that’s only part of the story. Much of the land is owned by cattle ranchers who use it and they won’t sell to campesinos, the people who work on the land. They will sell to other cattle ranchers but unlikely to sell to the poor, even at these high prices.

One man from another town told us how he wanted to buy a small parcel from a cattle rancher for his horse; he approached the landowner who turned him down and then offered to buy his land.

A question I had was how well the land was being used in terms of cattle raising. I know some talk about overgrazing. The land is poorly used, a young professional noted. The large cattle ranchers people don’t know or don’t good techniques that would respect the land and use it wisely. Instead of putting cattle in corrals, the cattle are allowed to graze large expanses, including hillsides which causes major soil damage on the hills.

As I thought this over I cam back to thinking about my previous post and decided that I needed to do a careful study of Catholic Social Teaching on land reform especially the 1997 statement of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, “Towards a Better Distribution of Land: The Challenge of Agrarian Reform.”

But here are just a few paragraphs from that document for your reflection:

The necessity of land reform:
The social teaching of the Church is very clear on this point, stating that agrarian reform is one of the most urgent reforms and cannot be delayed: "In many situations radical and urgent changes are therefore needed in order to restore to agriculture — and to rural people — their just value as the basis for a healthy economy, within the social community's development as a whole." ¶ 35
The justification of land expropriation:
When large landholdings are insufficiently used, this justifies expropriation of land — with adequate compensation to the owners — so that it can be allocated to those who have none or not enough.
However, it must be emphasized that according to the social teaching, agrarian reform cannot be confined simply to redistribution of the ownership of land.
Expropriation of land and its redistribution are only one aspect — and not the most complex one — of an equitable and effective policy of agrarian reform. ¶ 36
The problem of latifundia: large land holdings:
An agricultural structure marked by the misappropriation and concentration of land in latifundia acts as a major obstacle to a country's economic and social development. In the short term, it inhibits growth of agricultural production and employment, while in the long term, it causes poverty and waste, which tend to be self-perpetuating and to increase.
In the face of such a situation, if the economy and society are to develop harmoniously, a major focus of concern should be an agricultural reform that ensures a different land distribution. ¶42
Relating to the land struggles in Bajo Aguán (see the last blog entry):
Land occupation is often an expression of an intolerable and morally indefensible state of affairs, and is an alarm bell calling for the implementation of effective and equitable solutions on the social and political level. Governments have a special responsibility here, for their will and determination must ensure that no time is lost in providing these solutions. Delays in, or the postponing of, agrarian reform deprive their condemnation and repression of land occupation of any credibility. ¶44
But I have one last personal question:
Why do the cattle ranchers really want to keep buying more land and refuse to sell it to people who could use it for growing food for their families or for small coffee or vegetable farms?
There is a word in Greek, pleonexia, usually translated as "greed," but literally meaning "having more." Dan Mc Lanen describes it as "an insatiable need for more of what I already have." But more pointed are these words of scripture, Colossians 3.5
Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry.
A message for all of us - especially Honduras and many other poor countries with a scandalous inequitable distribution of land and wealth.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Land issues - the 1980s all over again?

In some ways, Santa Rosa is isolated from other parts of the country and so I don’t always know about what’s happening. In addition, although there is a fair amount of sympathy for the Resistance, the situation is rather peaceful compared with Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, and recently in the department of Colón on the north coast.

I prefer to report what I have seen or heard or been told from reputable personal sources. But sometimes it’s important to speak out, especially when what happens feels like what happened in parts of Latin America and Central America in the sixties, seventies, and eighties.

A major issue here is land tenure. A few people own a lot of land and most of the people who farm the land for their livelihood have little or no land. There have been “land reforms” often in response to occupations of empty lands by landless peasants.

The issue is complex. I need to spend some time investigating it. But the demand for land is often justified. The Compendium of Catholic Social Doctrine states in paragraph 300:
In some countries a redistribution of land as part of sound policies of agrarian reform is indispensable, in order to overcome the obstacles that an unproductive system of latifundium — condemned by the Church's social doctrine — places on the path of genuine economic development. “Developing countries can effectively counter the present process under which land ownership is being concentrated in a few hands if they face up to certain situations that constitute real structural problems, for example legislative deficiencies and delays regarding both recognition of land titles and in relation to the credit market, a lack of concern over agricultural research and training, and neglect of social services and infrastructures in rural areas”. Agrarian reform therefore becomes a moral obligation more than a political necessity, since the failure to enact such reform is a hindrance in these countries to the benefits arising from the opening of markets and, generally, from the abundant growth opportunities offered by the current process of globalization.
There have been land conflicts for many years but one has turned dirty and bloody in the last year.

The efforts of people in Baja Aguán in the department of Colón to find and keep have been in the news here recently. A scurrilous report in one of the major daily newspapers, La Prensa, accused the people of being armed terrorists and implicated the Jesuits and the church in the efforts of the people. My translation of a communication from the priests of the Trujillo diocese is posted below – as well as at my Honduras Church Documents site.

For more information I refer you to entries here, here, and here on the Honduras Culture and Politics blog, a blog I've found useful and reputable.. There are other sources in English and Spanish but I think these provide a good introduction, including reports of deaths of campesinos after the Honduran military invaded their lands.

This feels like the Cold War years when those who spoke up for the poor in Latin America were called Communists. This was often followed by cruel deaths by government forces or death squads.

There have been suspicious deaths here some of which can be attributed to government forces. And there are fears of resurgence of the death squads and a few cases that look like death squad killings.

Therefore, it is important for the world to be watchful and not think that all is well just because there is a new president and Honduras has dropped off the front page. This could be a very critical time in terms of human rights.

Your solidarity and prayer are needed.


Update: it appears that a military spokesman has denied that such a report exists. This makes it much more interesting since La Prensa is owned by one of the major supporters of the coup.


Communication of the priests of the diocese of Trujillo, Honduras


The Priests Council of the Diocese of Trujillo to the communications media and public opinion in general:

In the newspaper LA PRENSA on March 1, 2010, on page 4 of the Investigation Series, there is a citation from a military intelligence report in possession of that newspaper which, according to the authors of the article, “is already in the hands of the government authorities.”

Referring to the assistance and indoctrination of armed campesino groups who have occupied various African palm plantations in Bajo Aguán, the citation from the military intelligence report, supposedly taken from the text, states that the aid and indoctrination comes from “an established structure in the region which comes from non-governmental organizations in the region of a socialist bent, priests of the Jesuit order who hawk liberation theology in every community, leaders of the teachers, and radical leftist teachers, even including local means of communication with communist ideological biases.”

Further on in the article the following paragraph is cited”: “It is important to stress that the dominant Catholic order in the department is the Jesuits, followers of liberation theology which is a Marxist vision of the Gospel. Out of this order have come all the guerrilla priests of the Church including Guadalupe Carney.

We consider it necessary to make the following clarifications?

1. The priests who belong to the Society of Jesus, founded by Saint Ignatius Loyola, popularly called “Jesuits,” have accompanied the poorest families of the department of Colon who for the most part comprise the campesino population, to assist them in the defense of their rights and to attain the goals of their own development.

2. This work of the Jesuit priests is in accord with the preferential option for the poor which the church in Latin America has made for several decades. In the document “In search of human development n Honduras which is integral, just, and in solidarity,” dated January 6, 2010, the Jesuit priests who work in our country, affirm, “It is clear that the option for the poor is an intrinsic way of making our faith concrete and in it we play out the meaning of our life. This option has to be personal and communitarian, it has to connect the concrete person and the structures, it has to pass through the heart and it has to be expressed in actions in history.”

Pope Benedict XVI himself in his inaugural address at the Fifth General Conference of the Latin American bishops in 2007 explained it in this way: “In the effort to know the message of Christ and to make it the guide of one’s own life, one has to recall that evangelization has always been united to human promotion and authentic Christian liberation.” (Inaugural Discourse, 3) Integral liberation for which the Jesuit priests and the whole Catholic Church work is not Marxist action nor an action which belongs to a political ideology. It is action inspired by the Gospel which demands that we work against every ideology which manipulates the people. And this is what the Jesuit priests do in our diocese of Trujillo. We are clear about the effort the Jesuit priests make and which the whole diocese does for some eighteen years so that the campesinos do not sell their lands which now are the reason for this violent conflict. Likewise, in no moment have we promoted recovery of lands by the campesinos.

3. Also the report in LA PRENSA recalls the following quote from the military intelligence report: “Authorities of the Catholic Church in the area have strong ties with campesino groups in the department, officially to promote environmental and indigenous groups but it is believed that they are also to strengthen their party (the Christian Democrats).”

Aiding political parties is a individual right of every citizen. Nevertheless, no member of the Hierarchy of the Catholic church in the Diocese of Trujillo, which is composed of the departments of Colón and Gracias a Dios, has any commitment with any political party and therefore not with the Christian Democratic Party. We share the words of Pope Benedict XVI when he affirmed in the same inaugural discourse noted above, “If the Church would begin to be transformed directly in political affairs, it would not do more for the poor and for justice but would do less, because it would lose its independence and its moral authority, identifying itself with a single political way and partial opinions and positions. The church is the advocate (lawyer) of justice and the poor precisely by not identifying itself with politician nor with party interests.” (Inaugural Discourse, 4)

Having cleared up these points, we believe it necessary to ask for some clarifications.

a) To the Military Intelligence of the Armed Forces of Honduras and to the authorities of the National Police:

• We ask you to inform the people about the victims who up to this moment have been affected by this conflict and those responsible for these bloody deeds.

• We ask you, in the name of the population which believes in peace and respects life, to inform us of the general disarmament which was announced before the general elections of last November; of the results and the objectives, as well as the intentions of the military and police authority to not pursue aggressively the arms traffic when it seems that, these very authorities, warn us about the danger of the organization of a guerrilla cell in Bajo Aguán.

b) To the authorities responsible for the struggle against drug-trafficking, we urge them to clear up the movements of the various drug cartels which have invaded the departments of Colón and Gracias a Dios and of their participation in the agrarian conflicts. It is a question so that the population can know what is at risk and what is being protected in regard to the unforeseen, illegal, immoral and even violent consequences which are brought about by being involved in this activity [drug-trafficking] which is destroying so many lives and which intends to convert Honduras into a narco-state.

c) We ask Military Intelligence that it justify how a supposed internal unpublished document has come into the hands of a member of the communications media.

d) To the means of communication we ask them to be more careful in citing unpublished sources which provoke misinformation and confusion in public opinion, attacking the good name of persons and institutions.

The Catholic Church defends the life and dignity of every human being. It rejects every form of violence and also every judgment which, without being tied to the truth, can defame or discredit persons and institutions. It is desirable, if the military report is authentic, that the Military Authorities revise and publish their information.

We trust that the dialogue that the President of the Republic, Don Porfirio Lobo Sosa
proposes as the democratic path will serve in this conflicts to show the legal ways with which it ought to be resolved. We ask the parties in litigation to put aside weapons in order that the force of reason, common sense and legality may finally dominate.

Given in the city of Trujillo, March 2, 2010.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Risks, disasters, organizing, and faith

Caritas Santa Rosa has a pilot project for community-based risk and disaster management in three communities in the department of Lempira. The people in the communities learn how to assess risks, make community development plans, and respond when disaster strikes. It is not only a way to prepare for and help prevent natural disasters, it's also a tool for community organizing.

In October of the first year of the project, a major storm hit the area and Cementera, one of the communities, experienced severe effects but since they had just been trained in what to do, they did a marvelous job responding. A village just down the mountain from them even came to them and asked for their help so that their community cold better respond. An incredible example of what these people can do.

Tuesday, Sasja Kamil, a representative of Cordaid, the Dutch Catholic agency which is funding the project, came with Rusty Biñas, the Filipino who designed the process, as well as Salvadorans from ASPRODE and Humanitarian Productions which oversee the project in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

Wednesday we went out to Cementera so that Sasja and Rusty as well as the others could make a quick visit to see how far the community had come. We ended up starting in the house of Anselmo and Fidelina. Anselmo is a leader in the church and in the community and talked about the situation there and how they had learned how to organize themselves – even before the project began.

Two hundred sixty families live high up a mountain, right near a nature reserve. There are good water sources and they grow coffee and vegetables – most on their own lands. However, this is an area with some risks of landslides and washouts. Some folks would like to move them out – perhaps using the pretext of their proximity to the nature reserve as well as the risks of natural disasters – but the people have a recent law on their side and want to stay there. As Anselmo suggested, the people really want to move them because they have access to good water sources which others would like to control.

The community has had some help from the mayor who did not run for reelection but there are other political forces who do not respond to their needs. They have been able to help some families to move providing about $200 from church resources. Again, the poor helping the poor.

We were talking about the costs of helping families make their houses more secure and the lack of cooperation from authorities when Anselmo mentioned another possible cost of what they are doing –especially when they denounce injustices. Jesus, he said, was killed because he denounced the powers that were in his times and the injustices. Anselmo is ready to continue his work and denouncing injustice, even if it is risky.

Here is a leader, a simple man – in the best sense of the word – who has the good of his community at heart and he is willing to work for it, despite the risks. I know it’s his faith that sustains him.

We left after about three hours in the community, we walked up to the new water tank, we talked to folks we met on the road, we enjoyed the hospitality of the people. But what I won’t forget is that moment when Anselmo spoke from the heart about his faith, his commitment to the good of his community, and his willingness to risk – even his life – to live out a faith rooted in love, that seeks justice.

Anselmo is just one such Honduran. I know there are others. I've met them. They are the strength of this country and the hope for change – from their small communities.

In the midst of this I pray that the meek will inherit the earth. And I hope I have the courage to commit myself to help this happen, as far as I can.