Friday, August 20, 2010

Disparate realities

The life of the poor in Honduras is in serious danger this time of the year.

Last week I talked with a number of people working in the maternal and infant health project at Caritas. The Copán group had just been monitored but the only area where they failed was in terms of the development of the children. Many people don’t have enough food to feed their family – since their stored grain from the last harvest has run out and the harvest is still a few months away. One of the volunteers in one village started crying and told one of the Caritas workers that she had nothing to eat in the house.

Last week in Lepaera one pastoral worker from an aldea [village] of the Gracias parish asked me about how he could get vegetable seeds since there were nine severely malnourished children in his village.

Monday one of the coordinators of the maternal and infant health project shared that severe malnutrition in Honduras is at about 38%, which is one of the highest in Latin America.

That’s one side of what’s happening here.

I saw another side this week when I went out to two remote areas of the diocese to accompany workshops in two deaneries on Catholic Social Teaching, one of the ways we are trying to help people respond to the reality – helping them discover ways to respond as responsible Christians and citizens.

In the heart of the Lenca

The Lenca is one of the indigenous groups in Honduras – but a group that has lost its language (or, rather, had its language taken away from them). There are some customs that have been preserved and a particular style of speaking Spanish that distinguishes some of the Lenca. In some parts of the departments of Lempira and Intibucá, many women wear colorful hand-woven headscarves and pleated colorful dresses, often with prints of flowers. (See some of my photos from San Francisco Opalaca.) There are also groups seeking to preserve the people’s identity.

I spent two days in the village of El Tablón in the municipality of Yamaranguila in the department of Intibucá with eleven pastoral workers from the department for a workshop on Catholic Social Teaching.
The village of about 60 families and 450 people has no electricity though it has a school that offers classes from pre-kindergarten to eighth grade. The parish of Nuestra Señora de Esperanza holds many of its trainings here and offered the site for our workshop.

The workshop went well with lots of participation.

Before and during the workshop I had the chance to listen to what people think about the situation here. The opinion was unanimously against the coup and for a national constituent assembly.

What struck me was their reasonableness and level-headedness – unlike a few heavy-handed ideologues I’ve met.

When one of the facilitators shared the analysis that was shared at the diocesan meeting (based on the article “The Original Sin of Honduras,” talking in part of the situation of a country with about ten families with most of the power while the majority have little share of the resources. One participant noted that this is what people are afraid to talk about, because they are afraid of war.

But the participants are people committed to change their country based in their faith commitment to a liberating God.

In the south of Lempira, near the border with El Salvador

Thursday I went to the workshop in the south of the department of Lempira, near the border with El Salvador

I left early in the morning for the workshop in the town of Tomalá in the south of the department of Lempira. I got lost and also had to stop to put air into a nearly flat tire in San Marcos Ocotepeque.

But that was only the beginning of the adventure.

The road was paved for a bit after San Marcos – and then the fun began. They are preparing to pave the road but in places there was deep mud; I had to cross three streams, and then it was a trick trying to stay on the road and find a place amid the ruts and potholes, and in places the side of the hill. Though I didn’t use four wheel drive, I made it through.

Friday I had a flat tire but a local tire repairman fixed it. Roberto got a chance to practice his English on me since he had spent three years in the states – legally. He was the third young man I met who had spent time in the US. All had returned to Honduras willingly – pulled by family concerns.

The trip back to Santa Rosa was another adventure. The road is mostly a disaster. And the car overheated.

But it was worth the trouble. Though the road was terrible, the view was awe-inspiring. And the workshop went well.

Beside Padre Ildefonzo Mejía, pastor of Guarita, one of the parishes in the deanery, there were fifteen participants from the three parishes with a real mix of people, including five women and three young people.

They are pastoral workers and have a very strong social conscience and have been very participative.

The methodology of Catholic Social Thought is “see, judge, and act.” So, after a general introduction, the participants broke into groups to do their analysis of the reality. They are very aware of the huge breach between the few rich and the poor majority as well as the corruption.

They broke for lunch but, before we ate, Ester shared with me a song she had written years before, as a result she said of having only tortilla and salt to eat. (I may translate it later.)

The afternoon, during discussions of aspects of Catholic Social Teaching, I heard also some interesting analysis. Several spoke of injustices not just in the political sphere but also in the family. The critical perspective these pastoral workers have is not restricted to the political sphere, probably because it comes from a deeper source – their faith.

What is clear is that many leaders in the church in this diocese are opposed to the current situation and are in favor of a constitutional assembly. But it gives me hope to see real thoughtfulness and a desire to participate in the process.

They see it as an ongoing struggle – always in the light of the Gospel.


Side note: Thursday evening in Tomalá they watched “¿Quién Dijo Miedo?” – a pro-Resistance documentary. The appearance of one of the workshop’s participants on the screen in a Santa Rosa demonstration was duly noted.

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