Friday, December 30, 2011


Today I officially became an associate of the Sisters of St. Francis  of the Holy Family (better known as the Dubuque Franciscans) at a Mass in Gracias, Lempira.

Signing the associates book

The real news, though, is that the Sisters received a young Honduran woman, Hermana Erika, as a novice in their community. Erika has been living with the two Sisters who have been in Gracias for several years, Sister Nancy Meyerhofer and Sister Brenda Whetstone.

Hermana Erika

Sister Pat Farrell, one of the vice-presidents of the community and the head of the US Leadership Conference of Women Religious received Erika as a novice and officially welcomed me as an associate. Betty, a woman who is volunteering in Gracias and living with the sisters was welcomed as a volunteer. 

PAdre Loncho (seated), Sister Pat, Betty, me, Hermana Erika, Sister Nancy

The Mass was simple but full of meaning, especially since today is the feast of the Holy Family.

I was asked to prepare a short explanation of why I wanted to take this step. Here is an edited version of what I shared (in Spanish)

I am taking this step to be an associate of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Family as a way to deepen my commitment to Jesus, God who became flesh as a poor man in an oppressed land.

This is in some ways a return to my roots, since I spent 6 years in a Franciscan seminary from 1961 to 1967.

Francis, il Poverello, the little poor man of Assisi, sought to serve God as a poor man among the poor. His commitment to the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus to the poor, embraced a love for Jesus, God incarnate, and an identification with the poor.

I seek this connection with the Dubuque Franciscans because of their commitment to the poor, to peacemaking, and to the wonderful creation God has made. 

In addition, the sisters in El Salvador and Honduras have been for me a source of inspiration and a community of support. I first met Sister Pat Farrell and Sister Kay Koppes (of beloved memory) in the Calle Real, El Salvador, displaced persons camp. Then in 1992 I spent a little more than six months in the Parish of Suchitoto, El Salvador, where they were serving along with Sister Carol Besch and Sister Nancy Meyerhofer. 

Sisters Nancy, Pat, Kay (RIP), and Carol, February 1, 1992, El Salvador

In 2006 Sister Nancy arranged for me to meet Monseñor Luis Alfonso Santos, then bishop of Santa Rosa de Copán. And so I’m here in Honduras, living out my vocacion.

But I also need a  community – both to support and to challenge me. And so I seek to be an associate of the Dubuque Franciscans.

I pray that this association will help me deepen my commitment to the glory of God and the service of the poor.

OSF associate's pin

More photos of the ceremony can be found here.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Holy Innocents of Bethlehem

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the feast of the Holy Innocents, the children killed by Herod in Bethlehem. He feared that the new–born King of the Jews would overthrow his regime and so he used the means he knew – violence, the killing of innocents.

So many innocents have died over the years – victims of tyrants, victims of war. Why?

They threaten the powers that be or, as Robert Ellsberg puts it in  All Saints: Daily Reflection on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time:
They were killed by the same interests that would later conspire in the death of Jesus and for the same reasons—to stifle from birth any hope that the world might be changed.
But the hope generated by a God become a poor child cannot be squelched.

In 2004 I had the chance to visit the Holy Land, hosted by a friend who was volunteering there with the Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem.  Because a faculty member of the Christian Brothers’ Bethlehem University was a graduate of Iowa State, I got a tour of the campus where Christians and Muslims study together.

The chapel is devoted to the Holy Innocents. As we entered I saw incredible paintings of children around the chapel. Brother told me that the painter used the faces of children of Bethlehem for the images and that now some of them can come and see their faces on the chapel walls.

But Bethlehem and the Palestinian territories are still places of pain. But may they become places of hope.

Here too in Honduras the innocent suffer - from hunger, oppression, and violence. Yet there are seeds of hope, especially among the poor. May those seeds take root and grow into a harvest of hope and justice.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

More nacimientos and a pastorela

The tradition of Christmas cribs is widespread here in Honduras. Not only are there nacimientos in the churches, but businesses and private homes have their nacimientos, often large affairs with lots of images, beyond the Holy Family, the shepherds, and the Magi.

Gracias is known for its nacimientos. Here is a photo of the very simple nacimiento in Casa Betania, the house of the Franciscan Sisters of the Holy Family (from Dubuque) just outside of Gracias.

 On the way to Christmas Eve Mass we passed a business that had one that took up half the front room. We were in a car and so couldn’t stop to see it.

The church of San Marcos in Gracias again had a large nacimiento. As I was about to take a picture and moved to get the Holy Family in the center, a man I know told me to be sure to get “El Misterio” – “The Mystery”. What a beautiful way to talk about the images of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.

The San Marcos, Gracias, nacimiento, without the infant Jesus since it was taken before Mass

The Mass was preceded by a pastorela, a Christmas pageant of children from the parish. it was a retelling of the biblical story. The children were incredible, having memorized their lines. They were very expressive and brought the mystery of the incarnation to life. There was a real infant who was very good - even as Mary and Joseph handed the "infant Jesus" to Simeon and Hannah.

Mary, Joseph, Jesus (a real infant) and angels
Joseph and Mary present Jesus to Simeon
The three kings come with gifts

On Christmas I went out with Sisters Brenda and Nancy and Betty, the volunteer with them, to the village of Rodeo-El Pinal for a Celebration of the Word. Nancy brought the Eucharist.

The Celebration was preceded by the arrival of the image of Cristo Negro – the Black Christ – from another village. The people from rodeo came out with their image of St. Francis of Assisi to greet the image and the people from the other village. After this the celebration followed – simple, but full of the presence of Christ, the poor One, the Word made flesh, the God of love.

It was a good Christmas.

I returned to Santa Rosa de Copán on Monday – but came down with a fever, a sore throat, and a cold. I was supposed to have another session of root canal today but it’s delayed until I get well.

May the blessings of this holy season fill all of us with love and compassion – and solidarity with the poor.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The poor at Christmas

Recently 80 Maya Chorti were displaced from land near the Mayan ruins in Copán. They will spend Christmas in provisional housing at the side of the road,  as you can seen from these two photos taken by Padre Efraín Romero, the pastor of Dulce Nombre parish.

Almost fifty years ago, the Trappist monk Thomas Merton wrote:

“Into this world, this demented inn, in which there is absolutely no room for Him at all, Christ has come uninvited. But because He cannot be at home in it, because He is out of place in it, His place is with those others for whom there is no room, His place is with those who do not belong, who are rejected by power because they are regarded as weak, those who are discredited, who are denied the status of persons, who are tortured, bombed, and exterminated. With those for whom there is no room, Christ is present in the world. He is mysteriously present in those for whom there seems to be nothing but the world at its worst. . . . It is in these that He hides Himself, for whom there is no room.”
Thomas Merton, “The Time of the End is the Time of No Room,”
in Raids on the Unspeakable, pp. 72-3

Thirty-three years ago, today, Monseñor Oscar Arnulfo Romero,  martyred archbishop of San Salvador, preached this message:

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


The Maya Chorti were evicted on December 15, 2011. Their story can be read at the end of a blog entry by Honduras Culture and Politics on the Maya calendar festivities planned at Copán Ruinas. While tourism is a priority here in Honduras, the indigenous poor are not!

Christmas Night

A prayer of St. Isaac the Syrian

This Christmas night bestowed peace on the whole world;
   So let no one threaten;
This is the night of the Most Gentle One -
    Let no one be cruel;
This is the night of the Humble One -
    Let no one be proud.

Now is the day of joy -
    Let us not seek revenge;
Now is the day of Good Will -
    Let us not be mean.
In this Day of Peace -
    Let us not be conquered by anger.

Today the Bountiful impoverished Himself for our sake;
    So, rich one, invite the poor to your table.
Today we receive a Gift for which we did not ask;
    So let us give alms to those who implore and beg us.
This present Day cast open the heavenly doors to our prayers;
    Let us open our door to those who ask our forgiveness.
Today the Divine Being took upon Himself
   the seal of our humanity,
In order for humanity to be decorated 
   by the Seal of Divinity.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Peace Corps suspended in Honduras

The Peace Corps is temporarily withdrawing from Honduras in January 2012 while it considers restructuring its program due to security concerns. Peace Corps Volunteers (158 of them) will be leaving for about 30 days while the Peace Corps staff re-evaluates and restructures Peace Corps in Honduras. The Peace Corps has been here for many years but, because of concerns for the security of its volunteers, it’s reassessing its programs. If they return they will probably be in fewer places. 

At the same time the Peace Corp is not sending new classes of volunteers to Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala early next year as planned.  Their security concerns are high. A few weeks ago a volunteer traveling on a public bus in Honduras was shot in the leg when a passenger fired on the group which was robbing the bus.

As I have been told, for many years Honduras seems to have had one of the largest Peace Corps contingent in the world, after the Ukraine and Guatemala.

What does this mean for me? Nothing special.I feel safe, especially here in the Santa Rosa de Copán and Dulce Nombre area.

I am here because I feel God’s call to be among the people. I am very careful and generally avoid the big cities where much of the crime is. I also avoid walking or driving late at night, unless I absolutely have to. I also know what areas to avoid in Santa Rosa, especially in the evening.

I feel safe - and take all reasonable precautions. (And I have so many people who know me that I feel their care and protection.)

And so I do not contemplate leaving. As I tell my Honduran friends when they ask how long I’ll be here, I am here until God calls me somewhere else which I translate into Spanish as “Hasta que Dios quiera.”

As I thought of the pullback of the Peace Corps, I remembered a quote of Jean Donovan, the lay missionary killed by government troops in El Salvador in December 1980. Our situation here is not at all comparable with the deaths and massacres of El Salvador in the 1980s, but here words touch my heart.
 The Peace Corps left today and my heart sank low, she wrote a friend. The danger is extreme and they were right to leave. Now I must assess my own position, because I am not up for suicide. Several times I have decided to leave El Salvador. I almost could, except for the children, the poor, bruised victims of this insanity. Who would care for them? Whose heart could be so staunch as to favor the reasonable thing in a sea of their tears and loneliness? Not mine, dear friend, not mine.

Monday, December 19, 2011

A new bishop for Santa Rosa de Copán

On a rainy Saturday, December 17, Monseñor Luis Alfonso Santos ended his almost 28 year ministry as bishop of the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán.

It has been a ministry marked by a commitment to the poor in the poorest diocese of Honduras, an organization of the parishes in base communities, a strong effort at evangelization at all levels, and a prophetic ministry that has denounced injustice and threats to the environment.

Monseñor Santos arrived at the Mass in the parking lot of the Santa Rosa Campus of the Catholic University of Honduras, in his suit coat with a rain jacket.

Monseñor presided over the Mass with bishop and priests concelebrating with him. Primary among the bishops was the new bishop, Monseñor Darwn Andino, the new bishop, and Archbishop Luigi Bianco, the Apostolic Delegate to Honduras.

Monseñor Andino, Monseñor Santos, Archbishop Bianco

There were bishops from Honduras and El Salvador as well as priests from the diocese of Santa Rosa and  other dioceses.

Monseñor gave a sort homily, written out since he jokingly said that some have said his homilies are often long. He mentioned how a US Capuchin priest had told him that; in response Monseñor asked how he knew since the priest fell asleep after five minutes. Besides, the bishop told him, he should thank him since he gave him a chance to chance some sleep! Such is the bishop’s folksy style.

He reminded those gathered that he has devote his episcopacy to evangelization and the poor. The poor are our evangelizers.The bishop may have meant that the poor in the villages are the ones who do the evangelization of the people in the diocese. But it might also be understood that the poor are the ones who evangelize the church.

This reflects the commitment he has made to continually visit the parishes of the diocese, going out to remote villages. He also made a commitment to develop the diocesan clergy, having ordained 50 priests for the diocese.

The commitment to evangelization was apparent when he was presented the published copy of the Third Pastoral Plan of the diocese, written by clergy and laity of the diocese with the bishop’s input and support. Several of the social problems noted in the plan were displayed on drawings posted in the parking lot.

Extreme poverty and families that are falling apart

Monseñor Santos’s commitment to the church of the poor was noted by the apostolic delegate before he read the papal bull installing Monseñor Darwin as the new bishop.

After his installation Monseñor Andino noted that he was a servant, an instrument of the Lord, no more, and that he sought to announce the love of God.

Monseñor Darwin Andino

The next day he celebrated an evening Mass in Dulce Nombre as part of a celebration and fund-raising event of the families in the town of Dulce Nombre. He concelebrated the Mass with Padre Efraín Romero, the pastor, Padre Henry Rodríguez, the associate pastor, and Padre Julio César Galdámez, who is now pastor of a neighboring parish but had been the associate in Dulce Nombre.

After the Mass there was a special meal in the local school. The bishop and priests sat at the head table as two music groups from the parish played energetic songs with a faith basis.

It was a good night and it was good to see the bishop there among the people.

May the new bishop be a sign of the Kingdom of God in our diocese, being Good News for the Poor.


More photos of the installation can be found in a set on my photo site.

Sunday, December 18, 2011


He had rough hands with bent fingers, from many years of hard work in the fields. But today Pablito is being laid to rest. He will be buried at 2 pm today.

This evening I’m going to Mass in Dulce Nombre followed by the parish Christmas dinner, but I had decided to go up the hill for the 9:30 am Mass.

As I entered I saw a coffin at the foot of the altar. I wondered who it was, but later seeing Pablo’s widow in the front row I knew who it was.

I often sat near Pablito and his wife when I went to Mass at the church of San Martín de Porres up the hill from where I live in Santa Rosa.

I don’t know much about his life but his faithfulness to God and the Church and his gentle welcome impressed me. He is one of those unknown who reveal the presence of God in our world. They are not often noticed – especially by the press and the politicians, but they are the anawim, the poor of the Lord, who keep this world going by their faith, their work, and their welcoming presence.

Thank God for Pablito and for the many like him who give us glimpses of the Reign of God.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Politics and the Church in Honduras

Here in Honduras, as in much of the world, the role of the Church in political concerns has been a matter of intense debate.

Some people want a church that is just concerned with what they call the “spiritual,” not recognizing that in the biblical sense the spiritual embraces the whole person and the whole world. Such a view, I believe, is non-Christian, because it ignores a central belief – Jesus is God made flesh, made human. Jesus is a God who intervenes in human history – and calls people to be good news for the poor.

A disembodied spirituality is no spirituality.

And so the Church and the faithful need to address issues of justice from the perspective of the scriptures and the social teaching of the Church.

As Pope John Paul II wrote in Christifideles laici, no. 42
A charity that loves and serves the person is never able to be separated from justice. Each in its own way demands the full, effective acknowledgment of the rights of the individual, to which society is ordered in all its structures and institutions.
Therefore the Church has a right and a duty to be involved, not in partisan politics, of course, but in speaking up for justice and the cause of the poor. But that can be controversial.

Here in the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán, our bishop, Monseñor Luis Alfonso Santos, has been an outspoken advocate of the poor, calling political leaders to account, even accusing a prominent member of the economic elite of being responsible for killings by members of his security guards. He has also spoken out against the mining industry in Honduras which exploits the land, pollutes rivers, and pays almost nothing in taxes. he also was the only bishop to openly criticize the 2009 coup. For all this he has been castigated by many.

Tomorrow Monseñor Santos will be replaced as bishop, because he reached 75 years, the mandatory age for “retirement” as a bishop for a diocese.  Monseñor Darwin Andino, former auxiliary bishop of the archdiocese of Tegucigalpa, will be installed as bishop of the diocese tomorrow morning.

Someone obviously doesn’t like the diocese’s advocacy of justice. Sometime overnight graffiti was spray painted on a wall near the diocesan radio station and on the park fence across the road. Interestingly it’s in both Spanish and Italian (sort of).

No politics in the Catholic Church.

On the park fence it reads, in Spanish,

Catholic church without politics

No more -> politics

Perhaps someone is desperate and hopes to influence the new bishop by this type of graffiti. The fact that part of the graffiti is written in Italian is puzzling. Maybe it's for the apostolic nuncio who will be here for the installation.

But the diocese has long taken a stand at its diocesan assemblies and in its third pastoral plan to stand with the poor in their struggles for justice and for the integrity of creation.

The work of the diocese, according to the general objective set out in the Third Pastoral Plan of the Diocese, is 
to work for a diocese organized in church base communities – in solidarity, prophetic, missionary, and transforming, contributing to the formation and the integral liberation of the human being, with a preference for the most needy, so as to make present the Reign of God. 
 I pray that we continue to be a sign of the presence of that Reign here, in the poorest diocese in Honduras.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Christmas, images, and nacimientos

To prepare for the coming feast of Christmas, the birth of Christ, I want to share a few images that might help our meditations.

A small Ecuadoran carved wooden Nativity, painted by the wife of a friend from Colombia

A live Christmas scene at San Marcos Church in Gracias, Lempira, Honduras, December 25, 2010.

A part of the nacimiento - Christmas creche - in Gracias, Lempira, Honduras, 2010

A view of the nacimiento in Gracias which was quite large.


The statue of San José - Saint Joseph - from the nacimiento (Nativity) in Gracias, Lempira.  
San José seems so Honduran.

San Nicolás at the Christmas celebration for poor kids in Santa Rosa, December 2010

In the face of violence - love

A major political leader who was openly opposed to drug trafficking and police corruption was recently killed. Two more journalists were killed this month in Honduras putting the number of journalists killed in the last two years at 19. A demonstration of journalists in Tegucigalpa was broekn up by the police with tear gas and violence.

What has the Honduran Congress done?

They are giving the military police powers.

They are justifying wiretapping.

They are, for six months, not allowing motorcyclists to carry passengers.

Go figure!

I, though, feel safe. Our part of the country is fairly tranquil, both in Santa Rosa and in the countryside, though crime and violence are not unheard of.

But the people I work with are very protective. When we got stranded late at night in my car way out in the countryside the four guys with me insisted on sleeping with me int he car instead of walking 45 minutes to sleep in their homes. The next morning they even sent someone to give me coffee and breakfast while I tried to get someone to fix the car.

And, most of all,  I still feel strongly that here is where God is calling me to be.

Perfect love casts out fear, according to 1 John 4:18. And that requires humility - willingness to put one's life in the hands of God and others. 

And here in Honduras this is not hard for me.

A carved image of Jesus at Caritas Santa Rosa de Copán

Monday, December 12, 2011

John’s “¿Marvellous?” Adventures: Food, Communion, and the beast (my pick up)

These last four days have turned out to be quite an eventful weekend.

As usual on the second Friday and Saturday of the month I went out to two different zone meetings in the parish. It's not that I really do a lot there, but it’s important to show interest and to talk with the people. It’s also a good chance to listen to what people are doing.

On Friday a few people asked me for a ride from El Limón, where we had been meeting.

Two of them worked in the clinic in El Limón. I asked them about problems, especially among children: pneumonia and colds, most of all. I also asked whether any of the communities they worked with were part of the project for infants and mothers, financed by Catholic Relief Services and administered by the diocesan Caritas office. She told me proudly that it had made a difference in the one community, Prado de la Cruz, where none of the infants were below the standard weight.

By the time we got to Dulce Nombre only one person was left and he asked for a ride to Santa Rosa. René is a young man from Agua Buena, Concepción, very involved with the work of the church in his village and the parish. I asked him about his village and he was proud to speak about it. It’s small, only twenty families and all of them are Catholic. They have two base communities and three catechists. They do some work with the youth and all except one seem to be on the straight and narrow; the one, from what I surmise, needs a little encouragement. Most of the people have land for basic grains as well as some coffee. They are involved in the parish’s basic grains harvest and are working on family gardens. The one drawback is that though the coffee prices are higher than two years ago, they still probably aren’t getting the best prices. As René told me they get about 480 lempiras for a lata – about 29to 30 pounds of coffee beans with the pulp removed. That’s less than one dollar a pound. But it is still good to find a  community that seems to be working together well.

Saturday it was raining by the time I got to El Zapote de Santa Rosa for the zone meeting there. Almost three days of rain made the area near the church very slippery and we spent a half an hour trying to get my pick up out of the mud – and I was in four wheel drive low! It finally worked when they got a rope and pulled it out of the mud. Ugh! But, again, the generosity of the people – getting muddy and exerting themselves for a stupid gringo who gets stuck in the mud!
Stuck in the mud in El Zapote

 The meeting  was not very well-attended, which is unusual for this zone. I think it was a combination of the lousy weather and muddy roads as well as a meeting at the parish center in Dulce Nombre.

I left early (and almost got stuck again in some mud) and decided to stop for a short time at the meeting. The parish has had a basic grains, garden and fruit project for more than two years, financed by the Spanish Catholic organization, Manos Unidas. The project will go on until August but it has made a lot of difference in some communities.  

Mauro, one of the team for the ag project,  with yucca

Today they were celebrating the successes of the project as well as awarding diplomas to those who had participated. (Here giving people a certificate at the end of a training is very important.) 

Part of the crowd

The parish hall was jammed with people. At the front was a table filled with some of the products they had produced. It was quite a diversity: plantains, yucca (cassava), papaya, squash, radishes, pataste, dulce de canela (raw sugar), oranges, tangerines, cilantro, mustard greens, green peppers, cabbage, and - what I never expected to find here – turnips. I’ll have to get some since one of the unusual dishes that my Aunt Mary used to serve at a post-Christmas meal my family often spent with them was mashed turnips.

How many of the products can you identify?

I left the parish before lunch because I’d been asked to show up as “San Nicolas/Santa Claus” at the Christmas party of the Santa Rosa campus of the Catholic University. For the past three years the university has invited poor kids from the city to their celebration and provided them with a meal and gifts.

San Nicolás also showed up at the parish meeting.

I arrived in the university parking lot in my muddy pickup wearing a red ISU hooded sweatshirt and a Santa Claus hat. I opened the door of the truck and at least twenty kids came running. “Santa, Santa,” they shouted, hugging and holding on to me.

There had been some miscommunication and there was already someone in a Santa costume, but that didn’t matter to the kids. A few asked me if I was Santa – I said I was his helper. That made sense.

I stayed around for a while as the kids broke open piñatas and dived for the candy. Then as they left the kids were given a small gift.

It’s good that something is done for these kids – at least once a year.

Saturday evening I had another surprise. Sister Nancy Meyerhofer. who ministers in Gracias with another Dubuque Franciscan, called. Returning from giving retreats in Guatemala she wouldn’t get to Santa Rosa in time for a bus to Gracias. So she came late and stayed until she got the 5:30 am bus on Sunday. We had a nice visit – a good ending to a full day.

I thought Sunday would not be a very busy day. I slept in till 8:15 (after getting up and taking Nancy to the 5:30 am bus). I washed clothes and did some grocery shopping.

In the afternoon I headed for Dolores where Bishop Santos consecrated the altar and installed the 17 extraordinary ministers of Communion for the parish and two who are now members of the parish of San Juan Bosco. It was a very important day for these men and women who’ve spent two years in the formation process.

The Mass was supposed to start at 5 pm, but people came early and music groups were playing in the church.

At about 5:00 pm most of the people went to  place about half a kilometer from the  church to greet the bishop when he entered town. 

Waiting for Monseñor Santos

The bishop arrived about 5:30 pm. He got out of the truck and walked with the people to the church led by a band from the local school. As he entered the church he was warmly greeted.

It is obvious that he is loved by the people. 

Monseñor Santos entering the church in Dolores

For a number of reasons the Mass didn’t begin until 7 pm.
The ministers were introduced before Mass: Padre Efraín introduces Gloria from Plan Grande

Mass was an incredible two and a half hour liturgy. Though my camera broke partway through the Mass, I did get two pictures of most of the communion ministers waiting for the opening procession.

five women extraordinary ministers of Communion

Thirteen of the men extraordinary ministers of Communion

The consecration of an altar is an impressive rite. The bishop anoints the altar with chrism and then lights a fire (in a pan) on top of the altar. Incense is liberally sprinkled over the coals. Candles for the communion ministers were lighted from the fire which was a very symbolic gesture - since they will be distributing the Eucharist, consecrated on altars such as this one.

Bishop Santos and Padre Efraín leading the Litany of the Saints during the consecration of the altar

After Mass I left, but not before Padre Efraín had asked me to drive one of the music groups – Los Lirios del Campo, the lilies of the field – to their distant village. It was late, about 10 pm,  and I don’t like to drive at night, because it would have been a very long walk for them.

But it ended up being a very long night for the four of them and me. Going up a hill about 25 minutes from Dulce Nombre the car stalled and wouldn’t start. I tried to back it down the hill but got the car stuck in a ditch. 

What did we end up doing? We tried to sleep in the car. I urged them to go home (about 45 minutes walking) but they insisted on staying and accompanying me. (The care these people take of crazy gringos like me is humbling.) It was not comfortable trying to sleep in the truck!

About 5:30 they ended up going on the way – and told me they’d send someone with breakfast. I told them I’d call my mechanic and see what he could do.

Well, several trucks passed by taking people to harvest coffee. One of them came back and tried to jump start the car. No luck. After talking with my mechanic in Santa Rosa I decided I’d try to contact a mechanic in Dulce Nombre and got a ride back to El Limon with Antonio, a coffee farmer with about 27 manzanas, about 45 acres. His wife gave me coffee and offered me breakfast as he and I tried to connect with a mechanic. No luck by phone, but a bus passed by and I took it to Dulce Nombre.

On the bus I sat next to a man and his son from El Limon. He tried to pay my bus fare – but I gave him the 20 lempiras (about $1.15).

I found a mechanic and we went to check out the car. The battery he brought ended up being not as powerful as needed and so, after a passing group helped push the car to turn it around, we push started the car. And what did he charge? 100 lempiras, a little more than five dollars. I couldn’t believe how cheap it was for his time and his fuel and gave him an over-generous tip.

Finally I got to Santa Rosa and went to the mechanic who works on vehicle electric systems. Sure enough, a major problem – a short circuit burnt out the alternator. Another expense.

In all this, I do feel somewhat jinxed in terms of the car. But above all, I feel a deep gratitude for the care of the people, which for me is the sign of God’s love.

I felt really awful trying to sleep in the car, but a prayer came to my heart that consoled me and gave me strength: “Me amas, Señor Jesús – You love me, Lord Jesus.”

As I reflect, the Lord was shown to me this weekend by many people – people with love for God and others, people willing to go out of the way to help, people who have made deep commitments to God and to the community.

Singing at Mass in Dolores

Thanks, God. This is what Advent is about – waiting in hope, being awake for the signs of God’s breaking into our lives in so many ways.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

El Mozote, El Salvador, massacre - 1981

Thirty years ago today, on December 11, 1981, the US-trained Atlacatl battalion killed close to 1000 civilians in the remote twon of El Mozote, Morazón, El Salvador. In the midst of the civil war many civilians had fled to this city int he hopes that it would be safe.

The massacre was merciless - women, children, elderly.

This evil was compounded by the lies of the Salvadoran and US governments that tried to cover up the killings.

But they came to light because one woman escaped to tell and two journalists had the courage to write about the truth.

I wrote a short meditation, Denouncing the massacre of El Mozote, on this today on another blog site. You can access it by clicking here.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Rain, baptisms, and more in Concepción

It’s been raining  constantly for almost 36 hours and might be raining for a few more days. It’s, as they say here, a “cold front.” And since it has also been in the 60s during the day and the 50s at night it has felt cold. (You have to remember that Santa Rosa de Copán is in the mountains of south west Honduras.)

This morning I decided to go out to the Mass and celebration of the feast of the Immaculate Conception in the municipality of Concepción.

It was raining and misty the whole way out about 8 am (and there was also a lot of fog when I returned to Santa Rosa at 1 pm).

Mass didn’t start until 10 am, though I thought it was supposed to start at 9. Anyway, I used the time to visit with people and to answer questions about the liturgy from some of the pastoral workers in Concepción.

Father Henry, the new associate in the parish of Dulce Nombre, celebrated the Mass – as well as two special sacramental celebrations. The music was good, led by La Gran Familia, a group from the village of Plan Grande, but the participation was weak. Yet it was quite the celebration.

There were six baptisms – a three month old infant, one boy about 10, and four girls between 7 and 11. Father Henry doesn’t believe in sacramental minimalism. He doused the young people with lots of water. 

Padre Henry emptied the water on the last one baptized, the boy!

 After they changed into their  “white” baptismal clothes, they were introduced to the community and embraced by Padre Henry.

Eight young people from Concepción made their First Communion at the Mass. They brought up the gifts at the offertory – including a statue of Mary, a bible and the bread and wine for the Eucharist. They stood around the altar with lighted candles.

The first communicants were the first to receive the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Christ. But Padre Henry did something I’ve never seen here before (but which I like).

Here communion under both species (bread and wine) is not common, though it happens a lot in the parish of Dulce Nombre using the form of intinction. The priest dips the host  in the chalice and places it on the tongue of those going to communion.

At today’s Mass Padre Henry gave the young people the host which they all took on the tongue. Then he passed the chalice to them so they could drink from the cup. It’s probably something the kids won’t forget.

After Mass, many of the people went outside, beside the church, for laying and blessing the first brick for a new church. The old church which has become too small will be replaced this year.

In the rain we stood around as prayers were said and three bricks were symbolically laid.

I hope the construction of a new church helps build up the church, the community,  in Concepción.

I left in the rain – glad to have been part of the life of another community in the parish of Dulce Nombre.

The next three days I’ll also be going out to the parish. On Friday and Saturday I’ll be going to two of the zonal meetings. On Sunday I’ll go to the 5 pm Mass in the municipality of Dolores. Bishop Santos is coming out to consecrate their altar as well as to install the twenty-some new Extraordinary Ministers of Communion for the parish. The ministers have gone through a two year process. It will be good for them to be able to distribute the Eucharist in their communities, especially sine there is such a great devotion to the Eucharist here.

Next week will be Monseñor Luis Alfonso Santos’ last week as bishop here in the diocese. On Saturday, December 17, the new bishop, Monseñor Darwin Andino, will be installed.

Monseñor Santos will be missed. I’m hoping to write a longer piece on him and his impact on the church here. We sat together for about an hour on Monday and talked.

I’ll give one hint on what I’ll write. I had a few questions that I had written and showed them to him before we started. One was “What are your dreams for the future?” Looking at the question, he remarked without forethought, “The Resurrection.”

Ah. That’s a bishop who is a pastor.


Just a note for liturgists. Inculturation occasionally means praying the Hail Mary immediately after the Our Father . Don’t get too upset, please. It’s a part of their piety!