Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Alianza Cívica and education

The Civic Alliance for Democracy (La Alianza Cívica por la Democracia) issued a statement on education almost two weeks ago. The Alianza Cívica is a grouping of persons and organizations of civil society - mostly here in western Honduras - which was formed several years ago and has spoken up strongly against the mining laws in Honduras. Its president is Monseñor Luis Alfonso Santos, bishop of the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán.

In light of the crisis I am publishing my translation below.



In light of the crisis in the educational system and its repercussions which can be seen in the children, to the detriment of the quality of the their future life, and in the society in general, we declare in the following manner:

Considering :

1. That the current confrontation between the Central Government and the Teachers has brought the nation to levels of ungovernability which contravene the spirit of life together and the respect fro human dignity.

2. That it is the obligation of the State according to article 157 of the Constitution of the Republic to direct and administer Public Education and that the Law of Instates for Community Participation for the Improvement of the Quality of Education does not fulfill the expectations of the major actors of the educational endeavor

3. That at the same time as the fiscal exonerations add up to more than 17 billion lempiras (according to FOSDEH) there is an economic crisis which puts at risk the educational system, these recourses would serve at fulfilling all the State’s obligations in regard to education which only needs about one billion.

4. That these initiatives come rooted in the recommendations of the World Bank, the International Development Bank, and the International Monetary Fund in its policies of reducing the scope of the State and its functions to the detriment of the poorest and so privilege the private sector in all that can be converted into financial gain, leaving an ominous result which already experience these efforts in Latin America.

5. That the demands of the Teachers are just in regard to the defense of their capital worth of their social security through IMPREMA, which was converted into a source of booty for politicians and a sector of business, who in bed with the teachers unions leadership have brought the funds into a state of ruin to the detriment of the teachers.

6. That the confrontation is leaving very precarious the respect for human dignity through the systematic violation of human rights in the repressive activities of the police which go beyond the limits of the use of force and which have taken the lives of 31 teachers since the coup d’état of June 28, 2009.

Taking all his into account and in virtue of the tremendous confusion of the population in regard to the themes of breaking-up, decentralization, privatization, municipalization, community participation in order to achieve citizen participation and to achieve the levels of efficiency in Education in the country which we know depend on a broad-based Social Pact which guarantees the stability of the same and guarantees the education as a right for Hondurans, we demand:

· The immediate and unconditional return of President Porphyries Lobo and the Leadership of the Teachers to a dialogue which is sincere and effective, leaving aside the hypocrisy, which permits the return of a normal functioning of the educational system.

· The suspension of the process which the President of Congress is leading concerning the Law of Initiatives for Community Participation.

· That a beginning be made toward the construction of a true Educational Social Pact which guarantees quality and free Public Education.

· The end of the police repression and the confinement of the Armed Forces to their barracks in conformity with constitutional rules.

The Civic Alliance for Democracy (La Alianza Cívica por la Democracia), committed to the sectors which are excluded from the society, is not going to stay at the sidelines of this ongoing crisis of governability.

Santa Rosa de Copán, March 23, 2011

Monseñor Luis Alfonso Santos

Bishop of Santa Rosa de Copán

and President of the Civic Alliance for Democracy (la Alianza Cívica por la Democracia)

The original Spanish can be found here at my Spanish blog.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The crisis deepens

The crisis in Honduras is getting more serious.

The strikes of the teachers continue. Some health workers were on strike yesterday, affecting 30% of the public institutions at least part of the day. There is continued use of tear gas and water cannons in Tegucigalpa. There are also several places in the country where the roads are blocked. Tomorrow the Resistance has called for a general strike.

The president has threatened to suspend or dismiss teachers who do not teach in the classroom. An analysis of this can be found here.

Today in Santa Rosa several high schools - teachers, students, and parents - marched in support of the teachers' demands. Below are several photos of students and teachers from the Instituto Alvaro Contreras in Santa Rosa, the most prestigious public school in the region. They were marching to the central square where other schools would be gathering.

"We demand solutions."

"The teacher in struggle is also working."

"No more silence."
"We demand respect for the law of the teacher."

"We demand respect for the law of the teacher."
"No more violence."
"Let us defend the public school."

"Honduras belongs to everyone."
"Let's rescue IMPREMA [the teachers' pension fund organization]"

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Honduras - between pain and hope

The last three weeks I’ve been rather busy – first with a student from American University doing some research on the role of liberation theology in the church in Honduras, then with the group from Saint Thomas Aquinas Church in Ames, Iowa, and then with a horrendous cold that left me almost speechless on Monday and Tuesday of last week and drained all week. On Friday and Saturday I had a major role in the retreat for pastoral workers in the parish of Dulce Nombre (with over 100 participants). Father Efraín Romero, the pastor, gave a few talks, heard confessions, and celebrated Mass Friday evening. Sor Pedrina led a number of prayer services and gave a few talks. I had to give four talks, lead the morning prayer service, and lead one activity. Luckily my voice held out - but barely so.

Yet, outside of this part of Honduras the situation has been rather tempestuous the past three weeks. The teachers have been on strike for a number of reasons – unpaid salaries, the looting of their pension fund by the government, and fears that a proposed law will privatize education. See here for a good discussion of the proposed law.

I don’t claim to understand the issues. The teachers’ unions are very strong and very combative. They have not been fairly treated by the government, especially in terms of salary and pension commitments. Many of the schools do not have sufficient supplies for the students. But the teachers’ strikes have left many children with less than 200 days of school in the last two years. (However, it should be noted that in 2009 the policies of the de facto coup government of Micheletti should be held responsible for any number of the days lost.) There are also some teachers who abuse their positions (some of which are like tenured positions) and only teach three days a week. But there are many devoted teachers who work – despite not getting paid, despite the lack of sufficient materials, sometimes teaching two, three, and even six grades in rural areas.

But what is saddening and distressing about the strike is the intransigence of President Lobo. The president is threatening to fire any teachers who do not get back to work by April 4.

Even more distressing are the repressive tactics used by the government. I cannot give first-hand testimony to the repression since it is, thank God, still fairly tranquil here in Santa Rosa. But this Sunday morning at Mass in San Martín Church in Santa Rosa de Copán, Padre Fausto Milla railed against the indiscriminate use of tear gas in Tegucigalpa. It is being thrown inside enclosed spaces, buildings which some of the teachers are occupying. Already one teacher has been killed and who knows how many others injured.

Because of all this the Resistance is calling for a national work stoppage – a paro – this coming Wednesday. We will see what this brings.

Yet I must add that Friday and Saturday were real days of blessing for me. Though I only knew what talks I had to give on the retreat on Friday morning at 7:00 am, God inspired me enough to be able to share a few words with the more than 100 pastoral workers gathered in the Dulce Nombre church.

They came from near and far – many walking several hours to get to the church on time: men, women, a good smattering of young people, and a few kids accompanying their parents. The cooks had quite a task and fed us all; since there is as yet no dining room, people ate wherever they could. (Thank God it was not raining.)

After lunch on Saturday, I headed out to Piedras Coloradas with people from that village. Four people fit into the cabin and about 7 were in the bed. But we all made it safely to our destinations. One of the surprises was passing through the village of Quebraditas with its new, still-unfinished pink church.

In all it took about an hour to drive to Piedras Coloradas from Dulce Nombre, stopping three times to let people off at other villages on the way. Piedras Coloradas is one of the villages I plan to work with on a pilot project to help the village work together to better their community. It was identified by the parish council as one of the poorest villages in the parish.

There are only 14 families in the village and a one teacher school for the 25 or so kids studying there from kindergarten to sixth grade. They have water, but the water source is not quite sufficient for their needs. They have no electricity, but they have gotten together to pay for a study and have raised their mandated contribution to the project. They hope the municipality and other agencies will be able to help them finish it in the near future.

Juventina, Julio Alonso, and Julio César, pastoral workers in the village, showed me their simple church, dedicated to San Antonio de Padua. (I mentioned to them that I started my mission here in Honduras on June 13, 2007, the feast of Saint Anthony.)

I visited with a few people and, as almost always in the countryside, I was offered food and drink. I drank two cups of café de palo (coffee from the family’s coffee plants) and was offered two hand-made baleadas (a Honduran specialty of a folded flour tortilla with beans and cheese inside). I could only eat one. But I noticed that other visitors on their way to a town ten minutes up the mountains were also given coffee and baleadas. The generosity of the poor.

After about an hour and a half talking with some of the people I headed out – but not without gifts: homemade cuajada (a type of cheese), a bunch of majonchos (a type of thick short plantain), and a bunch of datiles (small finger-sized bananas). A woman I stopped to talk with as I walked down to my car offered me patastes (a sort of hard squash); I gently refused the offer since I already had enough gifts from the community.

The ride back was fairly uneventful, except for the need to stop and put the pickup in four wheel drive on a steep hill.

The scenery was gorgeous, but what I most remembered as I drove the 90 minutes back to Santa Rosa was the tasty baleada in Julio’s house, a “breaking of bread” that filled my stomach and my spirit.

A letter written by Father Juan Polanco for St. Ignatius Loyola to the Jesuits in Padua reads: "Friendship with the poor makes us friends of the eternal King." I pray that I may continue to be so blessed.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Romero's advice to Carter and Obama

Tuesday, March 22, US President Barak Obama visited the tomb of martyred Salvadoran archbishop, Monseñor Oscar Arnulfo Romero.

In the light of US policy to Honduras, including increased military and police aid, in the face of continuing corruption, oppression and massive poverty in Honduras, remembering as well the continuing US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the military bombardment of Libya, it might be helpful to read again the letter that Monseñor Romero wrote to Carter on February 17, 1980. I hope President Obama will read it.

San Salvador 

February 17, 1980
His Excellency 

The President of the United States

Mr. Jimmy Carter

Dear Mr. President:

In the last few days, news has appeared in the national press that worries me greatly. According to the reports, your government is studying the possibility of economic and military support and assistance to the present government junta.

Because you are a Christian and because you have shown that you want to defend human rights, I venture to set forth for you my pastoral point of view in regard to this news and to make a specific request of you.

I am very concerned by the news that the government of the United States is planning to further El Salvador’s arms race by sending military equipment and advisers to “train three Salvadoran battalions in logistics, communications, and intelligence.” If this information from the papers is correct, instead of favoring greater justice and peace in El Salvador, your government’s contribution will undoubtedly sharpen the injustice and the repression inflicted on the organized people, whose struggle has often been for respect for their most basic human rights.

The present government junta and, especially, the armed forces and security forces have unfortunately not demonstrated their capacity to resolve in practice the nation’s serious political and structural problems. For the most part, they have resorted to repressive violence, producing a total of deaths and injuries much greater than under the previous military regime, whose systematic violation of human rights was reported by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

The brutal form in which the security forces recently evicted and murdered the occupiers of the headquarters of the Christian Democratic Party, even though the junta and the party apparently did not authorize the operation, is an indication that the junta and the Christian Democrats do not govern the country, but that political power is in the hands of unscrupulous military officers who know only how to repress the people and favor the interests of the Salvadoran oligarchy.

If it is true that last November a “group of six Americans was in El Salvador…providing $200,000 in gas masks and flak jackets and teaching how to use them against demonstrators,” you ought to be informed that it is evident that since the security forces, with increased personal protection and efficiency, have even more violently repressed the people, using deadly weapons.

For this reason, given that as a Salvadoran and archbishop of the archdiocese of San Salvador, I have an obligation to see that faith and justice reign in my country, I ask you, if you truly want to defend human rights:
  • to forbid that military aid be given to the Salvadoran government;
  • to guarantee that your government will not intervene directly or indirectly, with military, economic, diplomatic, or other pressures, in determining the destiny of the Salvadoran people.
In these moments, we are living through a grave economic and political crisis in our country, but it is certain that increasingly the people are awakening and organizing and have begun to prepare themselves to manage and be responsible for the future of El Salvador, as the only ones capable of overcoming the crisis.

It would be unjust and deplorable for foreign powers to intervene and frustrate the Salvadoran people, to repress them and keep them from deciding autonomously the economic and political course that our nation should follow. It would be to violate a right that the Latin American bishops, meeting at Puebla, recognized publicly when we spoke of “the legitimate self-determination of our peoples, which allows them to organize according to their own spirit and the course of their history and to cooperate in a new international order” (Puebla, 505).

I hope that your religious sentiments and your feelings for the defense of human rights will move you to accept my petition, thus avoiding greater bloodshed in this suffering country.

Oscar A. Romero



The photo is of the little house where Monseñor Romero lived on the grounds of the Divina Providencia Hospital (a cancer hospital for indigent patients) in San Salvador.

I have also posted Romero's letter to Carter in Spanish on my Spanish blog. Click here.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Inaugurating an airport

For several years people in the area of the Dulce Nombre de María parish in Copán have looked forward to the possibility of an airport near the town of Concepción.

Saturday, March 19, between three and five thousand people gathered at the site of the airport, in the words of Monseñor Luis Alfonso Santos, to inaugurate the airport, to “reactivate” the airfield which was abandoned at the site in the 1970s. The main event was a Mass.

I won’t try to explain the history and the recent conflicts about establishing an airport in this region. There are powerful economic and political forces which are seeking to place an airport in another location just north of Concepción. There are four very good blog entries on Honduras Culture and Politics which can be found here and here and here and here.

Arrows pointing out the route were posted in Dulce Nombre and Concepción on Friday and the roads from Dulce Nombre to Concepción to the airport site were fixed, with big potholes filled in and the road smoothed.

People arrived on foot, in buses, in cars and pickups, and even in a big cattle carrier truck.

There were children in arms, people in wheelchairs, the bishop and three priests, the mayors of Dulce Nombre, Concepción, and Santa Rosa de Copán, as well as the vice-mayor of San Agustin. Among those present were several who remembered using the airport or going to visit it as a child. One man told me that TACA and SAHSA airlines landed there, as had a woman a few days earlier. I wondered about that but there was a 1958 photo of a plane that had been damaged that they were trying to take on a trailer through Dulce Nombre. The people also brought two of the tires!

The Regional Committee for the Airport in Concepción – whose president is Bishop Santos – had called for the celebration with a Mass as the central action. The parish played a major role in convoking the people.

When I arrived I saw that they had leveled off a landing strip which is about a kilometer long. Kids were racing their bikes on it. Monseñor in his homily noted that this is larger than the land

What is also interesting is that from the field you can see the San Andrés Gold Mine – another contentious point in the diocese.

About ten thirty the musical group began singing religious songs to animate the people. At about 11:20 the bishop started Mass.

In his sermon the bishop noted that they had invited President Pepe Lobo and Juan Orlando Hernández, the president of the National Congress. Hernández told the bishop that though he was at a meeting in Ocotopeque he would try to get there. He also told the bishop that he would push for the airport and the road to from the airport Santa Rita to provide access to the Mayan Ruins near Copán Ruinas as well as for the necessary legislative decrees to establish an Association with joint public and private support for the airport, something the regional committee was suggesting.

The bishop applauded the cooperation which exists between the Catholic Church and the municipal corporations on this issue, and the initiative of Concepción to donate 40 manzanas for the project.

Monseñor Santos has a lot of connections with political and military leaders, partly because of his years in Tegucigalpa as a teacher and later the rector of the Salesians’ high school, San Miguel, one of the best schools for males in the country with many of the elite as its alumni.

He tried using multiple contacts to try to get a military plane to land during the celebration. But the effort started too late but he did get four colonels to support the airport in Concepción.

Lest anyone think the bishop has changed into a “golpista,” he placed his remarks in an interesting context.

The Virgin of Suyapa is the patron of Honduras and she is also considered a patron of the military. Some call her the “captain” of the armed forces. But, said Monseñor Santos, captain means “guide,” and Mary does not have a place in the military hierarchy.

He spoke of being in solidarity with the Armed Forces – in all that is good. But he told the military to avoid repression and torture, to never aid the economic powers in the country, and not be disposed to help coups d’état.

In the light of the current events where the police and military have violently responded to teachers’ demonstrations with tear gas and water cannons, resulting in at least one death, those words were quite pointed, perhaps especially for the 15 or so police there and the 20 or so military present at the airfield.

The bishop said that “we in the west of Honduras have the reputation of being poor,” but he noted that there are rich in the area who recognize that there are riches here. But even more, he said, “It could be that we are poor, but we are people of faith.” Recalling the words of Jesus, “Nothing is impossible for those who have faith,” he called for going forward on the project with faith and intelligence.

After Mass, many people ate and left, though many remained in hopes of greeting Juan Orlando Hernández, who we thought would arrive about 2 pm.

The event was, many felt, a success, bringing out a great crowd and showing support for an airport in Concepción. The spirit was great and I was delighted to greet many people I know in the parish, even some from remote villages.

There were only two things that lessened the joy and excitement of the day for me.

Juan Orlando Hernández arrived a about 3:50 and stayed for less than five minutes. He had told the bishop on the phone that he had other engagements. The helicopter landed and Hernández went to speak with the bishop. He told the bishop that this project would “also” go forward. Does that mean that he considers that there could be two airports - one in Concepción and the other in Rio Amarillo? The bishop though thinks that Hernández had promised him twice that morning to push – impulsar – the Concepción airport. But what is sad is that though people waited more than two hours, Hernández could not take more than a few minutes to talk with the bishop and the authorities. Political leaders ought to be responsive to the people.

The other is not related to the airport issue but is reveals a major problem of the country. While we were waiting for Hernández a few guys on four wheel All Terrain Vehicles were riding around. At one point in the midst of an area with lots of people, including kids, they started doing wheelies and going around in circles at high speeds. A policeman was right there. I was afraid for the kids in the face the recklessness of these guys. I told the police to do something – very loudly and forcefully. I was mad. After they had done it a few times he said something to the major offender. The guy took off but returned and proceeded to do the same thing while the policeman did absolutely nothing. I was enraged and shouted at him. I then went to one of the leaders of the event who made a public announcement asking the police to watch out for acts that endanger others. Police should protect the people, especially children – but did nothing. (I also wonder that if I ever encounter the same policeman at a roadblock he may give me a hard time.)

And so today the people of Dulce Nombre, Concepción, Dolores, and San Agustín took a firm public stand.

Will their pleas be heard by politicians? And will police promote the protection and common good of the people?


Other photos can be found at my Flickr site in the set Concepción, Copán, aeropuerto.

Addendum: On Monday, March 21, the Honduran newspaper La Prensa reported that there were 4,000 participants.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Ah — the children

This week I am hosting a group from St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Ames – three undergraduate women, a high school young woman and her father.

We will be spending much of their ten days in the parish of Dulce Nombre, but I always try to make sure they have a chance to do some activities with children, in Santa Rosa de Copán as well as in the parish of Dulce Nombre.

I usually take the students to three places in Santa Rosa where I have done some volunteering, not as much recently as in the past.

One place that really touches the heart is Hogar San José, run by the Missionaries of Charity, for malnourished children under 5 years of age. We spent two hours here on Saturday afternoon. One of the workers noted that I hadn’t been around for quite some time. I may have to try to get there about once a month.

I also saw a little girl who never had strength in her legs. She seemed to suffer several other afflictions. She was the only child I recognized and she was walking and talking. She was delightful to talk to and play with.

Another place we went is the village of Plan Grande, in the municipality of Concepción, Copán. This is a village that has a special place in my heart – along with at least another ten in the parish of Dulce Nombre. It’s where the first St. Thomas spring break trip helped fill the foundations of their church. It’s also a community whose religious education classes have responded to St. Thomas’ religious ed classes – sending back and forth drawings and greetings.

We arrived on Sunday afternoon and Gloria showed us around the church. We then went into the religious ed class for 5 to 9 year olds, which was ending. I spoke with them and then we went out and played a few games on the grass in front of Gloria’s house. Two of our group taught the kids “Duck, Duck, Goose,” which went over very well. I, of course, made up a few games and exercises for the kids to do, delightfully making a fool of myself.

Monday we were going to the kindergarten in the Colonia Divina Providencia, one of the poorest neighborhoods in Santa Rosa de Copán. It was closed because some of the teachers were on strike and the kindergarten teacher was sick, We ending up visiting a few kids in one of the houses of a group homes project.

We finally went to the Comedor de Niños, the lunch program for kids started by the bishop more than two years ago. The group brought down vitamins collected by children in religious education at St. Thomas. The kids were very happy to see that many of the vitamins were the gummy bear kind!

There were lots of kids today, at times all the tables were filled.

As I walked in one of the kids ran up and hugged me. He’s a very provocative kid, one I thought will probably end up in trouble. But he’s craving affection. Well, I found out that he had spent a night in jail, accused of stealing a bicycle. He says that someone else did it and blamed him, but who knows. But here is a kid, poor, not going to school, but needing love.

I wish I could do more but right now I don’t find it possible, What I can do is continue to be present to him at the comedor and try to encourage him.

There are other kids at the comedor who are very courteous and, as the cooked says, educados – educated. They are a joy to be with. We even spent some time trying to speak some English with three young guys. They seemed quite intelligent. Whether they will have any real opportunities to develop their capabilities is a big question.

And so the children again remind me of the needs of the poor – as well as the richness of this nation. Many kids are welcome, open to new experiences, tolerant of a crazy gringo, and affectionate; others are apt to fall into crime, having nothing, looking for something; and there are those who have great potential but who knows their chances of realizing that potential?

What can we do to help them all?

Friday, March 11, 2011

The future of Honduras is with the poor

Today I headed to San Pedro Sula to welcome five members of Saint Thomas Aquinas parish in Ames, Iowa. They’ll be spending ten days here, mostly getting to know the work of the parish of Dulce Nombre de María in Dulce Nombre de Copán and helping in a small project in the village of San Juan, Concepción, in the parish.

I’ve been busy not only doing my regular work in the parish and in Caritas but also showing a student around so she can do a study on liberation theology and the church’s response to the coup.

Thursday I was able to go with her to one of Caritas’ Schools of Democracy and Participation. These schools, which have five sessions, are being shared in nine places in the diocese and bring together people from almost all the parishes. The participants return to their parish and share the “school” with other parishioners. It’s a real attempt to help people become aware of their possibilities and responsibilities to transform Honduras, or, as they say, to “refound Honduras.”

Manuel, the facilitator of the session, is a marvelous popular teacher, engaging the participants in the learning process. But the participants are astounding, most of them campesinos who work in the fields to sustain their families. Some of them walked three or four hours from their villages to get to where they could take busses to get to the program.

But their ability to analyze was impressive. This was the fifth session of their “school,” and so they have talked about their dignity as children of God, their human rights, the government of Honduras and the current crisis. But what especially impressed me was the way that they and Manuel so often made references – overt and subtle – to scripture. For them scripture is central in their lives – personally and socially.

This intimate knowledge of scripture has astounded me since I got here. They can often cite chapter and verse and they seek to live it. Of course, these are folks who have a commitment to their faith and there are many who hardly ever cross the threshold of a church. But these are people who will walk hours to get to a meeting. And they will participate with enthusiasm - often sharing hymns that reflect a faith that does justice.

Many of them are also committed to share what they have learned with others. In many parishes the workshops on political formation as well as the workshops on Catholic Social Teaching are being repeated by the people who have come to the deanery meetings.

If Honduras is to experience a real change, these are the efforts that will help bring it about since they work from the base – small base communities in remote villages.


Interesting footnote: This is my 400th post on Hermano Juancito.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Lent in Honduras

Lent begins tomorrow with Ash Wednesday. If all goes well, I'll get up early and go to the 6:00 am Mass at the Catholic radio station to be signed with ashes.

This is the fourth Lent I've spent here in Honduras. It's hard to know how to "celebrate" Lent here. I live fairly well - with enough food and a comfortable place to live in Santa Rosa.

But the people I work with in the countryside struggle each day to survive. Yet when I visit they always offer me food enough to eat. Many times I have to say to them, "Just a little."

I also occasionally I have to explain that I don't eat meat (or else they would kill a chicken to feed me). I tell them that I have enough protein and want to leave the meat protein for them. (And that is why I became a vegetarian in 1976.)

What will I do? A little more prayer and attentiveness. A little more time directly with the people in the countryside. Eating a little less. But mostly a time to share more with the poor.

These words of Monseñor Oscar Romero in a homily he gave on March 2, 1980, just weeks before his martyrdom, speak to me as I begin this Lent.
This Lent, which we observe amid blood and sorrow, ought to presage a transfiguration of our people, a resurrection of our nation. The church invites us to a modern form of penance, of fasting and prayer – perennial Christian practices, but adapted to the circumstances of each people.

Lenten fasting is not the same thing in those lands where people eat well as is a Lent among our third-world peoples, undernourished as they are, living in a perpetual Lent, always fasting. For those who eat well, Lent is a call to austerity, a call to give away in order to share with those in need. But in poor lands, in homes where there is hunger, Lent should be observed in order to give to the sacrifice that is everyday life the meaning of the cross.

But it should not be out of a mistaken sense of resignation. God does not want that. Rather, feeling in one’s own flesh the consequences of sin and injustice, one is stimulated to work for social justice and a genuine love for the poor. Our Lent should awaken a sense of social justice.

Let us observe our Lent thus, giving our sufferings, our bloodshed, our sorrow the same value that Christ gave to his own condition of poverty, oppression, abandonment, and injustice. Let us change all that into the cross of salvation that redeems the world and our people. And with hatred for none, let us be converted and share both joys and material aids, in our poverty, with those who may be even needier.


The quotation from Romero is taken from The Violence of Love, a compilation of quotes from Archbishop Romero by Father James Brockman, S.J., published by Orbis Books.

The photo is of a crucifix found in a chapel in the parish center in Erandique, Lempira, Honduras.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

What I've been up to

February was a busy month, mostly working with the diocesan office of Cáritas, meeting with organizations and with staff about projects for this year.

Communion ministers training

I did, though, have a chance to work one morning with about forty Dulce Nombre parishioners, half of whom are in the two year formation program to be commissioned next year as extraordinary ministers of communion. Yes, it's a two year program. They take being communion ministers very seriously

I was asked to review the order of the Mass. I wasn’t going to talk at them and so I decided to use a sort of puzzle with four groups working together to put the parts in order. It worked very well.

This has been one of the challenges I have here – designing learning processes that are active since most of the people have six years of education or less. It has also been a lot of fun.

Diocesan Social Ministry Assembly

Monday and Tuesday of this week I was at the Diocesan Social Ministry assembly. The attendance was disappointing – there was representation of only 14 of the 43 parishes in the diocese. I don’t know what happened.

Much of the time was taken with discussion of the work of the diocese. But there were a few very interesting moments.

The Constitutional Convention

There was some talk of the constitutional convention (Asamblea Nacional Constituyente) which is being advocated by the Resistance. In the conversation these are some of the thoughts which emerged:
  • The problem of Honduras will not be solved with the constitutional assembly.
  • It is important not to lose the horizonte, the horizon, while calling for a constitutional convention, which is a cry for the refounding of the country.
  • The refounding of the country is a process - not of two years, but of twenty or thirty years. That’s why it’s better to work for a new constitution than to resort to violence.


A concern that came up was the increasing crime in our region and throughout the country. I wrote about an incident of a killing in the parish a few weeks ago. A related problem is the growth of drug-trafficking.

But now it appears that the government is going to do something – but I’m not sure it’s all that good. President Lobo announced this week that he is going to send the military out to assist the police. They are already out there. I have seen soldiers with the Transit Police on the roads, where the police stop cars at random, ask for drivers’ licenses and car registration. Occasionally vehicles are searched.

The US is also going to involve itself in this, joint military exercises with the Honduran military and will provide aid to efforts against drug trafficking and organized crime. Some are talking about a Plan Honduras in the style of Plan Colombia which has hardly worked for Colombia.

But one problem is that some police are corrupt and many more are inefficient.

Some police look the other way when a crime is committed if the perpetrators are people with power. Some look for bribes.

Some don’t really care about crime when it doesn’t affect them or people with economic or political power. There is also, at times, a reluctance by the police to get involved.

In at least one case, when someone had made an official complaint of a crime naming the perpetrators, police have been known to say, “Why don’t you kill him yourself?” “Mátalo usted.

I’ve also heard a report a few years ago that someone called the police in Santa Rosa when there was an intruder in her house. The police asked her if she had a gun to shoot him!

Pastoral Ministry at work

Tuesday afternoon the participants shared what they are dong in their parishes. The wide variety of activities was impressive.

Some people are trying to address the problem of alcoholism with helping establish Alcoholic Anonymous groups and promoting dry laws that would prohibit the sale of alcohol (especially moonshine) in their villages. Others are working on environmental issues with educational programs, rubbish collection and recycling programs, reforestation, and efforts to enforce logging laws. Others are promoting workshops at the parish level on Catholic Social Teaching as well as training in political advocacy. There are parish agricultural efforts promoting family gardens, making and use of silos, workshops on natural medicine and making organic fertilizers. Then there are visits to the sick, to prisoners, and in one area a house for returning migrants.

It’s impressive what is done.

I had to leave before the planning for the year, because I had to get to a meeting in San Salvador. I look forward to see what they hope to do this year.


But I will remember our experience on Tuesday night when we watched the film Gandhi.

I had forgotten how Gandhi’s message of resistance to evil nonviolently based in spiritual values comes across very strongly in the film.

I had also forgotten how the film shows Gandhi’s responses to injustice in very creative ways that challenge authorities. In one scene Gandhi in South Africa, in the face of the police, is inviting people to join him in burning their pass-cards. His responses to the police chief elicited quiet laughter from the participants in the assembly. After Gandhi was beaten and struck to the ground, Gandhi keeps gathering up the passes to throw them in the fire. In response he is beaten. His courage was greeted with quiet laughter, delighted as he refused to give in.

At other points in the movie there were similar responses. I think many of those present caught the creative power of Gandhi’s nonviolent resistance as a type of moral jujitsu. Their laughter was one of recognition of the need to respond to oppression and violence and of Gandhi’s courageous and creative responses.

But one person said it all, in a phrase I love, “Es completo.” He's got it all together.

I think Gandhi was about refounding India. He did it by promoting swaraj (self-rule), independence, equality of all (even the untouchable), the importance of a constructive program of self-development, and a deep spirituality.

I’m glad we watched the movie. I wish we had time to discuss it, but there will be other times to do that. My hope is that the power of Gandhian resistance to evil becomes better known here, as people seek to re-found the country.