Saturday, April 30, 2011

The struggle for land - 1991 and now

“God left humans on the earth to share it
and to live in peace.”
Felipe Huete
from El Astillero: Massacre y Justicia
In my ministry in the parish of Dulce Nombre and in visits with campesinos there and in other parts of the diocese, the issue of land ownership often comes to the fore. So many people here have an acre or so for coffee but have to rent land to grow the corn and beans they need to sustain their lives – and much of this is marginal land on hillsides.

In the meantime, much of the best land – in the valleys – is used for cattle grazing and other agricultural projects owned by a few land owners who live in nearby towns and cities or even as far away Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula.

Field in Santa Bárbara
According to a recent report I read 70% of the Honduran campesinos lack land. 3% of the land owners control 70% of the arable land. This is worse than the situation was before 1990 when 50% of the campesinos lacked land.

Hillside in Santa Bárbara

 On May 3, 1991, Felipe Huete, a delegate of the words, two family members and two others, were killed while trying to enter lands that had been usurped by a colonel of the Honduras armed forces, in El Astillero, Agua Caliente de Leán, in the municipality of Arizona, in the northern department of Atlantida, Honduras. 
Felipe became an active leader in his local church, a delegate of the word, one authorized by the parish to lead Celebrations of the Word in villages when there was no priest available. The movement of Delegates of the Word began in the diocese of Choluteca in the mid-1960s.

Felipe and his family had emigrated from the southern Honduran department of Choluteca, in response to church leaders who were helping people to populate the village of El Astillero near the north coast. The Church in Choluteca also named Felipe the coordinator of the eight groups who came from the south. He became actively involved in the church in his new home and a leader of those who sought land to sustain their families, land they believed was legally theirs.

In 1975 INA, the Honduran National Agrarian Institute, had given 75 manzanas (about 126 acres) to a group that had organized it.  But it had been illegally sold several times to various people, finally ending up in the hands of Colonel Leonel Galindo.

After he had settled in El Astillero, Felipe Huete’s house was searched at least once by the military who accused him of being a Nicaraguan subversive.

In mid 1990,  an official of the Public Security Force in Mezapa told Felipe and others, “Don’t enter those lands because they belong to Colonel Leonel Galindo.” In the first months of 1991, four unknown assailants machine-gunned Felipe and two others. On May 1, three campesinos receive death threats from military bodyguards. One of them, putting the barrel of his machine gun in Ciriaco Huete’s mouth, told him: “We know the day and the hour when you’ll enter the colonel’s land, a trickle of guts (intestines) will be left there because the colonel is not going to lose the 45 thousand lempiras he has invested." 

On May 3, according to the survivors, an army unit surrounded the campesinos as they sought to enter the land they claimed, and the soldiers unleashed their weapons. They killed five, including Felipe Huete.

Four thousand campesinos came to the site of the killing for a Mass presided over by the bishop of San Pedro Sula and eight priests. 
A statement from the diocese of Choluteca read: “They died, having opted for life, on the feast of the Holy Cross which symbolizes the victory of Christ over death.”

A document signed by Bishop Luís Alfonso Santos of Copán and representatives to the national team for the Celebration of the Word recalls the faith that motivated Felipe Huete:
“The biblical texts chosen by Felipe for the celebration [May 3, entitled ‘From Injustice to Justice’] touched directly on his own situation. On the one hand, he was inspired by the tremendous hope of owning land, not only for himself (Gen. 15:18 and Matt. 5: 1-4). On the other hand, he experienced the strength Christians feel in the midst of persecution and threats from the colonel’s bodyguards: ‘I say to you, my friends, don’t be afraid of those who kill the body and can do no more. I tell you whom you should fear — fear the one who after killing has the power to cast you into hell. Yes, I repeat, fear that one.’”
The circumstances of Felipe Huete’s death call to mind what is happening  today in another part of Honduras, Bajo Aguan, where campesinos are seeking land to sustain their families. There several extremely wealthy investors, including the Honduras Miguel Facusse, lay claim to land that they are using for growing African palms, but which they most likely obtained in underhanded, probably illegal, deals. The situation is complex. But 19 campesinos have been killed there  between January 2010 and early March 2011; in April two more were killed, one of whom was beheaded.  

Land ownership is an international problem as those who seek to sustain their lives find themselves without land while a few with money buy up land and use it to enrich themselves.  As the prophet Micah (2:1-2) wrote more than 2700 years ago,
Woe to those who plan iniquity, and work out evil on their couches;
In the morning light they accomplish it when it lies within their power.
They covet fields, and seize them; houses, and they take them;
They cheat an owner of his house, a man of his inheritance.

And, as blessed Pope John Paul II said in Brazil on July 4, 1980:
The earth is a gift of God, a gift He made for all humanity, men and women, whom he wishes united in a single family, joined together with each other with a fraternal spirit. It is not just, then, because it is not in agreement with God’s plan, to use this gift in such a way that the benefits favor only a very few, leaving excluded the others, the vast majority.
"The land for those who work it" is a slogan I've seen in several places in Central America. Sadly it is not a reality for millions of campesinos here and throughout the world.


Parts of this entry are translated and adapted from Elias Ruiz,  El Astillero: Masacre y Justicia (Editorial Guaymuras, 1992) and the page on Felipe Huete in the Latin American martyrology of Servicios Koinonia.

Addendum: A portion of the book mentioned above,  El Astillero,  is available here on Scribd.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Structures of sin and injustice in Honduras

The last few days I’ve had visitors from a Microloan program in La Unión, Lempira, talked with two of the leaders of a program for infant and maternal health, accompanied a follow-up meeting with leaders of the Caritas school for governability and participation, and finished a book on Honduras. A number of items have led me to think a little more deeply about problems here.

Honduras has received a lot of international help.

Non-governmental organizations abound, especially in this part of the country. Evangelicals send about 50,000 “missionaries” a year to Honduras, many of them involved in social projects – health brigades, construction groups, etc. The government has received a lot of money in the pas from the US and from other nations. The June 2009 coup cut back some of these projects, but many have been restored and there is continuing news of loans and grants to the Honduran government from international banks.

But poverty continues. A trip on beautiful back roads yesterday could not hide the wretched housing we saw at the side of the roads, amidst large fields reserved for cattle grazing and sugar cane and tall grass, probably owned by the richest men in Honduras.

Many people I know are very concerned about what is called “assistencialismo,” aid that merely provides hand-outs to help people meet immediate needs. At times this results in people and communities who look for a handout and expect aid to come freely, with no strings attached.

Why this attitude?

In part some of this is due to the groups that provide assistance. I don’t want to badmouth all aid efforts, but there are some disturbing trends. At times they come with their solutions which might not be related to the problems the people feel and experience. At time these groups compete with each other to make sure that their projects continue to be funded. The lack of coordination is problematic. At times they come with their agenda – whether it be evangelization or clean energy. At times they do not ask for assistance from the recipients of their charity.

But I think much of the problem is due to the political system. Though there are small parties the two major parties, the National and the Liberal, really control the political system. And they control it in ways that often benefit the party, its officials, and its party activists, rather than the common good. When they campaign they offer projects for communities, as a way to try to buy their votes. So when they get into power they reward those who campaigned for them with government jobs or contracts.

And so the people expect to be rewarded by the party in power. And many partisan political leaders and their activists use the money.

And so some people develop a taste for free money, free projects, and more.

But it also leads to politicians who do not allocate funding to meet human needs but to reward their backers.

Wednesday on the way to a meeting on leaders of the Caritas schools for governability and participation we had to find a back roads route to get around a road block, a toma de la carretera, in the aldea “6 de mayo.”

The back road was beautiful and, although we had a flat tire on the way back in the midst of a traffic jam on a one lane muddy road, the trip was good. And we experienced the helpfulness of some Hondurans who just took the changing of the tire into their hands and left us watching.

Toma de carretera,  6 de mayo, Santa Bárbara, Honduras
The main highway was occupied by several thousand people from 6 am to 4 pm, sponsored by PRO, Patronato Regional de Occidente, the Western Regional Organization. PRO represents about 200 communities in 15 municipalities in the departments of Copán and Santa Bárbara. There are more than 400 projects that the national government promised to develop – health, education, highway paving, water, and electric – but have not been carried out. Other issues PRO raised include the need for new land reform legislation, the right of public education and public health, and the rising prices for fuel and the basic food items. PRO is open to negotiation with the government but decided to go to the streets to exert pressure. Governments have the responsibility to respond to the needs of the people, especially the poor, especially in terms of infrastructure and access to basic needs. PRO, as I see it, is trying to hold the government responsible.

Denys receiving a certificate of participation in Caritas' school
When we got to San Marcos, Santa Bárbara, we met with leaders from six parishes who participated in Caritas’ Schools for Governability and Participation. They reported on their efforts to pass on the formation they had received on human dignity, human rights, the government and constitution of Honduras, the proposal for a National Constitutional Convention, and more. Some have had training sessions or are planning them for the future. Most have incorporated what they learned on short sessions with parish groups and base communities. One person used what he had learned to develop one of the stations of the cross in his parish. They talked about the fear or reluctance of some to discuss the topics, since the people so often identify politics with the two-party patronage system. But one person through his careful workshop opened a group of parish leaders to consider the issues more. The participants also decided that they would all help a Saturday program on these issues on the local Catholic radio station, taking turns traveling to the station to participate in the broadcast.

But this is not without risk. One participant told of the presence of "orejas," spies, in the meetings who report back to government leaders.

And so there are examples of people working together for the good of their communities and the country, but the problems persist because of “structures of injustice” which pervade Honduras.

The two party power structure, the use of money as “incentive” for votes and political support, corruption, programs that just offer assistance, and the problem of expectation of hand outs go together. They are part of structural problems that cannot be solved merely by individual efforts nor by non-governmental organizations. I really believe that there needs to be a real re-structuring of the system here – so that the needs of the poor are heard as they are empowered to act for their own good and for the common good.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter Vigil in Vera Cruz

I love the liturgy of the Easter Vigil and cherished the celebrations at St. Thomas Aquinas in Ames, especially the Baptisms by immersion. And so the celebration here in Vera Cruz was a little bit of a let down.

The crowd was small, less than 50 – possibly due to the torrential rains that fell shortly before the 7 pm hour.  I read most of the readings because only two persons volunteered to help read. (I shortened the Abraham story and left out Baruch). To help the people understand the readings I had a short discussion after three of them.

But I was inspired by the Gospel and shared my thoughts with the congregation.

It’s the women who arrive at the tomb. Where are the men?

Do not be afraid, says the angel at first and then Jesus greets them in the same way.

Go back to Galilee. Don’t stay in the big city. Go out to the boondocks. As I told the people we need to go back and see the risen Christ where we live, in the back roads of the department of Copán, not looking for him in the houses of power in Tegucigalpa.

But the main question I raised was how do we live as resurrected people?

Before the celebration I had gone to bring communion to three people in town. Don Luis Alonso is 92 years old and very frail. But he was sitting up in the front room of his house with his family around. I knelt beside him and spoke with him. We prayed the Lord’s prayer together and then I gave him the Eucharist. He had such a beatific smile on his face.

Then we went to a older sick woman. There was, at first, a question about whether we would be allowed go in to see her. A visiting relative insisted that she was an evangelical but relented after talking with her. She was lying in bed, very frail. As I spoke she said she was a little deaf and so I spoke directly into her ear. She prayed the Our Father with me and as soon as I offered the Host she opened her mouth, definitely hungering to receive the Lord.

I shared with the congregation the deep joy of these people who despite illness and old age were full of a deep joy upon receiving the Eucharist. They are signs to me of the risen Lord.

There are other signs here – too many to mention – but they include the dedication of pastoral workers in the countryside, the efforts of the church in this diocese to be with the poor, accompanying them in the processes of liberation, the efforts of Caritas of the diocese to facilitate the conscientization of the people in the diocese so they can be participants in the process of rebuilding, refounding, resurrecting Honduras.

These are but a few signs. Christ is risen – here and now – and we await the final victory, living in hope.


Saturday, April 23, 2011

A blessed Easter

15th Station, El Rosario Church, San Salvador, El Salvador
Easter begins with the Vigil Service late Holy Saturday evening and continues until Pentecost – 50 days of celebration.

I will be in Vera Cruz, Copán, for the Vigil and the Easter Sunday morning Celebration of the Word with Communion. Then, God willing, I'll visit two good friends in Gracias, Lempira – two Dubuque Franciscan sisters, Nancy and Brenda.

Easter is the celebration of the Risen Lord - in history and in our lives today.

I offer this meditation of Carlo Carretto, a Little Brother of Jesus, on what Easter is:

When you forgive your enemy,
when you feed the hungry,
when you defend the weak,
you believe in the resurrection.

When you have the courage to marry,
when you welcome the newly born child,
when you build your home,
you believe in the resurrection.

When you wake at peace in the morning,
when you sing to the rising sun,
when you go to work with joy,
you believe in the resurrection.

Belief in the resurrection means filling life with faith,
it means believing in your brother or sister,
it means fearlessness toward all.
Belief in the resurrection means knowing
that God is your father,
Jesus your brother . . . .


The quotation from Carlo Carretto can be found in Robert Ellsberg's collection, Carlo Carretto: Essential Writings (Orbis Books). A Spanish translation can be found in Carlo Carretto: Escritos esenciales (Sal Terrae), cited on my Spanish language blog here.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Popular religiosity in Vera Cruz

I’m helping with the services in the town of Vera Cruz this Triduum as I did last year.  Vera Cruz is a poor town and it needs a lot of help in its pastoral work.

What I find fascinating is the popular piety I found among the people.

The people were very glad to have me come and help, especially when I told them that Padre Efraín had me bring the Eucharist. There is throughout the diocese of Santa Rosa a deep devotion to the Eucharist, even though many people in rural communities have limited access to Mass.

The Holy Thursday liturgy was slated for 7:00 pm. The celebration started late – what’s new! Last year I had a hard time getting people to come forward to get their feet washed. But this year two young people recruited people right after the homily and we had thirteen. (The last to join was a three year old boy whom I could not in good conscience turn away.)

Several of the feet were dirty – little boys who were walking around chuña – barefoot. There was the gnarled toes of the old woman. These were not well-washed folks you might find in the US, but the poor who walked to the church through the mud puddles.

After the celebration there was a procession – la procesión de prendimiento – the arrest of Jesus. I was tired and so I stayed in the church praying before the Eucharist. After they returned we had a Holy Hour – mostly prayers, readings, and hymns.

Good Friday started with the Stations of the Cross in the streets of Vera Cruz -  a two hour procession made a little more difficult these days because of the recent torrential rains and the dirt streets dug up for repairs.

At three we had the Good Friday service. The Liturgy of the Word was normal. I even had three of us reading the Passion narrative.

But the veneration of the cross is a local custom, anointing the body of Christ on the cross. Several young girls soak cotton balls with perfume and then wipe the corpus. 

After this is done people come and venerate the cross and receive a piece of the perfumed cotton. Some of the people anoint the corpus. I encouraged them this year to touch or kiss the cross.

 After the service there was another procession, El Santo Entierro – the Holy entombment. In Vera Cruz, they place a crucifix in a glass catafalque and process through town. (I think they used to have a statue of the body of the dead Christ but it was stolen a few years ago.)

Friday evening at about 9 pm there is another procession, the procession of solitude, which is mostly a procession of women mourning with Mary. I decided to return to Santa Rosa, partly because the Santo Entierro ended about 5:30 pm and I was going to return to Santa Rosa on Saturday morning for a few errands; I also have a tooth ache.

Saturday I’ll go back to Vera Cruz for the Easter Vigil and then a Sunday morning Celebration of the Word with Communion.  I’ll probably spend most of the morning preparing.

It’s a challenge being in Vera Cruz but well worth it. I am looking forward to the Vigil there.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Thoughts on the Way of the Cross

This is the fourth year I’ve gone to the diocesan Via Crucis in the streets of Santa Rosa. I’ve already written a bit about the Stations in previous posts, but I want to share some of my personal reflections.  You can find my previous posts 2011, 2011, 2010, 2009, and 2008  and pictures.

Every year I have been impressed by the large number of people who come, some traveling more than three hours in bus. They come to pray, to witness to the liberating power of their faith, and to be in solidarity with a Church that is in solidarity with the poor.

Each year it’s been hot and sunny and sometimes the stations seemed dragged out. But this year the texts were a little more focused than last year and not as long. But they were as strong as ever, treating everything from alcoholism to corruption. One thing I especially noticed was the strong statements about women, their rights and their oppression. The texts were prepared by various deaneries in the diocese and it seems as if concern for women has grown in the past few years.

Different groups from Santa Rosa set up altars and displays at the fourteen stations. Some were fairly traditional but several struck me by their strong political and social commentary. The “altar” for the seventh station was particularly impressive. I caught a few photos while  several people were setting it up.

The killing of the innocent is against justice.
We are not like – but  we are equal  - with the same rights and duties.

Many corrupt businessmen only see their employees as “asses” and don’t even pay them the minimum wage. 

The twelfth station, Jesus dies on the Cross, was impressive in its reference to varied threats to life:  the destruction of nature, malnutrition, burning of forests, desire for riches, violence, egoism, environmental contamination, cutting down of forests, auto exhausts. 

The procession started at 9:00 am from the steps of the cathedral and ended in the parking lot of the Santa Rosa campus of the Catholic University of Honduras – with a Mass that ended about 1:30 pm.

The people marched and prayed in the streets of Santa Rosa. People confessed to priests preparing for Mass and Holy Week.

Hymns were led by several musicians and priests. The hymns that we sang were a mixture of traditional Lenten songs, praying for forgiveness, and hymns with a strong social message. 

After the eleventh station a hymn was introduced as one that the powerful do not appreciate: “Vos sos el Dios de los pobres.”
You are the God of poor,
a God human and simple,
a God who sweats in the street,
a God with a weather-beaten face.
Therefore, I talk to  you
as my people speaks,
for you are the God Laborer,
Christ the Worker.

You walk hand in hand with my people,
you struggle in the countryside and the city,
you stand in line there in the encampment,
so they pay you your daily wage.
As we walked along I saw older men and women, children, and lots of young people, including an impressive number of young men. Some of the people from Intibucá had the colorful scarves typical of the Lenca. Five young Capuchin novices from Ocotepeque walked in their brown habits.

On a personal note, I was touched as many people came up and greeted me by name – Juancito. I hardly recognized some of them who were participants in a program I was part of and so I apologized for not remembering their names.  It is humbling to be greeted by the poor. But it gives me a sense that my presence does have a meaning here. As Father Niall O'Brien who worked in the Philippines once wrote, "When we touch the poor, we touch God in some way."

This may be the last Via Crucis led by Santa Rosa Bishop Luis Alfonso Santos because he has to send Rome his resignation letter in November when he turns 75. But he will continue working for the poor. He also noted that he will continue work with Alianza Cívica por la Democracia and other groups who work with and for the poor here in Honduras.

Monseñor Santos, bishop  of Santa Rosa de Copán
In his final remarks at the Mass he made a strong critique of the political parties and their failure to really respond to the needs of the poor. He proceeded to note his appreciation of the Resistance – which brought a loud applause from the gathered people.

The Via Crucis is a prayerful witness of what the Church is here in Santa Rosa – a Church of the poor, a Church which is very pious with great devotion to the Eucharist and to Mary, and a Church committed to renew Honduras, seeking changes in the lives of people in the most remote villages as well as in the political and economic structures that keeps the people poor.

I looked for a quote to end this reflection and found it from two non-Catholics, William Willimon and Stanley Hauerwas, in Resident Aliens, p. 47. I think it expresses what the diocesan Way of the Cross is:
The cross is not a sign of the church’s quiet, suffering submission to the powers that-be, but rather the Church’s revolutionary participation in the victory of Christ over those powers. The cross is not a symbol for general human suffering and oppression. Rather, the cross is a sign of what happens when one takes God’s account of reality more seriously than Caesar’s. The cross stands as God’s (and our) eternal no to the powers of death, as well as God’s eternal yes to humanity, God’s remarkable determination not to leave us to our own devices.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Santa Rosa diocesan Stations of the Cross, 2011

Friday, April 15, several thousand people from all over the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán, Honduras, came to Santa Rosa for the diocesan Stations of the Cross, Via Crucis (Latin for "Way of the Cross").

The texts reflect a reading of the stations in light of life in Honduras today. I offer you here some photos and a selection of the texts which I quickly translated today.

First Station:
Jesus is condemned to death

Matthew 27, 11-25
Theme: Maladministration of Justice 


What great injustice! What a shame that the tribunals of justice lend themselves to this type of attacks against human dignity. The authorities are called to make justice and law prevail, but they act completely differently. Here in Honduras the application of justice ends up being the greatest injustice. The cards are all stacked. Everything is politicized.

The very persons in charge of the administration of justice, the judges, are named by ruling politicians to have them at their beck and call…

And so it appears that after more than 2000 years we have not been able to overcome the fact that the tribunals of justice act manipulating and fitting the law for the interests of minority groups and powerful individuals. And today, as in the judgment of Christ, innumerable injustices are committed. All the weight of the law falls on the poor and humble who cannot pay for a lawyer; but the corrupt politicians who squander the public treasury and the business men who violate the rights of workers, and those who enjoy a good economic situation get the city for the jail or they are exempt from any responsibility. There is Jesus condemned  - in the workers who earn 5,500 lempiras ($290) a month if they are lucky while the deputies in the National Congress gain huge quantities of money and hardly work four hours a month; in the campesinos without land while large land owners fatten their cattle in the best valleys in the country; in the workers demanding their rights while the business owners pressure the government with their policy of abandoning the country if the government demands they do something which might favor the workers….

Second Station
Jesus carries his cross

Mark 8, 34-38
Theme: Exploitation, in the maquilas [piece work factories] and the exploitation of children.


In Honduras there are some types of work that are excessive, risky, and ill paid and there are business owners who take advantage of the need [of people to work] in order not to respect the labor laws. The value of merchandise prevails over the person…

Work ought to be a means of liberation and not of slavery.

Those most in need are weighed down by the cross of exploitation of workers…

For women mistreated by men’s machismo, that those who govern apply the laws that defend women, we pray to the Lord…
That at the social, economic and political levels women are given equality of opportunity, we pray to the Lord.

Third Station
Jesus falls for the first time

Isaiah 53, 4-5
Theme: Alcoholism: against the commandment “You shall not kill."


…With his Cross, Jesus puts himself in solidarity with the weak who fall again and again despite their good purposes and intentions to change….

Many people take advantage of the opportunity to go to confession.

Fourth Station
Jesus meets his mother

John 19,25-26
Theme: The disintegration of the family; loss of values

We beg, in the name of God and the Church, that a stop is put to the exploitation of women who in maquilas [piece work factories], in the houses of the powerful, en nighttime work and that the rights of women as human beings are recognized.

Fifth Station
Simon of Cyrene is forced to carry the cross

Luke 23, 26
Theme: Education and health


The political crisis which originated in the weakening of the institutions [of government] until the collapse with the coup d’état, is being prolonged with great force in the conflicts of the campesinos and of the unions of the teachers and health workers…

In Honduras thousands of young people remain excluded from formal education…

The Honduran people feels frustrated by the lack of the goods most indispensible for life and by the brutal repression of their aspirations for life with better and more human conditions.

Sixth Station
Veronica wipes the face of Jesus

Isaiah 52, 13; 53-3
Theme: Corruption at every level

Seventh Station
Jesus falls the second time

Luke 22,25 y Mark 10; 42.
Theme: Violence, Hit men, drug-trafficking, insecurity

The death of innocents is contrary to justice.

Eighth Station
Jesus consoles the women of Jerusalem

Luke  23, 27-31
Theme: Migrants and unemployment
A life full of injustice provokes migration.
Migration is the consequence of the government’s unjust administration. There aren’t well-paid sources of work and [some] find themselves obliged to emigrate from the country sine the state’s policies are discriminatory in the sense that they only favor party activists and family members of the [political] party in power, following the lines of voracious leaders. Concretely, foreign investors come to exploit the workers and leave them more miserable and limit the opportunity of an integral development.

It is estimated that one thousand Hondurans emigrate each day and 100 thousand a year, following the route through Guatemala and Mexico.

Ninth Stations
Jesus falls the third time

Matthew 11.28-30
Theme: Coup d’état, polarization, reconciliation


…In Honduras, the coup brought us a polarization of the entire society, each person defending their positions, some against and some in favor [of the coup]. What is certain is that we find ourselves divided and we cannot continue in this way since Jesus himself has said that a kingdom divided against itself will come to ruin.

During the coup, there was an increase of violations of human rights: the liberty of expression, with the decree of a state of exception which congress declared, we found ourselves subjected and they took away our right to meet, to circulate freely, threats, detentions, injuries, deaths, etc.

After the coup, the violation of human rights has continued… We can say that the effects of the coup in will continue to be seen in the lives of the poor since those who manipulate political and economic power have their business and even their very interests guaranteed.

For all the families who find themselves divided because of the political crisis, product of the coup, that they return to unity and peace reigns. We pray to the Lord.

Tenth Station
Jesus is stripped of his garments

Matthew 27,34-35
Theme: Extreme poverty


…Jesus experienced mockery, torture and maltreatment who are the fate of the condemned in all the poor countries of the world.

Today Jesus continues to be stripped in so many men and women of our age whose rights have been taken away: the right to life, health, work, dignified housing, freedom of expression, land, work, just wages, equality…

Therefore we Christians ought to struggle for the respect of the dignity of every human being, following the example of Jesus who handed himself over out of love, because before being Christians we are first of all human persons.

Eleventh Station
Jesus is crucified

Titus 2, 6-8
Theme: Two party monopoly (bipartism), traditionalism, client politics (The country is our inheritance.


In Honduras there has never existed an authentic political party. Both are political organizations of descendents of mestizo landowners to defend and increase their privileges and inheritance at the cost of impoverishing and looting the people of Honduras.
Why have the politics parties failed in Honduras? They failed because they never conceptualized an ideology, an ethic, a mystique, a program which was in accord with the reality of Honduras. The landlords/patrons organized themselves to rob the State and to guarantee their business with their power. They made themselves into employment agencies for their party members and so looted and auctioned off the country in the name of the poor…

…We call democracy [rule of the people] what is partidocracy [rule of the political party] and the Rule of Law what is the military transgression of human rights. In this way, there will never appear an authentic and full citizenship in Honduras.

Twelfth Station
Jesus dies on the Cross

Luke  23, 44-46
Theme: Attacks on Life:
(Climate change, mining exploitation, and human rights: disappearances, hired assassins, abortion, drug-trafficking)

The destruction of nature is an injustice against life.
Today there are so many signs of death that we encounter around us where Jesus continues to suffer his death. Our planet, which is our common home, is mortally wounded because of human beings’ egoism, greed and avarice. The desire for riches has led people to place the value of capital and money above every other value of life, no matter if it affects one’s own destruction….

The violation of human rights which legitimates the law of the jungle where the strongest survive…
Jesus with his death offers the poor and humble people a plan for life and liberation, for fullness and true happiness. In Honduras also there are killings, tortures, repression, jailings, beatings, bombings, gas attacks, and assassinations of those who think like Jesus. But his plan is possible is we are ready to live with simplicity gospel poverty, in fraternal openness, identifying ourselves with Jesus’ plan and not with the current powers and oligarchies which only know how to repress and bring out coups in a cowardly manner against an undefended people without weapons who struggle for dignity, truth, and justice, based on the common good.

That we may unite ourselves in a single people who struggle for the refounding of Honduras through the National Constitutional Assembly (Convention) and defend the natural resources, which belong to everyone. We pray to the Lord.

That as a Church we become aware of our commitment and mission to defend human life and nature. We pray to the Lord.

Thirteenth Station
Jesus is taken down from the Cross

John 19, 38-40
Theme: those who have fallen in the struggle


… Jesus Christ suffered out of love for us so that we might attain eternal happiness, making of human suffering a redemptive suffering when it is accepted freely and confronted with divine courage. In this sense, suffering was converted by Jesus in his obligated path in order to come to the glory of the Father and to bring about our redemption. In God’s pedagogy, the suffering of Jesus makes us feel ourselves loved by Him and the object of the Heavenly Father’s choice. This wakens faith in us and through faith love and hope in God.
Meditating on the falls of Jesus on the way to Calvary, we think of the mocking and the derisive laughter of those who saw him fall. To see a neighbor fall makes us laugh instinctively and when it’s a question of someone we hate we even rejoice. When they kill someone who is not a family member or a member of our group, at times we look on with indifference and there may be some who find joy in the death. If they kill campesinos in Bajo Aguan we think that is was because they professes an ideology or that it was someone who was attacking the unjust and supposed established order in which a person who had financial power and the power of weapons uses the power of the state to kill the poor, who the established injustice will slowly kill in all sorts of ways.

Remembering the way of the cross of Jesus of Nazareth we illuminate the Way of the Cross of our diocese which is in solidarity with the poor, rejects the money of graft and bribery and  makes itself poor with the poor to win them to Christ. We pray for those who have fallen in the struggle for land and we put ourselves in solidarity with their families.

[We make] an appeal to the generosity of all of you to send the Mass collection to the families of those assassinated in Bajo Aguan.

Fourteenth Station
Jesus is laid in the tomb

John 19 ,41-42.
Theme: The image of Christ and the image of the Church are buried by the means of communication

…It grieves us that many social communicators because of privileges granted by the bureaucracy or personal or private interests have to quickly hide the truth….

Fifteenth Station
Jesus rises from the dead

Luke 24, 1-5
Theme: The resurrection of the people 

Bishop Luis Alfonso Santos of Santa Rosa de Copán

Reflection of  Monseñor Luis Alfonso Santos:

Holy Week is the celebration of the mission of salvation. Jesus Christ submits himself to his passion and death with the certainty of rising from the dead as he himself had announced: “Destroy this temple and I will build it up in three days.” The temple was his body.

As bishop of Santa Rosa de Copán I accepted the idea of a diocesan celebration in order to call to the attention of all the people of Honduras in the upcoming Holy Week, giving them an example of popular religion and of the deep faith in Jesus of Nazareth, Son of God and Son of Man, who was sacrificed for us. From the five departments of the diocese – Copán, Ocotepeque, Intibucá, and Santa Bárbara – almost always some ten thousand people have come with their parish priests, to this diocesan See, and with the Bishop at the head we have gone to the streets, remembering the Holy Way of the Cross which Jesus Christ walked almost 2,000 years ago.

The Letter to the Hebrews tells us that Jesus Christ is before the Heavenly Father interceding for our sins and that the Risen One will die no more. Nevertheless, the new catechism of Catholic spirituality affirms that the Lord Jesus continues suffering in the members of His Mystical Body  which we are. Therefore, without a doubt, we remember that Jesus suffered and we refer to his suffering in us, especially in the poor who, like Jesus of Nazareth, are born, live, and die in poverty. Like Jesus of Nazareth, the poor in Honduras are unknown by the religious-political powers and are victims of the same conflict, following the banners of the imperialism of their day.

(Today it is the imperialism of money which has been made into an idol.)

Like Jesus of Nazareth the poor are fed with the hope of the Resurrection. They know that the sufferings of this life are nothing compared to the glory that God has prepared for His children and that the poor are blessed because theirs is the Kingdom of the Heavens.

The poverty with which the powerful try to humiliate the poor is, in the Pedagogy of Salvation, an opportunity to believe in Jesus, the God-Human, and this is  made the source of redemption in the hands of a God who, out of love, makes himself poor,  suffers the lack of defense, and freely hands himself over to death in an eternal Way of the Cross which is prolonged in the flesh of his followers until his second coming. Therefore we do not curse poverty but embrace it like Saint Francis of Assisi and all those who have chosen the hidden path of the few wise persons in the world. Paulo Freire states that there is no más alla [more there/beyond/afterlife] is there does not first exist a más acá [more here/a life here/here and now]. For us Christians the beyond of the Resurrection exists because this is a here and now of a life of renunciation of sinful pleasures, an acceptance with hope of suffering, and a work of personal, social, and political perfecting which takes us from less human to more human conditions. [This is a  reference to Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Populorum Progressio…. Progress is not brought about by money, nor by mining. It is people living with dignity, justice, peace, and holiness.]
Therefore we urge every faithful Catholic to work forcefully to acquire the virtues who make them worthy of eternal live and to bring to fruition works for the good of their neighbor… In this way we are preparing now our resurrection in Christ in a process of death and resurrection, working out our liberation with far and trembling – a liberation which will one day be complete when we are forever with the God of love for all eternity.

This is from the written text. Monseñor made a few changes which are noted above in italics.

Lord, we pray for all those who have worked for justice and peace and have given their lives, that they may be raised up and rejoice in the eternal Kingdom. We pray to the Lord.
For those who have suffered the death of a loved one because of violence, so that they have hope for the definitive encounter in heaven on the day of the resurrection. We pray to the Lord.
That Honduras may rise as a country of peace, justice, and fraternal love. We pray to the Lord.
For a change of life for each one of us and that we may rise with Christ. We pray to the Lord.


The Spanish original of the texts can be found at my Spanish blog, here.

More photos from this year's and earlier diocesan Stations of the Cross can be found here.

I hope to write a reflective piece on the experience of this year's Via Crucis.

On the land

“It’s better to exhaust yourself than to exhaust the land,” Ricardo López told us, as we visited the farm his father shares with him and three brothers in El Pelón, Esperanza, Intibucá.

Isabel, Cáritas France, with Ricardo López in the family bean field
 Manuel, the agricultural worker for Caritas Santa Rosa de Copán, was showing the project he is facilitating in Intibucá to folks from the national Caritas office as well as to Isabel, the representative of Caritas France which is financing the project. I went along as a representative of the Santa Rosa office. Padre Efraín Romero, the director of Caritas Santa Rosa, was with us for a short time.

Ricardo and three of his brothers work on their father’s land. Manuel has helped with terracing and drip irrigation and provided other technical assistance. Since they have irrigation they can plant in the dry season and they have diversified their planting, adding potatoes, carrots, and broccoli to the subsistence crops of corn and beans. They also have peach and apple trees.

When we arrived Ricardo and his father, Jacinto, were working in a field. They proceeded to welcome us and explain what they are doing, after sharing tasty peaches with all of us.

Ricardo was impressive, not only telling us what they are doing and the problems they are facing, but using semi-technical language to explain why using drip irrigation in a potato field is better than aspersion irrigation.

Ricardo showing the drip irrigation at work on chinapopa beans.
We went and visited other parts of their farm and saw how they use tall grass as windbreaks, their measuring rod to determine distances between different plants, and their nursery where they were nurturing broccoli shoots.

They have problems, including the problem of commercialization, since they have no direct access to good markets and so must depend on intermediaries who often don’t give good prices for the crops. The national Caritas office people talked about different ways they might get various growers to work together to market their crops, something Manuel is already working on.

Virgilio terraced potato field
After leaving the López family farm we visited three other sites, all in potatoes. We spent most of the time with the site Virgilio works with his brother. Last year he lost his corn crop because of high winds, but this year they are planting potatoes on a hill-side with terraces and irrigation. One field was about ten days from harvest, but Virgilio showed us a few of the potatoes which have to stay in the earth a few more days to develop a firm skin.

Virgilio's potatoes
We visited another plot but the farmer was not there. What was impressive about his field was his planting in the midst of trees and banana plants. He had not cut them down but was planting potatoes among them

It was a fruitful day.  And even though this project only helps about 100 farmers, it was exciting to see the work and even more exciting was to see the expertise of people like Ricardo, who, with only four year of formal education, has learned a lot about agriculture and is using it for the good of his family. He is also helping others, since he has helped Manuel to install drip irrigation at other sites.

Jacinto, Ricardo, and Hugo López
This Caritas Santa Rosa project does help some families but the situation in the Honduran countryside is critical. Just a few days ago an official of the FAO, the Food and Agriculture Organization, reported that one-third of the rural population of Honduras does not have land and another third has very little land without the capacity to produce enough to feed themselves. 

It is clear that these efforts of Caritas are important but ways need to be found to help those without land. In fact, over lunch, Manuel, Isabel from Caritas France, the two National Caritas workers, and I talked a bit about how to do this. It's a long struggle and means changing structures, but isn't that what is needed.

There was only one really sad part of the day. One of Jacinto’s grandchildren, ten year old Hugo,  had an accident several years ago and his sight is severely limited. He can see some during the day but at night he can hardly see. Padre Efraín and I will be looking into ways to help this boy who, despite his near-blindness, helps his family on their farm.

UPDATE: After contacting an eye doctor in Ames, Iowa, who has worked with a Honduran-run eye project in El Progresso, Honduras, we have arranged the possibility of an operation in June. Thanks be to God and generous people who help the poorest.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Stations of the Cross in daily life

Diocesan Stations of the Cross in Santa Rosa de Copán, Honduras, 2009
A traditional Catholic devotion popular during Lent is the Stations of the Cross remembering the path of Christ from the judgment of Pilate to the tomb.

A street of the Via Crucis in Jerusalem
Its roots are in the pilgrimage to Jerusalem where pilgrims walk the streets in the footsteps of Jesus stopping at 14 places to pray, accompanying Jesus on the Way of the Cross - in Latin, Via Crucis.

When this was not possible it became a custom to erect 14 stations in the churches, promoted mostly by Franciscans.

The traditional stations are:
1. Jesus is condemned to death.
2. Jesus takes up the Cross.
3. Jesus falls the first time.
4. Jesus meets His mother.
5. Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the Cross
6. Veronica wipes the face of Jesus
7. Jesus falls the second time.
8. Jesus consoles the women of Jesusalem
9. Jesus falls the third time
10. Jesus is stripped of his garments
11. Jesus is nailed to the cross
12. Jesus dies on the cross
13. Jesus is taken down from the cross
14. Jesus is laid in the tomb
15. Jesus is raised from the dead.

During Lent many parishes have communal celebration of the Stations. The Pope traditionally has a Good Friday Stations of the Cross in the Roman Coliseum. 

In many parts of the world people erect crosses in the streets of their communities and walk the way of the cross where they live. In the 1960s, related to the struggles for peace and justice, various groups began to pray the stations, relating them to various sites of injustice or war preparations.

When I was a campus minister at Iowa State University we began a Stations of the Cross on the Iowa State University campus which is still going today, connecting the Stations with sites on the university campus.

We connected the first station, Jesus condemned to death, to the site on the campus related to the Manhattan Project and the production of atomic bombs. The fourth station, Jesus meets his mother, was near the building that houses the College of Agriculture, remembering Mother Earth. 

Fifth Station on the ISU campus
 The fifth station, Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the cross, was connected with immigrants, praying by a statue on campus of a Mexican carrying a woman across the Rio Bravo/Rio Grande. Remembering women affected by war, the eighth station, Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem, was prayed outside the armory on campus.

A Lenca woman praying
during the 2010 Via Crucis Diocesano
For many years here in Honduras, in the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán, people from the five departments of the diocese have come together on the Friday before Holy Week to pray the stations in the streets. The themes have always been connected with the reality of the country. For the Way of Christ to the Cross is mirrored in the way of the cross the people live each day here in Honduras.  

This year the themes are:
1. Jesus is condemned to death
       Maladministration of Justice
2. Jesus takes up the cross
       Exploitation (in sweatshops and of children)
3. Jesus falls the first time
4. Jesus meets his mother
        Family disintegration, loss of values
5. Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the cross
         Education and health
6. Veronica wipes the face of Jesus
        Corruption at every level
7. Jesus calls the second time
        Violence, hired assassins, drug-trafficking, insecurity
8. Jesus consoles the women of Jerusalem
        Migrants and unemployment
9. Jesus falls the third time
        Coup d’état, polarization, reconciliation
10. Jesus is stripped of his clothes
        Extreme poverty
11. Jesus is nailed to the cross
        Two-party system, traditionalism, client state 
           (the state is their inheritance)
12. Jesus dies on the cross
        Attacks on life (Climate change, Mining, human rights 
           [disappearances, assassinations, abortion, 
13. Jesus is taken down from the Cross
         Those who have fallen in the struggle
14. Jesus is laid in the tomb
          Image of Christ, image of the Church, 
              buried by the means of communication
15. Jesus is raised from the dead
          The resurrection of the people

And so this year thousands will come together to pray and witness to a faith that does justice. I will comment on this later this week with photos.

Our people live the Calvary of Jesus, crushed by poverty and without power to raise ourselves up, abandoned by the state.


UPDATE: Photos and selected texts from the 2011 Stations can be found here.