Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Death threats against Padre Fausto

Padre Fausto greeting people outside la Iglesia San Martín

Padre Fausto Milla is the 83 year old priest who usually presides at Sunday Masses in the Saint Martín de Porres chapel up from my house in Santa Rosa.

His homilies are often a combination of a deep piety and a radical social analysis. For example, a few weeks ago he meditated on the Lord’s Prayer as part of the prayer of the faithful. At other times I am heard him strongly attack “savage capitalism” and the presence of the US in Honduras.

He is also a very affectionate man, a sort of grandfather figure who loves the children who come up and hug him.

He has long been active in support of the poor and has been an active member of the Resistance. He was named a member of the Comisión de Verdad, the True Commission set up by the resistance to investigate the situation in the country related to the 2009 coup.

Tuesday, June 28, he gave a press conference in Tegucigalpa revealing that he has received death threats, that he and an assistant have been followed by a car, and that several unknown men visited his health center in Corquín, looked over everything and asked about his itinerary.

Andrés Pavón, the president of the non-governmental Committee for the Defense of Human Rights in Honduras (CODEH, Comité para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos en Honduras), had revealed that there was a plan to assasinate him because of his visits to the properties of Miguel Facussé in Zacate Grande.

Padre Fausto takes seriously these efforts to silence his voice in defense of the poor but won’t stop. In today’s  El Tiempo  he is quoted:
God has give me life and he has liberated me from hundreds of worse events that those in the decade of the 1980s. I am well trained so that intimidation and the snuffing out of my person cannot be accomplished.
For more on this and other threats to the True Commission there is this article in Spanish in Defensores en Linea and this article in today's Tiempo.

You can read more about Padre Fausto in this entry in my blog and in this translation of an article about him.

Rebel Girl in her blog has a translation of an article about a speech of his.

UPDATE: A translation of the Defensores en Linea article can be found here.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Eucharist among the poor

Corpus Christi alfombras in Santa Rosa, 2009
Sunday, June 26, was the feast of Corpus Christi, the Body and Blood of Christ.

In Honduras, despite the thousands of villages without weekly Eucharist, there is a very strong and deep Eucharistic piety. The people reverence Christ in the Eucharist. At times I have seen people at Mass or when the Eucharist is exposed on the altar walk backwards down the aisle, not wanting to turn their backs on the Eucharist. In this diocese, it is common to have a Holy Hour before the Eucharist every Thursday.

On Corpus Christi in Santa Rosa de Copán and other major towns in Honduras there are processions in the streets decorated with colorful carpets - alfombras - of sawdust, complete with Eucharistic symbols.

This Corpus Christi, though, was going to be something special for the people in the village of El Zapote de Santa Rosa in the parish of Dulce Nombre, in Copán, Honduras. Not only would they have Mass and a procession but a new tabernacle in their church would be blessed and the Eucharist would be left in the tabernacle. They would have “Jesús sacramentado” – “the sacramental Jesus” in their church.

El Zapote is a community with about 240 households. There are fifteen base communities there and at least nine catechists, plus other pastoral workers. There are several very impressive leaders in the community, some of whom help lead the training sessions for catechists.
On Saturday I joined in preparing the church for the celebration of Corpus Christi.

After the church had been cleaned, a group of mostly men and boys brought several bags of sawdust and pine needles to the church. 

Adolfo cleaning the center of the pathway.
 A pathway from the entry to the altar was prepared with a pine needle border and a sawdust carpet. 

Since the community is poor they used uncolored sawdust. But they added several symbols using pine needles and cal (lye).  Before the altar was a chalice and host; in the middle was a simple cross. 

Putting the cross on the host
 I even got into the act.

Preparing an altar
Sunday morning, people got up at 5 o’clock to begin erecting four altars in the community where the priest carrying the monstrance with the Eucharist would stop for prayer in the procession after Mass.

The altars were adorned with flowers and leaves brought by the people in the community.

A small carpet of sawdust and pine needles graced the area in front of the altars.

The fourth altar
Behind the altars there were short phrases, such as “Let us adore Jesus in the Sacrament [of the Eucharist].”

The church also was prepared with flowers and with pine needles spread over the entire floor.

At Mass in the church in El Zapote
Mass, though it started at 2 pm rather than at the originally scheduled time of 9 am, was well-attended with people from seven neighboring villages. (There would have been more if the time had not been changed at the last moment.)

During the Mass, the tabernacle was blessed. Many people came up for Communion.  after which consecrated hosts were placed in the tabernacle. And then the procession began.

Father Julio César Galdámez, the associate pastor, carried the monstrance with a large host, outside the church and stopped at the four altars.

The road was a little muddy but the hundreds of people followed in procession, with lots of little kids running ahead and getting a spot right near the altar.

After the prayer at the last altar we turned around and went back to the church.

Reaching out to touch the monstrance with the Eucharist
The people opened a space between the crowd for father to pass with the Eucharist. At this point he invited them to touch the monstrance, to make a physical contact with Jesus in the Eucharist.

It was touching to see men, women, and children reaching out – to connect with Christ.

Corpus Christi procession, El Zapote, 2011
Now El Zapote de Santa Rosa will have Christ in the Eucharist present in their midst.  They will begin having Holy Hours each Thursday in the church, before the Eucharist. The parish will try to arrange to have more Masses there and  have agreed to come occasionally to distribute the Eucharist at a Sunday Celebration of the Word, since at this point there is no Extraordinary Minister of Communion in the village.

Such is the piety of these people, but it is a piety that is rooted in and connected with their daily lives – through these and other expressions of popular piety as well as through a  commitment of many members of the parish to work for justice and to be involved in the struggle for the refoundation of Honduras as a country based in justice for the poor and in the participation of all the people in the decisions that affect their lives.

Chalice and host in front of the altar in El Zapote, Corpus Christi 2011


More photos can be found at this set of photos among my Flickr photos

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Catechist training in El Zapote

Friday I headed to El Zapote de Santa Rosa for a three day visit.

Friday and Saturday I led a workshop for catechists in one area of the parish of Dulce Nombre de María. The topic was the catechumenate, the process for the entry of adults into the church through the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and Eucharist.

The requirements for baptism here are fairly strict. The parents of infants and children up to 7 years of age have to be active in a base community. Children from 7 up can request baptism and there is a process to prepare them for baptism. There is a process for those 14 or older that is called the catechumenate, assuming that becoming an active member of the church is an adult decision.

The process is very like the catechumenate in the US, also called RCIA, but it will have to be adapted here, since most of the people do not live close to the main church in the parish and don’t have Mass every day.

The workshop began with a playing out of the sacrament of baptism of children. I did this not only to provide a comparison with the RCIA but also because a few weeks ago there was major confusion in one aldea when at a baptism the godparents didn’t know the name of the child, when asked during the rite.

Afterwards the five new catechists went apart to work with the parish coordinator on what it means to be a catechist, baptism in general, and various other details.

I worked with a group of about 27 catechists.

We went over the stages of the process, we walked through the rite of acceptance, and we treated several of the themes in the booklet that had been prepared.

The workshop was amazing. As we talked about the pre-catechumenate period, when people are inquiring about the faith, I decided to do a role play with Estela, a middle aged woman involved for many years in catechesis. Her response to my inquiries and my doubts and concerns were what one would expect from an experienced pastoral worker with training in pastoral counseling!

Marco Tulio leading a song - with Estela
As we talked about the importance of catechumens participating in the Sunday Celebrations of the Word in the community, Ramón, a 22 year old catechist, asked if the catechumens should be members of the base communities in their villages. He had grasped the significance of the catechumenate process, the importance of incorporating those who want to be baptized into the community. He knows what it means to be part of the People of God and the importance of having a small community to support one’s faith journey.

But the most amazing account that gave me goose bumps was the story shared by the catechist Martín, who can neither read nor write. He and others had sought out and then welcomed an unbaptized (and this unmarried) couple into their community. The couple invited one of their mothers to the community. The couple is now seeking to be baptized. As we reflected together in the group on this, I shared with them that this was a real example of the early stages of the catechumenate, which the community has been doing on its own, knowing nothing of the catechumenate processes. The rites can only help to confirm what is already in process.
Jerman and Martín participating in a "dinámica" - an active song
I left the workshop amazed – again – at the wisdom of these people and their faith.

I also am amazed at their commitment. One catechist had walked two hours to get to the meeting. Two women catechists walked three and a half hours – and they were not young women.

That’s the faith of the people here – a faith I will write more about very soon, sharing the experience of Corpus Christi, the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, in El Zapote.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

A chatty update

The past ten days have been full – though mostly in terms of the details of daily life here in Honduras. This will be a chatty blog, and so a little long.

At a meeting with the Caritas people working on a program for infants and mothers, we talked about the difficulty of doing anything to really help the infants gain weight. Diarrhea is a major problem, due to lack of water and poor water quality.  In addition, severe poverty leaves people without resources for food. This is worse at this time of the year when the corn and beans saved from last year’s harvest is nearly depleted. There are other complications – including the lack of lack, the lack of formation of some people in using the land around their houses for small gardens, and more.

As we were talking I thought of a source of enriched rice which someone had shared with the diocesan lunch program for kids. After an email to the person who had brought it to Santa Rosa from Gracias, I located the source and sent an  e-mail. A phone call followed and we were able to get the packets from “Kids Against Hunger” from Minnesota, for the 1250 infants under two in the department [state] of Copán who are chronically nourished or are way below the expected weight.

We went to Gracias and picked up 63 boxes and they are being distributed to the program network where the Help Committees in the communities will prepare the rice with the mothers in order to feed their kids.

The provider is only asking us for $3.00 per box (about 1¢ a serving) and we’re working on finding the funding.

We will also be seeking to get the rice for the similar project in the department of Ocotepeque where there are about 331 kids in need.

Sunday I was supposed to leave with Manuel, a Caritas worker, to pick up an eleven year old boy and his grandfather, Jacinto, to take them to an eye clinic in Progreso, Yoro. Complications with getting the vehicle from Caritas ensued. Anyway, Hugo and his grandfather got to Santa Rosa and stayed with me until we left on Monday morning. 

Hugo with grandfather and uncles on their farm in Intibucá
 Jacinto had been told by some doctors that Hugo had cataracts since he can hardly see and has not gone to school since the second month of kindergarten after an accident, because of his impaired vision. We got to the clinic, Centro Cristiano de Servicios Humanitarios de Honduras, run by an evangelical organization. I had known about it since an Ames eye doctor has regularly volunteered there. Since we were late Hugo was the last patient to be seen by the US doctor there. I think she was a bit confounded by Hugo’s visual problems. Anyway, he does not have cataracts, but his vision is so poor that he needs a very strong prescription. The glasses won’t be ready for a few days.  We were able to help because a Facebook friend had made a donation which I used to help Hugo.

Wednesday, I woke up about 3:30 with a stomach ache and a bag case of diarrhea – in fact, the worst I’ve had since I got here four years ago. I won’t go into details, but it’s been uncomfortable. I did go to a doctor and am taking some medicine, as well as GatorAde to restore electrolytes.

Tomorrow I head out to El Zapote de Santa Rosa for three days. Friday and Saturday is the training session for catechists in the area. Sine the parish is initiating the Catechumenate for those 14 and older, I’ll be trying to explain the process and helping the catechists to work through the book that was prepared by a deanery of the diocese a few years ago.

Sunday we’ll celebrate Corpus Christi, the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, in El Zapote de Santa Rosa, with Mass and a procession. This feast is very important here in western Honduras since there is a deep devotion to the Eucharist here, even though the people do not have regular access to Mass. But this will be a special occasion for El Zapote. They have obtained a tabernacle for their church and they will be able to have the Eucharist reserved there so that they can come for adoration. Occasionally when one of the sisters or I am there they might be able to have Communion with one of their lay-led Celebrations of the Word. Perhaps next year they will have an Extraordinary Minister of Communion in the community. One of the pastoral workers there is participating in the two year preparation process.

The other news is that since June 2, Kevin Earleywine, a college seminarian for the Archdiocese of Dubuque, Iowa, has been with me.  He’s entering his fourth year at Loras College this fall. He has spent a good amount of his time in the village of El Zapote de Santa Rosa and he tells me that it has been very good. I chose the community because it has a very well developed pastoral ministry and the people are extraordinarily hospitable. It’s also a village where a St. Thomas Aquinas Church and Student Center (from Ames, Iowa) worked on a spring break trip in 2010.

Monday another Dubuque archdiocesan seminarian, Jarrett Wendt, will arrive. I know Jarrett from his days at St. Thomas. He will enter major seminary in the fall. I’ll be placing him for a week of so in another rural village. Kevin won’t be there, so – like Kevin did – he’ll have to use his Spanish. The village where he’ll be has one advantage over El Zapote: it has electricity!

What else?

I always have to be reminded of God’s loving concern for us. Sunday I was very upset that the car we’d reserved at Caritas wasn’t there. Things worked out, eventually, but a very fascinating event happened.

I was waiting for Hugo and Jacinto get here from Intibucá. I didn’t have food in the house and I hadn’t eaten. So, about 7:45 pm I decided to go to Weekend’s Pizza (best pizza in Honduras, if not all of Central America), for garlic break and salad. I got there and saw a good Honduran friend, Erlin, who is now working with Habitat for Humanity here. He was with a group. He invited me to meet them, since one of them was a priest. Low and behold the group was from the Philadelphia area and the priest, Father Phil, had been born in Lansdowne, not very far from where I grew up.  I sat and talked with them and passed on my card to them.

The world is small.

And God is good!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Drought and rain

The rainy season usually begins here in the beginning of May.

This year there were a number of storms in early May but it has been particularly dry and very hot until recently.

In some areas there was a real drought. I have heard of at least one case where a farmer planted his corn after the first rains but because of the drought he had to replant - costing at least $100 for the extra seed.

But it appears that the rains have begun in earnest. This week we have had some very heavy rains, some beginning early in the afternoon. It's been raining, as we say in the US, cats and dogs.

This, of course, means that the street I live on is a mess - since it's unpaved. But the road maybe paved in the next few weeks. We'll see. At least they surveyed it yesterday.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Pentecost Vigil Dulce Nombre

 At the Pentecost Vigil in the parish Dulce Nombre de María on June 11, 24 children between 7 and 14 and about 8 kid under 5 were baptized. All were from distant villages and had come into Dulce Nombre de Copán for the two and a half hour Mass. It was a celebration full of spirited singing, a witness to the faith of the people.

Father Julio baptizes

You are the light of the world.
Let your light shine before the world.

The offertory procession
The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, symbolized with flaming bowls.

Most of the baptized with Father Julio after Mass.

Friday, June 10, 2011


I was awakened this morning at 5 am to the sound of lots of people in the street.

I am accustomed to get up at 5:30 for some time of coffee, prayer, and reading, but 5 am!

My neighbors are rebuilding their house and putting on a second floor. Part of the process after the first floor is built is to lay a cement terraza  of 10-12 centimeters of concrete. Here it’s a labor intensive job. The maestro de obra (construction supervisor) told me that there were 38 people working – mixing cement, moving cement to the site, pouring the cement and smoothing it out.

It’s amazing and hard work – and the workers included some young kids.

Life is hard here. In comparison, I live such a privileged life. All the more reason to be here and accompany the people in their struggles for faith, life, and justice.

A few photos follow:

Mixing cement

Lifting buckets of cement to the roof

moving the cement to the corner of the roof

buckets full of cement

pouring the buckets for the roof

pouring and smoothing the cement
smoothing out the cement

a smoothed out section of the roof
Added later  - the roof at 5 pm, after all the concrete was laid

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Land reform, a Vatican document and Honduras

In 1997, the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace issued a prophetic document entitled Toward a Better Distribution of the Land: The Challenge of Agrarian Reform.  

The document, reflecting Catholic Social Teaching as well as scriptural teachings on the relation of land and poverty, took a strong stand for serious land reform.

Land is a serious problem in many places in Latin America and especially so here in Honduras. Many campesinos I know may have a few acres of coffee but often don't have land to grow the staple crops of corn and beans. Much of the good land is owned by rich individuals who use it for cattle raising, while campesinos rent land, often on hillsides. 

Recently I have seen a lot of burning of fields and forests on my trips out to the countryside in the Dulce Nombre parish. My guess is that most of the land is not being burned by small farmers but my large landowners who will convert the former forests into pastures for their cattle - or maybe more coffee land. 
Land being burnt June 7, 2011, between Plan Grande and El Zapote

Some landowners put outrageous prices on their lands. Today I heard of a land owner who wants 220,000 lempiras ($11,000) for a piece of coffee land which is about a manzana (1.68 acres). 

But even worse is the conflict over land in the Bajo Aguan in the north of Honduras. One of the richest persons in Honduras, Miguel Facussé, owns land which is being used for African palm, whose oil is being used for biofuels. There are serious legal questions about how he acquired the land. He now seeks to keep campesinos who wish land out by the use of armed security guards who are occasionally assisted by government police or military. 

This has resulted in more than thirty deaths of campesinos. Bishop Luis Santos of the diocese of  Santa Rosa de Copán has accused Facussé of being responsible for deaths. Last year Andrés Pavón, director of the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights in Honduras brought a suit against Facussé for the deaths of 14 campesinos in the Aguan. Not surprisingly, for Honduras, the proof he presented disappeared. 

What has happened? Monday May 30, Facussé's lawyer filed a legal suit against the bishop for defamation. Monday, June 6, the same lawyer filed a legal suit against Andrés Pavón for defamation. On Sunday, June 5, three campesinos were killed in the Bajo Aguan area, as testified by the government director of the National Land Institute [INA], César Ham, who also noted that three campesinos were injured when security guards of Miguel Facussé entered an INA building.

The killings continue. Not much is being done by the government though President Porfirio Lobo is promising to provide a prompt and definitive solution to the "problem." But Facussé's forces continue to threaten, injure and kill poor campesinos and threaten defenders of the poor.

Apropos of the violence and injustice, it might be useful to read paragraph 12 of the Vatican document on Agrarian Reform:

The history of many rural areas has often been marked by conflict, social injustice and uncontrolled forms of violence.
The landowning élite and the large companies involved in exploiting mineral and forest resources have, on many occasions, not hesitated to establish a climate of terror in order to suppress the protests of workers who are forced to work at an inhuman pace for wages that often do not cover their travel and living expenses. Similar tactics have been used in order to overcome conflicts with small farmers who have been farming State or other land for a long time, or in order to take possession of land occupied by indigenous populations.
In these conflicts, intimidation and illegal arrests are used, and, in extreme cases, armed groups are hired to destroy possessions and harvests, deprive community leaders of power, and eliminate people, including those who take up the defence of the weak, among whom many Church leaders.
The representatives of the public authorities are often direct accomplices in such violence. The executors and instigators of the crimes are guaranteed impunity by weaknesses in the administration of justice and the indifference of many States to international juridical instruments concerning respect for human rights.
This was written in 1997. It reads like a commentary on the current situation in Honduras.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Bishop Santos replies and defends the poor

Monseñor Luis Santos, May 31, 2011, San Juan, Intibucá

Friday, June 3, 2011, Monseñor Luis Alfonso Santos, Bishop of the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán, Honduras,  released an open letter in response to the current charges against him. 


From Erandique, territory of the Lenca people and of the leader Lempira, defender of national sovereignty. I send my fraternal greetings and my thanks to all the persons, institutions, and popular organizations and means of communication that have been in solidarity with me denouncing the crimes, still unpunished, which had continued to happen against the campesinos in the region of the Bajo Aguan.

In  my speech in Choluteca, the past May 11, I spoke of 14 campesinos killed in the Bajo Aguan. According to well-documented reports there are now more than 30.

The context of the public denunciation was a march of the Committees in Defence of Nature of the diocese of Choluteca, where I walked at the side of the bishop, Monseñor Guido Plante. The words were in front a public reduced in size because the noonday sun, exhaustion, and hunger had caused most the  those who were part of the environmental march to lose their attention and they had begun to walk away. I thought that it was all over, but the following day Radio America as a Pharisee undertook scandal mongering with the recording of some of my words.

To my surprise 19 days later, on May 30, a notice appeared in that  the lawyer Antonio Ocampo Santos, the legal representative of the businessman Miguel Facussé, filed a complaint against your servant in the courts of the Republic.

Señor Andrés Pavón, president of CODEH, the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights in Honduras, presented documentation over  24 of those assassinated in the Bajo Aguan but the Fiscal’s office lost them or made them supposed to be lost. The same happened in 2007 when by a superior order no action was taken on a lawsuit on behalf of three persons wounded by bullets by the police in the course of a protest against mining, a lawsuit  which we presented through COFADEH, the Committee of Families and the Detained in Honduras.

To confront this complaint I have given power to a team of lawyers to defend me. For the time being and in relation to this theme I will not give any more declarations to the press. I submit myself to the laws of Honduras, not putting aside the ability to approach other international forums. 

I am a defender of human Rights and my words were motivated by the compassion that the poorest and the defenseless inspire in me; in this case the campesinos in the Bajo Aguan who  defend their lives and the right to land to produce food for themselves and their children.

The document  Gaudium et Spes of the Second Vatican Council affirms that the human being is the end (purpose) of all human action and at the same time has as ultimate end (purpose) Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word. The government, presided over by Porfirio Lobo Sosa has as its motto Christian Humanism; I hope that, based in this humanism, justice will be done for all those assassinated in the Bajo Aguan, at the very least after their death.

The priests and the laity of the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán want the complaint brought against your servant to be the basis to clarify the death of campesinos in the Bajo Aguán and that the lands which belong to the State of Honduras be put at the disposition of INA, the National Agrarian Institute, with the purpose of handing them over to the campesinos.
Not withstanding this situation, I have continued my work as bishop in the triple function of teaching, celebrating worship, and governing my diocese. Nor had I lowered my guard in regard to the theme of mining of metals, a law concerning which the National Congress wants to approve in these days. I make an urgent plea to environmentalists to be alert and sustain the articles that have been agreed on.

Mining of metals ought not to exist in Honduras while we do not have a capacity set up to manage it with technology and trained personnel. Foreigners carry off the minerals leaving to Honduras the contamination and the social convulsion. The person responsible for the law which is approved is the lawyer Donaldo Reyes Avelar, president of the current mining commission in the National Congress. Would that one day he may not have to face the protest of the Honduran people.

The Catholic Church chooses life; but in order to preserve life the Church has to work resolving the conflicts that threaten life. The Honduran people is waking up and wants to liberate itself of the chains that the exploiters and oppressed have maintained. In the history of salvation, God has intervened in favor of the oppressed. The Catholic church today in Honduras also ought to intervene in favor of the oppressed, thus giving testimony of the following of Jesus Christ, of whom we are disciples and missionaries for the construction of the Kingdom.

 I ask the Holy Spirit whose coming we will celebrate June 12 to give us wisdom, intelligence, and strength to face the unjust reality in which the poor live and to find suitable solutions which seek the Common Good and not the enrichment of only a few.

 With my apostolic blessing, I  close.


Monseñor Luis Alfonso Santos Villeda SDB
Bishop of  Santa Rosa de Copán
The original in Spanish is posted  on my Spanish blog here