Sunday, August 28, 2011

Full days, scripture, and the Eucharist

Sometimes scripture really comes alive.

Thursday I went to El Zapote de Santa Rosa, a village in the Dulce Nombre parish with about 800 inhabitants.  They had asked me to come out for their Holy Hour so that they could have exposition of the Eucharist. I was very happy to do this since it’s a very welcoming community.

When I arrived I found out that it would not only be exposition of the Eucharist but there would be a form of the Celebration of the Word and Communion.

The church was packed with about 200 people – women, children, and men. As usual, in addition to some men inside the church there was a group of men, mostly young man, at the church door and just a little outside– interested, curious,

They don’t have a monstrance so I propped the large host in the ciborium they have so that all could see the Host.

Before we started we decided to use the readings of the day. Marco Tulio would comment on the Gospel and I would comment on the first reading, a reading full of meaning for me.

In the morning when I read the passage, 1 Thessalonians 3: 7-13, I was awestruck by the reading. I could have written almost the same as Paul did, but about the people in El Zapote and the other villages in the parish: “What a consolation this faith of yours is for us in the midst of our troubles and trails. It is a breath of life for us when you stand firm in the Lord. How can we thank God enough for all the joy that we feel before God because of you?”

I shared my feelings with the people in the church that night, because it was what I feel. But I added that Paul, though praising the Thessalonians, had a challenge for them. The Spanish is stronger than the English translation: “Que el Señor los llene y los haga rebosar de un amor mutuo y hacia lodos los demás.” – “May the Lord fill you with love for each other and for all others and may that love overflow!”

Communion was moving as I shared the Body of Christ with the many who came forward to receive.

At the end of the exposition, before putting the Eucharist back into the tabernacle, I decided to carry the wooden ciborium down the aisle so that even the guys at the door might have a chance to worship.

A twilight view in El Zapote de Santa Rosa

That night I slept well but got up early since I was going with folks to a workshop in Dulce Nombre on Liturgy. But before I left I gazed in wonder at the marvelous landscape before my eyes.

The workshop was for folks in Liturgical Ministry in their villages as well as for those in the formation process to become extraordinary ministers of Communion in their villages.

The morning was a test – to see what they learned. Surprisingly I found that two of the forty people there were illiterate and so we had to do an oral test with them. Some did very well on the written test but not all. Many of these people are barely literate or have vision problems that make it hard to read or are not used to taking tests. After the written test, I had them work in groups to see if they could put the parts of the Mass in order. That worked out well.

Looking at the tests I think most of the people grasp most of what we have tried to teach them about liturgy, especially the Mass.

Sor Pedrina

After the test, Sor Pedrina led a number of sessions to help them understand how to prepare for Masses in their villages. Saturday morning we led sessions on the relation of the Eucharist and justice.

I am time after time impressed by these people – their faith, their commitment. I am also challenged by learning difficulties many of them experience, because of lack of good education. I don’t know if anyone in the group there, except for two retired teachers, had even six years of formal education.  And so I try to find ways to help them learn using methods of popular education – learning by doing; use of examples, stories, and pictures; and songs. It’s a challenge but it’s something I love doing.

One of the major challenges for formation and organization of pastoral workers is their low level of education and so I’m looking into ways to help them read aloud better and develop better comprehension skills. We did some of this on Saturday morning and I hope to find ways to incorporate this into other training sessions. These people do so much with so little and I’d like to find ways to help them even more.

After the workshop I headed to Gracias to the blessing of the new convent of the Dubuque Franciscan Sisters, Casa Betania – Bethany House. Sister Nancy Meyerhofer and Sister Brenda Whetstone are member of the Franciscan Sisters of the Holy Family, based in Dubuque. They have been working in the Gracias parish – Nancy for about five years, Brenda for about two.

Erica and Sister Brenda

Sister Nancy and Padre Loncho

They have recently built a house outside of town as the congregation’s center here in Honduras. They hope to promote vocations here – and they have one postulant.

The house is beautiful and more than 100 people showed up for the blessing.  Padre Loncho, the pastor of the parish of Gracias, celebrated Mass and blessed the house.

It was a joyous occasion – marking a new milestone in the presence of the sisters here in Honduras.

And again it was celebrated with the Eucharist – Christ present in bread and wine and in the lives of the poor.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Weather, land, and the poor

It’s been hot here during the day and raining almost every night. So there’s been lots of mud. This is especially tricky in the countryside where I got stuck in the mud on Sunday as I tried to pull over to let another care pass. I was going out to Mass in the village of Quebraditas. 

Padre Efraín at Mass in Quebraditas

 The front right wheel got stuck in about 20 inches of mud. Six guys tried to get me out but it took another pick up truck pulling and the guys pushing to get me out.

This happened in El Zapote de Santa Rosa, a community I’ve often visited. Yet I didn’t know the guys who first came and helped. The car that passed by and finally got me out was full of folks I know, mostly from Candelaria. They were returning from helping with the Sunday Celebration of the Word in El Zapote. Again, relying on the kindness of strangers, of the poor here who help as much as they can.

Back in Santa Rosa, I took my truck to my mechanic and got the bumper and the wheel well fixed.

Mud is on my mind. They’re starting to work on the street where I live, preparing to pave. And so the street is a mess. I also have to store my truck at Caritas since they cut off the ramp to my garage and I don’t think my truck can navigate a twelve inch step!

But in the midst of these little troubles of mine, I am reading more about the situation in the northeast of Honduras in the Bajo Aguán. This past week there have been about 10 more people killed. This brings the death toll in that area to more than 40. In addition the Honduran government has sent about 1000 soldiers and police to the region.

As I have mentioned in an earlier blog post, I don’t know all the details of the situation. Some are claiming that the organized peasant groups have taken up arms, something I rather doubt. Others claim that there are groups of thieves who are stealing fruit and other items who are responsible for some of the violence. This is also an area where you can find some drug-trafficking.

But at the center of the dispute is the problem of land. Much of the good land, planted with the lucrative African palm – used for both palm oil and biodiesel, is owned by three persons, one of whom, Miguel Facussé, is one of the richest persons in Honduras and was a major force in support of the 2009 coup d’état. From what I can discern, he obtained much of the land in underhanded ways.

The issue of ownership of land and other resources is central to any effort to ensure a good life to the poor here.

I have recently heard of another potential land problem which may arise in future years. Groups are coming in to a region of the department of Lempira and offering money for land. Why is unclear, though some people think it is related to possible mineral deposits.

But why would poor people sell their land?

When you have to provide for your family who are starving, the offer of a few hundred dollars for your land is appealing since it offers a way out of the current crisis. Of course, it doesn’t solve the problem but makes it worse.

And so the poor suffer, the very people who will often go out of their way to help a stranger.

I, though, am privileged to be able to accompany them here in western Honduras. And I'll have more opportunities to be in the countryside in the parish of Dulce Nombre de María.

Last Tuesday, Padre Julio César Galdámez, who had been the associate pastor of Dulce Nombre, was installed as pastor of a new parish, San Juan Bosco. The parish includes parts of Santa Rosa de Copán as well as the municipality of Vera Cruz, which had been part of the parish of Dulce Nombre. 

At Father Julio's farewell Mass in Dulce Nombre

Though this means the parish of Dulce Nombre has five less villages, there are still about 40 some towns and villages and more than 40,000 people.

I had been planning to do more in the countryside. This change makes it more urgent to help Padre Efraín Romero, the pastor. 

And so I'll be going out more often. I'm starting this week, going out to a Holy Hour on Thursday to El Zapote. In September, I'll be taking the Eucharist to two remote villages for their Sunday Celebration of the Word.

It's a little thing I can do - but for the people it is important, since they have a deep love of the Eucharist.

I will be gone from this area for a while starting in September. I have been asked to lead a retreat for the volunteers of the Farm of the Child in Trujillo, on the north coast. Then I'm off to Lima, Perú. In January 2010 I was sent by Caritas Santa Rosa to take part in a workshop on World Vision's problem of encouraging local churches to respond to HIV and AIDS. Last November World Vision asked me to be part of an informational session in Bogota, Colombia, on the project for people from the Latin America Bishops' Conference (CELAM). This year there is a training session the World Vision is doing for CELAM in Lima, Perú, and I've been asked to help. They are paying my way there, but otherwise it's another way of volunteering to help those at the margin of society.

After that I'll be in the US for about five weeks for my annual visit. After a week in the Philadelphia area I'll be in Detroit for a few days retreat and then a series of talks at the University of Detroit-Mercy.

Then I'll get to St. Thomas Aquinas Church and Catholic Student Center in Ames where I'll be meeting with folks from the parish that is supporting me here and has a relationship with the parish of Dulce Nombre. I also have a few other speaking opportunities and am looking for more. (If you're interested, email me.)

The trip back to the US is important, though I really don't want to leave for such a  long time. I see it as part of what people call "reverse mission," a way of sharing the wealth of the people in Honduras with people in the US.

It just again a little thing that I can do to witness to the faith and love of the people here and to invite people to join in solidarity with the poor and their struggles for justice and a decent life.

Dulce Nombre Youth at Padre Julio's installation as San Juan Bosco pastor.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Continuing ministry

My life has been full of the little events that make up my life and ministry here.

Last Wednesday, the two seminarians who have been with me since June left to return to the US for their studies. It was good for them to be here. I took them to San Pedro Sula on Tuesday so that they could leave on Wednesday without having to get up very early and have a very long travel day.

The day after they left the diocese had a three day meeting for the coordinators of the social ministry in the parishes. I did a lot of the logistical work – signing people in, giving them a part of the costs of their travel, paying the retreat center, etc.

I did have two hours to do an introductory workshop on “Transformation of Conflicts,” which Caritas in Honduras is promoting. I used some of their materials but supplemented them with materials from other trainings I have had in the past, including the exercise, "Knots".

Sunday, August 14, I went to Dulce Nombre for Mass. Padre Julio César Galdámez, the associate at Dulce Nombre, has been named the pastor of a new parish, Saint John Bosco, which includes two barrios of Dulce Nombre, the chaplaincy of the Catholic University Santa Rosa campus, and the municipality of Vera Cruz.

Padre Julio at the Mass

Marco Tulio offers Padre Julio a net, as a sign of his mission

This will mean that the parish of Dulce Nombre will have one less municipality, which includes the town of Vera Cruz and about five villages. It will also mean that the chaplaincy of  the Catholic University will be able to assist students or staff who have not yet received some of the sacraments.

It will be hard for the parish to have one less priest, but, as I’ve mentioned before, I will be trying to do some more pastoral work there, especially in the remote villages. I do look forward to this.

That ministry sometimes takes on unforeseen directions. I do visit the meetings of the zones and sectors of the parish and will be making more visits (probably overnight) to some of the villages.

But occasionally I am called on for something that challenges me in a deep way. A few weeks ago one of the pastoral workers in one of the villages called me. He was in Santa Rosa and wanted to talk. He had been here for several days since his child was in the hospital. As we sat and talked, with his three year old son there with us, he told me that the child had been in the hospital because he had been abused by a man in his fifties from another village.

He told me this very calmly, but with obvious concern. He also told me that he had taken steps to connect with authorities and the man had been jailed. This was for me a very courageous act, since so often people here do not denounce injustices committed against them for fear of reprisals and out of a sense that it won’t make a difference. But this time his action did make a difference. Officials of the Juzgado de Niñez – a government child’s advocate office – had investigated and were following up.

The next day the pastoral worker and his wife were going to the Ministerio Público to follow up. I went and met them at the office and stayed there while they went through the proceedings. They afterwards went to the office of the Juzgado de Niñez.

Something has been done, in this one case, for a child in need. Would that there were more such cases.

Monday I went with most of the Caritas staff to the funeral of a woman who had worked in the bakery at Caritas and had died on Sunday of cancer.

The funeral was in a village way up in the mountains, above Belen Gualcho, Ocotepeque. It was 90 minutes to Belen Gualcho and then another 35 or so minutes by car and ten minutes on foot to get to the village of Hierba Buena (“Good Herb” or mint).
The area was beautiful, in the folds of the mountains. The small chapel, named in honor of Salvadoran archbishop Monseñor Oscar Romero, was packed.

Padre Efraín, director of Caritas, led a Celebration of the Word, after which the crowd walked to the cemetery, about 3 kilometers away.

The celebration in the church and the procession to the cemetery were moving, as people paid tribute to Orbelinda Pacheco as a woman of faith and a hard worker.

This is probably the first time I’ve had the chance to see a funeral in the countryside. The simple faith of the people, the quiet grief, the muyriad flowers, and the solidarity of friends and neighbors impressed me, as they accompanied Orbe’s parents and daughter.

People were there – from old women to babies at the breast. Death was a part of their life – but the death of a younger woman is not easy.

But somehow faith sustains them and they hope to live the resurrection – not as pie in the sky, but as a reality here in their daily lives.

And so my life and ministry continue, sustained by God and the witness of so many poor people whose deep faith continues to challenge me.


Other photos of the funeral can be seen here.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Hosting seminarians

A few months ago, Jarrett Wendt, a Dubuque archdiocesan seminarian whom I’d known from his days at St. Thomas Aquinas in Ames, wrote and asked about the possibility of arranging a pastoral experience here in the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán.  I said I’d work on it.

A few weeks later another seminarian, Kevin Earleywine, a friend of Jarrett’s at Loras College’s St. John Vianney House, wrote and also asked me about coming.

Jarrett, Kevin, and Ivan at a Mass in Delicias, Concepción, Copán

After talking with Padre Efraín Romero, the pastor of the Dulce Nombre parish, I said yes and the process started.

Kevin arrived June 2 and Jarrett on June 27. They leave in two days, August 10.

I had decided that one of the best things for them, in order to see the pastoral work here and to improve their Spanish, was to leave them in a few different villages. I chose the places carefully, villages and towns where the pastoral work was fairly well developed and where I knew and trusted the people.

And so they stayed in Plan Grande, El Zapote de Santa Rosa, Delicias, San Agustín, and Dolores. In none of these places did they find people who spoke English – and so they had to speak Spanish – sink or swim. I’m glad to say they swam quite well. In El Zapote, Kevin had to live without electricity. They both were “troopers.”

Jarrett and Kevin got a chance to see the role that lay leaders have in the communities, leaders with little formal education who lead Celebrations of the Word on Sundays and other days, teach religious education, lead base communities, visit the sick. They also went out and worked with the people in the community – planting, weeding, building. Jarrett also spent a day with one of the women leaders and learned how to make tortillas.

They helped unload my truck full of fertilizer in a rural village.

They went to meetings (lots of them). They sang with people in the villages.

Roberto, Jarrett, Kevin, Marco Tulio

They even wrote and sang a song for the parish ecological celebration. Listen to it here on You Tube.

They  climbed an amate tree in Candelaria, Concepción, Copán.

Can you find them in the tree?

And Jarrett tried to cut grass with his machete.

What is the worth of this experience?

For them, it has helped them improve their Spanish, understand a bit of what life is like for the poor in Central America, experience a different way of being the Church, and experience being served by the people here who have welcomed them with great love.

For the people here, there was the chance to spend time with seminarians from the US, the chance to experience the presence of a wider church, the opportunity to share their lives and their pastoral ministry with people from another culture.

I think I could sum up what happened in two words – accompaniment and solidarity.

Thus the experience has not been of one group coming to do something for another – but an experience of mutuality, of sharing, of living as members of the same People of God.

Several times when I have visited the communities where Jarrett and Kevin have lived, I have told them that they have offered a service to the Church in the United States. They have been the teachers for these seminarians.

And I’m sure they’ve learned a few things from the seminarians, including the facts that there are fat people and poor people in the US.

Kevin with a boy in El Zapote

Jarrett told how some kids asked him if there were kids in the US. Yes, replied Jarrett. When they grow up, they become “gringos”? they asked. Yes, he replied.

Jarrett with kids in Agua Caliente, Vera Cruz.

The world becomes human – and more godly – because of these types of interactions.

The promotion of the sense of common humanity, of being all made in the image and likeness of God, of being members of the Body of Christ is what immersions should be. I’m glad I had a part in helping this happen.

Maybe there will be more opportunities of these types in the future .

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Caniculas or chubascos

Honduran Spanish can be quite colorful and specific.

We are in the rainy season here - winter, we call it - and its been raining much more than and with greater force than I remember. There are lots of chubascos, intense torrential rains, almost ever afternoon or evening.

Some farmers are experiencing problems. One of the seminarians visiting told me how the coffee field of a friend is in danger of being washed down the hillside, because of the intense rains that have soaked the earth.

The road up to Dolores
As a result the roads are worse. My street is a disaster, with some trenches in the middle of the street almost 8 inches deep. The roads in the countryside are even worse in spots, especially since there have not been a lot of intensely hot days to dry out the roads. There are foot deep ruts in some places.

But the real problems on the country roads are landslides and destruction of bridges. At one point the road from the international highway into Dulce Nombre  is only a car wide, because of the mudslide. As I mentioned in a previous post, a bridge near Cementera, Lepaera, Lempira was washed out. I also recently heard that the foot bridge (and perhaps the waterline) into another rural community have been destroyed by the rains.

But not only are the roads affected. Visiting Dolores, Copán, on Tuesday, I got to see the damage the rain did in the church. Last Thursday a portion of one of the walls fell off - leaving the adobe exposed and destroyed the inside roof for a storage room inside the church. The rain had penetrated the walls and the adobe is in a precarious state. Repair work will need to be done quickly.

But much of this work is hard to do during the rainy season. But July 15 to August 15 is supposed to be a time of a canicula, a month with little rain. But that's not the experience this year.

Some people blame  La Niña; others invoke the problem of global climate change.

Whatever the cause, the poor suffer more and what little they have is in greater danger.

Inside the Dolores Church
Some of the damage from the falling wall
 But still they seek to go forward. The community in Dolores, in the expectation to be able to have the Eucharist reserved in a tabernacle in their church, have built a new altar and ambo and fixed their retablo.

Renovations in the church in Dolores, Copán.