Sunday, November 27, 2011

Reflecting on a visit from St. Thomas parishioners

Yesterday I saw the St. Thomas Aquinas, Ames, group depart for the US, leaving them in the hands of Javier, who drove them safely to the San Pedro Sula airport.

Four of the six visitors from St. Thomas Aquinas, Ames

It is always good to have a group here – to give them a sense of the life here and the ministry of the parish of Dulce Nombre, as it strives to help the parishioners live as children of God – in a way that their growth in faith includes efforts to live lives worthy of children of God. With the poverty of the parish that is so important.

The group – five student parishioners and one resident parishioner of St. Thomas – had a chance to see life at the base when we stayed two days in Quebraditas, helping build a latrine and pila (water container) for the church there.

Partly finished latrine and pila

Quebraditas is not one of the poorer communities of the parish but they came face to face with the problems of life in the countryside – sanitation, bugs, difficulty of obtaining basic supplies.

They did visit a poorer community, Piedras Coloradas, as well as some other communities. They also got a chance to see one of the sites in the parish of the Catholic Relief Services’ support infant and maternal health project.

A highlight for many of them was the Christ the King Mass on Sunday, November 20, when the parish gathered in Candelaria for Mass. The crush of so many people and the enthusiasm of the people celebrating their faith were impressive. Forty three catechists were recognized for having completed their training (a process of more than two years).

Catechists receiving their "diplomas"

I remember most the homily of the pastor, Padre Efraín Romero, where he called for an end to violence. The Friday before the Mass a man had been killed in Candelaria by a mentally ill man and it had shocked many with its brutality. At the Mass, a “shrine” of artifacts of Modesto Melgar, the Delegate of the Word who had been killed last November, was brought forward. See my post last year for a little more information on Don Modesto.

Bible, hymnal, and clothes that Modesto wore when he was killed.

In some ways these acts of violence can be frightening, even though they do not at all march the violence in other parts of the country. The west of Honduras is very peaceful and safe, despite occasional violence. But I don’t feel threatened in this part of Honduras, mostly because of the care which the people here show.

But the violence the poor experience is a reality – the violence of the machete or the gun, but more significantly the “violence” of poverty and injustice.

To accompany them in the struggle against injustice and poverty is why I’m here.

For this I thank God.

Thursday, November 24, 2011


It's been almost a week since I posted because of the slow - or nearly non-existent - internet connections in Dulce Nombre and in the coutnryside.

Last Friday at the Dulce Nombre parish two kids were shelling beans. I noticed that they were quite unusual. The cook explained that these were frijoles de la milpa -  beans from the corn field. These different varieties were sown amid the corn and some even grew up the corn stalks.

These beans will most probably be used for bean soup or for ticucos, a regional specialty of corn dough with beans.

Here are a few photos.

The only one whose name I know are these large purple beans - chinapopos.

If anyone can identify the other ones, let me know.


Thursday, November 17, 2011

To cry or scream - or organize

Placing two recent reports side by side makes me want to scream.

The first describes how Honduran beef exports have increased by more than 120 percent, exporting about 25 million dollars worth of meet.

The other report noted,
According to the results of a survey conducted by the National Institute of Statistics (INE), 5.5 million of the estimated 8.2 million people in Honduras live in poverty. Of that number, some 1.7 million live in a state of relative poverty and more than 3.8 million in extreme poverty. Income for households within this segment of the population falls below an index known as the canasta básica (basic [food] basket). Of Honduras' population, an estimated 4.7 million have serious nutritional problems, and an additional 1.7 million can pay for enough to eat but cannot afford basic healthcare, education, or housing.
Is there something wrong here?

Today as I rode with the group from St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Ames from San Pedro Sula to Santa Rosa de Copán, we passed the plain north of La Entrada. So much flat land with so many cattle grazing there. Who owns most of the land for cattle raising? The economic (and political) elites. Much of the cattle land around here belongs to Jaime Rosenthal.

I know cases of people with land refusing to sell to campesinos and instead try to buy the campesino’s land. How much greed can this country endure?

A report a few months ago noted that eight out of ten campesino families own no land or less than ten acres of land, mostly on hill sides. In contrast, 1% of agricultural producers own a third of the cultivable land, mostly in valleys.

Something wrong – unjust is happening here.

That’s why the voice of the prophetic church must continue to be raised with the poor campesinos struggling for land and livelihood.

Amos wrote, centuries ago, condemning something very similar:
Ah, those who plan iniquity
And design evil on their beds;
When morning dawns, they do it,
For they have the power.
They covet fields and seize the;
Houses, and take them away.
They defraud people of their homes, 
And people of their land.
                       Amos 2, 1-2 (Tanakh translation revised)
 I think it was International Workers of the World labor organizer Joe Hill who said, “Don’t mourn! Organize!” 

May the Church, especially here in the west of Honduras, continue to be with the poor in their struggles for justice, for land, for life!

July 17, 2007 road blockade, Santa Rosa de Copán

Welcoming guests

Today I’ll be going to San Pedro Sula with a van and a driver to pick up six parishioners from St. Thomas Aquinas Church and Catholic Student Center in Ames, Iowa.

As some of my readers may know, I worked at St. Thomas for 24 years before coming here to Honduras in June, 2007. The parish has supported me and has established a relationship with the parish of Dulce Nombre de María where I am helping.

Several times a year I received groups from St. Thomas and arrange for them to connect with the parish of Dulce Nombre. This time there will be five student parishioners and one resident parishioner.

I am glad to have them, though a bad cold has kept me under the weather since last Friday. I hope it doesn’t slow me down too much.

For me, the visits are a chance for the US parishioners to get to know and accompany the ministry of Dulce Nombre parish. There will be some work – helping with a latrine and water container. But the main purpose is solidarity – learning how we can be sisters and brothers together.

This is, therefore, not a “mission” trip from the US. (God is here already.) Rather I hope it is a sharing of our common mission to be signs of the Kingdom of God and God’s love here and in the US.

Please pray for us. 

May 2010 immersion group with Bishop Santos
On a side note.

The diocese received a grant to create a booklet on Catholic Social Teaching for the base communities. Since no one stepped up to do the work, I began working on it. I passed it on to the director of Caritas so that he could review it. He handed it to our bishop, Monseñor Luis Alfonso Santos, who read it and revised it.  (I still am not good at writing in Spanish.)

To my great satisfaction, he loved it. It will be handed to him next week as part of the diocesan Pastoral Assembly and then will be printed.

It’s a large document with themes for 57 meetings. I pray it may help the Church live out its commitment to be Good News for the Poor.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Back out in the countryside

I’ve been back in Honduras since Friday, November 4. Finally, on Thursday, November 11, I got back out into the countryside.

A group is coming from St. Thomas Aquinas Church on November 17 and I have to make sure everything is prepared. This included a few visits to places where they will be staying or visiting. I could, of course, have tried to do all this over the phone, but it actually works better to spend the time visiting the communities – partly to make sure I get things straight and partly because it is always good to have face to face meeting with folks.

The St. Thomas group will spend three days in Quebraditas – the town with the pink church. They’ll be working with the people of the town to build a latrine and a pila, a water basin, for the church grounds.

The pink church of San José in Quebraditas

 I had expected that things would not be underway and I’d have to put a spark under the people. Oh me, of little faith. Delmi had been arranging things and even had a list of what we needed to purchase before the project begins. We also talked about where people would stay and meals. It was a very fruitful meeting.

I left with six oranges and a dozen mandarins. It’s that season, I ate three mandarins on the road – the best mandarins I’ve had.

Friday and Saturday I went out to the meetings for two of the zones of the parish – Zona San Miguel (formerly zone 2) and Zona San Francisco (formerly zone 3). Zone 2 seems to have a lot of problems, probably exacerbated by the poverty of the zone. Zone 3, though it is the farthest from the parish, is where I have been concentrating my efforts. It has it problems but it does seem to have a more active and participative ministry than some other parts of the parish.  Some communities also seem to be a little more well off than the others.

It was raining on Saturday when I sent out to the meeting in El Zapote de Santa Rosa. At 1 pm when it was finished the rain had stopped but the fog was think. I could see about 200 feet on the road ahead of me, but looking out to the fields and valleys on the side of the road all I could see was the thick soup of a fog.  

My pickup (la bestia) in El Zapote - in the fog

Sunday I ended up going to Mass in Yaruconte, a town past Dolores. The road was bad because of all the rain and so it was four-wheel drive all the way. There had also been a landslide on the side of the mountain above the village.

Landslide on the hill above Yaruconte

Padre Efraín was celebrating the Mass and led a very participative homily. The first reading was on the good wife. He asked the men to speak about wives. I waited for the worst – but was totally surprised when one man told how his grandfather used to get up early in the morning and make coffee for his wife and himself. (In most cases women get up early to make the coffee and tortillas and begin to prepare breakfast.) Padre Efraîn asked him if he got up and made coffee. Meekly he said no.

Sunday Mass in Yaruconte

Padre Efraín talked a bit about machismo – the common sense of the superiority of men over women. He talked about a couple he knew who got married and said that the woman was not the slave in the family; the two of them were compañeros – companions – in their marriage.

Later in the homily, Padre Efraín talked about the importance of not having or using weapons in the villages. Violence affects many parts of life here in Honduras. Almost at once, one man piped up and said that they should not buy kids toy guns, because it gives them the wrong idea.

It was marvelous to hear these people speak forthrightly about real problems in their society.

Getting out to listen to these people and visit with them is a blessing.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Monseñor Santos - a legacy "passes"

Monday, November 7, Monseñor Luis Alfonso Santos, turned 75. As legislated by canon law of the Catholic Church he had to submit a letter of resignation from his appointment as bishop of the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán.

At about 5:00 am on Monday, Monseñor noted, he received a phone call telling him that the Pope had accepted his resignation and had appointed Monseñor Darwin Andino, auxiliary bishop of Tegucigalpa, as the next bishop of Santa Rosa.

Monseñor had already planned a Mass that day with the priests of the diocese. Forty-one priests arrived to concelebrate the Mass with him in the Monseñor Romero auditorium on the grounds of the diocesan meeting center under construction just outside Santa Rosa.We started late for many reasons, including rain and muddy roads. As we left Santa Rosa for the Mass in pouring rain, I felt as if the heavens were crying!

The Mass was simple, a sharing of the celebration of Word and Eucharist with his brother priests and a few of us laypeople who came. During the homily Monseñor spoke about the changes, but very subtly.

He recalled that when Monseñor Oscar Arnulfo Romero was named archbishop of San Salvador in 1977, the conservatives and the government officials were pleased since they thought he would favor their cause. But the death of Father Rutilio Grande and other events moved Romero to side with the poor. It is possible that the Holy Spirit can change the way one works.

The direction (linea) of the diocese needs to be continued, he noted. He is happy with the work of the parishes, with the base communities. The number of faithful has grown and that the work of evangelization continues in the diocese.
At the end of the prayers of the faithful, he recalled Jesus' prayer, "may all be one as You, Father, are in Me and I in You," (John 17, 21). He then prayed for communion between priests and the bishop and among the priests.

Monseñor will continue as apostolic administrator until early next year when Bishop Andino will be installed as bishop of Santa Rosa.

After that Monseñor Santos will continue his efforts supporting the poor and advocating changes for the good of Honduras, through the foundation in his name and through his work with the Alianza Cívica por la Democracia – the Civic Alliance for Democracy.

Monday afternoon the Alianza Cívica had a reception for Monseñor. A wide range of people came, including family members, a former student, a former mayor of Santa Rosa (Juan Carlos Elvir), people with the Alianza Cívica, the Mennonite director of OCDIH, and others. They shared their stories – some quite humorous. At the end of the reception Monseñor explained his episcopal shield with his motto “Mejor autem caritas” – "but the greatest is charity" from 1 Corinthians 13: 13.

Monseñor will be missed. Some are happy that this prophetic voice seems to have passed from the scene. But my guess is that his voice will not be silenced. 

The legacy of his commitment to the poor will continue, At the end of the Mass, Father Rudy Mejía, the vicar general of the diocese,  gave Monseñor Santos the first copy of the Third Pastoral Plan of the diocese which is meant to set the direction of the diocese for the next twelve years.

Later this month I hope to write a longer piece about Monseñor Santos detailing his long history of commitment to the poor and the marginalized. It needs to be heard, especially here in Honduras. 

Monseñor Santos and me, 7 November, 2011
 Thank God for the presence of Monseñor Santos here in the diocese of Santa Rosa for almost 28 years. May his legacy continue and may he continue to be a sign of the Good News of the Kingdom of God for the poor.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Honduras in the news

I have been away from Honduras for more than 5 weeks and so feel a bit out of contact with the events. 

View from Cerro Negro, near Delicias, Concepción, Copán

There were major floods and landslides after torrential rains. (I saw one landslide that blocked half the highway on the trip from San Pedro Sula to Santa Rosa on Friday.) 

The son of the director of the National University and his friend were killed by police who were picked up, released, and then fled. A major police official in Tegucigalpa (who used to be here in Copán) has been accused of  corruption by another official. A major shake up of the police is occurring, but it is unclear whether this will really change things.

And there is more.

But one item I just read struck me as a little strange – but revealing.

In a report on her website, Republican presidential hopeful Michele Bachman stated that after the proposed pullout of troops from Iraq, “We will now have fewer troops in Iraq than we have in Honduras…”

First of all, I must state that I am in favor of a US withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan.  I have been against these wars from the beginning. For an interesting perspective on these wars from a different perspective, read the article from Catholic News Services on Republican Representative Walter Jones.

I have no idea if the figures that Bachman gives are the facts, but I do know that US troops are present here. There are at least 550 US troops on Honduran soil, at the Soto Cano air-force base near Comayagua.

In addition, the US has been involved in several major military construction projects totally more than 11.1 million dollars in 2010 and 2011, according to a report from the Fellowship of Reconciliation.

Soto Cano, also called Palmerola, is the home of Joint Task Force Bravo. The supposed reason for this presence and for the new construction is to counter drug-trafficking and to be available for emergency situations. The base was founded in the 1980s when the US was supporting the Salvadoran military as well as the Nicaraguan contras, both of which were repressive groups and responsible for massacres of civilians.

Now there are times when the US forces, either with or without Honduran military forces, goes into communities to provide humanitarian assistance. Some of this appears harmless, though I remember how the Salvadoran army used all sorts of humanitarian assistance activities as part of a psychological warfare.

At least one case I have read about here really troubles me. In August 2010 a Honduran military Medical and Civic Assistance Program or MEDCAP mission worked with a group of U.S. Army Civil Affairs Soldiers in Chacalapa and Guadalupe Carney.

Honduran Col. Wilfredo Efruhin Oliva, the director of Plans and Civil Affairs for the Estado Mayor Conjunto in Tegucigalpa. "Along with helping the people, we are working to combat narco-trafficking in this area," said Oliva. "In order for us to do that, we have to gain the trust of the people and talk to them. Today was a good start, and they are grateful but it is not enough."

Since so many campesinos have been killed in that area, I really wonder if the real reason of choosing the Guadalupe Carney community was to check them out. The community Guadalupe Carney is a group that is in the midst of the land struggles in the Baja Aguan. The leaders of that community have continually demanded that the military leave them alone.  In addition on November 2010 five members of  that community were killed.

Many Hondurans I know resent the continuing presence of the US military on Honduran soil and US police and military support of the Honduran police and military. They see it as support for a repressive political and military structure that really does not bring security to the people here.

The US presence has become more complicated with a recent report in the New York Times. Commando style squads of the US Drug Enforcement Agency are cooperating with Honduras authorities.

All of this is problematic because of the corruption with drug trafficking in Honduras that reaches not only the police and military but also government and business leaders.

Where is the way out?

Please pray for us.

Sunday, November 06, 2011


I am back in Honduras, after five weeks in the United States. During that time I had the blessing to see many friends and family members, including my aunt Mary who turned 94 on October 8.

Fr. Jon Seda at Mass in St. Thomas Aquinas, Ames
I also spoke at many events at St. Thomas, as well as at Iowa State University, Simpson College, Loras College, and the University of Detroit-Mercy. So my time was not all vacation. In fact, I saw it as part of my mission -  to spread the Good News of the poor to people in the US.

But it is very good to be back.

I still haven’t been to the countryside, since I needed to do some work on the car (a battery) as well as try to clean the house and arrange the stuff I brought back (mostly books and dark chocolate.)

But I am looking forward to visiting with people in the rural villages of the parish of Dulce Nombre.

On the plane back on Friday, I read the first reading for the memorial of St. Charles Borromeo, Romans 12: 3-13.  Verse 8 in the Spanish captured my heart:

... el que atiende a los necesitados, hágalo con alegría.
Let those who take care of  those in need do it with joy.

Most of the English translations  aren’t so straightforward. The Jerusalem Bible translation is the closest: “[Let] those who do mercy do them cheerfully.”

The Greek is simple – but the Spanish translation touched me with its straightforward message. It also reminded me that many people I saw in the US told me that they could see a joy in me.

Yes, it’s a joy, a joy of sharing in the lives of the poor.

This reminds me of this quote from Shane Clairbourne’s The Irresistible Revolution:

It is a wonderful things when folks in poverty are no longer just a missions project, but become genuine friends and family with whom we laugh, cry, dream, and struggle.

And I remember these words of Fr. Dean Brackley, S.J., a friend who died in El Salvador  last month of cancer:
These people shake us up because they bring home to us that things are much worse in the world than we dared to imagine. But that is only one side of the story: If we allow them to share their suffering with us, they communicate some of their hope to us as well. The smile that seems to have no foundation in the facts is not phony; the spirit of fiesta is not an escape but a recognition that something else is going on in the world besides injustice and destruction. The poor smile because they suspect that this something is more powerful than the injustice.
Yes, there is joy and hope - because here I have experienced that there is something more powerful than injustice - the grace of God working among the poor.