Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Glimmers of Hope - on a village level

Accompanying the work of Caritas includes occasionally going out to see the work in the fields. On Tuesday, February 28, I went out with Manuel López, who works with farmers in several places in the diocese.

We was bringing three young women who are doing an internship in Caritas as part of their university business administration studies.  They were going to give a short workshop on administration and accounting to one of the groups with which Manuel works.

We were going to the village of San Antonio de la Montaña, up the mountain from Erandique, in the department of Lempira.

The trip took more almost four hours from Santa Rosa (including stopping for breakfast.) The worst part was going up the hill on a narrow road which was pure dust – in some places more than an inch deep. Also, some of the retaining walls had been washed out with last year’s rains. Fortunately, there was a group working on the road.

A view from near Juan's house.

The village was on the side of the hill, with a brisk wind and an awesome view. The little church was just off the soccer field, across from the school.

As usual, the people were quite friendly, though some of the kids were a bit bashful. When I asked, one claimed that I was the first gringo they had seen there! Who knows?

The farmers involved in the project, which included women and some young people, are involved in a cooperative and thus are already fairly well organized.

It is a delight to encounter communities where the people are organized.

Some participants inside the church. Manuel is on the center, baseball cap and green shirt.

But what really delighted me was their spirit.

One leader talked about how they had to dig up and then rebury the village’s water pipes because of the road work. Some had thought they wouldn’t be able to do it in ten days, but they accomplished the task without breaking even a single of the 4 inch pipes. This was in marked contrast with other communities, some of whom just let some of their pipes be destroyed.

The workshop went well, though I think many of the 18 present already knew a fair amount about administration of a small business and a few knew something about accounting.

During lunch Juan took Manuel and me to see his fields where there is already some irrigation. It appears that a group gave them material years ago but did no follow-up work with them. Juan seems to be doing a  fairly good job with his field.

Juan's tomato crop.

Manuel will work with the group to help them improve their farming techniques.

Some participants outside the small church.

Hopefully the famers will be able to produce enough to sell. Two challenges are the road and where three might be markets. They are hoping that the mayor will open a stall for them in the town market. The road is being repaired but whether it will be good enough to allow access during the rainy season is another question.

All in all, it was a good place to visit, seeing some successes amid all the challenges that Honduras faces.

Waterfall below the water source for the village.

Tomorrow, Thursday, March 1, I’ll be facilitating a day and a half workshop on Catholic Social Teaching for folks in the diocese, largely those involved in the schools for democracy and participation. Interestingly, Juan and Hipólito from San Antonio are supposed to come.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Catechists' workshop in Dulce Nombre

Helping the formation of catechists and other pastoral workers is part of my ministry in the parish of Dulce Nombre. Friday and Saturday morning the parish had training for 45 catechists; many were new, but some had not yet completed the training program.

We were supposed to have it in two locations and I was in the remote location. Only seven showed up  - though another six arrived after I had left and were picked up by another pick up.

When we all got to the parish center there were 45 catechists present for the training – which really pushed the limits of the parish center.

Most of the catechists inside the meeting hall.

In the afternoon I had two hours to explain baptism. No, I didn't talk for two hours straight!

I always like to do something that they’ll remember and will help them connect their faith with their daily life.

So we gathered at a shaded corner of the soccer field and I proceeded to ask them what water is good for, why they use it. The typical responses of wash clothes, clean yourself, refresh yourself on a hot day, quench thirst helped them to see that water is an essential of life. But they added two ideas I had not thought of water is needed for cooking most food and water is used in construction of churches (and other buildings.) While we were talking I proceeded to occasionally sprinkle them with water which brought any number of smiles.

Was I having fun?

Later, inside the meeting room, one person asked me about different types of baptism. She had heard of the baptism of desire and knew there were three types. She later explained how a relative’s 21 day child had died while the father was taking the child to a clinic. People lamented at the wake that the child had not been baptized. Rosa explained that the parents had the desire to baptize the child but had not yet been able to and that their desire was enough to consider the child baptized, welcomed into the Church and then into the Reign of God in heaven.

Later while speaking to her, she talked about her mother. Her mother, one of the first persons from her village to come in and visit the Eucharist in the main church, had a deep devotion to the Eucharist.

Her mother was dying and they were unable to get a priest to come for confession and Communion. Rosa told her mother to pray to Jesus who could forgive her. A little later Rose returned and her mother was beaming. “Jesus came and heard my confession,” her mother said. “And he gave me Communion.”

Later that night her mother died.

Some might dismiss this as the dream of an uneducated superstitious woman. But I think it is a sign of the deep faith of people like her and their profound devotion to the Eucharist. Why wouldn’t Jesus hear her confession, forgive her sins, and share His Body with her?

The workshop was a little chaotic at times, especially when the parish coordinator had to leave to arrange a funeral of a young man who was killed in a motorcycle accident (that I had passed on the way to the workshop.) Four of the catechists in the training session  were from the dead man’s village and left in the evening for the wake.  Saturday afternoon Fr. Henry said a funeral Mass for the young man.

Many of the catechists were young. Others have been involved in church work for ages. The level of education is quite low and many of the people have difficulty in reading. Many also don’t read very distinctly or loudly. So I spent about 20 minutes helping them project their voices.

Toward the end of the workshop one thirteen year old, Marcos Tulio, from the remote village of Aldea Nueva, read a scripture passage. I was stunned at how well he did it and made sure that he know it. I also asked him if he was going to school. “No,” he told me.

Though he had finished sixth grade he hasn’t continued. There is no middle school in his village or nearby and his family probably can’t afford to send him elsewhere.

I did encourage him to think of going next year to the distance learning program, Maestro en Casa, which is in a town not far from where he lives – maybe only an hour walk.

It is a shame that people who show such potential often don’t have opportunities to develop it. However, we’ll see how he will be as a catechist.

I took some folks partly out to the villages after the workshop. Julio Cesar will probably only have to walk about 2 hours instead of four.

I returned to Santa Rosa, a bit tired, but happy after being with such good folk.

Tomorrow, I’m off to Delicias, Concepción, for their Celebration of the Word. I’ll bring the Eucharist and afterwards I’ll talk with them about hosting a group from St Thomas Aquinas in Ames to work on a project they have in Delicias.

I am blessed.

Some of the catechists in the park during a break.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ash Wednesday in Quebraditas

A week ago I agreed to go out to the village of Quebraditas for an Ash Wednesday service, bringing the people ashes and Communion.

Last night and this morning I wondered if I’d make it there. The clutch went on my truck and it was fixed last night – except that it went out again on the ride home from the mechanics. However, it was fixed enough for me to make it.

After stopping in Dulce Nombre to pick up the blessed ashes and Communion, I headed out. The day was sunny and warm, with a beautiful blue sky with incredible clouds.

I got to Quebraditas with its pink church a few minutes early, but no one was around. I waited a bit and the pastoral workers started to arrive. People started coming and we started about 3:35. What’s a few minutes, anyway?

The Celebration of the Word with communion was simple. I gave a reflection, distributed the ashes, prayed and then distributed Communion.

The reflection was focused on what Lent is.

I started by asking what day it is – Ash Wednesday, they said. Then, inspired, I asked about ashes. I forgot to say that the ashes were from burnt palms. But I thought aloud about how firewood is transformed into ashes and gives off heat. In the transformation something good is released: heat to cook food.  And so Lent is about transformation.

Then I asked about Lenten practices: fasting, prayer, and sharing with the poor.

I began reflecting on the fact that the lives of the poor are continual fasts. I mentioned that Ash Wednesday and the Fridays of Lent are meatless days and asked the people how many times a week they ate meat. Wrong question! I should have asked how many times a month, because for many of the people meat is a once a month luxury.

I talked a bit about prayer and sharing with those most in need.

After the Celebration of the Word I went with several of the men to visit a homebound sick man, named Efraín. He has problems walking and part of his left  foot was amputated.

As is my common adventure I got stuck in the mud going there. (It wasn’t from rain but from “miel,” the water that comes off from washing coffee.)

We finally got there and Efraín was standing outside. He sat down and I greeted hm and prayed with him. I put ashes on his head and on the other folks in the house and then I gave him Communion.

As I crouched to speak to Efraín, I noticed his feet – gnarled nails on his right foot.

Before I left the other pastoral workers prayed with me around Efraín and  urged them to see what they can do to help him and his family.

How many people here live an almost eternal fast. How many share in the sufferings of Christ. How many are generous with others.

Efraín, seated in the porch of his house, will be a reminder this Lent of our call to share with the poor, to pray with them, to fast so that others may eat. I will try to remember him this Lent as a way to call myself to a fitting Lenten discipline.

Before I left Quebraditas, Cirilo who sang and was one of the readers at our Celebration of the Word, gave me a whole bunch of bananas, quite off the tree. They have to mature for 8 to 15 days, but on the branch there are way too many for me to eat. So I dropped them off at the Franciscan sisters down the street to share with the girls who live there. 

The poor shared with me. They are so generous with so little. 

So this Ash Wednesday I had at least two lessons from the poor - what is true fasting and what is true sharing. And I was given the blessing to meet  and bring communion to one of the poor of the earth.

It's been a blessed and joy-filled Ash Wednesday.

St. Thomas Aquinas pastor visits Honduras

My mission here has been supported – financially and in many other ways – by the parish of St. Thomas Aquinas in Ames, Iowa, where I had served as a campus minister for 24 years.

I have had many visitors from the parish but this month was the first visit from a pastor of St. Thomas. Fr. Jon Seda arrived on Wednesday, February 15, and stayed until March 22.

The first few days he was accompanied by an ISU grad, Wes Meier, who with other ISU grads – at three of whom had been active at St. Thomas – had formed a small organization to help provide low cost appropriate technology for the poor. We were joined for two days by Álvaro Rodríguez who directs the program in Nicaragua. We saw one Caritas project in the caserío San Miguel, in the village El Pelón [Baldy], in the municipality of Yaramanguila in Intibucá. There, Jacinto works with his four sons and grandsons. They showed us their fields and we ate some of their carrots.

On Friday we went to the parish council meeting at some land the parish has bought on Cerro Negro where the diocesan radio station is setting up a new transmitter and where the parish hopes to plant a small plot of coffee.  It was a long hard journey – up and down mountainous roads.

The tower and the house for the transmitter and a watchman are impressive. This new transmitter will help the diocesan radio amplify its outreach and help further in the evangelization efforts of the parishes and the diocese. The finca of coffee will help generate funds for the parish and help it become a little more sustainable.

Father  Jon had a chance to meet the parish council members and also hear about the parish’s agricultural project which aids families in about 18 villages and also offers support for the agricultural efforts of the pastoral workers in the parish.

Fr. Jon (and Wes)  with the parish council

Early Saturday morning Wes and Álvaro headed off to Nicaragua while Fr. Jon and I left to stay three days in the parish of Dulce Nombre.

We first went to a bit of a follow up meeting for the Extraordinary Ministers of Communion in the parish. A psychology professor from the Catholic University campus in Santa Rosa brought four students to do a workshop on  self-esteem.

After a while we left to see the classes of Maestro en Casa, a distance learning program for students which includes listening to radio programs during the week, homework in workbooks, and classes for the most difficult subjects in centers scattered throughout the countryside. This year the parish has at least five of these programs.

The program here in the town of Dulce Nombre is coordinated by the sisters who help in the parish. The Saturday sessions are mostly primary and middle school classes. I was quite heartened to see two people in the late twenties who were beginning in the accelerated primary school program.

After we got back from seeing the classes, Father Henry Rodríguez, the associate pastor, and Fr. Jon concelebrated a Mass. As is often the case here the Mass was for the Communion ministers as well as for two couples getting married.

Fr. Jon giving a pyx to Efraín Vásquez, an extraordinary minister of Communion

The weddings were simple. However, one thing rather surprised Fr. Jon. In the middle of the ceremony one of the brides proceeded to breast feed her small baby. That’s not something you’ll see in Ames.

At the end of the Mass, Fr. Jon blessed pyxes for the Communion ministers and distributed them personally to each one.

In November, Diane Lyon, a resident parishioner of St. Thomas visited with a group of others from the parish. She brings Communion to the hospital and after talking we decided it might be a nice sign of solidarity to give the ministers pyxes for when they visit the sick in their villages. The Honduras Ministry Committee bought the pyxes and Diane sewed small cloth bags for them. It is a marvelous sign of the solidarity which the Eucharist calls us to live.

Father Jon concelebrated another Mass on Saturday (with a wedding), two Masses on Sunday (one with two baptisms), and one on Monday night in Plan Grande.  He also had the chance to visit with people in a few villages, entertain some kids in Plan Grande with his silly tricks,  and spend a few hours talking with Fr. Efraín Romero, the Dulce Nombre pastor, about ways to deepen the relationship between the two parishes.

Fr. Efraín and Fr. Jon blessing a child in Delicias, Concepción

What I found refreshing about Fr. Jon’s visit was his message to the people. We are your brothers and sisters in Christ. We at St. Thomas in Ames can learn from you and we can work together to learn how to live as disciples of Christ.

This is solidarity – not mere charity. We are called to be co-workers, accompanying each other in our work for the Reign of God.

More photos of Fr. Jon in Honduras can be found in a Flickr set here. I will be posting more photos of events during his visit in the next few days.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Mass deaths in a Honduras prison

Tuesday night a fire broke out in the Comayagua jail. Firefighters arrived but couldn’t enter since the authorities said they couldn’t locate the guards with the keys.

There are still a lot of unanswered (and unasked) questions but it appears that about 356 prisoner perished in the inferno. An investigation is promised by Honduran president Pepe Lobe.

This is not the first major deaths in the Honduras prisons.

In 2003 69 prisoners were killed in a La Ceiba prison; it was described by authorities as the result of gangs fighting but other sources contest this interpretation and see it as a deliberate attack on gang members.

In 2004 a fire in a San Pedro Sula prison left 100 dead.

Human rights Watch Americas director José Miguel Vivanco put it in context:
“The tragic deaths of hundreds of inmates, one of the worst incidents of its kind in the region, are ultimately the result of overcrowding and poor prison conditions, two longstanding problems in Honduras.… Given that Honduras has one of the highest homicide rates in the world, authorities have been locking up convicted and suspected criminals, but failing to address the conditions in which they are being held.”

To be specific: as the bishop and priests of the diocese of Comayagua noted, the Comayagua prison was built for 250 inmates but housed 852.

Several times I have visited the jail here in Santa Rosa de Copán, usually with Sor Inés, the Spanish Franciscan sister who lives down the street and visits the jail regularly.

The jail is overcrowded – probably at twice its capacity. In one small cell where I once visited for las Posadas there were three towers of bunks beds, three or four tiers high!

What inhuman conditions!

Of course, some might claim that they deserve this; after all, they are criminals. 

Some are guilty of serious crimes. But Honduran jails imprison not only criminals who have faced trials and been sentenced; they house men and women who have not yet been brought up to trial and, I believe, some who have not even been accused of a crime.

I am in the midst of reading a fascinating book on scripture reading, Bob Ekblad’s Reading the Bible with the Damned. It draws on the author’s experience with bible studies among the poor and marginalized, especially in jail.

In one bible study he asked the men how they felt after a hearing before the superior court (p. 23).

“Like we were criminals, “ a man says.
"Like we are guilty, even before we have been convicted,” says another.
“I felt like they had already decided, hey, this Mexican guy is guilty…”
“So how did you feel with all those eyes on you?”
“Very bad. Like they think we are garbage.”

After that Ekblad had them read Genesis 1:31: “God saw everything that he had made, and, indeed, it was very good.

They are considered the offscouring, the refuse of the earth – but they too are God’s creation – and most of them are the poor.

May God have mercy on us all, and especially on the leaders of Honduras who continue to permit such atrocities against God’s people.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

A homily with a little bit of everything

This Sunday, taking a break between busy weeks, I went to Mass up the hill in St. Martin de Porres church where Padre Fausto Milla often presides.

The Gospel was Mark’s account of Jesus healing a leper (1: 40-45).

Padre Fausto began preaching by talking about how Jesus wants healing and life for all people. He proceeded to talk about the health situation here and reiterated his critique of the medical system as well as the poor nutritional habits here. He again critiqued the drinking of Coca-Coal and the consumption of all sorts of chips (called churros here).

He talked about he high incidence of genetic defects in the department of Copán; the highest in the country, he said. He mentioned how the Lenca in the pre-colonial days used to eat amaranth every day and this is a major source of folic acid, the lack of which, he claimed, could contribute to the birth defects.

I had noticed the large number of birth defects almost since I got here. There are also a large percentage of persons with Downs syndrome. Of course, almost nothing is done for these people. The Franciscan Sisters of Mary Immaculate (a Spanish-based congregation who have a house down the street from me in Santa Rosa) have established a school for children with Downs syndrome in San Juan de Opoa with the help of some Canadians. The Peace Corps worker who was in Dulce Nombre was working with a group there before he left. And there may be some other efforts but I don’t know of them.

Padre Fausto’s homily also suggested the consumerism in capitalism is partly to blame and that we have to think more in the good of others rather than individualism.

A thoughtful message for a rainy Sunday morning.

Monday, February 06, 2012

A weekend in the Dulce Nombre parish

Accompanying the people in their celebrations is one of the joys of my ministry here in Honduras.

Last Friday, the feast of the Virgin of Suyapa, the patroness of Honduras, I went out to Mass in the village of Plan Grande for their feast day.

The church was decorated for the feast with a shrine to Our Lady of Suyapa.

 Father Henry came a little after 9 am and heard confessions until Mass began at 10 am.  The Mass was long – more than 2 hours, mostly because there were 26 baptisms. almost all of young people between 7and 13 except for three babies. (In our diocese children under six can only be baptized if both parents are active in base communities. Children older than 7 can request to be baptized. So these were children who voluntarily sought to be baptized.)

The children were well-prepared by the local catechists, though I think they might have been a  little surprised by the way Padre Henry does baptism, even though I shared with them some of the photos of baptisms in December in Concepción.

During the rite of baptism I was particularly moved when the children were signed with the cross by their parents and godparents. It was moving to see the care with which the adults signed the young people, giving them a sense of their coming incorporation into the Church, the Body of Christ.

Father Henry baptized the young people with lots of water – one pan of water for each person of the Trinity! Some found it a joy, others endured it, but it should have been very clear to them that this was a very important event.

I had to leave early to pick up someone from Shelby County, Iowa, who is studying Spanish in Copán Ruinas.

I gave Tim a little sense of the life here – including backing my car up and putting one back wheel into a ditch.  As usual the local people helped me get the car out of the ditch with Father Henry’s car pulling and about five guys lifting the car onto a wooden plank. Boy, am I ever grateful to these generous people. Then I had to back up several times to get up a slippery hill.

On Sunday, I took Tim put to a Celebration of the Word in Plan Grande. I brought the Eucharist from the main church so they could have communion.

After the celebration Fernando showed Tim his coffee farm – about 2 manzanas (3 acres) and his wife prepared a soup for us. Fernando also talked about his 4 manzanas of sugar cane and the production process. He wants me to come out later and see the whole process.

Fernando pruning with Tim watching

Fernando is one of those hard-working campesinos who has been able to do a lot and tried to have a better life for this family. He has sent several of his children to school outside the village; two boys are studying weekends in Santa Rosa. But his family’s life has been hard – three times the sugar-processing structures have burnt down; about a year and a  half ago a teenage daughter died; and now one of his sons limps because of a spur on his heel which is not responding to treatment.

After lunch, I took Tim to Piedras Coloradas,  a small poor community where I’m trying to help them think about ways to develop their community. I had originally hoped for a short meeting but I arrived late and I had to get Tim to Copán Ruinas. But we did have time to visit a bit.

The first joy was to see Elder, the four month old child of Julio Alonso and Santos. He’s quite the cute kid and allowed me to hold him.

The community now has electricity and so about fifteen people were squeezed into Julio Alonso’s house to watch a movie on a DVD. (Julio explained he bought the TV/DVD so that he could control what his kids watch.)

In the room I saw more than eight bags of corn in the room. Julio Alonso told me he had to buy corn this year for about $35 a two hundred pound bag, because the wind had blown over his corn field and he lost the crop.

Julio Alonso and Vitalino talked a bit more about the needs of the village. Then I left, not without stopping to talk with Julio Alonso’s mother about a single mother (her daughter) who is pregnant, abandoned by the guy who got her pregnant. I talked about he need for her to get sufficient nutrition and pre-natal care. She seems to be getting some, but who knows how things will be after she give birth.

I’ll get back to the village in a few weeks and spend more time talking with them. Besides the usual problems of poverty and food insecurity, there are problems of insufficient water and lack of latrines in at least five of the eighteen houses of the community.

These visits remind me of the great hospitality of the people in the parish as well as the precariousness of their lives. That’s why I stay here.

Friday, February 03, 2012

San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas, México - a pilgrimage?

My four days in San Cristóbal de Las Casas for a friend’s wedding at the end of January was also for me a sort of pilgrimage.

One of the early bishops of  San Cristóbal was Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas, the Dominican who was an outspoken defender of the indigenous, even ordering priests not to grant absolution to Spaniards there who kept the indigenous as slaves or indentured servants. For this he ended up leaving after only a few years. He then went to Spain and worked for the indigenous at the Spanish court.

Though I found very little evidence of his presence in San Cristóbal, at least the city bears his name.

Inside the church of Santo Domingo

I did get to the church of Santo Domingo, the Dominican church. It is impressive – with almost every piece of the wall covered with gold. It is gilt – but it also is a sign of the guilt of Spain and the church to use so much gold which was probably mined by the indigenous. But at least there were two altars to Latin American saints: St. Rose of Lima and St. Martin de Porres.

The Church of Santo Domingo

The cathedral is magnificent with several golden altar retablos, but not as overwhelming as the church of Santo Domingo.

The main altar of the cathedral

But what interested me was behind the main altar. There is the tomb of Don Samuel Ruiz, the Bishop of the indigenous, who for many years served as bishop in San Cristóbal. I knelt and prayed at his tomb – praying that his spirit and commitment to the poor and the indigenous would continue in the church.

The tomb of Don Samuel Ruiz

I came back to the tomb two more times. Once, several indigenous were preparing flowers.

Late one night I talked with Don Marcelo, my friend’s father, who knew Don Samuel. He told me of the bishop’s conversion.

Altar in Don Marcelo's house with Don Samuel's photo at the top.

Soon after he became bishop of San Cristóbal, Don Samuel went out to the countryside to visit the villages. In at least one place he accepted the hospitality of a large landowner who fed and housed him and provided him with a horse to get to the villages. The bishop would go out each morning and return in the evening to stay at the landowner’s hacienda. How generous the landowner was!

After a number of visits he asked the people if they appreciated his visits to their villages. “No,” they answered, surprising the bishop. “Why?” he asked. “Because it’s expensive for us.” They then explained that the landowner had them pay for the bishop’s expenses. The landowner was not generous but was again exploiting the poor. After that Don Samuel began to see with a clearer vision and began to take the side of the poor.

This, of course, did not please everyone, including some Vatican officials who appointed an auxiliary bishop, Monseñor Raul Vera, who some think was sent to rein in Don Samuel. Well, God works in mysterious ways. Monseñor Raul Vera also  had an experience which changed him. Now bishop of another diocese he is an outspoken defender of the poor and of human rights.

I left San Cristóbal filled with a deep joy at 6:30 am, Monday, January 30. (Incidentally that’s the anniversary of Gandhi’s death.) I had met good people and seen a beautiful city which, though there are many tourists, still has a feeling of being a real center for the people, especially the indigenous.

The next day I left Antigua, Guatemala, at 3:45 AM. The trip was long, the first hour or so in darkness.

Still in the dark, we came upon Guatemala City. Descending the road into the city, I saw the millions of lights of the city. At that point my heart was touched and I prayed for all the people there, remembering especially the abused, the poor, children suffering from hunger and those who seek to serve the poor and marginalized.

As I look back, perhaps Don Samuel had opened my heart a little more to the poor and inspired me to pray.

Thank you, Don Samuel.

Jtatic Samuel, as the indigenous called him.


Other photos of mine from San Cristóbal  de Las Casas can be found here in a Flickr set.

Chronology of my trip back was corrected about 4:30 pm, 3 February 2012.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Stranger in strange lands - part three

I spent almost four days in San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas, México - from about 4 pm on Thursday, January 26, to early Monday morning, January 30.

The cathedral square in San Cristóbal de Las Casas

The main reason for bring there was the wedding of Enrique and Edith. I’ve known Enrique since 2003 when he stayed with me in Ames while studying English at Iowa State University. We’ve stayed in contact and I decided to take the long trip for his wedding. I am glad I went.

The two families are what we might call lower middle class and very connected with the church. Enrique’s father works at the diocese’s training center and Edith worked (as a volunteer) with youth and a choir at the cathedral.

The wedding celebrations included four fiestas, though I only made it to three! When I arrived Thursday night I went to the 7:00 PM Mass, where the couple sat in the front row and received communion – after having gone through the civil ceremony earlier that day. Then there was a fiesta at the bride’s mother’s house.

The lasso that connects the husband and wife is part of the ceremony.

On Saturday the wedding Mass was at noon in the cathedral. The ritual was mostly familiar, but the surprise of the Mass was the music and musicians. Three women sang and played a large marimba, accompanied by a woman on drums and a man on keyboards. The music was not quite what I expected. The opening was the traditional wedding march. The offertory was the traditional “Ave Maria.”  But the real surprise was the music for communion – music of Ennio Morricone from the movie “The Mission.” Enrique later told me that the music is often used here.

Husband and wife leaving the cathedral amid rice and bubbles.

After the Mass there was a party with a loud band and a lot of  dancing, concluding with a mariachi band.

Sunday afternoon there was another party at the bride’s mother’s house – mostly for family members. This one had more food and drink and a norteño band.

It was a great experience – my first of real southern Mexican life. 

Me and Don Marcelo, Enrique's father

  Because of Enrique and the great hospitality that his father Marcelo offered, I felt very comfortable there. Marcelo and I had a nice talk late one night sitting at his dinner table. I also found out that he is about four months younger than I am.

The trip back to Santa Rosa was long and uneventful. The most interesting part for me was talking with and observing the driver from San Cristóbal to the border. I noticed that he crossed himself every time we passed a church or a shrine. Catholicism is a part of his life – even though he’s not confirmed or married in the church – only civilly married. Two of his three children, though, have been baptized.

I think he has not yet been married in the church because he takes it seriously. He said that if he were married in the church he’d have to go to church every Sunday! I asked him if he had to work many Sundays. As I suspected, he answered yes. – from early morning till 10 pm at times. I then talked about how God understands the need to care for one’s family.

As I left him at the border I encouraged him to arrange his marriage with the church. A little encouragement and evangelization doesn’t hurt.

Stranger in strange lands - part two

I left Copán Ruinas for Antigua Guatemala early on Wednesday, January 25.

The ride in a shuttle van was pleasant and the roads were generally much better than those in Honduras, arriving in Antigua about noon.

I met a friend who works with the Alternatives for Violence Program and had some time to walk around Antigua.

Saskia had recommended visiting the convent of the Capuchin nuns. 

The church of the convento de las capuchinas

  Though much is in partial ruins, you can get an idea of the spaciousness of the place, a really quite nice cloister, a large church, and some beautiful statues. It was only open from 1736 to the 1773 earthquake that devastated the city. It seems to have housed between 25 and 28 contemplative Franciscan nuns of the Capuchin order.

The cloister of the convento de las capuchinas

The statues placed throughout the convent are amazing. My favorite statue was of a angel swinging a censor – offering a prayer of incense to the Lord. 

I only had an hour to visit and so may have missed some of the lower regions, though I did take this picture of an underground chamber which was probably meant to show how the nuns were laid out for burial.

In the underground of the convento de las capuchinas

Though Antigua has many beautiful ruins and lots of good restaurants, it felt a bit odd to me, even surreal.

The Jesuit church, at night.

Except for the time I spent waiting with Saskia in the central plaza, I felt as if I didn’t see a lot of Guatemalans, and few of them indigenous people. Maybe it was where I was staying and where I walked, but it seems as if Antigua is all too touristy, with lots of people from the US and Europe. (Antigua is noted for its many language schools, thus attracting a lot of foreigners.)

I am spoiled here in Santa Rosa de Copán, where there are very few “foreigners.” It’s also a smaller town and less touristy – though beautiful. It’s home.

The reality of the precariousness of life hit me the next day when I took a twelve hour shuttle to San Cristóbal de las Casas in Chiapas, México.

On the way in the department of Huehuetenango I noticed a good number of handmade signs against mining. The problem of mining is serious in Guatemala with deaths and threats against those who oppose the mining companies (many of them from Canada). The church there has been very responsive to the threat.

Our territory is not for sale. No to mining. Tixel is present.

Only about twelve kilometers from the border we were stopped for about forty-five minutes. Before Christmas there had been a major landslide which destroyed a number of buildings. They were clearing it – a seriously difficult and dangerous process.

Landslide in western Guatemala

The precariousness of life here is a reality.

Stranger in strange lands - part one

Tuesday, January 24, I left for a friend’s wedding in San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico. Quique had stayed with me for about 6 months in 2003 while studying English at Iowa State University. Though he is working in Des Moines, the wedding was in his home town where his wife lived.

It was a long trip – about 24 hours in bus both ways! But it was well worth it. 

The first night I stayed in Copán Ruinas, Honduras. Getting back from dinner with a friend who’s studying Spanish there, I turned on the television in the hotel room and found myself in the middle of US President Obama’s State of the Union address. I was not impressed. Probably because I am in the middle of reading some essays by Bill McKibben, in The Bill McKibben Reader: Pieces from an Active Life, I found the president’s remarks about energy problematic, mostly because he is not confronting the idol of consumerism.

But I really found myself shaken when he said, “America remains the one indispensable nation in world affairs.” This smacks of imperialism, a sense that we are the champions of the world. In fact, he seemed to reiterate this by saying, “America is back.”

I believe that he also has bought into the idol of militarism and the myth of redemptive violence. He said, “Ending the Iraq war has allowed us to strike decisive blows against our enemies. From Pakistan to Yemen, the al Qaeda operatives who remain are scrambling, knowing that they can’t escape the reach of the United States of America.”

I am saddened by these remarks – as well as his administration’s decision not  to expand the conscience exemptions proposed by the Department of Health and Human Services

In this context I headed out to Guatemala and Chiapas, Mexico. These are strange lands to me – but sometimes I think I am even more a stranger in the US, which seems to have become a strange land to me.

As I wrote this, back in Santa Rosa de Copán, Honduras, I thought of the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., exactly a year before he was killed in his “Beyond Viet Nam” speech:

[The late John F. Kennedy] said, "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable."

Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken -- the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investment.

I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a "thing-oriented" society to a "person-oriented" society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies….
This blog entry has been hard to write, but because I have been privileged to walk among the poor and the marginalized of the earth I feel a need to speak these words of loving criticism.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Catholic Social Teaching Booklet

About two years ago the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán received a grant from Adveniat, a German Catholic Church agency, to subsidize the writing and publication of a booklet for base communities in the diocese.

As I calculate it, there are more than 4,000 base communities in the diocese. Unfortunately, there is not much material for them that uses a popular methodology.

Since no one was working on the project,  I ended up doing a draft of the booklet. Monseñor Luis Alfonso Santos, the bishop here until last December, ended up correcting it - mostly in terms of my grammar and spelling. But he liked it a lot and even encouraged me to find a publisher for the text to get a wider circulation. If there are any ideas, let me know. It would need some revision since it is particular to our diocese, but that would be easy. Also, it could be in either Spanish or English.

It was just published last week with the title Hacia la liberación - Toward Liberation and is being distributed throughout the diocese. 

I am grateful that I had the chance to do this as a way to serve the church here in the diocese.