Friday, March 30, 2012

Diocesan Stations of the Cross 2012

The Stations of the Cross is a Catholic devotion from the late middle ages that has perdured for many years and expresses the desire of people of faith to walk with the Lord on His way to the Cross.

This year more than 3,000 came to Santa Rosa de Copán for the diocesan Stations of the Cross. Some traveled eight hours in bus from southern Intibucá. 

The Stations began at the Cathedral and ended in the parking lot of the Catholic University of Honduras campus.

As usual the stations were related to the reality of Honduras. Some of them were very thoughtful and I will try to translate some of the reflections later this weekend.

These are the themes this year:
  1. Jesus is sentenced to death: Corruption and Impunity
  2. Jesus takes up his cross: The marginalized and excluded in society
  3. Jesus falls the first time: Alcoholism and drug addiction
  4. Jesus meets his mother: Migration and disintegration of the family
  5. Simon of Cyrene is forced to carry the Cross: Environment
  6. Veronica wipes the face of Jesus: Builders of a new society
  7. Jesus falls the second time: Drug trafficking and hired assassins
  8. Jesus consoles the daughters of Jerusalem: Media of communication
  9. Jesus falls the third time: Repression and violence against women
  10. Jesus is stripped of his garments: Human rights and privatization
  11. Jesus is nailed to the cross: Politics and participative democracy
  12. Jesus dies on the cross: Abortion
  13. Jesus is taken down from the Cross: Martyrs for the faith and commitment for the people.
  14. Jesus is laid in the tomb: A frightened and silenced people
The sun was hot but people endured the three hours of the stations and a half hour sermon by the bishop at the end of the stations. To my surprise – and the surprise of a number of people – there was no Mass at the end.

Bishop Andino preaching at the end of the Stations
But during the Stations people approached the priests for confessions. I too took advantage of the occasion to go to confession.

Confession in the streets

These Stations are, for me, a marvelous manifestation of the faith of the people of the diocese. From remote villages they came, villages where they meet weekly in base communities.

They are a materially poor people but they have a faith that puts much of the world to shame.

Kneeling in the streets
 I am grateful to be here and have been able to walk with them on the Way of the Cross, which many of them live every day, sharing in the sufferings of Christ in their villages.

Some more photos follow.

Venerating the Cross after the Stations were over.

Monseñor Darwin Andino, walking in the procession

A banner, showing the presence of base communities

More photos of this year's and previous years' Diocesan Stations of the Cross can be found in this set here on Flickr.

UPDATE: The Spanish text is now available here.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Pouring the terraza in Dulce Nombre

Narda cooking in the current kitchen

The Dulce Nombre parish is constructing a building with the kitchen and dining room on the first floor and a large meeting room on the second floor. The walls of the first floor are done and today the ceiling (which will be the floor of the second story)is being poured.

It is literally being poured – 12 centimeters of concrete. The terraza (ceiling/floor) has been prepared by placing wood planks supported by poles (in this case of bamboo). Above these rebar has been positioned. Cement is being poured around the bars on top of the wood. They will use about 200 bags of cement (at about 158 lempiras/ $8.30 per bag) – about $1,660. The rebar cost about $2,500. Then there are the costs of sand and gravel, as well as the wood and the bamboo poles. It’s quite costly.

Volunteers lower the cost of the project; otherwise the parish would have to pay for workers. More than fifty men from the parish arrived, some coming as early as 4 am. Four are albaniles, master workmen. There are also five women volunteering with preparing meals. The work of these volunteers can be valued monetarily at more than $500. Also, many of them came paying their own transport to the parish center!

Now there’s commitment.

The terraza has to be poured and prepared in one day. Then it will sit for at least two weeks on the wood and bamboo pole supports. The poles can be removed at that time but the terraza needs a whole month to really cure well.

I dropped by to watch, to take photos, and to provide moral support. I knew most of the workers and so it was great to be able to give them a little moral support.

Here are some photos:

Bamboo poles support the wood for the ceiling
Re bar above the wood
Mixing cement
carrying cement to the upper floor

Carrying the cement to the re bar
Pouring cement around the re bar

smoothing the concrete
the building is below and beside the soccer field
working on stairs to the second floor as well
Making tortillas

This project is being financed by the monetary donations of members of the parish of Dulce Nombre, their volunteer work, funding from Adveniat (a German Catholic aid agency), and donations from St. Thomas Aquinas Church and Catholic Student Center.

More funding will be needed to finish the second floor as well as to build more facilities for housing parishioners when they come to the parish center for training sessions.

I have updated many photos of the work in a set on flickr: here.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Romero to Obama and Biden

On a family altar in Delicias, Concepción, Honduras
Monseñor Oscar Romero was martyred on March 24, 1980, at the altar in the chapel of the hospital for poor cancer patients where he lived.

In his three years as archbishop of San Salvador, he had become a prophetic voice for the poor and oppressed. But the oppression continued, with military aid coming from the US - an aid that continued until a civil war ended in January 1992.

About five weeks before his killing, Monseñor Romero sent an open letter to President Carter, asking him to stop military aid to El Salvador.

Last year I put that letter on my blog, since President Obama had just visited El Salvador and went to Romero's tomb.

The letter is still relevant, especially in terms of US policy to Honduras, since Vice President Joe Biden just visited Honduras, and the US State Department is, in my opinion, white-washing the situation here, where human rights violations continue and where impunity and corruption reign. My reactions to his visit can be found here and here.

And so I am again posting Romero's letter in the hopes that some one in the State Department will read it, as well as the letters of 94 representatives (here) and 7 senators (here), asking careful examination and potential cutting of police and military aid to Honduras because of the continuing repression and lack of justice for those killed or repressed.

San Salvador 

February 17, 1980
His Excellency 

The President of the United States

Mr. Jimmy Carter

Dear Mr. President:

In the last few days, news has appeared in the national press that worries me greatly. According to the reports, your government is studying the possibility of economic and military support and assistance to the present government junta.

Because you are a Christian and because you have shown that you want to defend human rights, I venture to set forth for you my pastoral point of view in regard to this news and to make a specific request of you.

I am very concerned by the news that the government of the United States is planning to further El Salvador’s arms race by sending military equipment and advisers to “train three Salvadoran battalions in logistics, communications, and intelligence.” If this information from the papers is correct, instead of favoring greater justice and peace in El Salvador, your government’s contribution will undoubtedly sharpen the injustice and the repression inflicted on the organized people, whose struggle has often been for respect for their most basic human rights.

The present government junta and, especially, the armed forces and security forces have unfortunately not demonstrated their capacity to resolve in practice the nation’s serious political and structural problems. For the most part, they have resorted to repressive violence, producing a total of deaths and injuries much greater than under the previous military regime, whose systematic violation of human rights was reported by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

The brutal form in which the security forces recently evicted and murdered the occupiers of the headquarters of the Christian Democratic Party, even though the junta and the party apparently did not authorize the operation, is an indication that the junta and the Christian Democrats do not govern the country, but that political power is in the hands of unscrupulous military officers who know only how to repress the people and favor the interests of the Salvadoran oligarchy.

If it is true that last November a “group of six Americans was in El Salvador…providing $200,000 in gas masks and flak jackets and teaching how to use them against demonstrators,” you ought to be informed that it is evident that since the security forces, with increased personal protection and efficiency, have even more violently repressed the people, using deadly weapons.

For this reason, given that as a Salvadoran and archbishop of the archdiocese of San Salvador, I have an obligation to see that faith and justice reign in my country, I ask you, if you truly want to defend human rights:
  • to forbid that military aid be given to the Salvadoran government;
  • to guarantee that your government will not intervene directly or indirectly, with military, economic, diplomatic, or other pressures, in determining the destiny of the Salvadoran people.
In these moments, we are living through a grave economic and political crisis in our country, but it is certain that increasingly the people are awakening and organizing and have begun to prepare themselves to manage and be responsible for the future of El Salvador, as the only ones capable of overcoming the crisis.

It would be unjust and deplorable for foreign powers to intervene and frustrate the Salvadoran people, to repress them and keep them from deciding autonomously the economic and political course that our nation should follow. It would be to violate a right that the Latin American bishops, meeting at Puebla, recognized publicly when we spoke of “the legitimate self-determination of our peoples, which allows them to organize according to their own spirit and the course of their history and to cooperate in a new international order” (Puebla, 505).

I hope that your religious sentiments and your feelings for the defense of human rights will move you to accept my petition, thus avoiding greater bloodshed in this suffering country.

Oscar A. Romero

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Remembering Romero

Monseñor Oscar Romero, archbishop of San Salvador, El Salvador, was martyred at the altar of the Divina Providencia hospital for poor cancer patients on March 24, 1980. He has become for me and for many in America and the world a sign of God’s presence on earth.

On April 1, 1979, Archbishop Romero spoke these words in his homily, based on John 12: 23-27 (which happens to be this Sunday’s Gospel reading.)
Those who, in the biblical phrase, would save their lives 
– that is, those who want to get along,
            who don’t want commitments,
            who don’t want to get into problems,
            who want to stay outside of a situation
            that demands the involvement of all of us
– they will lose their lives.

What a terrible thing to have lived quite comfortably,
            with no suffering, not getting involved in problems,
            quite tranquil, quite settled,
            with good connections politically, economically, socially –
            lacking nothing, having everything.

To what good?

They will lose their lives.

“But those who for love of me uproot themselves
and accompany the people
and go with the poor in their suffering
and become incarnated
and feel as their own the pain and the abuse –
they will secure their lives,
because my Father will reward them.”

Brothers and sisters, God’s word calls us to this today.
Let me tell you with all the conviction I can muster,
            it is worthwhile to be a Christian.
To each one of us Christ is saying:
If you want your life and mission
            to be fruitful like mine,
            do as I.
Be converted into a seed that lets itself be buried.
Let yourself be killed.
Do not be afraid.
Those who shun suffering will remain alone.
No one is more alone than the selfish.
But if you give your life out of love for others,
            as I give mine for all, you will reap a great harvest.
You will have the deepest satisfactions.
Do not fear death or threats;
            the Lord goes with you.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Honduras and US aid

People I know are very skeptical about US efforts in Honduras to deal with the drug and security issues. They are especially opposed to US aid to the government that is using military for policing functions.

The reasons are varied, including the massive corruption within the police in Honduras, as almost all levels, and the lack of investigation or prosecution of police for human rights violations.

There is also a concern about the history of the military’s involvement in human rights abuses, especially during the 1980s but more recently during the months following the June 28, 2009 coup.

But many Hondurans well remember the long history of US intervention in Honduras. On March 18, 1907, US marines landed in Puerto Cortés, Honduras, to protect the US banana companies. A Nicaraguan president, José Santos Zelaya,  had sent troops to support one group in Honduras that was opposing Manuel Bonilla, the Honduran dictator at the time. The US brokered a solution and helped set up a new Honduran government, headed by General Miguel Dávila. Apparently, the shots were being called by the US government in league with the US banana companies.

In the 1980s the US established a number of bases in Honduras, including the Palmerola air force base which was used to support the Nicaraguan contras as well as the Salvadoran military. In addition the US set up at least one training camp for members of both groups.

The US claims that the Palmerola air force base, now called Soto Cana, is really a Honduran base with a US presence of more than 500 troops. But many Hondurans still see it as a US base on Honduran territory. Recently major funding of more than several million dollars has been allocated by the US for improvements for the base as well as for other US (or “joint”) installations throughout Honduras, mostly on the north coast or on Caribbean islands. The US says these are for the drug war, but there may be other reasons.

Yet recently, ninety-four US representatives sent a letter to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calling for a stop of US military and police aid to Honduras in light of unresolved human rights violations, including more than forty deaths of civilians in the Bajo Aguán region of northern Honduras. While human rights are not being addressed, why should the US continue and even expand military and police aid?

I totally agree with their efforts. Information on this and other letters, as well as links to the actual texts, can be found here.

The letter struck home. Soon after it was released the Honduran government announced it was sending a high level delegation to Washington, DC, to argue that the human rights situation is improving. the blog Honduras Culture and Politics has a good analysis of this here.

I hope that people will support the efforts of Congress to stop military and police aid to Honduras. Such aid does not improve the lives of the people I work with. It only keeps in place the system that keeps them down and unable to live dignified lives, free of violence, oppression, and structural injustice.

What the people here is not more militarization of the country but real efforts for social justice and security which empower the people.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Fallible Honduras reflections by St. Thomas pastor

Fr. Jon with kids in Plan Grande
Father Jon Seda, the pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Ames, visited here in February.  I wrote of his visit in an earlier blog entry here. He wrote a few reflections on his visit and shared them with me and the parish of St. Thomas. They are full of wisdom and wit. I want to share them with others.

Fr. Jon Seda
February 13-21, 2012

In visiting our sister parish, Dulce Nombre de Maria, recently, I learned a few things:

If you think our sound system has issues, you should hear theirs!

I pledge to never, ever again complain about potholes in Ames or washboards on gravel roads here.

I was able to concelebrate three wedding Masses.  Two were at a Friday morning Mass, where the grooms dressed in nice blue jeans, one bride had a simple veil, and the other bride had a nice wedding dress.  During Padre Henry's homily, someone who I assume was the grandmother handed an infant to that bride, who started to breastfeed the child.  Apparently Honduran wedding dresses are more versatile than American ones!  I told Padre Henry later that he has more concentration that I do.

The other wedding was the next day at the Saturday Mass.  The couple were obviously well known and loved in the community, and I was warmly welcomed by them and the people.  It is one of the best weddings I have ever been to, and a true communal celebration.  It was also more chaotic and human than my weddings here.

People in our sister parish know St. Thomas Aquinas, from visits by our people and notes sent down.  In one church, that one of our groups helped to build, someone commented to me that "the sweat of STA is in our foundation."  And the kids still use the toothbrushes that our young people sent them.

At one Mass, someone who was obviously drunk and very dirty wandered around the church with a roll of toilet paper in his hand.  More than a bit distracting, I thought Padre Efrain might ask him to leave, or one of the parishioners.  No one did.  The thought seemed to be that he is one of us too, perhaps a different mentality than here.

One of the best evenings was a visit to a community of Franciscan sisters in Santa Rosa.  We laughed and talked and ate goodies.  Women and men from Honduras, Spain, America, Nicaragua, and India had a grand time, all of us passionate about making a bit of heaven come down to earth.  I told the sisters that they are the real heroes of the Church.  We priests just talk, and they actually are close to the people and do something.

I learned that poverty is not just material.  One agricultural worker I met said that the biggest obstacle is that so many rural people have no sense of dignity, as if they are less than human and so do not deserve anything better.

I saw suffering but no sadness.  After Mass, one man carried his 11 year old boy with Muscular Dystrophy to see me.  Physically the boy does not have an easy future, but he certainly knows that he is loved and valued by that community.

Visiting Fernando and Elsie one afternoon, we spoke of their parish.  They told me that no one who is rich comes to our parish, because when they becomes rich they either join the Evangelical church or don't go to church at all.  Fernando said, "Wealth makes people forget about God."  I realized how blessed I am to be in a parish where that is not true and where so many are great stewards of time, talent and treasure.

In some ways, our parishes could not be more different.  At Dulce Nombre, they produce much of their own food, they are not well educated, they have a great sense of family and community, and God for them is not an academic inquiry.  We can learn from each other.

The dormitory we helped to build is pretty basic but gets the job done.  If one is uneasy about super sanitary conditions, roosters crowing, dogs barking or geckos making whatever noise they make, this might be the place for you to visit.

When I asked parishioners what their greatest need is, I expected them to say something about a building project, or maybe education of the young.  Instead they are focused on evangelization, the core of their mission.  I don't hear this as much in the USA.

I am impressed by their great sense of ownership of their ministries, especially their Eucharistic ministers and catechists.  Their staff is two priests for 40,000 people in 40 different buildings.  Yet they have vibrant communities of real faith.

Their pastoral council meetings often are 3+ hours, and people walk for several hours to go to these, to Mass and to school.

I learned that side altars are now used as a place to stack cowboy hats.

Masses and even weddings do not start on time.  One wedding was over one hour late, and no one cared.  As an old quote goes, "Americans have watches, but we have time."  

It is a beautiful thing to belong to a universal Church, and for me to concelebrate Mass with Padre Efrain and Padre Henry.  And yes, for many years now they have responded "And with your spirit," so we are behind them in that regard!

Before I left, I told John Donaghy that I have known him for over 21 years, and have never seen him so happy.  He is so at home there, and everyone seems to know "Juancito."  He is considered a rock star by young and old alike.

I think we have so much to learn from our sisters and brothers in Dulce Nombre.  The trick is to figure out how to make it happen.  But I think now is the time to move beyond toothbrushes to something more.  Please join the Honduras committee to help us dream about this deepening relationship.

Finally, when down there I read a book called
No salvation outside the poor, by one of my former professors, Fr. Jon Sobrino S.J. from El Salvador.  In some ways, their salvation depends upon us.  In more ways, our salvation depends upon them.

That's what Fr. Jon learned here. It was great to have him here to deepen the ties between the two parishes and as a personal support.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


Friday, March 9, five St. Thomas Aquinas parishioners who are Iowa State University students arrived to spend ten days here in Honduras.

The main purpose is to deepen the relationship and the solidarity between the parish of St. Thomas and the parish of Dulce Nombre.

This is neither a mission trip nor a service trip, but an immersion.

That may be hard for many to understand since so many students go on service trips to do something for people and others, mostly evangelicals, go on mission trips to supposedly save the people.

But here in western Honduras, in our parish of Ducle Nombre and other parish of the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán, mission is a part of the life for the members of the more than 4,000 base communities in the diocese. So, if anything, the visit of these students is to reinforce the mission of the people and help them see the significance of their religious life.

The students are doing some service in the village of Delicias, Concepcion Copán. We’re living here – in a small town, high up on the side of a mountain in fairly simple conditions, with fairly simple meals. We arrive late Monday morning (after I had to stop and get a fan belt changed) and we’ll be here until Thursday after lunch.

 The students were originally going  to help in two projects, but the one hasn’t yet started and so they are helping  the albañiles [construction supervisors] who are laying ceramic tile in the church. Since that is not a lot of work, they have been interacting with the more than 75  children in the primary school  near the church. 

I wish we had more arranged but the person who is a real leader in the community is with his father in a hospital in Guatemala. Ivan’s father has a very serious pulmonary problem. I don’t know what it is but it seems very serious.

Anyway, the students are interacting with the people here in many ways. The first night we went to a base community meeting. After the meeting has treated the theme the people asked for the students to introduce themselves. A vigorous discussion continued and included singing and sharing.

What had impressed me at the start of the meeting was the prayer an older woman offered, noting that the visit of the students gave them joy! When one student asked the people what they got out of their base community meeting, many talked about how they were glad that we were here.

What has impressed me about this group is their willingness to take the initiative in connecting with the people They are really seeing the human face of the members of this parish, as well as their faith and dedication.

They’ll be here  in Honduras; we’ll see how it goes.

Fostering of real solidarity is what these immersions are about and I’m glad things are going well.


Note:  This blog entry is being written and posted in Delicias where the internet connection (by internet modem) is better than in Dulce Nombre de Copán!

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Vice-president Biden - political tourist?

Excuse this rant, but I am feeling frustrated at the actions of the US government toward Honduras.

US Vice-President Biden spent a little more than six and a half hours in Tegucigalpa, most of his time in meetings with government officials of Honduras and other Central American countries.

I doubt he will get any taste of the real Honduras.

Though Tegucigalpa is the largest city and the capital of Honduras, it’s hardly the real Honduras. Honduras, unlike most Latin American countries, still has more than half its population living in the countryside.

Now I am biased. I don’t like most big cities, though I do like to visit New York City and Philadelphia. But because of  the noise, the congestion, and the pollution, San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa are not my favorite places to visit in Honduras. And this is to say nothing of the crime there. If I were to spend time in these cities I’d prefer it to be with people I know who work in the poor communities and know the poverty and insecurity.

I doubt the vice-president visited the barrios and aldeas where the poor – more than 60% of the people of Honduras – live.

I doubt that he heard the cry of the poor, the cries of the mothers and spouses of the 360 men killed in the Comayagua prison fire, the laments of the families who’ve lost loved ones in the Bajo Aguan, many killed by security forces of the rich, the desperation of the people who have been forced off their land or have no land to plant corn and beans for their family, or the 

He also has not seen the efforts of Honduran lay pastoral workers who serve their villages and who may walk four hours to get to a training session in the parish center, nor the efforts of priests and religious who go out to remote villages or into the hearts of the poor barrios in the big cities to bring a message of hope to people who live in the darkness of poverty and oppression.

He has not heard prophetic voices like the Jesuits in Yoro or Monseñor Luis Alfonso Santos, the former bishop of Santa Rosa de Copán, who know that, in the words of Dorothy Day on the US, "Our problems arise from our acceptance of this filthy, rotten system."

He has probably only heard calls from Honduran political leaders for more money for security, often militarized security, which – in my opinion – will not improve things but only prop up the corrupt police and government here. Note that the US State Department has promised 361 million dollars for Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI).

I think the vice-president is well-meaning. In an interview with the Honduras newspaper La Prensa  the day before arriving here, Biden shared his view of the situation. “By continuing to work together, we can create a more secure and prosperous Honduras.”  He talked about supposedly successful efforts to intercept drugs and to cut off drug profits, by improving the investigative capacities of the police and creating safe alternatives for youth. But these efforts ignore the systematic corruption of the police and the involvement of police and government officials at all too many levels in the drug trade.

His response leaves unanswered the question: “Safer and more prosperous for whom?”

Sad to say, I don’t think the safety and the security of the poor are the first priority of US foreign policy.

I have not been able to find a transcript of the remarks that the US vice president and president Lobo made this afternoon. I only ran across this quote:
"One of the areas in which we will hopefully be of help is in vetting the police, the prosecutors and the judges," Biden said after a meeting in Tegucigalpa with Honduran President Porfirio Lobo. "My experience has been, the people of the country have to be able to have confidence in the integrity of each of those institutions if progress is going to be made."
But the institutions here – especially the presidency – lack the trust of the people. How many people I know don’t see voting as worthwhile. Both major parties are in it for the power and the money, many hold. And I think the people have it right. But what this has led to is a system that needs radical change – not just the vetting of the police and judges.

But the US support of the current government leads me to doubt the effectiveness of what the US is proposing.

It’s a support which I believe lacks a realistic understanding of what is really happening here. In the words of Dan Restrepo, the White House Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs, vice-president Biden has come here to “reaffirm the United States' strong support for the tremendous leadership President Lobo has displayed in advancing national reconciliation and democratic and constitutional order.” Yet this “constitutional order” leaves government and police corruption virtually untouched, the country has become more militarized, and the poor continue to suffer hunger.

Sad to say, Biden is just another tourist – but a tourist with a political agenda, perhaps as Graham Greene’s The Quiet American, or perhaps – overstating it a bit – as the ugly American coming with the “answers” which will benefit the powers that be in the US and here.

But how should we connect with the people of Latin America?

There’s a long quote from Thomas Merton’s  “A Letter to Pablo Antonio Cuadra concerning giants” in Emblems of a Season of Fury, that I wish the vice-president would contemplate, as a first step to understanding the people here:

The tourist never meets anyone, never encounters anyone, never finds the brother in the stranger. This is his tragedy, . . .
If only North Americans had realized . . . that Latin Americans really existed. That they were really people. That they spoke a different language. That they had a culture. That they had more than something to sell! Money has totally corrupted the brotherhood that should have united all the peoples of America. It has destroyed the sense of relationship, the spiritual community that had already begun to flourish in the years of Bolivar. But no! Most North Americans still don’t know, and don’t care, that Brazil speaks a language other than Spanish, that all Latin Americans do not live for the siesta, that all do not spend their days and nights playing the guitar and making love. They have never awakened to the fact that Latin America is by and large culturally superior to the united States, not only on the level of the wealthy minority which has absorbed more of the sophistication of Europe, but also among the desperately poor indigenous cultures, some of which are rooted in a past that has never yet been surpassed on this continent. So the tourist drinks tequila, and thinks it is no good, and waits for the fiesta he has been told to wait for. How should he realize that the Indian who walks down the street with half a house on his head and a hole in his pants, is Christ? All the tourist thinks is that it is odd for so many Indians to be called Jesús.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

The infernos of Comayagua, Comayagüela, and San Pedro

Monseñor Rómulo Emiliani, CMF, the auxiliary bishop of San Pedro Sula and head of the country’s prison ministry released a document, From Comayagua to Comayagüela, on the recent fiery infernos in the prison in Comayagua (which left 361 dead), in several public markets in Comayagüela, and in the San Pedro Sula Social Security hospital.

At this time, I am only able to find an article in Spanish in Zenit, accessible here.

One section is remarkably strong and puts the fires in some perspective. Here is my translation, followed by the Spanish. Note that the bishop uses the word incendio which I translate as conflagration, though it could also be translate as an uncontrolled blaze or fire, or perhaps, even stronger, as a blazing inferno.

These conflagrations brought on by lamentable accidents hide another conflagration much more destructive in our country which is ongoing and feeds the blazes just mentioned: the [conflagration] of a most frightful corruption by which funds destined to be invested in sound infrastructures capable of resisting events such as fires and earthquakes remain in the pockets of a few; the [conflagration] of improvisation and mediocrity which  does everything in a half-way manner and without any quality controls; the [conflagration] of not having a serious plan of integral development for the whole country and the [conflagration] of egoism which makes us work among those who are like us], thinking very little in the poor who comprise most of those who live in our jails, who work in the public markets, and get medical attention in the Social Security [public] hospitals.

“Estos incendios provocados por accidents lamentables, esconden otro incendio mucho más destructivo en nuestra patria que es permanente y alimenta los anteriores: el de la corrupción más espantosa por lo que se desvían fondos destinados a invertir en infraestructuras sólidas y capaces de resistir eventualidades como incendios y terremotos y que quedan en los bolsillos de unos pocos; el de la cultura de la improvisación y de la mediocridad que hace todo a medias y sin controles de calidad; el de no tener una planificación seria de todo un desarrollo integral para un país entero y el del egoísmo que nos hace solamente trabajar en los que son como uno, pensando muy poco en los pobres que son los que más habitan en nuestros presidios, trabajan en los mercados públicos y reciben atención en los hospitales del Seguro Social.”

Friday, March 02, 2012

An open letter to Vice President Biden

Dear Vice President Joe Biden,

I write as a Catholic lay missionary in Honduras, dismayed at how your upcoming visit here is being advertised.

Did I really read this correctly?

“On Tuesday, in the morning, we go to Honduras, where the Vice-President will first meet with President Lobo. The meeting there provides an opportunity to reaffirm the United States' strong support for the tremendous leadership President Lobo has displayed in advancing national reconciliation and democratic and constitutional order.”

This comes from a transcript of a conference call press briefing, on March 1, 2012, of Dan Restrepo, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs.

President Lobo’s public acceptance is one of the lowest in the Americas. The crime and insecurity has increased during his term as president, though he cannot be blamed for all of this.

I also don’t know many people who think he’s a leader.

National reconciliation is a joke. He has even alienated Congress and the Supreme Court who hold some of the same views as he does. As for the poor I don't know many who look up to him.

As for advancing democratic and constitutional order, the corruption in the police and government  officials is significant, journalists and campesinos in places like the Bajo Aguan have been killed. Honduras is one of the least safe places to be a journalist. I believe that President Lobo has done little to address these problems - except for militarization of police activity and places like the Bajo Aguan. Militarization does not deal effectively with the violence here.

I just wish, President Biden, that you would meet with the poor, the people I work with everyday. You might hear a very different story – a story of impressive people making changes despite the odds, despite the structural injustice, despite the corruption.

I still cannot believe that a high US government official would give such uncalled for praise of the current situation in Honduras.

Please Vice President Biden, come and visit with the real people of Honduras – the more than 65% who live in poverty. Listen to them and to the priests and sisters who work with them here in western Honduras, the poorest part of a very poor country.

Come and see their struggles, their faith, their suffering under an unjust system. 

I plead with you, as a US citizen, as a fellow Catholic, as a person who has lived almost five years in Honduras. 

Come and share a meal of tortillas, beans and cheese. But if you do come, don't be surprised if they kill a chicken for your meal. 

Do not turn a deaf ear to the cries of the poor as your ears are filled with the praise of the rich and powerful.

Listen to them with an open heart.

John Donaghy