Wednesday, August 28, 2013

San Agustín - baptisms, fiesta, and hope

I went to San Agustín today for the Mass for the feast day of the town and the church.

I had been there on Sunday with Padre German for 15 baptisms of children between 7 and 14.

It was quite a joyful celebration with a packed church.

Here are a few photos.

All ages were represented.

Some kids hung around the tubs used for baptism.

Padre German likes to use a lot of water while baptizing.

These kids are called to be light for the world.

Today, the church wasn’t as packed, even though the bishop came, but the people had placed the statue of Saint Augustine in a prominent place.

In his hand he bears a burning heart. 

As he wrote, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”

After the Mass there was the coronation of the queen of the fiesta.

Some kids tried to get a good seat.

I didn’t stay around but headed back to Santa Rosa.

On the way back I gave a ride to a young man who is teaching in the middle school in San Agustin. Even though he’s still in his second year at the Pedagogical University he was hired to teach since San Agustín is a remote location. One teacher is on maternity leave and one teacher who was hired quit after two days.

The young man has an interesting story. He didn’t go straight from grade school to middle school because of the poverty of his family. When he went to high school in Santa Rosa he worked in the day and went to night classes.

He had been working construction at about 5,000 lempiras ($250) a month and the original offer from the school was 3,500 ($175). They finally went up to 4,000 ($200). But he is officially only paid for 30 hours of classes, though he is teaching 36 – willingly. He also hadn’t been paid for four months He was going to Santa Rosa with the paperwork to be able to be paid for 36 hours. I hope it works.

It was very good to listen to a young man who really wants to teach.

There’s hope.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Saint Bartholomew and the martyrs

Today, Catholics celebrate the feast of the apostle Bartholomew, of whose life we know very little. He is usually identified with the Nathaniel of John’s Gospel. The tradition is that he evangelized the East, even going as far as India, and that he was flayed alive in in Armenia. A graphic painting can be found in the Vatican Museum here.

On an island in the Tiber is a church which is not on the itinerary of many pilgrims or other visitors: the minor basilica of Saint Bartholomew. The church, built on the ruins of a Roman temple to Aesculapius, the Greek god of healing, dates back to the tenth century, though it’s a mélange of various architectural styles.

But it was, for me, an important pilgrimage site since it’s the church dedicated to the new martyrs of the twentieth century

Entering the church I was struck by the icon at the front – the icon of the new martyrs where one can discern many twentieth century martyrs – Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant

Icon of the new martyrs

The side altars are dedicated to the martyrs with “relics” of many witnesses who are important for me:

On the altar of the new martyrs of Nazism there is a letter of Blessed Franz Jägerstätter to his family. Franz, an Austrian peasant, refused to serve in Hitler’s arm and was beheaded.

Letter from prison of Blessed Franz Jägerstätter to his wife

On the altar of the new martyrs of Africa is a letter of Dom Christian de Chergé, abbot of the Trappist monastery of Our Lady of Atlas in Algeria, who was among those killed by Islamic fundamentalists. Their story is portrayed in one of my favorite movies, Of Gods and Men.

The prayer beads of Father Aleksander Men, killed in Russia, are on the altar of martyrs of Communism, as well as a relic of the Polish preist, Blessed Jerzy Popielusko, who was a chaplain to Solidarity.

Reliquary of Blessed Jerzy Popielusko

On the altar of the new martyrs of the Americas is the missal Archbishop Oscar Romero used at the Mass at which he was martyred.

Altar of the martyrs of the Americas

I prayed and wept in that church, remembering the witness of these and many others who gave their lives for God, for the poor, and for the Truth of the Gospel.

Visiting that church renewed my commitment to my mission here in Honduras. Recalling it today gives me strength to continue – seeking to be of service to those most in need.


Other blog posts on my visit to San Bartolomeo can be found here and here.
My blog on the movie Of Gods and Men can be found here.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Workings of the Spirit - baptisms galore

Thursday I went to El Zapote de Santa Rosa to do a workshop with catechists and others.

This was a follow up of a workshop two months ago to train catechists and others in the preparation of parents and god-parents for the baptism of infants and children under seven.

We were also going to begin to work on the materials for the catechumenate, the process leading up to baptism for those 14 years old and up.

I first asked them about their experience with the materials and the process.

I was overwhelmed to hear how well the process and the materials had been received. One person noted that the materials were in a language that they could understand, without a lot of fancy words. (The only word he had trouble with was “exorcism.”)

Others mentioned how this had awakened faith in some of the parents. Some of those who were not married were asking about getting married. Some who had not been active in the church have begun to come to Sunday celebrations. Some have decided to make changes in their lives – including giving up smoking marijuana.

And in the nine villages represented in the meeting there are 251 children and infants ready for baptism. In two of the villages there are more than 50. Padre German will have a tired arm after pouring so much water!

But this is only a beginning. Some communities are planning a second series of pre-baptismal sessions.

I have three more training sessions in the next two weeks. It will be interesting to compare the experience in the other parts of the parish.

The second part of the meeting was explaining the catechumenate and going over the materials for the first part of the process. There aren’t many who will begin this process, though there could be as many as 25 in the nine villages.

The Rite of acceptance is planned for the first Sunday of December, but the materials for the weeks leading up to this have been prepared.

People are also asking for materials for what they are calling the pre-catechumenate – or what I’d prefer to call the catechumenate of children – for children between 7 and 14 who have not been baptized. We have an outline and I’m working on some parts, but I doubt I’ll have much down until December.

And so we have our work to do.

The Catechumenate refers to the process – including religious instruction, retreats, and liturgical rites – leading up to baptism and the reception of the other sacraments of initiation for non-baptized persons, usually adults or older children.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

More signs of life

I have my car back finally. The brakes were fixed in Esperanza, Intibuca – disks, pads, and boosters – to the tune of a little over $300.  But there was a problem with the right candado – the thing (lock) on the wheel that you turn to activate four-wheel drive. So I went to my local mechanic who replaced it – and didn’t charge me. Oh, the mercy these people show me!

He had mercy on me since he knew how much I’d put out in the last six weeks to get the car repaired.

He also knew that I am planning to find a newer pickup and sell this one. He’ll tell someone interested.

But even though I have been without a car, I did manage last Sunday to get out to Dulce Nombre on the bus.

I wrote in an earlier post about the celebration of Padre German’s birthday. But I forgot to mention that as I left I ran across a group of young people learning how to play musical instruments.  It’s a program that is getting outside funding and is being organized by the municipality. They are using the church grounds for the classes and instructors are coming in from Santa Rosa.

Here are some photos.

Yesterday I went out to Dulce Nombre for the Parish Council meeting. I couldn’t stay the whole time since I was taking part in a workshop in Caritas. But it was good.

The parish is being re-organized in several ways. Padre German hopes to have the parish organized, form the Base Communities to the parish council, to reflect the varied ministries of the church. It’s been hard for some parishioners to understand this but it is slowly being implemented.

Each base community and the church councils of the villages, sectors, zones, and parish will have seven representatives from the lower levels. So the parish council will have seven representatives from each of the four zones – who have the same roles even in their base communities. There will be a general coordinator, a secretary, a treasurer, a catechist, a coordinator of the liturgical ministry, a coordinator of the prophetic ministry, and a coordinator of the social ministry. The idea is to have people on the parish council who are rooted in their role from the base.

In addition, the parish will now have four zones instead of three. The fourth zone will include the villages furthest from the town of Dulce Nombre.  Hopefully this will enable better communication and better coordination of ministries.

At the parish council, Padre German brought a box of goodies for them: a box sent by St. Thomas. He showed them the two holy cards – of Our Lady and of St. Thomas Aquinas. 

Then he passed around the letters that had been written by St. Thomas parishioners. There weren’t enough for every village, but they will be distributed to villages throughout the parish.

Today, Saturday, I’m resting – getting wash done, cleaning the house (for two visitors on Monday), preparing material for the workshop I have to do in the parish next Thursday, and doing the last edit of materials for the catechumenate in the parish (and printing them off.)

There are lots of other little details to do – but I’ll try to take it easier. I do need to rest a bit.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

A Sunday celebration in Dulce nombre

Sunday morning I went out in bus to Dulce Nombre. My car is still in Esperanza, Intibucá – about three hours away by bus.

I had hoped to spend a little time talking with Padre German and giving him the latest suggestions for the material for the baptism preparation of kids from 7 to 14.

I arrived to find the church astir – and Padre German visiting someone for breakfast. There was to be a celebration to thank those in the town of Dulce Nombre who had been involved in a fund-raising effort. It also was going to be a birthday celebration for Padre German whose birthday is Monday.

Padre German Navarro
Here people make a big deal about priest’s birthday’s and ordination celebrations. The church was not packed but it was decorated.

The music group from Plan Grande, La Gran Familia, was there to lead the singing at Mass. I was glad because I find them a really good group – and easy to listen to. They are not usually as loud as other groups. They write their own songs, though they didn’t use any at Mass.

La Gran Familia - The Big Family
At the end of Mass another music group, Mensajeros de Amor, walked up the aisle, serenading Padre on this birthday. I also like this group because they are so different. They sing religious rancheros, some of which they write.

Mensajeros de Amor, Messengers of Love,  walking into the church
After Mass there was a meal (with lots of meat) for the musicians, the leaders of the fund-raising campaign, and some other parish leaders. Both music groups entertained the gathered crowd.

Mensajeros de Amor playing at the meal.
In the midst of pain and suffering, people find reasons to celebrate and people are willing to share their talents. It was good to be there.

­- - - - - - -

Two side notes – on sacraments:

One interesting announcement by Padre at Mass: People who have been living together for five years, whether civilly married or not, will have the opportunity to sacramentalize their marriage until December. There will be a series of sessions they will have to go to. My guess is that we might have a large number of church weddings.

On a similar note: The effort to offer baptism for children under seven has been well received in several places. In several communities there are parents and godparents taking part in the five sessions and retreat to prepare for the baptisms. I have heard figures of 75, 50, and 100 children to be baptized in several places. Before the requirements were stricter and the parents had to be in a base community and in some cases there was a demand that the parents be sacramentally married. Obviously there is a desire for the sacraments.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Ashamed of the US government - part two

Last night, after returning from Tegucigalpa on a failed mission to get visas for three Dulce Nombre parishioners to visit their sister parish of St. Thomas Aquinas in Ames, I wrote an impassioned blog entry, which you can read here.

There were a few things I did not mention that I had reflected on during an eight hour bus trip.

I am ashamed of my country’s policies on migration, even for short term visits. But maybe I am expecting too much.

False expectations?
A few years ago at a conference here in Honduras, I heard a US consulate official state that they treat all those seeking a visa as if they all are intending to stay in the US.

That is reflected in the form letter that my friends were given by the Consular Officer:

“While nonimmigrant visa classifications each have their own unique requirements, one requirement shard by many of the nonimmigrant visa categories is for the applicant to demonstrate that he/is has a residence in a foreign country which he/she has no intention of abandoning. Applicants usually meet this requirement by demonstrating that they have strong ties overseas that indicate that they will return to a foreign country after a temporary visit to the United States. Such ties include professional, work, school, family, or social links to a foreign country.

“You have not demonstrated that you have the ties that will compel you to return to your home country after your travel to the United States.”

Interestingly, the interviewer seems not to have read the letter from the priest at Dulce Nombre and, in the first case, only looked at the person’s bank account information and the letter of invitation from St. Thomas Aquinas.

This leads me to believe that the principal requirement of the US government is determined by money in a bank account and land. But in a country like Honduras where there is massive inequity, in terms of land and money, this is excluding probably about 75% of the population.

The three who applied are not among the poorest. They work land – sometimes owned by their father; the two forty-year olds live in a house with their family, a house owned by their spouses. The young man has a job and is studying in the university. But they have little money in a bank account.

Policies that encourage fraud

The second issue that hit me was that this policy encourages fraud.

If applicants were not sincere and truthful, they could borrow money to put into their bank account for a short period of time to “prove” that they had money.  After the interview, the money would go back to the original person.

That’s fraud; that’s sinful; that’s not right. But the way the law is interpreted it sometimes seems like the only way to get a visa.

Immigration as a spiritual problem
There is much more I’d like to write about, but one thought has stayed with me.

I believe that US immigration policy is based on fear.

But I wonder if this fear is really a spiritual problem.

Do we fear the “other,” because we really don’t place our trust in the “Ultimate Other,” God?

I think this is a serious question that is at the root of the question for people of faith.

I cannot answer for people who doubt or deny the existence of God, but I do know that some of them are all too willing to trust the other person they encounter and are a challenge to believers.

And so, the challenge is not only to change US immigration policy but to conversion to a way of living that is open to others and to the “Other.”

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Angry and ashamed at the US government

I just got back from a long two-day trip to Tegucigalpa with three leaders from the parish of Dulce Nombre de María. One has been the parish council treasurer for years; another has been the parish council secretary and is one of the parish’s 16 communion ministers; he other worked on the parish’ three year agricultural project and is on his town’s church council. They are real representatives of the parish

St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Ames, Iowa, a sister parish with Dulce Nombre, had invited the parish here to send some parishioners for a visit in order to deepen the relationship between the two parishes. St. Thomas promised to pay all the costs involved and has already paid for three passports and for the $160 per-person non-refundable interview fees.

They also each had a letter from Padre German, Dulce Nombre’s pastoral administrator, attesting that they were going as the parish’s representatives. I also gave them a letter explaining to the embassy that I was accompanying them to and from Ames, Iowa. The Republican Senator from Iowa also sent a note by e-mail to the US Department of State in Honduras at the request of St. Thomas Aquinas Church.

But these three leaders were denied, despite the fact that the letter from Fr. Jon Seda, the pastor of St. Thomas stated that the parish “is assuming all the costs” for their visits. The first parishioner was refused after the interviewer read the letter and looked at the information from his bank. He was asked who would pay and replied, “St. Thomas.” The interviewer told him that he was refused because he didn’t have enough money in his bank account.

Yeah. He’s poor!

They were all three given a letter in English and Spanish to “explain” why. Interestingly, the Spanish version is slightly different from the English. The letter explains that they cannot appeal the decision but they can reapply at any time, of course submitting a new form, paying the application fee again, and making a new appointment.

Then in English it reads: “If you choose to reapply, you should be prepared to provide information that was not presented in your original application, or to demonstrate that your circumstances have changed since that application.”

The Spanish reads: “Durante la entrevista, Usted deberá proporcionar la información que no fue presentada en la solicitud original demonstrando que sus condiciones socio-económicos han cambiado”.

The Spanish says that the changed circumstances are related to their “socio-economic conditions."

I know that this happens everyday and has happened twice here to two other persons who were to be sponsored by Catholic institutions in the US.

I know that this is only the tip of the iceberg that is the unjust immigration system in the US.

But it strikes home. I know this people who are sincere followers of Christ.

There are poor people but a parish in the US, which is in solidarity with the parish here, promised to pay all the expenses – and has already put out more than $800 for this.

I don’t think that is the fault of the interviewer. According to the two men they were treated respectfully.

But what the US government looks for in these interviews is the almighty dollar. Solidarity does not mean much.

Money matters, not solidarity.

I think this reveals some of the problem with US migration policy. It’s based on fear, fear of the other, of the different. There is also the fear to “our way of life.”

Security matters – but security in terms of money and what money can buy.

But real security here must be measured in terms of solidarity, which I experience over and over.

I experienced it the day before yesterday. My car broke down again on a hill outside San Miguelito, Intibucá. A guy who was a mechanic stopped by and looked at the problem. He told us that he would get his tools and come back and see if he could fix it enough for us to get to Esperanza. He came back in fifteen minutes, bled the brakes, and sent us on our way. While he worked on the car he told me that his name was Santiago, but everyone calls him Tito. I offered him money, but Tito refused it.

For him, solidarity is more important than money.

And so I am ashamed - again - of what the US government does.

And I am angry that three good leaders of our parish here will not be able to share with the parishioners of St. Thomas Aquinas parish.

But I am grateful to be here and for the people's solidarity.

Monday, August 05, 2013

Joys amid car problems

Car troubles and some commitments with Caritas have kept me from getting out to the countryside until this past Saturday.

The car was finally fixed and so I got out to a meeting of one of the sectors of the parish. I arrived late for a number of reasons. As I tried to enter quietly I listened as a kid of about 12 was reading the minutes from the church council of his village. I was impressed. It was also good to see other young people there involved in leadership positions in their villages.

Lunch at Grandadillal
I got back to Santa Rosa and stopped to get money out of the bank to pay rent. The car wouldn’t start but made a grinding noise. I called my mechanic who came out and got it started, but he told me to get the car to the shop. They fixed it, something about something loose in the starter. No charge! But I stood around and talked with the young guys who work there for about half an hour. They entertained me, including sharing a few things from a list of Honduran expressions, some of which are a little risqué. One of the least risqué was “Los catrachos no comen, se hartan.”

The car being fixed, I went home.

The next morning I set out to Dulce Nombre to go with Padre German to tow villages for Mass.

In Quebraditas there were two baptisms. There are more scheduled for the end of the month but this was an exception since the godparents were back visiting from Long Island where they live and work.

Baptism in Quebraditas
After this we went to Plan Grande, one of my favorite villages.

As we went toward the church, we passed by a gathering in a house, the house of the current mayor of Concepción. It was a political meeting related to the upcoming elections. (The current mayor is not running for re-election, but his brother is a candidate.)

Despite this, there was a good crowd at Mass.

In Quebraditas Padre German had asked me to do the reflection after the Gospel at Plan Grande. As I reflected on the readings, I realized that the music group in Plan Grande, “La Gran Familia,” had written a song which was appropriate – “El Apego al Dinero” – “Attachment to Money.” I asked them to sing it during the reflection as a way to connect the readings with a song the people already knew. As I listened and watched from the side, I saw some people in the congregation singing along with the group.

It was delightful was to see the involvement of young people in the readings as well as the leadership of Gloria, the village’s communion minister and a member of the parish council.

Gloria, her youngest son Eliú, and another girl from Plan Grande
I left and got home before a strong wind and rain storm struck. After it calmed down I went out to Weekend’s (the best pizza in Central America, I claim).

Today I took the car back to the shop because the brakes felt funny. I’m headed off to Tegucigalpa tomorrow – a six to eight hour trip – and want to make sure the brakes are good.

And so life continues on – with little joys, car troubles, and opportunities to see the hand of God in the lives of the people in the countryside.


There are more photos at the Dulce Nombre parish set on Flickr here.