Thursday, September 26, 2013

Joys and sorrows

Thursday I accompanied Padre German to two villages in the Dulce Nombre parish. It’s a chance to get out to places I don’t often get to as well as a chance to talk with him in the truck as we drive out.

Padre German is trying to visit every one of the 46 towns and villages at least once every two months. He often spends time with the community council.

In the morning we went to the village of Descombros, outside San Agustin.  When he arrived he first heard confessions for about an hour. Then the Mass began with 30 baptisms of children under seven.

A choir came from San Agustin and sang with a lot of enthusiasm even though they slaughtered some of the music, substituting “new” tunes for several of the hymns. 

The parents and godparents were very enthusiastic when they responded to the questions of the baptismal ritual - they are renouncing Satan in the above photo. 

Some of the little kids resisted when they were baptized. I wondered if the waters of baptism were really exorcising some loud evil spirits.

During the Mass Padre German made a remark that struck me as extremely important: we are all equal, in the Body of Christ. There is no one better than another. That call for radical equality is refreshing and what, I think, the people here need to hear.

After Mass, we had a quick lunch and then headed to the other town. For several reasons I will not name the town.

We were going for the end of the novena- nine days of prayer for someone who had died. 

A good sized crowd from the village and several others nearby nearly filled the new large church in the village.

The man had been killed with two shots. His family and another local family had been at odds for years. Also, probably years ago, one of his sons had killed someone from the other family. And, for some reason, he was now shot and killed.

Interfamily rivalries as well as crimes that are not brought to justice are responsible, I believe, for a good part of the violence in the countryside.

But, why now, especially since the man killed was over eighty years old?

Padre German gave a pointed homily on the texts he had chosen for the Mass – the Genesis story of Cain and Abel and the account of Jesus death.

I was moved by his words and took some notes. Here are a few of his remarks. (I have combined some of them that seemed related).
  • No one has the right to take another’s life. For it is taking the place of God.
  • We need to end the circle (spiral?) of violence.
  • All who kill ask, like Cain, “Am I, by chance, my brother’s keeper?”
  • To break the cycle of violence we need to contemplate life, and care of the life of our neighbors and our enemies.
  • There will never exist a person like Abel, like the person who was killed.  They are unique. Each person’s life is irreplaceable. Even the worst person is important. For God wants the sinner to live.
  • He said that when one takes the life of another, the life of that person is “depreciado” – belittled, scorned, despised, looked down upon. But every life has value.
  • Avoid the desire for vengeance; one has to forgive.
  • Sin has power. But, recalling the death and resurrection of Christ, life is stronger than death.

He said more that I missed – since I almost fell asleep from exhaustion. But the message of love, forgiveness, and letting go of the desire for vengeance was clear. But also clear was his insistence of the value of every person – even our enemies. In a society that despises the poor, hearing this message is extremely important.

During the prayer of the faithful, Padre German prayer for the justice system of Honduras, which he called “collapsed” and he prayed for justice.

He realizes that violence experienced in the villages is not merely related to vengeance and inter-family rivalries. It is related to the lack of a justice system that responds to crimes.

How many crimes are never investigated? How many of those who kill ever proceed to court? How many are jailed with insufficient evidence? The system allows injustice and violence to flourish and, I believe, even contributes to it by its failure to function.

The Mass was somewhat subdued, but I found that Padre German’s words provided a beacon of hope.

One person I know who was a niece and godchild of the man who was killed remarked on his words.

I told her that he said what we need to hear.

He did what the Church should be doing - saying a prophetic word of hope as we accompany those who are suffering and mourning.

  In some ways I think what he was doing can be summed up in the first sentence of the Second Vatican Council's Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World - Gaudium et Spes:
The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the [people] of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts.

More photos of the baptisms in Descombros can be found here.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Amos in Honduras

I have been thinking of writing something about the situation here in Honduras for a few weeks. But today’s Mass at San Martin chapel in Santa Rosa was the push that prompts this post, which is more a diatribe than an analysis.

Padre Fausto Milla presided at the Mass and, as usual, spoke passionately about the situation in Honduras. He didn’t have to look far for his inspiration since the first  reading was from Amos 8: 4-7.

Amos is a difficult prophet who challenged the political, economic, and religious leaders of his time.

Amos 6: 1, 3-4 addresses the leaders of Judah who are “complacent in Zion” and the leaders of Israel who are “overconfident.

Honduras is in the midst of the electoral campaign which will close with the November 24 elections. The powers that be are overconfident and hope that the system that has kept two corrupt political parties in power will continue. Some use all the means at their disposal to try to assure this. Even though several groups will be placing observers to monitor the election and the campaign, corruption is a reality.

The leaders “would put off the evil day, yet you hasten the reign of violence.”

Violence is epidemic here in Honduras, with the highest percentage of murders in the world. The political leaders are promoting various strategies to combat the violence, including the creation of a military police that will respond to the violence. The solutions proposed – except one on the creation of community-based police – all place their trust in the use of violence. More force is needed to combat violence. They ignore the social and political causes of violence and they do little to deal with the massive corruption in the police, who are in some places allied with crime – organized and other. And so violence continues. And the militarization of the “fight” against crime has the support of the US government.

The leaders, decried Amos, “lie on their beds of ivory, stretched comfortably on their couches.”

Just this week, the Wealth-X report revealed that there are 215 multi-millionaires in Honduras whose fortunes are 30 billion US dollars. Yet there is massive inequality in Honduras and a poverty rate of near 70%, with 36% in extreme poverty. The richest
fifth of Honduras earn over 20 times more than the poorest fifth.

As Amos noted of Israel and Judah, so too in Honduras, “They eat lambs taken from the flock, and calves from the stall!” Although there are many landless campesinos who have no land to plant corn and beans, the staples of the Honduran diet, much land is used for cattle grazing.

The rich, as Amos 8:4 notes, “trample upon the needy and destroy the poor of the land.”

In the past few years there have been major conflicts over land ownership. In one case, the conflict in the area called the Baja Aguan was between one of the richest men in Honduras and campesinos  trying to get land that they believed was theirs and that had been illegally taken. More than 40 people were killed in this conflict.

Recently there have been two major conflicts, one with mining interests in the northern department of Atlantida where several have been killed, the other over the impending construction of a mega dam on Lenca indigenous land where one leader was killed by the military and recently two leaders have been sentenced to prison.

Ames spoke the truth when he noted that the rich complain that they have to wait to make their gains and they “fix [their] scales for cheating.”  The rich fix the scales and set low prices for buying coffee or other crops from the campesinos and charge high prices when they sell.

The coming elections are a time to watch for the prophecy of Amos 8: 4: “We will buy the lowly for silver and the poor for a pair of flip-flops.”

Often candidates will seek to “win over” voters by passing out bags of cement or tin for roofing. Often these “gifts” (bribes) are purchased by government funds.

In addition, the land of the poor is bought at a low price, when they have need of money. They get a pittance for their land. This is particularly evident when land is bought by mining interests or those who will profit by energy projects.

Amos concludes that the rich boast that “even the refuse of the wheat will we sell.” The quality of many products being sold is extremely poor. those who have money can buy goods from the US but the poor have to be content with shoddy merchandise – the refuse.

But there may be hope for, as Amos notes (8:7), the Lord has sworn: “Never will I forget a thing they have done.”

And as today’s responsorial psalm (Psalm 113:7)  notes:
He raises up the lowly from the dust;
from the dunghill he lifts up the poor…
But the Lord needs the hands of the people and the conversion of those who hold economic and political power in Honduras, the United States, and the world.

This reflection is inspired by a work of the late Peter Ediger, “Amos Visits America.” A selection from that work follows:

Hear this word, O people of America!
I am holding you accountable for what you do and what you fail to do.

Woe to you who sell the needy for a stealth bomber, and the poor for a pair of guided missiles.

Woe to you who stretch yourselves on fancy beds and eat rich foods from well-stocked supermarkets, who entertain yourselves with Reality TV but who close your eyes to the reality of the homeless in your back yard who do not see, and seeing not, care not that your brothers and sisters are hungering for jobs and food and full humanity.

Woe to you who do not rise up in a massive voice of protest when your legislators appropriate billions on billions for weapons of mass destruction as they cut back the millions needed for education, health and human services.

Hear this, you who trample upon the needy and bring the poor of the land into ever greater economic captivity. I will not forget any of your deeds.

Shall not the land tremble when the accounts are settled?

Saturday, September 21, 2013

World Day of Peace

Throughout the world, at the request of the United Nations, people are observing a Day of Peace.

The vision is expressed so well by a wall near the United Nations in New York City that cites the image of the peaceable kingdom in Isaiah 2.

But wars still rage and people still long for peace and justice. Violence plagues the streets of cities – most recently Chicago.

Here in Honduras, the violence continues in cities, towns and rural villages. This past week I have heard of two killings in the countryside. 

I have been thinking much of what we need to do to reveal deal with violence, but I will leave that to a later blog entry.

The Honduran bishops have asked that tomorrow be a day of prayer for the victims of violence.

Caritas National of Honduras has prepared videos and materials on transformation of conflict and has programs in several areas of the country (funded by Caritas Norway). The videos are in Spanish: La raíz de la violencia 1 is found here  and Propuesta de la Iglesia Católica here 

A prayer has been sent throughout the country. My free translation below is followed by the Spanish

Good and merciful Father, we ask you to give light and eternal rest to all those who have died, due to the violence on our country.
Console the families that mourn their loss: give them strength to endure their sorrow and suffering; give them courage to be builders of peace, harmony, justice, and reconciliation.
Illumine the minds and hearts of those who the lives of others as well as the minds and hearts of those who govern us so that they make assure and defend the beautiful gift of life.
May all of us, like Mary, know how to wipe away tears and console sorrows and may we commit ourselves as a people to build a new society that is just and fraternal, that promotes solidarity and respects life.
We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The original Spanish:

Padre bueno y misericordioso, te pedimos que concedas la luz y la paz eterna a todas las personas que han muerto a causa de la violencia en nuestro país. 
Consuela a sus familias que lloran su pérdida, dales fortaleza para sobrellevar el dolor y el sufrimiento, dales valentía para que sean constructoras de paz, concordia, justicia y reconciliación.  
Ilumina  la mente y el corazón de quienes  arrebatan  la vida y de quienes nos gobiernan para que aseguren y defiendan el hermoso don de la vida. 
Que todos, al igual que María sepamos enjugar lágrimas  y consolar tristezas y nos comprometamos como pueblo en la construcción de una sociedad, justa, fraterna, solidaria  y respetuosa de la vida. Te lo pedimos por Jesucristo nuestro Señor. Amén.