Thursday, November 28, 2013

Being thankful in Honduras

A Thanksgiving letter

The best response I can give to my six plus years here in Honduras is “gracias” – thanks.

I just finished reading In the Company of the Poor: Conversations between Dr. Paul Farmer and Father Gustavo Gutiérrez. In one article, Gutiérrez writes:
The experience of gratuitousness is the space of encounter with the Lord. Unless we understand the meaning of gratuitousness, there will be no contemplative dimension in our life. Contemplation is not a state of paralysis but of radical self-giving. In the final analysis, to believe in God means to live our life as a gift from God and to look upon everything that happens in it as a manifestation of this gift.

And so today is a time to call to mind the graciousness of God and the ways this has been made known to me.

Thanks to God who let my heart be opened to move from a place where I was comfortable and happy to a place where I am challenged and happier than I have ever been.

Thanks to all those who help to make this happen – friends who have helped me in my continuing discernment, St. Thomas Aquinas parish which has supported me and is now a sister parish with the parish of Dulce Nombre de María where I help, the many people who have contributed to the ministry, and a special thank you to the people who donated to help me buy a decent vehicle and other people who recently made a very generous contribution to the parish of Dulce Nombre.

Thanks for the people here who welcome me and make me feel at home – and who challenge me to live more simply and to serve in a way that respects them. Thanks for those who have helped me get my old car started when it broke down.

Thanks to the catechists who devote their time to bring God’s love to children, young people, and the parents of young infants.

Thanks to the Dubuque Franciscan sisters in nearby Gracias, Lempira, who have provided a place of welcome and regular opportunities to meet together for reflection. I will spend today, Thanksgiving, with them.

Thanks to God who seems to be working marvels with Pope Francis.

Thanks for the beauty of this land, where, despite the poverty and suffering, God allows us to see beauty and work for the Reign of God.


But gratitude needs to lead us to share that gratitude. This year has been a year of changes that has offered me new opportunities to serve God’s poor.

At the end of January 2013, a new priest, Padre German Navarro, was appointed to the Dulce Nombre parish.  He is a breath of fresh air. He celebrates the Eucharist at least once every two months in the 47 or so towns and villages.

He has given me a lot of responsibilities this year – mostly in formation of catechists. I have prepared materials and then trained the catechists in the four zones of the parish.

This has been very rewarding and challenging – not only having to write in Spanish (though it’s usually been checked by Padre German) but trying to develop materials that encourage participation and that are understandable to people with limited formal education. At one session recently two people mentioned that six of the people seeking adult baptism are illiterate.

This past February I did make a pilgrimage to Italy. I had enough miles to get a really cheap ticket. The highlights were my five days in Assisi and a day trip to Subiaco. I’ve already written  about this pilgrimage earlier on my blog.  The place of St. Francis has become more central in my spiritual life these past few years.

I made a short visit to Ames this year but I hope to take a longer visit in 2014, as well as to visit cousins and friends in the Philadelphia-New York area.

But I am most grateful for being here. Honduras is now my home.

The biggest change next year will be my move from Santa Rosa, a city of about 40,000 to a rural village in the Dulce Nombre parish. This will enable me to be more present to the parish and help more in the parish. It will also let me be more present to the poor – especially in the remote villages.

Pope Francis in his beautiful apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium – The Joy of the Gospel, (paragraph 48, emphasis mine), explains why I am here and why I am moving out to the countryside:
If the whole Church takes up this missionary impulse, she has to go forth to everyone without exception. But to whom should she go first? When we read the Gospel we find a clear indication: not so much our friends and wealthy neighbors, but above all the poor and the sick, those who are usually despised and overlooked, “those who cannot repay you” (Lk 14:14).… Today and always, “the poor are the privileged recipients of the Gospel”, and the fact that it is freely preached to them is a sign of the kingdom that Jesus came to establish. We have to state, without mincing words, that “there is an inseparable bond between our faith and the poor”. May we never abandon them.

God has not abandoned me, even in the face of difficulties. So how can I abandon the people here? 

It's so much fun!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

More thoughts on the Honduran elections (corrected)

For some reason only part of the blog entry I thought I had written was posted. Here is a reconstruction of the whole post.

With at least 66.7 percent of the 3,233,000 votes cast, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) has stated that Hernández (JOH) leads with 34.08 percent of the votes, followed by Xiomara Castro with 28.92 percent, Mauricio Villeda of the Liberal Party with 20.70 percent, and Salvador Nasralla with 15.64 percent.

The TSE is, according to press reports, saying that the results showing the election of JOH as president are “irreversible”

The lack of public displays of victory has been notable even here in western Honduras. There is almost a damp blanket over us. (There have been demonstrations in Tegucigalpa today.)

Supporters of LIBRE are saddened - some hoping that the full count, or a recount, will bring Xiomara to victory, others seeing the results as more of the same political corruption and maneuvering.

National Party supporters are also subdued, although there were firecrackers in a village I passed by yesterday - mostly to celebrate the election of a National Party mayor (by about 300 votes over the LIBRE candidate).


A friend postulated that Xiomara’s strategy in the last month was one of the problems. Many undecided voters – “duros,” as one person called them – responded to the fear that Juan Orlando spread.

He spoke of the way of good and the way of evil. So people, fearful in the face of the insecurity and violence, opted for Juan Orlando. Some were possibly frightened by what was perceived as Xiomara’s softness on crimes, since she was against the militarized police.


One of the most interesting and troubling things that seems to have happened in various polling places was the buying of credentials.

Parties have members who sit at the tables to scrutinize what happens and to be present when the votes are counted. In several cases it appears that National Party activists were serving at the polls with the credential of another party.

Also, both LIBRE and the Anti-Corruption party are contesting the votes. There are reports of inconsistencies between the reports submitted to the TSE by the polling places and what appears on TSE’s website.

I fear this will go on for quite some time.


We had a spirited discussion during our weekly devotional at Caritas.

As I have been thinking for quite some time, one of the problems is that the Resistance and its party, LIBRE, have not been giving enough emphasis on consciousness-raising in a non-ideological way.

As one person noted, the Honduran populace is basically conservative – perhaps 80% of them.

Another person noted that, even though Honduras need real, radical change, it won’t happen just from the top. There needs to be change in the consciousness of people.


I think it will mean concerted efforts to make people aware of their ability to make decisions on their own, not depending on politicians. It will mean people realizing that they do not always need to look to political authorities to get things done.

That is a long process, but I think it can be done in many ways – both by larger institutions and by small groups.



Sources I’ve looked at during these past few days (with a critical eye) include:
  • Election Watch Facebook page here.
  • Honduras solidarity website here.
  • CEPR's Americas blog here.
I did listen Sunday night to Radio Progresso on line and found their coverage professional and very informative. The music they play is often very radical. Their election page was here. Their main page is here. Radio Progresso and ERIC-SJ are part of the Honduran Jesuits' social ministry.

The website of the government's TSE with results is here

The best commentaries on Honduras, I believe, can be found at Honduras Culture and Politics blog, here.

There are other sites which I also look at including Quotha of a US anthropolgist who is now in Honduras, as well a site for a Canadian volunteer group here.

The parable of the sower

On Monday, I went out with Padre German to Bañaderos, one of the most remote villages of the Dulce Nombre parish.

The catechists of the sector had gathered more than 80 children and young people from four of the five communities.

After Mass, there were presentations from several groups. One of the most enjoyable was the group from Bañaderos who dramatized the parable of the sower.

Photos, with paraphrases of parts of the parable (Mark 4:1-8) follow:

Jesus began to teach by the sea. So many people gathered that he got into a boat and sat down. He taught them in parables.

A sower went out to sow his seed.

Some seed fell on the path and the birds came and ate it up.

Other seed fell on rocky ground.

And when the sun rose, it was burnt up.

Some fell among thorns which grew up and choked it.

Some seed fell on rich soil and produced fruit.

The enthusiasm of the children and youth there was indeed a good fruit, the work of many devoted catechists. 

I hope and pray that we can continue to help make these children and young people open to living as signs of God’s presence in a poor and troubled  - yet beautiful - country.

More photos from the Mass and celebration can be found in this set on my Flickr site.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Honduras elections: more thoughts

Honduras is still waiting.

I was out in a village until almost 2 o’clock and then worked until 6 pm with Father German, preparing for the Parish meeting next week.

But here are a few more remarks.

This afternoon the Honduran Electoral Tribunal (TSE) stated that with 61.7% of the polls counted, National Party candidate Juan Orlando Hernández has 34.19% of the votes and LIBRE’s Xiomara Castro 28.83%.

Tomorrow they may have final results, but they say that this is not a prediction of the results. Hmmh?

However, both LIBRE and the Anti-Corruption Party are claiming that about 20% of the reported numbers are inaccurate and that they’ve found inconsistencies between the reports to the TSE and other reports.

Ministerio Publico that takes legal complaints seems to have been taken over by the military.

This morning a friend told me how, in one municipality of the parish of Dulce Nombre, National Party activities were going around Saturday night until 2 am on Sunday morning giving out money and supplies in an effort out buy votes. It appears to have worked since the Liberal Party incumbent was defeated.

Will we know anything more tomorrow after the TSE makes a final report?