Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Burying a friend

I don’t know if I could really call Nicolas Sanchez a friend – but he made himself a friend of many in his quiet way. I always enjoyed being with him. I wrote about him in a blog entry earlier today - here.

Today he was buried.

A Mass was celebrated in the morning, presided by Padre Julio, since Padre German is on vacation with his parents in Guatemala.

Before the Mass, the coffin was carried to the church from the home of Gloria and Nicolas which is right next to the church. The children from the grade school in Plan Grande stood in two rows as the body of Nicolas passed between them.

Mass was simple – and Gloria maintained an incredible sense of calm. Her faith is so tangible that, though I could see the grief, there was a gentle peace in her presence.

Gloria by the casket of her husband, in church
After Mass the casket was taken to the cemetery in the next town. As is the custom here, a large number of people walked behind the casket. Several others and I drove since it was easily two or three kilometers – up and down hills.

I had never witnessed a burial here. I wish that they had the consolation of the prayers at the graveside, but it was a moving experience.

The casket was paced beside the concrete vault at the gravesite. The family and others gathered around to get a last glimpse of the deceased. (Most caskets have a window and only the face can be seen.)

Then the body was lowered into the vault with a rope. Roses were dropped on the casket.

Then a concrete lid is poured over wooden planks, reinforced by rebar.  

Then flowers are placed on and around the grave and the nine days of mourning are begun.

There will be prayers in the family home each night, ending with a special celebration on Friday, May 2.

May Nicolas rest in God’s peace and may his family be strengthened in hope and courage.

More photos of the funeral and burial can be found here.

A humble Christian

Some people are almost always in the shadows. One of them died Monday night.

I looked for photos of Nicolas to print for the family. I could find very few good ones of him, but I cropped one photo to get this picture which represents his spirit.

Nicolas was a gentle soul.

Nicolas was a hard-working husband and father.

Twice I have had groups come and watch while he and his sons and others made dulce – a sugar product made by boiling the juice of sugar cane. He showed people the process, invited them to participate, and made sure people had a chance to taste it.

Here’s a photo of Nicolas with Fr. Jon Seda from St. Thomas and two other visitors this past January – Joey and Tyler. The photo is cloudy because of the vapor from the boiling sugar cane.

I almost always saw him with a smile.

I don’t know how he was as a father, but his daughter and two sons are incredible people. I imagine he could be strict in a gentle way – but loving.

For all I could see, he was also a good husband. His wife, Gloria, is a leader in the community and in the church. I don’t think he felt threatened by a strong woman who was his wife. But Gloria is an extraordinary woman, who is also quite humble.

Nicolas with Gloria, daughter, two sons, and son-in-law
She is also a woman of faith. When I stopped by on Tuesday morning during the wake, she spoke of how her faith sustained her, despite the loss.

I will miss Nicolas when I visit Plan Grande – and I expect that I will miss his presence when I move there later this year.

But his family will miss him even more – his wife Gloria, his children, his grandson, and his brothers and sisters.

May God give them courage and comfort – and give Nicolas rest. I hope Nicolas gets to share some dulce with Jesus and Mary.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Christ is risen in Dulce Nombre

The Easter Vigil is the most solemn and important liturgy in the Catholic Church, commemorating that Jesus who died is now risen.

“Cristo es vivo” resounded in the church of Dulce Nombre several times on Saturday evening.

I have no idea how many participated, but several women spent most of Saturday making 1300 tamales and there were only less than 100 left (and some people didn’t eat.)

The liturgy began in a football field about two kilometers from the church. When I arrived a fire was blazing and people were gathered around.

At about 6:45 pm, Padre German blessed the fire, then blessed the Easter Candle and shard the light with the crowd who walked to church.

I drove and waited since I had not been feeling all that well.

The liturgy proceeded with the singing of the Easer Proclamation. All the assigned readings were proclaimed with psalms sung.

Padre German began his sermon recalling what he had said the day before. There are five diabolical enclosures (cercos): poverty, ideological structures, classism, a feeling that there is no sense to life, and living without God. (He later told me that the loss of a sense of life and living without God were combined in his original homily on Friday and he had added another enclosure: the destruction of the environment.) The resurrection is God’s response.

After this the baptism began. About 60 mostly young people were baptized.

It was moving to watch the various reactions of those being baptized – some with hands at their sides or with one hand in a pocket, several with open hands joined together in front, one with his hands folded in prayer.

What I also noticed was the reaction on the faces of many of them. Perhaps it was because of the cold water, but I saw some smiles of joy as the last words of baptism were said over them.

The baptized were not confirmed, because the bishop here reserves confirmation to his visits to the parishes.

The baptized received their first communion.

The liturgy ended about 1:00 am. Though it was more than six hours, I did not have the sense that it was long.

Most people went home, though a few stayed overnight because they lived so far away.

There was one event that threw the shadow of the evil of violence over the celebration of the risen Christ. In Dulce Nombre a young woman about 20 years old was knifed by another young woman upset that the woman had been seen with the attacker’s boyfriend. The woman was taken to the hospital in Santa Rosa and the attacker was apprehended by the police and brought before the prosecutor on Monday. (Corrected April 21.)

But the signs of life abounded, even in the face of violence.


More photos of the Easter Vigil can be found in this set on my Flickr site.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Good Friday of the crazy drunk

After staying overnight in Dulce Nombre, on Friday morning I went to Camalote for their Via Crucis. They didn’t have a copy of the parish’s Stations and I had left my copy at home. So we improvised – reading the stations from an i-Pad!

After the Stations I went to Don Rodolfo’s house and laid down for about 90 minutes. I was exhausted. Later talking with him I found out he was 76 years old and had 20 some great grand kids. I would have guessed he was in his mid or late sixties.

After my siesta I went to Pasquingual, a small town. As I arrived, my friend Olvidio came out to great me. The Stations were ending and so I headed to meet them as they walked through the community.

We celebrated the Office of the Passion about 15 minutes after the Stations ended. We needed the time to arrange readers. Since I wasn’t feeling well and my voice was weak, I left almost all the readings and prayers for the people.

What really surprised me was the quality of their reading – especially the three guys who read the Passion. Often people stumble over words or run the sentences into each other. But here almost everyone read very well, including two young kids.

For me, a moving part of the Good Friday service is the Veneration of the Cruz. I watched as people came forward – old men and women, kids, young men, and all the rest to reverence the cross.

At the end a drunk who had been hanging around came forward and knelt before the cross, crying.

After the service, I found out that he wasn’t from the community. He came up to me several times and began to talk. At one point he said that he knew that he was crazy: “Soy loco.”

I immediately responded to him, “You are not crazy; you are a child of God; God loves you.” Yes, you have troubles, but God loves you. I asked his hims name: Cristobal - Christopher.

I urged him to find an Alcoholic Anonymous group.

I really felt bad that he has such a low sense of his own worth. That’s why I was so direct with him, speaking of God’s love.

I don’t know if he grasped much of what I said.

As I was about to leave, he asked me for a ride, but my policy (and the policy of Padre German) is that we don’t give rides to drunks. The possibility of danger to them, falling off the truck, is too risky. But I explained that to him as well as I could. He seemed to understand.

So this Good Friday will be for me the Good Friday of the “crazy” drunk, whom God loves – even if Cristobal doesn’t know it.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Holy Thursday in Dulce Nombre

Holy Thursday is a busy day here. It didn’t help that I’ve got a chest cold. But it was a good day.

In the morning there was the Chrism Mass in Santa Rosa de Copán where the bishops celebrates with the priests and blesses the holy oils used in the sacraments.

I thought it started at 10 am and so arrived late, but I just missed the readings and part of the bishop’s sermon. When I arrived at 10:45 he was speaking and spoke until about 10:15.

The Mass was held in an auditorium since the cathedral is too small. But, in order to accommodate more people, the bishop had celebrated a Chrism Mass with the priests in the Intibucá deanery, since there are places there that are far from Santa Rosa.

Nothing special about the Mass struck me, except for one thing. There were more than thirty police men and women in and outside the auditorium during the Mass. I don’t know why. At the end of the Mass the bishop did tell the police that they are supposed to "protect and serve" and, referring to the words of Monseñor Romero that they should refuse orders to kill. 

But still the presence of the police is disturbing. Are the police saying that we can even show our presence even inside the church?

After the Chrism Mass I set out for the Dulce Nombre. Padre German had asked me to go to the village of El Prado de la Cruz, for the Celebration of the Word, with the Washing of the Feet, and Communion.

When I arrived I realized that there was a bit of miscommunication. They expected me to come in the morning or at 1 pm, even though Padre had told the coordinator of the zone that I’d come at three.

People slowly came in and when we had a decent sized group we started.

For the washing of the feet we had men, women, and children. Some of the feet were rough – from poor shoes or walking barefoot, some were dirty from walking the dirt streets of the village. But it was a privilege to be able to wash their feet.

After the celebration, I was asked to bring communion to a bed-ridden woman. Of course, I said. But then between ten and fifteen people, mostly women and kids, crammed into the truck.

We went and prayed with the woman and I gave her communion. Then I asked all the people to extend their hands over her in prayer. I placed my hands on her head and then many others joined me.

What solidarity with the sick. Not only a few people but even children went to pray. What a sign of the service that we see in Jesus’ washing the feet.

I went back to Dulce Nombre in time for the evening Mass and more.

The Mass began with 12 men walking in with the priest in the entrance procession. Padre German gave a strong sermon on service of others and then washed the feet of the twelve men.

My first thought was, “Oh, no. Restricting this to men.” I am sure this is due to the piety and tradition of the people in town, where each “apostle” wore a sash with the name of an apostle.

But after he washed the twelfth man, Padre approach a woman in a wheel chair and asked if he could wash her feet. It was moving – and woman nearby, the daughter of the woman, was close to tears.

After Mass, the Eucharist in the monstrance was carried in procession to what they call here the monumentum, the monument – a shrine set apart for private prayer before the Eucharist. In some places people pray in groups until midnight. It’s a tradition that I really like, but they had different plans here.

The statue of the Nazareno was taken in procession to another chapel in town in a procession called the prendimiento, the capture of Jesus.

I begged off taking part in the procession, because of my chest cold and because Good Friday will be a fairly busy day for me.