Monday, June 30, 2014

Heading home

Waiting for a plane to Miami in the Chicago airport for more than six hours, anxious to get home.

I do enjoy my visits to the US, because they offer a chance to visit with people I know and love.  

This visit ended up being rather special since I had the blessing to attend the Saturday ordination of three young men for the archdiocese of Dubuque, two of whom I know from my days as a campus minister.

I also attended the Mass to celebrate 150 years of the Dubuque Franciscans at Mount St. Francis and saw a good number of sisters whom I know.

Chapel at Mount St. Francis
In Ames, I saw a fair number of people – some by chance – and I renewed my Iowa driver’s license.

But I’m anxious to get home – to Honduras. There’s a lot of ministry to do – and I want to see how the house is going.

Honduras is my home. These visits to the US are not just chances to meet friends but also ways to share what the lives and ministry of the people I work with in Honduras.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Another travel warning

This week the US State Department issued another warning about travel to Honduras. It’s as bad or worse than previous ones. I wrote about a previous one here. Much of the report is a mere reciting of the last warning.

It starts out with the bland statement:
Tens of thousands of U.S. citizens visit Honduras each year for study, tourism, business, and volunteer work without incident. However, crime and violence are serious problems throughout the country,…
It states, as it did in the last two warnings, what I believe is a blatant lie.
U.S. citizens are victims of crime at levels similar to those of the local population, and do not appear to be targeted based on their nationality.
If that were true there would have been at least 50 US citizens killed in Honduras last year. I think the number is closer to three.

There is no way that US citizens are experiencing the crime and violence that Hondurans are. We have ways of assuring our safety that are beyond the means – personal and financial – of the majority of Hondurans. We can pay for more expensive busses, stay in hotels with guards, live in communities that are gated. (I don't live in a gated community and surely won't when I move to the countryside.)

If there are crimes that are perpetrated against US citizens, some of them may be due to the lack of taking serious precautions that one would take in certain areas in the US where crime is more common.

The warning states:
Several U.S. citizens have reported being robbed while walking on isolated beaches.
These crimes may partly be due in part to a lack of due care.

They talk about kidnappings and note that there have been four kidnappings of US citizens since January 1, 2012. That was the exact same thing they wrote in December 2013. That means that they have no reports of new kidnappings in the last six months.

They also cite the murder rate provided by the National Violence Observatory, located in the National Autonomous University of Honduras, as 79 per 100,000 people which is less than was projected in the US State Department December warning (81) – and is less than the previous year. This is not noted in the warning. There is, however, a repetition from the December 2013 warning of the innocuous statement that “The Honduran government is still in the early stages of substantial reforms to its criminal justice institutions.”

What would I advise people?
  • Come to Honduras to meet the real people in the countryside. Come as friends to accompany their efforts and to get to know them as real people. They will be your best security.
  • Avoid the big cities. Not only is the crime high, but the air is polluted. Hondurans have to live in these cities to find a job, or because their family moved there years ago to seek employment.
  • If you have to be in the cities, take care as you would in a big US city. Ask people where to avoid. If you don’t speak Spanish well, avoid public transportation.
  • In general be cautious.
  • But know that it is less dangerous in places where I work – in the parish of Dulce Nombre. Even the city of Santa Rosa de Copán has a lower murder rate than Camden, New Jersey.
  • Take the US State Department warning with a grain of salt. And realize that US policy and US drug use may be contributing.
  • Come and show solidarity with the poor here. 
Honduras is not the murder capital of the world, despite what the newspapers and the statistics say. Yes the murder rate is the highest - but why? Poverty, lack of a real judicial and justice system, policies of international businesses and government. 

Part of the cause may lie in the US.

I say this even while thinking of a community in the parish where I work which experienced the killing of four of its members in the last year. When Padre German mentioned this at a Mass the people countered that the perpetrators were NOT members of the community.

Let the US State Department examine its own complicity in the level of violence in Honduras. 

Monday, June 23, 2014

Travelling home

I don’t always travel well — especially on little sleep.

Sunday I got up at 4:45 to get to the 6 AM Corpus Christi procession in Concepción. 

After spending about an hour and a half with the get together of confirmation youth in Plan Grande, I headed home to get ready to take a 2:30 pm, bus to San Pedro Sula.

On the bus, I thought about a remark on a Facebook note I had made. Some one wished me a restful trip back home.

Where is home for me now?

In many ways, it’s Honduras. I feel at home here – and will soon have my own home in a rural village.

Iowa is like a second home, since I’ve visited there every year since I’ve been in Honduras. The Philadelphia area feels like a third home – since I grew up there and have cousins and a few friends there.

But I’m traveling to Iowa today. I was up at 4:00 AM today to get to the airport for a 7:05 AM flight to Miami. I’m writing this the flight to New Orleans where I’ll get another flight to Dallas-Forth Worth. The final leg to Des Moines will get me there about 10:30 pm (9:30 am Honduras time).

But I already miss home.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Hectic times

Next Sunday afternoon I’m heading to San Pedro Sula to stay overnight in order to catch an early Monday morning flight to the US. I’m going to Iowa for a week , mostly to attend the ordination of two young men whom I know from my time at St. Thomas Aquinas in Ames, Iowa. It’s a whirlwind visit, but a little break.

Last Saturday I had a very good meeting with the youth in San Agustín. Some had just come back from visiting a poor sick woman in her home, bringing her a few necessities.

Before the meeting started I introduced them to the ice breaker called the knot. It was quite entertaining.

I wanted them to give us in the parish an idea of what themes they would like to treat. Since this can be a rather intimidating activity for some, I had them write what they’d like to talk about on sheets of paper. I gave them a few ideas, including leaving them the chance to talk about sex and relationships, if they wanted.

I was not surprised that friendship and relationships scored high – but there were several who wanted to talk about trust and honesty.  We decided to start next month with something on trust – probably using a lot of activities to help them grow in trust. I’ll also try to work with the young leaders of the group to train them to lead their peers. That’s much better than an “old fart” like me leading them.

I took Sunday off – just Mass, reading, and stuff around the house. Monday and Tuesday morning I spent in Caritas, but went out to the house building site on Tuesday afternoon and , after talking to the guy in charge of the building project, rushed back to Santa Rosa to buy cement and rebar.

But Wednesday started the ministry I really love. I went out to the most remote zone of the parish to do a workshop with base communities leaders. For prayer, I am using the Ignatian contemplation method with the story of Jesus calming the torment. I’m doing this since once a month the base communities are supposed to do a reading of the scripture during their meetings using St. Ignatius' imaginative method of reading scriptures. I wrote about this in an earlier post, here.

The workshops went well and we were finished early. I knew that Padre German and a group from one of the sectors of the parish was working on the parish's new coffee field in Plan Grande. They were weeding and putting up fences. 

The field looked rather good - and the plants are a new variety of coffee, called Ovata. This is one of the first fields planted with Ovata in the region. It is supposed to give a good yield.

ovata coffee plant

Today, Thursday, we had a meeting of the delegados de la Palabra, the delegates of the Word, those who are in charge of the Sunday celebrations in their villages. We reviewed the nature of the Triple Ministry (prophetic, liturgical, and social) of the base communities to make sure they are integrating their ministry with the base communities. Then we began the process of looking for the characteristics of a Delegate of the Word. We only got started, but we’ll be meeting again next month.

Tomorrow, I have a workshop with the base community leaders in one zone;  leaders from another sector are supposed to show up. Luckily, for me, it’s in Dulce Nombre and so I don’t need to go so far.

Saturday is the meeting of the parish council. But I will be getting up early to take a young engineer friend of mine out to the building site to see if he can help design the roof for the house. We’ll leave Santa Rosa at 7 am. Then I’ll try to get to a part of the parish council meeting, come home, and pack.

Sunday is Corpus Christi, the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ. Devotion to the Eucharist is very strong here – and there will be several processions throughout the parish. Also, several villages where they have the Eucharist will have the Forty Hours devotion – forty hours, usually continuous, of prayer before the Eucharist.

I will be leaving Sunday afternoon on a bus to San Pedro, but not until I get through a busy morning.

Corpus Christi will start out early, with a procession and Mass in the town of Concepción. After Mass, I’ll be going out to Plan Grande. The catechists of that sector are having a get-together for those preparing for Confirmation. We could have up to 130 young people. It starts about 8 am and goes to Mass and procession in the early afternoon. I’ll go out to see what I can do and to spend time with the young people.

It is really great to see the efforts of the catechists and young people in this sector. In some other parts of the parish we are struggling with religious education and sacramental preparation. That’s not unusual or unexpected – especially when we are expecting up to 600 confirmations this coming October, and there have been more than 2,000 baptisms since last August.

When I get back from my trip to Iowa, I will have lots more to do, especially since Padre German wants me to go out and see what’s happening in religious education.

I’ll be glad when I live in the parish – and will be able to do this much more easily.

Friday, June 13, 2014

A day in my life

Today was the seventh anniversary of my arrival in Honduras to begin serving as a lay missionary with the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán.

What did I do today?

This blog might be a bit tedious, but the little things of each day sometimes reveal the presence of God in surprising ways.

After a shower, coffee, and prayer (in that order), I worked on the computer. I wrote a blog entry for the feast of St. Anthony of Padua and I printed materials for today’s workshop.

What was unusual was the color of the air for about ten minutes while I was praying. I took a picture but it doesn't in the least convey the unique color - a color which might have been due to the light rain and thunder that had just passed over Santa Rosa.

Front (overgrown) garden in my house in Santa Rosa

I left the house and headed out to El Zapote de Santa Rosa for a workshop with community leaders of base communities in zone 3 of the Dulce Nombre parish.

But I first stopped to get fuel. I usually go to the same station and I’ve got to know the guys who work there. We joke around a lot and each time I drive in they ask me how many bottles of additives I want in the pick up so that it runs faster. Nada, none – I continually say. But they never give up. 

On the way to EL Zapote, as usual, I traveled on a ridge which has some of the most beautiful views I've ever seen. It continues to amaze me.

I got to El Zapote about 20 minutes before the workshop was supposed to start. Padre German and I had done the workshop in zone 2 on Wednesday, but he had four Masses for the feast of Saint Anthony of Padua and so he left me with the workshop.

People trickled in and we finally had 21. The workshop went well and ended about 2 pm. I again had the group do an Ignatian contemplation style reading of a Gospel passage - Jesus calms the storm. We are urging the base communities to do this once a month so that they see the scriptures as a way to encounter the Lord and not just readings with a message or a moral. It seems to go well when we work with the groups.

During one break I was talking with some of the participants. One noted that he didn’t have enough money for bus fare and so had walked to the workshop.

As usual I spent a little time playing with the baby of one of the participants. I didn't scare this kid, as I sometimes do. But the baby was been passed around, which is not uncommon here. Sometimes you only know who the mother is when she begins to breastfeed the kid (which this mother did several times.)

After the workshop, I dropped off one of the participants at his parents’ house on the way out of El Zapote. A nurse from a nearby clinic was sitting there and I offered her a ride. She seemed a bit reluctant but, at the urging of my friend, got into the truck and we talked.

She’s been at the clinic for four months and has not yet been paid. This is not uncommon. The clinic also has almost no medicine. The people can be given a prescription but there is no medicine to give them  - and most don’t have the money to take a bus into Dulce Nombre or Santa Rosa and buy the medicine. She had a three month contract but had been called in to the regional health center today. I think she hopes to get a longer contract.

I didn’t take her all the way to where she was going since I was going to stop at Plan Grande and see the status of the house I’m having built.

I got here, talked with the workers, had them correct something they had left out (a small window in the bathroom), and walked around and talked with them.  The maestro de obra – the supervisor – dropped by and we talked as I watched one of the workers pour concrete into forms to make the columns for the first floor.

A little later the guy who is delivering sand for the concrete and who also is the one who fired the bricks for the house dropped by with a load of sand. I had planned to find him in Dulce Nombre to pay him for the truckloads of sand.

I waited while they unloaded the sand from the truck (with shovels). I briefly stopped to see Gloria, one of the leaders in Plan Grande whose husband died a few months ago. She was in her house – rolling cigars, one of the ways many women earn money. I sat and we talked – while the World Cup game was on the television. 

When the sand was unloaded, I paid the driver. The president of the village's School Parents Association was there and I made a donation to them since they are letting me connect into their very large septic tank.

I then headed off, giving a lift to the next village to three of the workers.

When I got to Santa Rosa I went to a large grocery store here to buy a few things. I then went home, but not before stopping by a neighborhood corner store and buying minutes for my cell phone.

I got home, washed breakfast dishes, heated up some pizza from Weekend's Pizza (that I hadn’t finished yesterday), and sat down to do some computer work – including writing a blog post and checking Facebook. I also phoned a young man I know to ask his help for designing the roof of the house.

After I finish and post this blog entry, I will sit down to pray evening prayer and then get ready for bed.

I’ll probably read some of William Easterly's The Tyranny of Experts: Experts, Dictators, and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor, which I began a few days ago. After a short examen, try to fall asleep. Tomorrow I’m off to two zone meetings and then a 4:00 pm meeting with the newly-formed youth group in San Agustin.

Life is good.

I pray God grants me many more years to serve here – Primero Dios.