Monday, July 28, 2014

Weekend ministry with missionaries

Saturday morning I went out to Plan Grande to facilitate a workshop with the base community leaders of that sector of the parish. 38 people came from five different communities.

We spent time talking about base communities and the new process Padre German has started -  a process that, I believe, tries to help the communities deepen their relationships with Christ and with each other.

Each week of the month the base communities have a different type of meeting. The first week is study of a theme from a booklet. The second week is a time to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and more. The third week is a meditative reading of scripture. The last week, the group looks at their village and sees what might need to be done to make it better; they then decide what to do.

In the third week the community does a short of Ignatian imaginative contemplation of a story from scripture. To help them experience what this is I used the story of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes in John’s Gospel (6: 1-11).

We start with rhythmic breathing which creates an incredible silence in the room. Then I read the passage and asked them to picture themselves there and pay attention to what they are seeing and feeling and hearing – their personal experience. After a few minutes of silence, I ask them to share with the persons next to them and then share to the whole group.

From what they shared I can see that this has been, for at least some people, a way to encounter Christ in a different way. It has also been a way to open up the Bible for them.  I tell them that they are not looking for a message, but opening themselves for a meeting with Christ.

I emphasize that this is only one way to read the Scriptures. Maybe next year we can have them learn how to do lectio divina.

The workshop also included sharing some ice breakers - dinamicas – to break the monotony of sitting.

After the workshop, some sisters I know drove out to Plan Grande to see the work on the house we’re building there.

Then I went to San Agustín (about 30 minutes away) for a meeting with the youth there. I had prepared a theme – trust – but they had something already prepared. Next time I’ll call the young leader a week or two before.

There were 28 young people meeting, which is great. But I think they need a bit of help since they don’t have a real sense of their common identity as members of a community. They are more like a gathering of 6 different groups of young people. But that is not uncommon here – or anywhere. We tend to stick with those we know.

On Sunday morning I was back in Plan Grande. (Yes, I need to live there as soon as possible.) A group from Plan Grande was going to the village of La Torera to lead a Sunday Celebration of the Word.

The people of La Torera had been going to San Agustín for celebrations but one leader from the nearby village of Descombros had come to visit them and they have decided to try to organize themselves. To assist this, each Sunday a team from one of the villages of the sector goes to lead a Celebration of the Word and to prepare parents and godparents for the baptism of nine children.

I took the Plan Grande group in my truck – at least 15 of them.

Two delegates of the Word from Plan Grande led the celebration in a house and they asked me to do the reflection. I managed to make it participative and under 13 minutes!

It was marvelous to see this small group of people who really want to live their faith. I can see some real leadership emerging among them and I do hope that they can reach out to the young people in their families. (As usual there was a small group of single young men just outside the house where we were meeting. As usual I made an effort to talk with them a bit.)

The people there are also hoping to build a little church. There are only about eight Catholic families in the village. Most people there are evangelicals and there are two evangelical churches there. The Catholics would like to have a small church. So they are collecting donations as well as seeking other ways to raise money.

Going to La Torera with the people from Plan Grande, it was also marvelous to see and hear of the sense of mission that people in this sector have. If I hadn’t been there, they may have tried to find someone to take them there, but I think they would have walked about an hour to get there,

I feel blessed to be a part of their missionary work.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

In the works

There are several possible projects in the works in the parish of Dulce Nombre.

The first is going along rather swiftly.

In January when Fr. Jon Seda came from St. Thomas Aquinas in Ames, he was accompanied by a young man who had graduated from Iowa State a few years ago and had visited Dulce Nombre in 2011.He had interest in initiating a direct marketing of coffee from some small coffee producers in the parish.

He spoke with two producers from different villages who provided samples. I insisted that what I considered important was that the producers organize themselves and that some investment be made in their work. I think this is the best way to proceed since it does not make the US partner a mere buyer and helps the local coffee producers work together.

A month later one of the men told me that he had 15 small coffee producers interested. They later met and formed themselves into a cooperative, with officers – though only with 14 members, since one had gone to the US.

A few months later I sent samples from three of the coop members to the US contact. He had them toasted and taste-tested by a small organization that toasts and distributes coffee. The quality of the samples was very good and there is interest in buying from the coop.

There are many steps to be taken to get this really going, but they are meeting and I am helping them with some contacts to help them get official recognition as well as put together a plan of action to maintain and improve the quality of the coffee.

Next week four of them and I are going to visit La UniónMicrofinanza which does direct marketing of coffee.

The second possibility is in process.

A few months ago someone donated a manzana (1.68 acres) of land planted with coffee to the parish. The coffee, of the newly-developed OBATA variety, had been planted in August of last year. It thus won’t give a decent yield until the 2016 or 2017 harvest.  The parish also has the opportunity of buying a contiguous manzana planted with OBATA and is hoping for some financing.

Coffee obata

Padre German’s idea is to use the yields of the coffee to finance the parish’s formation process, as a way to become a little self-sustaining.

Each month a sector from the parish is going out to weed or fertilize the fields or to enclosed the land with barbed wire (to prevent cattle from entering the field.) This year corn has been planted in the field and so this should help generate some funds or, at least, provide corn for the parish’s meetings.

Corn and coffee 
The third possible project is still in the discussion phase.

A US non-profit is interested in starting a medical clinic in the Dulce Nombre area and is seeking the cooperation of the parish. They propose to assist funding for a number of years with the plan of helping the clinic become self-sustaining. I think they also see this as a way to help local medical professionals, many of whom are unemployed.

I hope this comes to fruition since I think this might be a good way to involve some of my friends and acquaintances who are in the medical professions.

There are probably other possibilities which I’ll see when I’m living out in the parish, but that will have to wait a few months.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Accompanying the youth

Sunday afternoon I went to the village of El Limon. the youth there were hosting a meeting with the youth of another village, Yaruconte.

El Limon youth
Things started late, which is not a surprise. A bus with 40 young people from Yaruconte arrived more than an hour late. Transportation foul-ups.

Yaruconte youth arriving
 The hosting group – about 30 young people – awaited them in the church. The church was full since many parents, adults, and little children had come out to see what was happening.

They began with some animated singing. But I sense that they weren’t sure what to do – so I proceeded to lead a few ice breakers. I also had the young people from El Limon write what they’d like to discuss in their group.

When the group from Yaruconte arrived, they were greeted in the small church – which was already full.

A panorama of the youth from both communities
There was a lot of singing and the El Limon group put on two dramas. And there was more singing.

The rich man and Lazarus

 A young guy from Yaruconte had the young people introduce themselves and then led the final prayer – a 20 minute prayer. A bit long for me.

Then there was a small snack – baleadas and ticucos.

It was great to see so much energy and to see young people who are trying to take their faith seriously.

It is our hope in the parish that young people will form base communities of young people. Based on what we learn from the young people and their concerns, we’ll try to develop some material to help.

I do have a few concerns.

I hope that the young people are allowed to develop their own leadership and to run their own groups.

I also hope that they are not satisfied with mere enthusiasm or charismatic leaders or animated singing. I hope they can deepen their faith so that it becomes a part of their daily lives.

Before I left I spoke with one of the coordinators of the Yaruconte group, a 23 year old guy. He asked me a question that another young person had briefly asked me beforehand: Is it okay if we do folkloric dances?

Yes, I said, because that is part of recovering and preserving your culture, your inheritance. Indeed, the preservation of culture is a real concern of the Latin American Catholic church.

It seems that they had prepared some dances as well as some dramas but someone in El Limon had told them that they shouldn’t do them in the church where they were meeting.

I don’t know if this was because the meeting was in the church or because there were some people in El Limon who are opposed to dancing of any sort and see it as sinful – this is not uncommon among some Catholics here.

But that won’t stop the young people.

I will be continuing to help them. In fact, this Saturday I’ll be going to San Agustin to help with their youth on the theme of trust.

My real hope, though, is to have a day and a half workshop with four leaders from each village where the youth are organizing themselves – to develop leaders who will work with their peers. That can be quite a challenge, but it’s worth it.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Pouring the terraza

Today about 27 mostly young guys worked from 6 am to noon to pour the terraza on the house in Plan Grande. The terraza is the roof of one floor and the floor of another.

It’s a process that has to be completed in one day so that the reinforced concrete is one piece, without seams.

Boards are place above the walls of the first floor and are supported by beams called pilotos.

Then the wiring for the ceilings is put above the board and rebars are put in place. 

Then the pouring begins in the morning.

The maestro de obra – the construction supervisor – had an electric mixer.

One part water, two parts sand, two parts gravel, and one half of a bag of cement are mixed together.

The mixture is then poured into an area where it is further mixed and put in buckets.

It is then handed up to the guys on the roof who pour the concrete over the boards.

The terraza for this house is five inches thick.

The mixture is flattened out and then leveled off.

A final pass over is made to prevent cracking.

The concrete has to dry for at least one week before they can start doing more construction on the second floor.

The wood and supports stay in place for about 20 days.

What is amazing is that this is often done without architects or engineers. (In fact, most of this was my design. I am, though asking a young engineer friend I know to help with designing the roof.)

More photos of the construction in progress at

Monday, July 14, 2014

Minors and miners

Much is being written about the crisis of unaccompanied child and adolescent migrants in the US. I have written about this in a recent post here, and I just translated a statement on the crisis by the bishops of Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and the US which you can read here.

In the midst of this “crisis” in the US about the increasing number of unaccompanied minors entering from Central America, I doubt that many have heard about the miners in Choluteca, Honduras.

Artisanal mining is a way that some people seek to extract gold or other ores from the earth in very simple ways.

But this mining has brought very tragic consequences in southeastern Honduras. A gold mine collapsed and eleven men were trapped about 80 meters underground. Three were rescued but now efforts to find the other eight have been suspended.
  • Brayan Escalante (18) rescued
  • Bayron Maradiaga (19) –rescued
  • Nehemías Méndez (25) - rescued
  • Olvin Anduray (20)
  • Santos Emilio Núñez (42)
  • Wilmer Ramírez (22)
  • Arony Zepeda (23)
  • Florentino Anduray (25)
  • Edwin Martínez (17)
  • Óscar Javier Fúnez Gúnera (18)
  • Santos Felipe López (40)

Note that four of the miners were under 21 years of age and all but four were under 25.

These mostly young men sought this dangerous way of earning a living because they found nothing else available in their area. One news report cited an 18 year old who had been studying to be a teacher. He lives alone with his grandmother and went to mine because of a small debt he has. He was making 4 dollars a day making piñatas – but that was not enough.

The tragedy of the situation is reflected in a communiqué on the crisis by Monseñor Guido Charbonneau, the bishop of Choluteca. My translation is here.

Poverty has pushed many to crime or migration. But these resisted and tried to eke out a living in a most dangerous way.

What will be done? What can be done?

According to Latino Daily News:
President Juan Orlando Hernandez’s administration said in a statement Wednesday that it will support efforts aimed at reviving the region’s agricultural sector, including coffee farming, so people will not have to depend on unregulated mining for their livelihoods.
Too little, I believe; too late for the eight miners who have died.

In the meantime, people will leave for the North seeking a way out of poverty and violence.