Sunday, November 30, 2014

Advent signs of God's presence

Today is the first Sunday of Advent and so the first candle of the Advent wreath is lit in churches and homes throughout the world.

In the church in Dulce Nombre Padre German invited 101 year-old Nicolasa, the oldest parishioner in the town of Dulce Nombre, to light the candle. He mentioned that there is a 107 year old woman in one of the parish’s villages.

 The lighting of the Advent wreath was only a small part of today’s two hour Mass.

The major event was the reception of 103 101 mostly young people into the catechumenate.

Most of these young people have been preparing since August as part of the Christian Initiation of Adults. Never baptized as children, they themselves have decided to seek baptism. If they go through the process, they will be baptized and receive their first communion at the Easter Vigil next year and will be confirmed next September or October.

I have witnessed the rite of entry into the catechumenate several times in the US. This is only the second time we’ve celebrated it in the Dulce Nombre parish.

The rite begins at the church door where they are welcomed into the church.

They then proceed to the front of the church and are signed with the cross 

on the forehead, the ears, the eyes, the mouth, the chest, the back, the hands, and the feet.

signing of the eyes

signing of the mouth

signing of the hands

The ritual I ran across in Spanish didn’t have the signing of the feet – but I added it, remembering what was done at St. Thomas Aquinas.

Padre German asked the sponsors to kneel before their godchildren and sign their feet in this way. He emphasized that this is a sign of our call to service – to kneel before others.

I was deeply moved – as were several sponsors who told me how much this meant to them and how it reminded them of the call to service.

After the homily, the sponsors were asked to give a bible to their godchildren.

Then Padre German invited the sponsors to present them with a cross.

After this, the new catechumens left to reflect together with several catechists and me.

What a sign of God’s presence!

In his homily Padre German reminded us of another sign of God’s work.

He asked the catechumens from La Torrera to stand. Eight of them stood up.

He explained how the village had never had a priest visit until this year. At times they would go to San Agustín, which is not close.

But parishioners from the six villages of that sector of the parish began to “mission” in La Torrera. They came, had a celebration of the Word, and did some religious education. As a result some infants have been baptized and now eight young people are journeying toward their baptism.

This is a marvelous sign of what the Church is – a mission to those at the margins, inviting them to share in the life that Christ offers through the Church, in the sacraments.

I look forward to the coming year – as these young people journey to the Easter Vigil and as many other find their role in the Church as disciples and missionaries of the God who became flesh in Jesus among the poor.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Christ the King procession and Mass

It was a bit cold and rainy yesterday and today promises to be the same. A cold front, they call it.

This is normal for November, December, and early January. Yet there are often bright, sunny, and even hot days interspersed.

Last Sunday was warm and sunny – which was good for us as we celebrated the feast of Christ the King in the parish of Dulce Nombre with a procession from the outskirts of Dulce Nombre de Copán to Dolores – probably about three kilometers, partly uphill.

My guess is that over 2,000 people came from almost all the villages of the parish to celebrate this all-parish Mass. A few came with statues on decorated pickups.

The pickup with the parish statue of the Sacred Heart broke down and so the statue was carried up hill for more than a kilometer.

Mass was celebrated outside the church in Dolores, with most of the people standing or sitting in the town park.

The communion ministers came and were given a special insignia to wear when they take communion to the sick.

It was a good day to be with the people.

There was only one thing that I found a bit disconcerting. An older artist in Dolores had made an image of Christ the King that was placed above the stage where the altar was.

Take a look.

Jesus is a gringo.

Someone asked me about the image and I respectfully told him that Jesus was not a gringo. He was probably more like them – black hair, brown eyes, dark skinned.

A few months ago I had mentioned the same thing to a young artist in Dulce Nombre about an image he painted in the church. I also showed him a variety of images of Jesus. He recently finished repainting the image of Jesus – ‘más trigueño,” he told me: “more dark-skinned.”

A Christ poor and like the people here is the Christ I envision – a King who came to serve.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Back home in Honduras, November

After 12 days in Iowa, I’m back home and already in the midst of many projects.

Yesterday, Tuesday, November 11, I was with 28 catechists in the remotest zone of the parish, facilitating the last workshop of the year.

It’s almost always fun to be with the catechists who pass on the faith to young people in their villages. It’s been encouraging to see them grow – especially as we are learning together new ways to work with young people.

Here in Honduras most of the education is very content oriented. The professor gives out the information; the students write in their notebooks, because there are few textbooks; the students regurgitate the information memorized for the exams.

No wonder the twelve year old at the workshop with his mother had dropped out after the fourth grade. I spent about ten minutes talking with him, asking him about his work in the fields, and even attempting to give him a biology lesson based on his experience in the fields. He seemed to be a good observer of his work. I asked him if his teacher had ever tried to explain the biology of plants as we did together. The sad answer was “No.” Now there may be some teachers who do this, but my experience is that the norm is pure rote memorization – what Paolo Freire calls “the banking method of education.”

What we are trying to do in the parish is to use popular methodology to help people learn by doing, to learn by connecting with their daily life, to learn not only material but critical thinking. It’s a challenge but I saw some results.

Part of the workshop was beginning to help the catechists develop their own lessons and not depend on material from outside. After eliciting from them some of the elements needed, I divided them into four groups, each with a different theme.

One group had as its theme “Abraham.” What impressed me was how they started by asking about fathers.

We’ll continue working on this next year. Meanwhile I have another catechist workshop this week and two more next week.

I am also in the final stages of getting the house in Plan Grande finished. Lots of details has meant three visits there already this week.

Monday the kids in the school were playing in the road.

One group was playing hopscotch, another marbles. What a delight to see them playing.

The windows are in the house; the doors will be hung this Thursday and Friday; painting will begin next week. I have hopes that I will be able to move in the beginning of December.

The upstairs
The oratory
Then I’ll be able to be closer to the people and visit communities more frequently. This will be important next year as our parish, Dulce Nombre de María, will be planning a series of training sessions for catechists, base community leaders, delegates of the Word, communion ministers, and youth group leaders.

I am also in the midst of two projects that our sister parish in Ames, Iowa – St. Thomas Aquinas – is working on.

The first is accompanying a small coffee cooperative in El Zapote de Santa Rosa  which hopes to be able to export high-quality coffee to the US.
The coffee harvest is just starting and there are hopes that they might be able to sell a small shipment (1500 pounds) this year to roasters in Kansas City and Ames.

The other project is the third year of a scholarship program for poor participants in the Maestro en Casa alternative education project. Students – mostly in the equivalents of middle school and high school – listen to radio programs, fill out a workbook, and meet for about 4 or 5 hours on the weekend with a teacher. When schools are not close, this is often the only way the poor can study beyond grade school.

I have to revise the scholarship application, get them printed and distributed to the six centers before the end of the month.

And then there's parish council this Saturday, a parish celebration on the feast of Christ the King, the entry of about 50 people in the catechumenate on November 30, and parish planning on December 5 and 6. Though I'm not the person responsible for all of these, I will be present and working with Padre German as well as the parish council.

I’ve got work to do.

I am grateful for that.