Monday, December 21, 2015

Harvesting coffee

Today about 100 Dulce Nombre parishioners came out to harvest coffee on the parish finca. The  finca - coffee field - is two manzanas,  about 3 acres.

The harvest was abundant and the laborers were many.

The harvest was abundant and the laborers were many.

I was among then but I have no picture of me at work. I only picked about what they call a gallon - actually five gallons. Here's my bucket with picked coffee berries.

But you can see my truck full of coffee that we took to be de-pulped.

The workers were not paid but did receive a hearty lunch.

The morning yielded 305 "gallons" - about 1525 real gallons. I had to take someone to a doctor in the afternoon and don't yet know how much was harvested.

Despite all this, we didn't finish. More harvesting tomorrow. I won't be with them since I have to go to a regularly scheduled doctor's appointment in Santa Rosa - including early morning blood tests. I also have to get stuff ready for visitors on Wednesday.

It was great to be among the people. Coffee picking is hard work and some people are really good, Two guys I know picked four gallons in the morning. A few kids picked two gallons. But it was a community effort - which is a great way to prepare for Christmas.

More photos here.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Burying the dead

This afternoon, returning from an afternoon and evening in Gracias with the Franciscan sisters, I almost ran into a funeral procession, at a curve in front of the church in Candelaria.

I stopped and asked a person I know what had happened. A twenty-four year old man had been brutally killed two nights ago and his body had been mutilated.

I noticed the parish car on the lawn outside the church and decided to stay for the funeral. 

The church was full and Padre German, who had three other funerals today, delivered a strong homily, beginning by saying that a machete is meant to bring life, not death. Very interestingly he chose the Genesis 11 account of the Tower of Babel and the Gospel account of the beheading of John the Baptist for the readings.

He called for an end to the violence and noted how one remote village is almost empty because of the spiral of violence that took so many lives.

After the Mass, Padre had to go to another funeral in Dulce Nombre. I decided to accompany them to the burial; the cemetery is just down the hill from the church.

As the casket was being prepared to be put in the concrete vault, a women cried – no, lamented – leaning on the glass where she could see his face. 

She finally left with many of the family members. The concrete top of the vault was poured and flowers here put on the grave.

I had been looking around to see if any of the Delegates of the Word were present to say a final word. I was surprised that no one was there. (A delegate from Plan Grande had been there but left.)

So I asked a sister of the young man if it would be okay to say a prayer.

It was a short prayer with an Our Father and a Hail Mary, recalling how Mary had suffered the violent death of her son. I called on the people to see that the violence stops here and that no one gives in to vengeance or vendettas.

Several times this afternoon I was near tears, tears of compassion for the suffering of the people here and for the terrible loss of another young life.

I was privileged to be there, privileged to be able to do one of the spiritual works of mercy, burying the dead.

As I was walking to the cemetery I came across one young man I know. I asked him if he was going to the gravesite. He said no because it was evil. I’m not sure what he meant, but I think he might have a fear of funerals and the dead. I told him that no matter what we may think of the person who was killed it is a work of mercy to offer consolation to the family by being there.

But I feel a strong calling tonight to try to help people to face, with faith and courage, the violence around us. I hope to meet with some of the youth this coming weekend and I’ve offered others to come and reflect with them over the death and the violence.

Footnote: this death does not change the security situation for me or for other visitors, but it does reveal the increasing vulnerability of Hondurans, especially the young.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Joys and griefs

The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the people of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts.Vatican II, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, ¶1

The first days of December have been filled with joys and griefs.


The coffee harvest is beginning and people are glad that there is work in the fields, even though the pay is low – 30 lempiras (about $1.40) for every five-gallon bucket of coffee berries. Yet the price for coffee is low. Producers may get as little as 65¢ per pound of coffee that is dried but not completely processed.

The coffee sent by an association of small coffee producers in El Zapote de Santa Rosa is being sold at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Ames, Iowa, this coming weekend and some has been sold to several cafés. The fifteen members of the association are working together and may have an agreement with a coffee processor in Santa Rosa de Copán to buy their quality coffee. They also have been able to get seven more solar driers, which they will pay for on credit.


The school years is over, graduations are being celebrated, and people are thinking of next year.

St. Thomas Aquinas Church has been providing partial scholarships for student participating in Maestro en Casa, an alternative education program for middle school and high school for three years.

Today I just got requests from Bañaderos: twenty are asking for another year of scholarships and twenty-one are asking for a scholarship for the first time.  I’m still waiting for requests from five other Maestro en Casa centers in the parish.

Yesterday I went with Padre German, our pastor, to Tegucigalpa with eight young women and their parents who were eligible for complete scholarships for a middle and high school program run by the Hermanas de María. It’s a live in program that has more than 800 young women students who not only receive classes and faith formation but have opportunities to learn skills from swimming to playing musical instruments to sewing and working in agriculture. There were 12 eligible from our parish but I think only nine will go forward to take advantage of the scholarship.

It was a long trip. We left Dulce Nombre at 3:00 am and got back at 10:30 pm. But it was worth it since at least a few young women will have some opportunities for good education. But next year I’m going to search fro money to rent a bus to take them. Sixteen plus hours driving is devastating, though I had someone who drove my truck more than half of that time


December 30 was the end of the novenario, the nine days of prayer, after the death of Arnaldo, the husband of one of the catechists in Plan Grande. Padre German celebrated Mass here. The final prayer was held in the house that night and I was asked to share a few words.

As I prepared for what I might say, I noted a beautiful sunset and recalled how the life of each person may show us the beauty of God’s love and mercy – if we have eyes and hearts open to see and contemplate God in each person and event.

Wednesday, January 2, Santiago Mejía, the mayor of Dolores, one of the municipalities in the parish, was killed and his wife was injured. Again violence has touched people’s lives here. It appears that a subject has been identified, which is unusual since most violent deaths (over 90%) go uninvestigated and never come to trial.

On Thursday, Padre Francisco Rivas, a priest of the diocese, was killed in a traffic accident. He had been the director of the diocesan Caritas office since last January. A funeral Mass was celebrated in Santa Rosa on Friday and his remains were taken to be buried in El Salvador, where he was from. In a diocese with a limited number of priests this makes the life of faith even more difficult.

This morning I read on Facebook that the father of a young woman in Quebraditas died. Another death.

The life of the church

The church here accompanies the people in many ways – and the people also accompany the church.

An example of thee way the people accompany the church is the parish coffee field, two manzanas, about three acres of coffee. Last week parishioner volunteers came on three days for the first harvest of the parish coffee fields. Not only was this the first ever harvest from the fields but it was the first of several that will take place during the harvest season. Next Friday and Saturday there will be a harvest. I hope to help one of those days.

Funerals have one of the ways the church accompanies the people here, but there are many other examples.

In Advent here in the parish we celebrate the Posadas from the beginning of December. In other places the Posadas don’t begin until about December 16. I will write about the Posadas in a blog entry in a few days, but, in short, they are re-enactments of Joseph and Mary seeking shelter (posada) in Bethlehem.

The first Wednesday of the month, December 2, the parish extraordinary ministers of Communion met, as is there custom. They discussed a number of concerns, including the formation process next year for new communion ministers. A particular ministry of the communion ministers here is visiting the sick and bringing them communion.

The Eucharist is an important part of the devotional life of the people, even though there aren’t as many communicants as one might expect – and hope for.

December 8 was the feast of the Immaculate Conception and the opening of the Jubilee Year of Mercy. As part of the celebration in the parish, a new chapel for the Blessed Sacrament was blessed. This will enable people to visit the Blessed Sacrament during the day when the church is not opened.

Tomorrow, I’ll be joining Padre German to go to two villages to celebrate feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe early. On Saturday, the actual feast day, the bishop will ordain two new priests and three new transitional deacons in Santa Rosa de Copán. Padre German and I will attend.

After that we will go to the city of La Entrada for the dedication of a new church in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The mass will also be a celebration of the silver anniversary of the priestly ordination of our bishop, Monseñor Darwin Andino, C.R.S.

Sunday, I’ll join Padre German in the morning for a Mass in Camalote to celebrate their patroness, Santa Lucía – Saint Lucy. In the afternoon I plan to go to Gracias to a get together with the Dubuque Franciscan Sisters working there and the Honduran Franciscan associates.

Next week we will have our parish evaluation and planning meeting on Wednesday and Thursday. Lots to do and think about.

And so our life proceeds.

In this Advent, this season of hope, we look forward to celebrating the birth of Christ in Bethlehem, but we also open ourselves to celebrate His presence among us every day – amid the joys and the griefs.

Monday, November 30, 2015

The last day of November

Today we ended November in Plan Grande with the novenario of José Arnaldo Sánchez. There was a Mass in the afternoon and this evening many gathered in the house of his widow and children for the rosary.

I had gone to the velorio on the night after his death and the funeral Mass the next day. I had a visitor and so it was good for him to see part of the daily life of people here.

Arnaldo died as the result of an accident. I think he was examining a car when it tolled over on him.  After several days in the regional hospital he died.

I most remember him for the day he helped me to start my car when the battery was low. But I know his wife who is one of the village’s catechist and he was the brother of several of the men I know here, including the grandfather of my confirmation godson.

Funerals are times for prayer, but they are also social events, times for people to get together. People gather to pray in the house during the velorio, the wake. and for nine days until the novenario, the ninth day.

Padre German dropped by for the prayer during the velorio and for the funeral Mass. At the novenario, the people prayed the rosary and asked me to say a few words. I ended my short words with the Canticle of Simeon and the closing prayers of Night Prayer.

Then coffee, tamales, and chop suey were served to all – included the groups (mostly men) who were standing outside and nearby in the road. People will probably stay several hours to comfort the family.

At the novenario, as at the velorio, a five year old kid – Elmer Noé – attached himself to me. His father lives in a nearby town and he is the nephew of the widow. He also teaches in a nearby school.

Elmer Noé is a very affectionate kid who held my hand and sat on my lap for a while. He also held the hand of his great-grandmother who was seated in front of me.

He also is a sharp kid, knowing the prayers and songs. He even led the first decade of the rosary during the novenario.

He is not the only sharp kid I met today. After Mass, I heard someone playing the drums. I looked over and saw it was the 18 month old son of one of the musicians. What surprised me was how good he was and how much he enjoyed playing the drums – especially the cymbal. I encouraged his father to keep up the good work with him so that the child can develop his musical talents.

Between Mass and the novenario I had some time to work and eat dinner. My neighbor Gloria came by to ask a few questions about the coming meeting of communion ministers and to invite me to say a few words at the novenario.

As she left I noticed the sky in the west – a beautiful rose color, between the clouds and the mountains as the sun was setting.

It was a blessing to see the beauty, a sign of God’s presence here.

I recalled the sunset in my words at the wake, noting that God worked and shone in the life of Arnaldo – and this can be seen in his family.

All this is a reminder to me of the importance of being aware, with eyes open, to the many mysterious ways God shows his presence among us.

Sunday morning I shared another sign of God's loving presence among us as twenty-nine entered the catechumenate at morning Mass in Dulce Nombre. If they persevere, they will be baptized at the Easter Vigil.

The rite is simple - a welcome at the church door, a signing of the catechumens with a cross by their sponsors, and the handing of a bible to them. What always moves me is when the sponsors kneel before the catechumens to sign their feet with the Cross.

I spent some time with the catechumens that morning; I asked them to share what touched them during the rite. I then encouraged them to recall the significance of their sponsors kneeling before them. They are children of God; they are made in the image of God. The sponsors are kneeling before a sign of the presence of God, just as they might kneel before Christ present in the Eucharist in a tabernacle.

This message is important for so many of the people who are treated like dirt, as if they were worth nothing. They need to hear that they are children of God, of infinite worth. To have a sponsor kneel before them can be a moment of revelation - of God's infinite love for them.

As I write these words I think of Thomas Merton's famous revelation at Fourth and Walnut in Louisville, which can be found in his journals as well as in  Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander.
   In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness. The whole illusion of a separate holy existence is a dream....   There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.... There are no strangers! ... If only we could see each other [as we really are] all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed.... I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other....
Would that we would open ourselves to worship the God present within all of us - made in God's image.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Long live Christ the King!

Sunday we celebrated the feast of Christ the King with an all-parish Mass in San Agustín.  We started at nine o’clock with a procession. The Mass ended about 1:00 pm.

Over a thousand people came from almost all the towns and villages of the parish – arriving packed in busses or, more likely, in the back of pick ups. There were a good number of young people which, for me, is a good sign of the health of the church in our parish.

Today, Monday, happens to be the feast of Blessed Miguel Pro, the Mexican Jesuit, whose final words before the firing squad killed him were “¡Viva Cristo Rey!” I find his story amazing - especially because he seems to have been somewhat of a prankster - as he tried to hide from the Mexican anti-clerical authorities. But for him, Christ was King - not any secular authority.

There were shouts of “¡Viva Cristo Rey!” yesterday in San Agustín, but our pastor, Padre German, was insistent that this was not a call of triumphalism (though he didn’t use these words.) He insisted on a crucified king. 

The image that was carried in the procession was Christ, crowned with thorns.

Padre German gave a long homily and I forgot to take notes. But one point was that this is a king who sees the face of the marginalized, of the poor, of those who are outside – and welcomes them. He also noted how Christ's reign is in contrast to the corruption and violence around us in Honduras.

He reiterated the call of Pope Frances for a church that is called to be open to all – not closing doors.

This is what I find really refreshing in the parish of Dulce Nombre – the call for all of us to be real missionaries, moving out beyond the easy and the comfortable. The people I find are especially appreciative of the openness to the sacraments that Padre German has brought.

A great challenge – and thus a great place to be.

Padre German receiving the offering - fruits of the earth and the work of the people
- dulce, home made sugar -