Saturday, May 30, 2015

My spirit was moved

I didn’t expect to be so moved.

Last week, while I was in El Salvador, a seventeen year old died in our village. While Rigoberto was fishing, he fell into the water and drowned.

Gloria, my neighbor and a leader in the church here, told me that he was her godson and that I would recognize him because he was one of the guys who played futbol (soccer) in the small field across from her house.

Tonight was the last night of the novenario, the nine nights of prayer in the house of the deceased – usually with the rosary and other prayers.

When I entered the crowded room, I went up to the altar and looked at the picture of Rigoberto in a soccer shirt.

I found tears coming to my eyes. I recognized him but really didn’t know him. I had seen him often but never really spent time talking with him.

RESOLUTION: Spend more time just standing around, talking with folks. And try to remember their names.

I asked where his parents were. His mother was in the kitchen. No surprise. Since she and other women had probably been spending most of the day making tamales for those who would come to be with the family for this last night.

I spent a little time with her and then went back to the main room. Gloria asked me to lead the first decade of the rosary.

After the rosary was over they were going to have a Celebration of the Word. I was tired (after a long day on my feet at the ordinations) and I also hadn’t eaten. So I left after the Rosary was finished.

I went to the kitchen and talked briefly to the grandmother and mother. The grandmother wanted to send a tamale home with me. I deferred, mentioning I don’t eat meat.

Then I went outside.

What is very interesting is that most of those inside were women. Most of the men were sitting or standing around outside. 

I spoke with a few of them. I asked a small group of young men if they were friends.  They were and one of them was a brother. I walked up to another group and spoke briefly with them.

I saw a young man who often played futbol in the field and probably knew Rigoberto well. I remarked how he had lost someone who had shared the soccer field with him.

I walked home, praying the Jesus prayer.

But I thought as I walked home that I wondered if I should have asked the young guys what was the best memory they had of Rigoberto, giving them an opportunity to share their feelings.

RESOLUTION 2: Spend time offering people, especially young men, a space to share that they are feeling and thinking.

When I got home, I wrote a brief note on Facebook. The sentence read:
I feel privileged to be a part of this community and to be allowed to accompany them.
It is a blessing to be allowed to share in people’s sorrows and joys. May I be worthy of their trust in me.

Sacraments and more

The beatification of Monseñor Romero was a real celebration of the faith here in Central America. A bishop, so committed to Christ and the poor that he gave his life, is finally being recognized by the official Church. The People of God has already canonized him – and sees him as an example, an intercessor, and a challenge to a faith that accommodates itself to violence and poverty, to the “anti-Kingdom,” as Jon Sobrino puts it.

So it was a joy to find myself in the midst of celebrations of four different sacraments, among the poor.

Wednesday there were first communions in the nearby village of Candelaria.

Thursday, I joined Padre German going to Vega Redonda. We arrives about 9:30 am and he had confessions for two hours before Mass. The young people who would receive their first communion in the Mass went to confession, as well as may adults, some of them godparents.


The little church was packed.

Saturday I went with Padre German to ordinations in La Unión, Copán. One young man was ordained to the priesthood and two young men to the transitional diaconate.

New priest, Padre Manuel de Jesús, and the bishop
The readings were well chosen and the bishop, Monseñor Darwin Andino, in his twenty-five minute homily, well summed them up in a few words: mission, humility, communion, and service.

But what really touched me is how he mentioned Romero as important for the church here.

Romero's image being presented
Romero’s name was also included in the Litany of Saints and his image was brought forward in the offertory procession.

What a nice way to end a week after Romero’s beatification.

Now the challenge is to live his example as a follower of Christ, committed to the integral liberation of all – especially the poor.

Where's the medicine?

Recently I visited the rural public health center near where I live. A Honduran dentist friend who is looking at ways to involve a US health group in some work in our region asked me to take photos of the center.

It’s quite a beautiful center with eight rooms. The construction was funded by the local municipal government – not the national heath system.

There are some chairs, desks, examination tables. There are several employees – only one of them paid by the national health system. The others are paid by the local government.

But there is no medicine. Not even acetaminophen!

This is not unusual.

A few days ago I spoke with the local mayor, who lives in Plan Grande. He asked me when I was going to the US. He would like to find sources of assistance for the health center. There is no assigned doctor for the three health centers in the municipality, though there is a young doctor doing his year of social service.

Despite millions being poured into Honduras by the US government and other groups, the poor do not have decent access to health care.  The military and the police get the funds, but what about the poor?

I recently noted that the US is sending 250 Marines to the US base in Palmerola, Honduras. (The US claims, though, that the base is Honduran and call it Soto Cano.) They are supposedly for hurricane relief – but are also meant to support the military here in counter-narcotics efforts.  I have doubts about their presence - in an already highly-militarized country.

A final note: The center I visited is where the US military brigade came for two days in March.
They had lots of medicine. See my blog entry here.

But now: not even bandaids!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Tribute to Mary Sawyer (by Gary Guthrie)

Last week two good friends of mine died - Mary Sawyer on Wednesday, May 20, and Father Pat Geary on Saturday, May 23. 

Mary visited me once in Honduras and here is a photo taken in the Mayan Ruins in Copán Ruinas. 

I really haven't had time to really reflect on these losses and on the legacy they left. I hope to do that later this week. 

But I want to share this tribute to Mary by a good friend, Gary Guthrie.

In Loving Memory of Mary Sawyer by Gary Guthrie

Fr. Ronald Rolheiser in his book, Holy Longing, defines a saint this way: a saint is someone who wills one thing. For example, Mother Teresa is someone who willed one thing and did it very well for many years. By this definition perhaps many  would agree that Mary is certainly a saint! Her desire for community and thus the loving action that would and can come from that community would help heal the world’s brokenness.

Nancy and I first met Mary shortly after we returned from El Salvador. Perhaps it was even at the Romero commemoration in Des Moines on March 24, 1990. When we ended up living in Des Moines our paths would cross. I don’t know who started the conversation but I think it was Mary, but she wanted a group of folks to get together to share scripture and our faith lives and looking for ways to put our faith into practice. This led to a small ecumenical, but mostly Catholic, faith community based on the Base Christian Communities in Latin America. Eventually because of life circumstances our group disbanded but time and time again Mary kept mentioning her strong desire for community.

Mary was a prophet. This coming Sunday is Pentecost Sunday. Much of the work of the Spirit in our world and lives is about renewal. For those who have a prophetic spirit (only about 10% of the population) their ardent desire is to renew society. “This world’s systems of power and privilege are, therefore, subservient to God’s transforming will for peace, justice and human rights. The social activist confronts the power bases of injustice and inequity in the Name of the coming One, whose world this is.  Choosing this spirituality guarantees stress. Conflict and stress become the marks of the effective and faithful Christian in this world. No peace until wars cease, No rest until justice is established..” Urban T. Holmes

If the above quote doesn’t describe Mary I don’t think anything could! As a sociologist Mary was taught to observe and describe and she could see what was wrong with the way Christian religion was being practiced as it relates to the Good News of the Gospel. All one has to do is read the title to her last book, The Church on the Margins, Living Christian Community and one can see how her desire for community was the One Thing that she willed. Allow me to quote from the back cover, “The contours of Christianity in America are changing. They are changing, in part, because of the direct and indirect influence of marginalized populations whose understandings and lived expressions of Christianity differ qualitatively from establishment Christianity. In The Church on the Margins, Mary Sawyer argues that a key difference in the Christianity of ethnic minorities, feminist women and gay men and lesbians is the centrality of “community”-gospel-based community that emphasizes the values of inclusiveness, justice and caring in order to transform the larger world.”

A number of years ago Mary connected with the Dubuque Franciscan sisters and joined an associates group in Des Moines. Eventually Nancy and I were invited to join. In that group and subsequently in her move to Dubuque it was fitting that in a small or large way she was surrounded by an inclusive community that loved her unconditionally to the very end. For that we are very grateful that Mary found her peace at last. Now it is up to us to pick up her work for justice wherever we find ourselves.

The following prayer that Nancy and I read this morning from the Franciscan psalter seemed sooo appropriate as we were praying and reflecting on our friendship with Mary over the years:
O God, you send forth your Spirit and we are created, and so we pray:
You who are Truth, - make us free to speak the truth with courage.
You who are Fire, - set us ablaze with the passion of the Good News.
You who are Gentleness, - give us a listening ear and a tender spirit so we might reveal you to those who are wounded and weak.
You who are Life, - raise up all who have died. 

We love you Mary! Pray for us, intercede for us so like Francis and Clare we might follow God ever more closely.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Going home with hope

God encourages those who are losing hope…
Sirach 17:20

I’ve been in El Salvador for the last five days, visiting friends and participating in the vigil and the beatification Mass of Monseñor Romero.

I am ready to go home – and to go home with hope.

I spent the evenings in Suchitoto at the Centro Arte para la Paz, a center founded and run by Sister Peggy O’Neill that seeks to promote the arts – especially music, dance, and painting –  as well as training in computers and violence alternative programs as ways to promote peace amidst the violence and poverty that plague the region.

 This week it was great to see music groups practicing, kids deepening their dance skills with some Julliard students here, working on computers. The center is doing a lot and has hopes to do more, especially in response to the challenges of violence.

I also got to see folks in Suchitoto and the countryside whom I know from my time here in 1992. It was great to see them - especially four generations of the Clavel family. I met the great grandfather - blind and 98 years old, and his blind wife, Edelmira, six of the kids, and many of the grand kids. I even got to see the fourteen year old whom I had held in my arms when he was hours old during a visit many years ago.

Getting soaked in the rain for the vigil on Friday night did not dim my joy at being there and hearing spirited singing of the hymns of Romero, the martyrs, and the faith that seeks liberation. The sharing of umbrellas and tarps was a great witness of the solidarity that Romero inspires. Later I found out that for some here in El Salvador the rain was seen as a blessing of God, commemorating Romero, since there has been little rain in May – when the rainy season usually begins.

Sharing the Mass of beatification with friends was a great joy, sitting alongside women religious who have been giving their lives for the poor – some in Chile, some in El Salvador, and some in Honduras.

Another joy was seeing and hearing the young people singing the songs with a lot of energy. I later found that in some schools the songs are taught as part of the curriculum, to remember the martyrs and the struggles of the people.

It was good, but I am anxious to return home since there is where I feel God continuing to call me, to accompany the people, to share the Good News of Jesus Servant and Liberator, and to help all of us be people of hope.

It’s a temptation to stay in El Salvador – but I am called to be where I see more poverty, less hope, and less solidarity.

And so I go home - with hope.


Photos can be found here.

Other blog entries on my experience of the beatification include: