Sunday, June 28, 2015

Indignant - the torch marches

Out here in the countryside I don’t see a lot of what goes on in the country, except through some online news reports, a few blogs, Facebook, and two list-serves. But I sense that something is brewing. Several young professionals I know are often posting on Facebook  about the “marchas de las antorchas.”

For more than four weeks people have been marching in the streets, calling for an end to corruption. Thousands are coming out in the major cities at night, carrying torches. They are particularly incensed at reports that hundreds of millions of dollars have been stolen from the Honduras Social Security Institute, which is responsible for much of the public health care. Many of them are also calling on the President to resign, due to recent reports that some of the money siphoned off ended up supporting the National Party in the 2013 elections. The president is a member of the National Party and was previously the president of the National Congress, where his party manipulated the Supreme Court and has militarized the police.

There are political figures involved, but I have a sense that there are enough young people involved who don’t want to be manipulated by any party. There seems to have been a youth movement that began last year that is very much involved in the nightly marches. They call themselves the “indignados” – the indignant ones.

The marches are also calling for an international commission to investigate impunity. They seem to be inspired by a similar commission for Guatemala that has been working since 2007.

Recently several young people have begun a hunger strike. The government’s response has been to send hundred of military to prevent them from staying where they were and to prevent their connection with the wider world. Up to this point six young people are on hunger strike.
UPDATE: Several of the hunger strikers have suspended their fast, partly in response to repressive tactics of government forces.
The president has replied calling for a dialogue – but there appear to be many problem with this. The marchers feel that many of those who would be involved in a government-sponsored dialogue are tainted by graft and corruption.

Several good blog posts on the issues of the government corruption and responses to the marches can be found at Honduras Culture and Politics, which continues to offer solid reports.

I hope this "movement" is a good sign for the future of Honduras.

I found the remarks of Victor Meza on Radio Progesso’s website helpful for understanding what might be happening.

When asked for his analysis of the situation he replied:
What is happening in Honduras is like a rebirth, strengthened, of the spirit of citizen participation, of civic spirit, of a spirit of enthusiasm for combatting a situation which is characterized by the ethical disintegration of the State, for the moral ruin of the present government, and by a State of moral decomposition so broad, so vast, that tyrannizes the entire society. 
When asked about the street demonstrations of the youth, he replied, in part:
They reflect a state of courage, of social disgust, of weariness. It is a form of saying: enough…
One of my concerns in the last few years is that real social analysis and protest has been muted or, worse, siphoned off into political partisanship. Where has the consciousness raising been happening?

I hope this is the beginning of a new era of conscious, critical, and responsible citizenship that looks for real social change here.

My concern is that the movement seems to be mostly urban and, though I may be wrong, middle class or lower middle class. Is there involvement of the poor in the barrios of San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa?

But my other concern is that the poor in the countryside seem to be on the sidelines. Will they have a voice? 

We shall see.  

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Too busy to write much in June

A few friends have noted that I have not written a lot on this blog during June.

The month began with my sixty-eighth birthday, which I spent fairly quietly.

The first Saturday of June I went to Intibucá with about 25 young people from the parish for a diocesan youth gathering. The trip was three hours long and the weather was bad. Most of us got soaked during the Mass.

It was good to be with the young people, but - to be honest - the event was disappointing. But two of the youth groups are planning to get together for a joint meeting.

I have had three visitors. I went to El Salvador for a few days with two of them and visited with some friends while there. I spent four hours talking with a journalist friend in English, which was very intellectually stimulating.

The other visitor has been studying medical missions in Honduras and I accompanied her on a visit to a clinic supported by a US Foundation. We talked a lot about Honduras and so-called “mission” groups. I also took her to the Copán Ruins which are only 90 minutes from my house.

In mid June I visited the Amigos de Jesús center for children near Azacualpa, talking with the US volunteers. The directors have asked me to visit with the volunteers every two months or so in order to help them process their experience and deepen their faith and spiritual life as volunteers in Honduras. This should be a very interesting and challenging experience.

This means that I have spoken more English this month than I usually do in three months. I wonder if I might be slowly losing my fluency in English.

 I’ve been involved in several workshops – for delegates of the Word and for base community leaders. I had full responsibility for one, but Padre German did most of the work in the workshop for delegates. I also accompanied a meeting of the extraordinary ministers of Communion.

I have also accompanied Padre German to several villages, which have included Baptisms. Padre German is having me help a lot in the liturgies – presumably as a preparation for my possible ordination as a deacon.

In San Juan, I spent about ten minutes before Mass talking with the kids and asking them a little about why they were getting baptized. They also had a load of questions for me.

I am regularly visiting villages on Sundays for their Celebrations of the Word. That means preparation for my reflection on the readings.

I’m also in the midst of trying to see how the coffee from a small cooperative in formation can get to the United States.

I am also trying to do a bit of study as part of the formation process of the diaconate. I am taking a course on line on canon law and I am reading a lot on varied topics, including Joseph Martos’ book on the sacraments,  Doors to the Sacred.

I also met once with a spiritual director, but have to fond another one since he is being called back to the US by his order.

There have also been mundane pursuits – getting a Honduran driver’s license which took half a day; medical appointments with an eye doctor and with my regular doctor; weekly visits to Santa Rosa de Copán to buy groceries and other needs; leaving my car with the mechanic for repairs; getting soil to fill in the garden area around the house; washing clothes (by hand). Right now I have a huge pile of clothes to wash – including two sets of sheets. I hope the weather is good next Monday and Tuesday.

I did have a chance last week to have a long lunch over pizza at Weekend’s in Santa Rosa with Sister Nancy Meyerhofer, a Dubuque Franciscan in nearby Gracias. These are great ways to catch up on our lives and share our experiences.

July promises to be a bit less busy; I may have to try to take a few days for retreat or vacation.

Nancy, in her general letter, wrote something that really resonates with me:
One of my mentors in Chile, a wise older Jesuit, once told me that pastoral work is like playing an accordion: there are times when the whole thing is squeezed together (or “crunch time,” I guess we could say) and other times when the music box is relaxed and open. 
June has been crunch time for me; July may be more relaxed, hopefully opening me to the continuing call of God.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Culture of Encounter: Six Days in the Life of John Donaghy

Gary Guthrie, who visited me recently with his wife, Nancy, asked if I would accept a guest entry. I think it's always food to hear another voice, especially when he describes how they shared my life for six days. 

Me - with Gary and Nancy
Below is a slightly edited entry from Gary. All of the photos below are his.


Pope Francis calls the church to a “culture of encounter”, a poor church of the poor. One way to look at poverty of spirit is recognizing that all life is gift; all good things come from God. We ought not be entitled to anything. When we encounter “another,” it is always with the possibility that the incarnated Christ in that person calls each of us to an ever-deeper ongoing conversion.

Twenty-eight years ago this July 17th John was our first overnight guest from outside El Salvador in San Jose Guayabal, El Salvador. Nancy and I were there with the Mennonite Central Committee administering fertilizer loans to farmers, displaced due to the Salvadoran Civil War. John came to walk with us, to accompany us for a short while to learn from our Salvadoran friends and their faith.

This past June 8th Nancy and I had the opportunity to return the favor, as we were John’s first overnight guests in his new house from outside Honduras.

Many people ask John,  “What is a typical day like for you?” Perhaps it is best said there is no “typical” day; so I would like to briefly describe our 6 days with John.

Monday (hospitality): John picks us up at the San Pedro Sula airport at noon. It is hot and very humid along the coast, but we begin the four hour drive up into the mountains. Each stop along the way it gets cooler and less humid. We arrive in Plan Grande and John’s two story home is nestled tightly behind the village church and next to the old adobe chapel. 

There is no town center around which everyone lives. This is all fairly steep mountainous terrain; so many people live along the mountain ridge. The elementary school is located right next to the church and beside John’s home.

John’s home has two bedrooms downstairs with a nice open kitchen and living room, as well as a bathroom along with a wash station. You climb upstairs to a covered patio, John’s bedroom and a chapel/prayer room. There is a large open patio to dry clothes and ¡oh! what a view of the countryside!

 Tuesday (evangelization): We just spent time talking and getting caught up with our lives. As most of you know John does a lot of writing on his blogs; so he is working on that as well as preparation for a workshop that will take place on Friday morning with parish leaders from one of four zones in the Dulce Nombre de Maria Parish.

Much of what John does in the parish is write or rewrite catechetical material for parish leaders as it relates to the sacraments, faith life and social action. This is one of his greatest gifts to the parish.

The parish has a small plot of land in Plan Grande recently planted to coffee to raise funds for the parish’s ministries. We walked down the road a couple hundred meters to look at it. One can view it from John’s 2nd floor.

Wednesday (beauty): John has some flowerbeds that needed soil at the base of his home. Two young men came and gathered 12 large sacks of soil mixed with cow manure, then 24 more sacks of soil taken from two sites that we brought in and dumped from John’s pick-up. Someday when we return it will be full of beautiful perennial flower plants. Since I farm organic vegetables in Iowa, John thought this would be an appropriate activity for me to be a part of.

Thursday (economic justice): Thursday morning we took off to pick-up 1000+ pounds of coffee which we took, along with the farmers, to an coffee agency that ships coffee to a variety of locations around the world. This is a pilot project to possibly bring coffee from the Dulce Nombre area to the Ames area to sell. I was impressed that such a large facility was willing to handle such a small amount but they were. They take samples out of the bag to test for moisture, weight and quality. There is a steep learning curve for all involved. Hopefully soon it won’t be just Dulce Nombre [Sweet Name] but Sweet Flavor too! as we sip some Honduran coffee at home. This is not a main focus for John but he is trying to facilitate the process. If all goes well the farmers will try to export more quantity in future years as they get a much better price then selling it on the open coffee market.

Friday: We traveled into Dulce Nombre (about 25 minutes) for a workshop that John was giving to about 20 community leaders. There are about 50 different communities in the parish and they are divided into 4 zones. It is an opportunity for leadership development and a way to know how it is going in their communities. One of the main activities in the workshop was a scriptural reflection on the passage where Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law. They used a form of Ignatian imagination, placing yourself in the scripture and then describing to others what you heard, experienced. Instead of just reading the story you “encounter” Jesus in the story and allow his Spirit to touch you. It is very much a part of what Pope Francis wants for all of us when he talks about becoming a “Culture of Encounter”. When we encounter the incarnated Jesus in others, it so often leads to conversion.

John is trying to model something different for parish leaders and they are to share in similar ways with others in their communities during their Sunday Liturgies of the Word.

After eating lunch with Padre German, we all took off to a community whose feast day was the Sacred Heart of Jesus. After over an hour long drive, we finally arrived and the small chapel was packed with folks. Young men outside the chapel would light off bottle rockets every now and then. There was to be around 22 baptisms that day ranging from a couple of newborn babies to 12-14 year olds. It was organized chaos with John helping with giving the baptized their candles after Padre German anointed them with chrism. It was many moments of great joy and celebration as the entire community celebrated and then shared a light meal after the service.

The next day was going to be a long day for the Padre. It was the feast day of Anthony of Padua, a popular saint; so he had 5 masses on Saturday and another 5 on Sunday!

Saturday (full-circle): On Saturday, John drove us the five to six hour drive to Suchitoto, El Salvador, where we have a mutual friend that we wanted to see. It brought us full circle as it was in this area that our relationship with John began.

What is it that keeps drawing us back and keeps John there? I believe it is in part because in the lives of the rural poor the Gospel comes alive; the Gospel is simpler because the people know intimately they are dependent upon God. We in the north seldom know this in our hearts. Fathers Richard Rohr and Ronald Rolheiser both talk about that in our second half of life we are to “give our lives away”. This is simply what John is doing. He is serving, losing his life and gaining so much life in return.

Any of you that can, go visit John. Take a retreat of “Encounter” and prepare yourself for conversion! Today as I write, it is the Feast of St. John the Baptist. Much like the first John, John’s living witness calls us to a deeper relationship with God and to serve others, wherever we find ourselves.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Friends and more

Last week two good friends visited from Iowa – Gary and Nancy Guthrie.  It was so good to have them here since our friendships go back to the late 1980s.

I had met them briefly at St. Thomas Aquinas in Ames and then visited them when they were working with the Mennonites in El Salvador in San José Guayabal.

When they moved back to Iowa, our friendship continued and deepened. In the late 1990s and until I left Gary was my farmer as I bought and ate vegetables from his farm.

They had helped me in my discernment to come here to Honduras. Gary has come to Honduras twice before, as part of the Dubuque Franciscans’ Sister Water Project, but this was Nancy’s first visit back to Central America fro fifteen years.

While they were here in Honduras they saw a little of my life.

Wednesday they helped as two guys hauled soil to put in the area around my house which I hope to plant in flowers. Gary transplanted a banana shoot – in the hopes that I will someday have homegrown bananas to eat.

Thursday, we went to El Zapote Santa Rosa to take the cooperative’s coffee to the processing plant and then spent some time in Santa Rosa, including a visit to the Spanish Franciscans whom Gary had met before.

Friday, I had a workshop with base community leaders from Zone 4 of the parish. Gary and Nancy attended to see how I try to work, involving the people in their formation.

In the afternoon, Padre German had invited us to go with him to Bañaderos for Mass and baptisms.
It was a full week and even though it was overcast most days and rained a lot, Gary and Nancy had a chance to see what we’re up to here.

I hope their visit is the first of many from Iowa.

Saturday, I took them to Suchitoto, El Salvador, so that they could visit some friends they had worked with who now live near Suchitoto. They had a good afternoon with Lucía and her family and I joined them later – since I know Lucía since working in the Suchitoto parish in 1992.

Sunday they went to San Jose Guayabal and I stayed in Suchitoto. A priest who is a good friend came up and we had dinner. Monday I went to San Salvador to meet with a journalist friend and to look for some books and material.

Tuesday, I headed back to Honduras. I stopped in Ocotepeque, Honduras, to meet with a spiritual director and than headed to Amigos de Jesús, a home and school for 124 or so kids, near Macuelizo, Santa Bárbara. The directors had asked me to begin to do some work with their US volunteers. A new group is coming next month but I did meet with the current volunteers to hear what they are doing their concerns, etc. I will be trying to stop by every 6 or 8 weeks to accompany them and to help them in their spiritual growth – if all goes well.

This morning I finally got back to Plan Grande – grateful to be home. But I have loads of wash to do and any number of things to do to plan for the next week.

This afternoon there is Mass and First Communions here in Plan Grande. Tomorrow I’ll go into Santa Rosa to have a few things on the car looked at. Coming home from Amigos de Jesús, I noted that the dials for speed and for noting the kilometers weren’t working. I also have to figure out what I have to do to renew my license.

A few times people have asked me what is a normal day. I hem and haw but Gary and Nancy can attest that I do not have any really normal schedule. Now that’s a challenge to a guy who normally likes to have everything planned for the next six months!

But this is Honduras.