Saturday, August 22, 2015

Marching against emigration

At Masses in our parish there is often a list of Mass intentions. They include concerns about health of family members and about the death of members of the community. Recently I have noticed a good number of intentions asking prayers for family members are trying to reach the United States. Sometimes they are prayers of gratitude for having arrived there.

Radio Progeso recently reported that about 12 Hondurans leave each hour in hopes of reaching the US. Though the issue of migration is not as pronounced here as in other parts of Honduras, it is real.

When I speak with young people here I am sometimes asked about the United States and about migrating there. I always talk about the dangers of the route toward the US, the difficulty of getting jobs there, and the anti-migrant stance that is so strong in some parts of the United States. I also urge them to think how to improve their lives here in their communities, without leaving their families and friends.

This is not an easy discussion. I know that so many young people have little chance of finding meaningful work, even if they have a high school or college education. I see the problems of low salaries and increasing prices and taxes that most affect the poor and the lower middle class. I am deeply concerned about the drought and heat that have plagued farmers in the last months and may result in losses of more than 60% in basic grains in some part of Honduras.

In  the midst of this the US has been pressuring Honduras and providing money to curb migration, especially of the young. The US should be revising its immigration laws, but that’s another question.

I don’t know all that the Honduran government is doing but there is one that I have my doubts about.

The government is promoting August as the month of not migrating and to publicize this there are marches by children in the educational centers.

Last Thursday as I was leaving Plan Grande for a catechists’ workshop, two young people I know asked for a ride to the nearby town of Candelaria. They are taking Plan Básico (middle school) classes there in the afternoons and I was surprised to see them going in the morning. I saw two other young people on the road and gave them a ride. One had a wooden “rifle.”

When I got to the corner by the school I found some children lined up for a march – against migration.

The first group was of kindergarten kids who had signs that none of them could read. 

There were also a few dressed up for folk dances.

A few of the older students had handmade signs advising against migrating and calling for education and work as ways to stop this.

I don’t know why there were some students with toy weapons, as there had been in El Zapote a week ago. The presence of even toy weapons bothers me because of the message it gives. Weapons are needed. This is a very poor message to give folks, but the increasing use of the military by the Honduran government is, as I see it, only promoting this.

I see that it is important to provide incentives for the people not to migrate. But when the government raises taxes that affect the poor, when the price of basic goods and services increase, when there are not enough employment opportunities and when the government has them they are given to political allies, what are the people to do? They will think seriously about migration, despite the dangers and the costs.

As part of my ministry here I would like to find more ways to help the people, especially the young, find ways to live meaningful and dignified lives in the countryside, with sufficient work and remuneration to feed their families.

That’s the challenge.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Workshops, Masses, and More

I’ve been a bit busy.

Catechists’ workshops

These past two weeks I facilitated four workshops for catechists in the four zones of the parish. About 105 catechists came.

Beside arranging details for the coming 550 or so confirmations, I tried to help them find ways to be creative in their classes when they don’t have written material. That is not always easy, especially since the educational system is based on memorization of facts (or opinions) without encouraging real critical thinking.

As I was preparing for the workshops I began to wonder whether the catechists and the young people in religious education have a sense of the stages of the life of Jesus. So I had them share various events of the life of Jesus. We put them on pieces of paper and taped them to the wall in order.  It was not always easy, though they could name a large number of events. But I think a real problem was putting the events in context and in relation to other events. We’ll have to work on that.

To reinforce the lesson I shared the mysteries of the Rosary which provide a sort of resumen of the life of Jesus.

In response to the violence in Honduras, I decided to have one group dramatize the story of Saint Francis taming the Wolf of Gubbio, one of my favorite stories. I was surprised that a few people did not know who Saint Francis was and many never heard the story of St. Francis and theWolf.   

In three places the people were reluctant to try to dramatize. But in all cases, the story was one of the parts of the workshop they liked.

We have work to do.

Last summer the Vacation Bible School at St. Thomas Aquinas in Ames raised money which I used to buy crayons.  I passed them out at the workshop.

Mass in a front yard

Last Monday I went to the nearby village of Torreras. This village has just begun having pastoral work within the village. At this point a group from one of the other villages in the sector comes to lead a Celebration of the Word and to lead religious education. However, two young women who were baptized at the Easter Vigil and will be confirmed this October came to a catechist training session.

Last Monday Toreras celebrated its feast day, the Assumption of Mary, two days late, since Padre German could not get there on Saturday.

 It was a simple celebration in the front yard of one of the houses, with an improvised awning. People came from three other neighboring communities to help with the celebration. But it was great to see the people of Toreras beginning to become even more integrated into the parish. Padre German told them that he would be putting them on his calendar for Masses every two months.

Accompanying volunteers

A few months ago the directors of Amigos de Jesús asked me to help them with their volunteers from the US. Amigos de Jesús provide a home and a school for poor children, which now includes a dimension of bi-lingual education. They also have opened their school to some local children.

They have five to seven volunteers each year, mostly young college graduates who work in various ways in the home.

They came to Plan Grande for a day earlier this month for a little background on the church here in Honduras. I will be visiting them in Amigos de Jesús every six or eight weeks, to visit with them. It will be a way to us to just talk together. I will also try to help them think and pray through their volunteer experience.

It will be good to do something with young people in English.

Sending coffee

As some of my readers may know I have been accompanying a group of small coffee producers who are forming a cooperative. Five sacks of coffee are being sent for sale in the United States, thanks to the initiative of a young man who visited here in January 2014 and the efforts of St. Thomas Aquinas. I wrote about this last December here.

Delivering the coffee to the processor
It has been a sharp learning curve – with lots of details that tested my patience. But the coffee is on its way, thank God. I am hoping that this is the beginning of a growing market for these small producers.

What else?

I am also accompanying various communities on Sunday mornings, leading the Celebrations of the Word and bringing Communion. I am also accompanying Padre German several times each month as he goes to various communities for Mass.

I am also doing a lot of reading and studying as part of the formation for the permanent diaconate. I just finished an online course on Canon Law. That sounds boring and difficult, but I found it surprisingly helpful.

I am hoping to get to Progresso, Yoro, next Monday. I’ve been looking for an English-speaking spiritual director and I have a lead.

The upcoming months

September should be busy.

The parish celebrates its feast day, the Holy name of Mary,  on September 12. Lots of events are being planned, including a novena of Masses and a procession on the feast day. I’m sure that I’ll be involved.

There may be another Alternatives to Violence workshop in the Gracias prison.

I will also be going to Tegucigalpa for two days to help the coffee cooperative hand in its papers for legal status.

I am hoping to get to Iowa for ten days in October, to visit St. Thomas. It will be a short visit because the first set of confirmations are set for October 23 and 24 and I have to make sure that the communities have everything ready for the liturgies.

In addition another round of catechists’ workshops begins October 27.

And so, life goes on in the parish and I am glad to be part of this ministry.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Concerns about Honduras

It rained last night. Friday night we had a long hard rain. The drain on my terrace is too small and so the water backs up. A little after midnight I was sweeping the water over the side of the terrace so that the water wouldn’t get into my bedroom! But I was glad that it was raining.

I work up Saturday to a beautiful fresh morning, with a view of mountains and clouds that filled my heart with joy.

But I am worried about Honduras. Here are a few of my concerns.

The drought

I looked up Wunderground Friday afternoon to check on the weather and the rainfall. The rainfall so far in August has only been 26.16 mm whereas the average to this date is 140.3 mm. That’s about 1 inch instead of 9 inches!

Some farmers have not planted. Some have planted but the crop dried up for lack of rain. Others have had reduced yield of corn and beans, the staples of the Honduran diet. One farmer reported that a noxious bug is attacking coffee plants and the chemical which would kill them doesn’t work in the heat and lack of rain.

Whether the last two rains are a sign that the rainy season has really begun waits to be seen. But damage has already been done. The critical questions are if people will have enough beans and corn and if the prices for these basics will be beyond the reach of many.

The militarization of the country

Visiting a rural village for a catechists workshop this past week I was surprised to hear some of the catechists talking about a march the school kids were having that day. Marches are not uncommon here – there’s always an occasion: Arbor Day, Independence Day, Children’s Day, Day of the Flag, and so on. But what struck me was that several were incensed that the kids were told to bring toy weapons – pistols and rifles. They said that the teachers had demanded they do this. Some thought the police or military had pressured the teachers. I told them to investigate this well and that they should bring it up in a meeting of the Parents School Association.

It has not been uncommon to see soldiers, the police, and the militarized police on the major highways and even on the back roads here in the Dulce Nombre parish.

I have read of the massive presence of police and military at the march of the indignados who are calling for a commission to investigate the corruption and the pilferage of money from the Honduran Social Security Institute (which is responsible for medical attention to workers). Some of this money went into political campaigns of the governing party. People are marching on Friday evenings in many cities calling for an end to this and to an end to the impunity which has protected those who have done this. An analysis in Spanish by the Honduran Jesuit priest Ismael Moreno is found here. 

I have also heard of some police and military stopping and frisking people driving late at night, even after the drivers had handed over their license and car registration.

This militarization is truly disturbing – from the local school to the highest echelons of the political realm.

The efforts to silence the press

The indignados came to the fore in May when a journalist released information on the pilferage of two hundred million dollars from the Social Security Institute. A director has been jailed and others are being investigated.

Then information was shared that some of this money ended up in the coffers of the National Party’s election campaign that led to the election of the current president, Juan Orlando Hernández. There is, at this point, no proven direct link of the scandal to the president.

The president and others have complained about the divisions that these reports have generated – blaming the messenger.

The silence of many voices

In the face of this it is hard to see how little has been said by people who know better and how easily some sectors of the society have been manipulated by the Honduran government.

Yet there have been some points of light. The priests of the diocese of Trujillo have released a communiqué which can be found here in translation.

Also recently they have released a communiqué about mining, found here in Spanish: 

The priests and the bishop have also  taken part in a public march against "irrational" mining, as reported here in Spanish. What is encouraging is that the bishop explains their actions in terms of the recent encyclical on the environment of Pope Francis.

Caritas Honduras has also released a few analyses of the situation in their online publication Apuntes – on the hunger strike here and on the call for a national dialogue here.

But I long for more voices that speak out clearly.

In this I recall an essay by Albert Camus that I read in the 1960s that has continued to motivate me in my calling to be a voice for justice. 

"The Unbeliever and the Christian" is part of a statement that Camus made before a group of Dominicans in 1948. Here is a quote from that essay that still challenges me:

What the world expects of Christians is that Christians should speak out, loud and clear, and that they should voice their condemnations in such a way that never a doubt., never the slightest doubt, could rise in the heart of the simplest [person]. That they should get away from abstraction and confront the blood-stained face history has taken on today.

The citation from Albert Camus can be found in the collection of his essays  Resistance, Rebellion and Death.

I wrote about the call for dialogue and the marches of the indignant in an earlier post here.

Friday, August 07, 2015

In jail

I spent two days in jail earlier this week.

I was accompanying Sister Pat Farrell in a workshop on Alternatives to Violence in the jail in Gracias, Lempira. We started with 15 and ended with 11 on the two day workshop.

The workshop uses lots of activities to help all the participants discover the resources they have – especially within themselves – to deal creatively and nonviolently to conflict.

The room we use was not immune to noise and didn’t have enough privacy, but I think it went very well.

There were a number of things that surprised me, not least being the range of men participating  - university-educated and functionally illiterate, young and old (though most were in the twenties and thirties), some serving sentences and others waiting for the investigation needed before they are brought to trial. 

I never asked why they were there since this would be an invasion of their privacy in a place where they are continually deprived of privacy. 

The participants were chosen by the two education directors in the prison, mostly for their leadership skills. Some were clearly leaders and Pat and I hoped they will continue with the workshops so that they can help with ongoing workshops in the prison.

I was humbled several times by the honesty of several participants as well as by some of the stories shared. I noted how some of them had suffered childhood without parents or in abusive situations.

But most of all, I felt very blessed to be able to be with them.

“I was in prison and you visited me,” states the Son of Man in Matthew 25:36. But I felt that I was visited by Christ by being there.

Pat wants to have more in the future and has asked me to help. I’m looking forward to this way of serving those at the margins.