Sunday, September 27, 2015

Honduran kitsch

Kitsch (noun): 
art, objects, or design considered to be in poor taste 
because of excessive garishness or sentimentality, 
but sometimes appreciated in an ironic or knowing way: 
the lava lamp is an example of sixties kitsch.

Growing up in the fifties and early sixties I recall various types of lawn items, some of which were quite kitschy.

There were the St. Francis birdbaths and Mary Immaculate in half of an iron bathtub. There was the racist jockey and, of course, the flamingos.

I was delightfully surprised to encounter Honduran kitsch – in tens of roadside stands outside Siguatepeque.

On the main roads here there are gas stations, tire repair shops (much needed), small restaurants, stands selling vegetables and fruits,  honey sold in used liquor bottles, and much more.

But there are several large areas where painted clay figures are sold. 

Some of these stands also have hammocks and toys like tops. 

A good number have large pottery vases – two to three foot high – that are used for displays with artificial flowers.

But what really fascinate me are the very colorful figures - of all kinds:

Mushrooms with butterflies:


Deer and bananas:

Toucans and cows:

Even ants, made out of metal:


Lonely hearts:

And of course, flamingos!

More flamingos:

Flamingo love birds.

Even a pink flamingo.

And, to answer the question in the back of your mind, NO! I did not buy anything for my house - except for a bottle of honey.

But I really enjoyed myself, as did the two Honduran guys who were traveling with me.



A friend wrote about a possible connection between the flamingos:

 What, no painted chickens?! I thought they were the iconic Honduran kitsch. This really took off after the Peace Corps sent volunteers to Siguatepeque to teach them to paint pottery other than ceramic chickens. We endured several years of pepto-bismol pink pottery vases because of this Peace Corp program. When I look at the 19th C. traditional pottery and compare it to this stuff......

Traveling two days to Tegucigalpa

On Thursday, I left at 4:30 am for a trip to Tegucigalpa with two leaders of the El Zapote coffee growers association and a lawyer from Caritas. They were going to see what steps were needed to obtain official status.

We arrived at the government office about 11:45 am and the lawyer went to see when they could have time to work on the status. She returned about 40 minutes later after the government official advised her that the group needed to make some changes. Instead of signing up as a cooperative, he advised them to form themselves as a mutual aid association or business.

It was a little disappointing but the government official was very helpful and stayed even during lunch hour.

But since it was too late to try to drive back home, we decided to stay overnight.

We looked for a place for a late lunch. The first place, recommended by the hotel, was overpriced. We, instead, went downtown to the central plaza and ate pupusas in a food court.

Then we walked around downtown.

We saw a tent where a few people were fasting against corruption and calling for an international council against corruption in Honduras.

I noted a few women walking around in groups; I judgmentally wondered if they were women of the street. Then I noted a few young boys, including one with a beer can in a paper bag. One little boy was shoeless. I wondered if these were some of the many street children in Honduras.

We went into the cathedral and, as I had when I visited before, I was filled with sadness at all the gold in the altarpiece.

Women and children in the street; people fasting and calling for an end of corruption; a church filled with gold, much of it probably mined by poor and native peoples during the Conquest.

I arrived home tired, but glad to be back in Plan Grande.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Avoidance and facing suffering

A friend, Dave Nantais, has a beautiful essay on the spirituality of living in a city in America magazine. Though I haven’t lived in a city since December, Dave’s wisdom is inspiring. In Santa Rosa de Copán, as well as on Baker Street in Ames, Iowa, there was a sense of front porch spirituality. The one thing I miss from both places is the sense of close connection I felt with my neighbors. There is a sense of community here in the village of Plan Grande, but it is different.

I am particularly touched by Dave’s remarks on coming face to face with suffering and, in particular, his quote from Thomas Merton’s The Seven Storey Mountain:
“The more you try to avoid suffering, the more you suffer, because smaller and more insignificant things begin to torture you, in proportion to your fear of being hurt.”
I have seen how I avoid suffering and seek to distance myself from even seeing suffering.

But I fear that this avoidance is widespread.

We erect walls and gated communities; we live in our part of town  or our village and avoid entering places of suffering, which we consider all too dangerous. We turn our eyes away from the images of suffering in the newspapers and turn off the news stories of violence and poverty on the radio or television.

But what does that do to me? It turns me in on myself, making me all too fearful and anxious and all too easily provoked to anger.

This past Monday and Tuesday I assisted Sister Pat Farrell in an alternatives to violence workshop in the prison in Gracias, Lempira. It’s the second one we facilitated there.

Some people fear entering a prison, especially after we are locked in. But this visit was a healing experience for me – listening to the men, watching them engage in the workshop activities – listening and talking with each other in a place of safety which is hard to find in a prison.

As we worked with them and listened to them when they spoke with us personally, we were being graced by their presence and by the ways that the Spirit was working in them.

I feel privileged and blest to be able to be with them and blessed by their presence. Their presence and my stay with the Franciscan sisters in Gracias were agents of God’s healing in me. I feel grateful and blest - after a very trying week.

We’ll do another workshop in November, God willing. I look forward to going to jail again.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Dulce Nombre ministry update September 2015

The situation of the parish of Dulce Nombre

Many parts of Honduras are experiencing a drought that is affecting the lives of many and may results in serious hunger.

Usually the rainy season in our region begins in May and extends until January. This year we have had little rain. It has rained four times in the last 10 days but the temperatures have been higher than normal. A friend told me that she has not experienced such heat and drought in her 32 years in this part of Honduras.

As a result there will be a scarcity of basic grains. In some areas half or more of the basic grains planted have been lost to the drought. In some cases, people have not planted even basic grains because the ground was dry and too hard.

Even the coffee plants have been affected by the heat and lack of rain. The coffee berries usually ripen between November and February. However, there are several places where there already are ripe berries. Thus, the coffee harvest will be affected. A poor harvest will not only affect the coffee growers; many people earn cash picking coffee from November to February. If there is a poor harvest there will be less work. People will be without cash – even for the costs of sending kids to school.

The parish's two manzanas (about an acre) of coffee seem to be doing well, though. This will help the parish to meet some of the expenses.

As a result of all this, the economic situation of the parish has become a little more precarious. Very little comes in from the villages, barely enough to cover costs of the parish. People also donate corn and beans for the parish, but the amount donated this year is less.

When Padre German goes to a village, they often give him money for fuel as well as the collection.

As many know, Padre German visits every village for Mass at least once every two months – over dirt and gravel roads. Five weeks ago, with the help of the German Catholic agency Adveniat, the parish got a new vehicle. Already the tires are worn down. Padre German would like to replace the tires but each tire will cost about 4,500 lempiras (which represents a discount). Four tires will therefore cost about $900.

Here's the wear on the tires after only five months:

Last week there was a strong thunderstorm in the area. A lightning bolt hit the lightning rod on the church but did little damage to the church. A major donation from St. Thomas parishioners was used, in part, to replace the electric system of the church, which had not been updated since the 1960s. Since this system was set up separate, it was not affected by the lightning. However, the lightning strike burnt out the church’s phone, the computer screen, and the pump for the center’s water system – which will have to be replaced. It also took out a chunk of one of the church's towers.

On September 12, the parish will celebrate its feast day – the feast of the Holy Name of Mary. In preparation there will be special Masses every evening starting on September 3, prepared by different communities.

The feast begins with a dawn greeting at about 5:00 am, with music and prayer. At 8:30 am a procession will begin at a site in Dulce Nombre with people from the whole parish. Several communities will bring the statues of Mary from their churches. The celebration will concluded with Mass in the main church.

There are about 550 or so candidates from confirmation in the parish. Some, even though they are at least 14 years old, have not yet received their first communion. Padre German is visiting various villages, not only for the first communions but to hear the confessions of those who will be confirmed as well as their sponsors. That means that Padre will be hearing close to 800 confessions, which means at least forty hours of confessions. 

A young man from Plan Grande asked me to be his sponsor. Here's a picture of him on the day of his first communion, last Sunday.

The confirmations will be held in six locations in the parish, on October 25 and 26 and November 13 and 14.

In the next three months there are also workshops for catechists and for delegates of the Word.

The catechists are continuing their work, preparing young people for the confirmations in October and November, beginning the catechumenate for those over 14 who will be baptized in the Easter Vigil next year, preparing first communicants, forming children between 7 and 13 as well as the parents of babies for baptism.

In some communities they are also preparing for couples for the sacrament of matrimony.

This year they prepared about 105 (mostly young people over 14 years old) for baptism and first communion at the Easter Vigil.

On Sunday, November 22, the parish will celebrate the feast of Christ the King with an all-parish Mass in San Agustín.

In December there will be a two day meeting to evaluate the year and prepare for next year.

A busy year.

My ministry

Since last December I have been concentrating my ministry in the parish of Dulce Nombre de María.

I have continued to prepare materials for religious education and facilitate training sessions for catechists. With Padre German I have been helping with workshops for base community leaders and delegates of the Word.

Since May I have visiting different communities two or three times a month to lead the Celebration of the Word and bring Communion. This has been a real blessing, getting to know different communities and seeing faith alive.

 I often visit the homebound in these villages to bring them Communion. I have seen some impressive people caring for their ill grandparents or other family members.

I am continuing to accompany a cooperative of small coffee farmers in one of the villages of the parish. They are in the process of getting legal status and will go with them to Tegucigalpa this month. They were able to send five sacks of coffee to the US. That has been a really difficult process, with a steep learning curve for me and for others working on this process at St. Thomas. I am hoping that St. Thomas and others will work to have a market for even more coffee next harvest season.

In May I was accepted as a candidate for the permanent diaconate in the diocese. I have been doing personal studies as well as participating in a number of workshops for clergy in the country and in the diocese.  I even took my first internet course – on Canon Law, no less.  I will be installed as a lector and acolyte later this year. The bishop would like to ordain me sometime next year.

Several times a month I accompany Padre German for Mass in different communities. He has me help in the Mass a at times has asked me to offer reflections  - on-site preparation for the diaconate.

I have also been involved in a number of ministries outside the parish.

A few months ago, the directors of a center for children, Amigos de Jesús, have asked me to accompany their US volunteers. I’ve visited their center and their new volunteers came and visited me in Plan Grande as part of their orientation. I will be visiting them ever six or eight weeks, starting with a visit this month.

I am continuing my connection with the Dubuque Franciscan Sisters who are in Gracias, Lempira, about an hour and a half from my house. They have invited me to their monthly morning of reflection and I try to go as often as possible.

A few months ago Sister Pat Farrell, whom I know from El Salvador, joined them.
One of her passions is nonviolence and alternatives to violence. Caritas Santa Rosa had asked me to do a workshop on Transformation of Conflicts; I asked Pat to help me. It was a good experience for us.

Pat had a dream to do Alternatives to Violence programs in the Gracias prison. She managed to arrange one in August and we co-facilitated it. We’ll have another one this month. This is promising.

Visitors have been few, but most welcome.

I have had two friends visit me in June which was great. I even had a chance to go with them to El Salvador where they had served in the late 1980s. Also in June a young woman doing some research for her doctorate stayed with me for a few days. In January I hope to have three visitors.

This year I made a trip to the United States in April. I visited with my cousins whom I hadn’t seen for more than two years. I also had a chance to give a lecture and speak at various classes at my undergraduate alma mater, the University of Scranton. I also saw some friends in the northern New Jersey and New York City area. Meeting with friends and relatives was a real blessing.

In May I went to EL Salvador to celebrate the beatification of Monseñor Oscar Romero. I spent a few days in Suchitoto visiting friends. I went to the vigil and got soaked – but it was a real blessing. I got to the beatification site early and encountered Sister Pat Farrell, Sister Peggy O’Neill (who’s in Suchitoto) and two other sisters and was able to spend the Mass and celebration with them. It was a blessing to be with four women who have accompanied the poor in Latin America on this special day.

In October, I hope to get to Iowa to share our parish’s experience with our sister parish, St. Thomas Aquinas. Padre German, our pastor, was invited but, because of his many responsibilities in October, he decided to wait until next year.

Since December I have been living in a house in Plan Grande, a village in the parish. This lets me become more a part of the parish as well as to reach other villages usually within less than 45 minutes.  

All the better to serve.

In all this, I ask you to keep our parish and me in your prayers in order that we may better serve the People of God here in the parish so that we may be signs of God’s Reign on earth – as in heaven.