Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Christmas 2017

It's been a Christmas of coffee, baking, meals, Masses, Celebration of the Word, and caroling in prison.

Today, on the feast of Stephen, the first deacon, I’m sitting in a café in Santa Rosa de Copán, waiting for my car to me fixed. This past month or so, the pickup has been through lots of repairs. But that’s not as important as what has happened the past few days.

Last Friday and Saturday I helped with harvests in the parish coffee lands. About 200 parishioners, of all ages, showed up to volunteer their time, harvesting close to 5000 gallons of coffee berries. (I’m using US measurements. The “galón” they use to measure the coffee berries is a five gallon bucket.) It was a super-abundant harvest, the second this season. In about two or three weeks, we’ll have another harvest since there are still lots of green berries on the coffee plants. (Typically there are three to five harvests in each coffee field during the harvest season.)

I picked a little, but I mostly transported people to and from the field and took some coffee to the place where the seeds were separated from the pulp. I calculated that I drove five hours on Friday and six hours on Saturday. No wonder the pickup is in the shop.

Sunday I preached at the 7 am Mass in Concepción, Copán, and then went home to bake bread and cinnamon rolls.

Padre German had several Masses on December 24, Christmas eve, with a midnight Mass in nearby Candelaria, Concepción. He asked me to preach there. I tried to take a nap before Mass but no luck – too much anticipation and too many firecrackers (some quite loud).

After getting to bed after Mass at about 2 am, I got up early to go to the village of Grandillal, San Agustín, for a Celebration of the Word with Communion. The celebration started late but it was so good to be there. After the Celebration, they invited me to have pop and cake with the kids, but I told them I had a long trip for a big lunch.

After traveling 45 minutes from Granadillal to Plan Grande to pick up stuff, I headed to Gracias Lempira, almost two hours away. I brought the bread and cinnamon rolls (which were a great treat.) There with the five Dubuque Franciscan Sisters who are in Honduras, a sister from another Franciscan congregation, another US associate of the Franciscans (who lives across from them) and Padre Loncho, the pastor of Gracias, we had a feast. They even had a vegetarian quiche for me.

The sisters are a real support community for me. I find myself refreshed each time I visit with them.

Since I stayed overnight in their guest room, I joined them at about 4:30 for Christmas caroling in the Gracias prison. The sisters have been serving the prisoners since Sister Nancy arrived in Gracias. The director delayed the lock-down half an hour so that we could have time to be there.

We visited the three parts of the prison – the sentenced, those awaiting trial or sentencing, and the women. We walked in singing – to the surprise of the imprisoned. The sisters had a sheet with the words and invited them to sing with us. As we began with “Feliz Navidad,” I found myself almost overwhelmed by emotion. How could they have a happy Christmas there. But the sisters’ presence was welcomed with smiles and singing. I recognized a few, since I had helped Sister Pat with a few Alternatives to Violence workshops in the prison.

We got back to the sisters’ house about 6:30 and had a little to eat. I was full and so a brownie and a cup of hot tea were enough.

Today, I joined the sisters for Morning Prayer, as I do whenever I’m there. It was a great way to celebrate St. Stephen’s feast, with women who truly live the diaconal spirit.

The next few days will be busy.

Today there is another group finishing the harvest in the parish field. If my car is fixe, I may be able to help transport people at the end of the day.

Wednesday and Thursday we have the annual parish meeting for evaluation and planning. On Friday I have a pre-marriage interview. Then the weekend - and lots of firecrackers on New Years Eve.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Don't let them steal your hope.

As I prepared for my Christmas homily, these words came from the depths of my heart: “Don’t let them steal your hope.”

It is easy to get discouraged here – especially in light of the recent elections and the follow up.

Poverty still abounds here in Honduras. The poverty rate has increased by almost 3 % this past year to 68.8%, with extreme poverty at 44%.

Most people are worried, uncertain of the future.

Many people are confused, in the midst of credible reports of fraud and manipulation of the vote counting process.

Some people are angry, feeling that the election was stolen from their candidate.

Some of the opposition are disheartened with their candidate who, though still contesting the election, has virtually withdrawn, I believe because he sees how difficult it is when the US government has acknowledged Juan Orlando Hernández as the winner.

And so, some of us are saddened, angered, and ashamed at the behavior of the US government and its whitewash of the elections. The US government which acknowledges what I believe are manipulated elections results, with hardly a glance at the “irregularities identified by the OAS and the EU election observation missions.”

And so it is easy to feel hopeless.

But the situation is more serious than this. St. Paul (Ephesians 6:1) noted that our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities and powers of this world.

What are these? I would suggest they are the systems of power and domination, of wealth and greed, of consumerism and impoverishment; they include the war establishment and the empires that seek to dominate peoples and markets.

These powers deny the human condition – desiring control, power, absolute security, and domination, a sort of godly self-sufficiency (which may have been the temptation of Adam and Eve: “you shall be as gods.”)

But at Christmas we celebrate the birth of one who assumed the human condition. Jesus, God made flesh, assumed the poverty, the vulnerability, the

We are not saved by might and power, nor by arms or money.

And the message of the God made flesh is first revealed to people on the margins, the shepherds. The angels end their message with a great chorus

“Glory to God in the highest and peace to people of good will.”

And what is the glory of God?

According to Saint Irenaeus, “The glory of God is the human person fully alive.”

And, according to Blessed Oscar Romero, “The glory of God is the poor person fully alive.”

This gives me hope and courage for the continuing struggle to be present with the People of God and to make present in our lives and in our country signs of the Reign of God that is first seen in a dark stable in an occupied land.


The photo of the nacimiento in the church in Concepción, Copán, Honduras, is from last year.

Monday, December 18, 2017

They are NOT rioting in Honduras

I have seen several Facebook posts recently, from US citizens here in Honduras, who talk about the riots.

What is a riot? When I think of a riot I think of violence, mayhem, people destroying property and looting, often as an expression of frustration.

Yes, there is some violence by the protestors. There are also cases of looting, but it is not clear that this is being done by protestors.

The protestors are taking to the streets, literally. They often try to block traffic, though they are insistent in letting emergency vehicles through. They often put tree limbs, tires, and other debris in the roads to block the traffic and they sometimes burn the tires.

But there is violence. Trying to remove the protestors some government security forces, mostly the military and the military police, approach the protestors. In a few cases, there have been efforts of dialogue with them by some protestors. But, often the troops move in, in force, often employing tear gas and shooting live ammunition. There have been reports of tear gas canisters being thrown into homes. At times, the protestors respond with rocks or even throw back the tear gas canisters. Much of the mayhem and violence happens when the security forces try to break up the demonstrations or takeovers of the highways.

Anyone who knows me, know that I am a pacifist, but not passive. Violence injures or takes human life and minimizes the chances of people coming together to make the changes needed in an unjust situation. Sadly, there has been hardly any training here in nonviolent resistance, that I know of.

What I see happening, from a distance, is not rioting. The deadly violence of government forces needs to be investigated and condemned. Those protesting need to be heard. Taking to the streets is a sign of desperation, a feeling that nothing else works, a cry in the wilderness.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

2017 - my life in Honduras

From the midst of violence and repression, I wish you the peace of the God of justice, who became flesh in the midst of violence and repression.

This year I celebrated ten years in Honduras and seventy years on this good earth. It was a good year.

I am sending this out without finishing it since Honduras is now in a critical moment. After charges of fraud, manipulation of the voting, repression of demonstrations, and more, the Supreme Electoral Board declared the current president as victor in the November 26 presidential election on Sunday night, December 17. This past week there have been major strikes, takeover of the streets in about 100 places in the country. There was some violence by the demonstrators, but in various places they were met by government forces with tear gas and even live ammunition. The current announcement already is bringing out people to take over the streets.

I am safe. God willing, I will be here to accompany God’s poor until God sends me elsewhere.

What distinguishes this year for me? I think this photo sums up a lot of my life.

Accompanying the people, I get my shoes muddy – and the pickup is even worse.

This is my first full year as a deacon. One of my concerns when Bishop Darwin Andino asked me to consider the permanent diaconate was whether this would create a deeper chasm between me and the people I minister with. I don’t think this has happened. Instead, I find myself more involved in the lives of people.

Bringing communion to the sick, interviewing couples right before their marriage in the church, presiding at the rite of entry into the catechumenate for 52 people, baptizing probably over 100 this year, and going out many Sundays to a village for a Celebration of the Word with Communion.

But the most profound aspect of being a deacon has been presiding at funerals. Somehow, I feel the compassion of God for those who are mourning and am able to pass on a little of this.

I continue with much of what I’ve been doing for years – training catechists and other pastoral workers. A challenge has been working with the leaders of the youth groups in several towns and villages of the parish, as well as trying to revive the parish social ministry.

One good experience this year was working with two young priests to write material for base communities for this coming church year. Also, the parish is hosting two seminarians in a three-week pastoral experience.

As an associate and a friend, I have continued to connect with the Dubuque Franciscan sisters here in the diocese. They are a real support.

This year I made two trips to the US, one to celebrate the fifty years that my cousin Mary Barrar has lived as a Sister of Saint Joseph. It was great to see family and friends on the East Coast. The other trip was to Iowa where I preached at St. Thomas Aquinas in Ames and visited with friends there and in Dubuque.

My health has been pretty good, though I went through a bad case of parasites in May. My pickup is working, finally after three major repairs this last month. I am in the process of getting permanent residency; but this is a long process.

In the midst of this I still find great joy.

There’s the joy of the beauty of the land – despite the bad roads and the poverty of the people.

There are the surprises I have working with many people, of all ages, who, in their poverty, show me God’s face. I cannot forget how two catechists helped me see the story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem in a new way.

There are the sorrows, when I accompanied our pastor to visit a bed-ridden young woman in an adobe house with a dirt floor and I found myself with my arm on the shoulders of her brother and father whose eyes were filled with tears. But then four days later, as the pastor told me, this family gave the parish a bag of sweet bread to help celebrate a parish feast. The generosity of the poor.

Yet we live here in a precarious situation.

There are the problems of daily life, compounded by a non-operating legal system; thus many seek vengeance on those who have killed or hurt their loved ones. There are the cases, all too common, of sexual and domestic abuse. These touch my heart – and have helped me to grow in compassion.

But the real problem now is an election and post-election process that seems wrought with fraud and manipulation. Many people are fed up. Some just express it personally – and I’ve heard a number of complaints. Others go out in the streets and protest – sometimes blocking traffic and burning tires in the road, sometimes being the victim of attacks by security forces.

It’s rather complicated and I’ve written about it on my blog: http://hermanojuancito.blogspot.com

In all this I feel blessed and safe – in the loving arms of God, in friends from many places in the world who love and support me with their prayers and messages, and with the people here who look out for me.

In a few days, we’ll celebrate the birth of God made flesh among the poor. It’s a privilege to live among the poor (though I don’t live poorly).

I close this with a quote from Jesuit Father Alfred Delp, written in a Nazi prison, a few months before he was executed. In the midst of all, he had hope:

Advent is the time of promise; it is not yet the time of fulfillment. We are still in the midst of everything and in the logical inexorability and relentlessness of destiny. To eyes that do not see, it still seems as though the final dice are being cast down here in these valleys, on these battlefields, in these camps and prisons and bomb shelters. Those who are awake sense the working of the other powers and can await the coming of their hour.
 Space is still filled with the noise of destruction and annihilation, the shouts of self-assurance and arrogance, the weeping of despair and helplessness. But round about the horizon the eternal realities stand silent in their age-old longing. There shines on them already the first mild light of the radiant fulfillment to come. From afar sound the first notes as of pipes and voices, not yet discernable as a song or melody. It is all far off still, and only just announced and foretold. But it is happening, today.