Saturday, September 23, 2017

A missionary priest is blessed

Today, September 23, an Oklahoma-born diocesan priest who was martyred in Guatemala will be declared blessed. Father Stanley Rother, known as Padre Francisco or Padre ‘Aplas to the people he served in Santiago Atitlán, Guatemala, was a farm boy who almost never made it to the priesthood. Yet he was loved by the indigenous people he served.

Last night I listened to the Vatican Radio interview with María Ruiz Scaperlanda who wrote a recent biography on Father Stanley, The Shepherd Who Didn't Run: Father Stanley Rother, Martyr from Oklahoma.  (There is also an earlier book, Love in a Fearful Land by Henri Nouwen.)

I was struck when María mentioned his “gift of presence.”

Presence is central to my understanding of my mission here. Sure I will teach, preach, preside at Celebrations of the Word, bring Communion to the sick, lead workshops, help projects; and now, as I deacon, I will baptize and preside at weddings and funerals. But what is essential is “to be present,” to witness to the loving presence of God here among the poor.

As Father Stanley noted in a letter:

[O]ur presence here means a lot for the people…. When I hear the people during Mass here on Sunday or Thursday, the cacophony of prayers going up to the Lord, His presence must be there. I am delighted to be a part…. At first signs of danger, the shepherd can’t run and leave the sheep fend for themselves. I heard about a couple of groups of nuns in Nicaragua that left during the fighting and later wanted to go back. The people asked them where were you when we needed you? They couldn’t stay and were forced to leave. I don’t want that to happen to me. I have too much of my life invested here to run.

That inspires me to deepen my commitment to be here, no matter what. As Father Stanley also wrote:

We just need the help of God to do our work well and to be able to take it if the time comes that we are asked to suffer for Him.

I have written previously about Father Stanley Rother here and here

Quotes taken from María Ruiz Scaperlanda’s The Shepherd Who Didn’t Run.

The photo is taken from the page of Vatican Radio’sinterview of María Ruiz Scaperlanda who wrote a recent biography of Fr. Stanley Rother.

Friday, September 22, 2017

The benefits of a coffee association

Wednesday I had visitors and decided to have them hear about the work of the coffee association in El Zapote Santa Rosa.

This group of thirteen men and one woman are small coffee farmers who have joined together, learned best practice to produce, harvest, and process coffee. As a result, they are exporting coffee to the parish of Saint Thomas Aquinas in Ames, Iowa. This year they exported 4,500 pounds.

José, the president of the association, talked with us, showed us his solar dryer, shared some of his coffee with us at his home, and then showed us parts of his coffee fields, his finca, as well as where he washed much of his coffee.

As we drank a cup of coffee in his home, he proudly told us how he now drinks good quality coffee and not the dregs, which his family used to drink. He noted that the good quality coffee doesn’t upset his stomach as the other coffee did.

One of the visitors, a Canadian, had previously asked me why the Honduran coffee he drank in Toronto coffee shops was good but most of what he had tasted here was awful. I told him exactly what José later told us. I also noted that when we visited Aldea Development’s project in La Unión, Lempira, the director Patrick Hughes had advised the producers to begin to drink good coffee.

José has taken that advice to heart.

I pressed him on other benefits. He did not talk much about his own family, though it appears that they are doing better. But he did mention that they paid the coffee harvesters more for the selective picking they did for export coffee. He also noted how the family or some persons are hired to go through the coffee to take out defective beans before the coffee is sent to the processing company here in Honduras.

The project is not only helping the producers but seasonal coffee workers, many of whom do not have their own coffee land – or have very little land.

But as we came back from his fields, he shared what in many ways is one of the most significant benefits of this association and their ability to export coffee and get a higher price for quality coffee.

José showing off his coffee fields
As we drove into El Zapote he mentioned, “I no longer have the desire to go to the United States.”

He had tried a few years ago, was captured by the Border Patrol soon after crossing the border, and held in a detention center for several months. But I guess that the dream of the golden north remained.

Yet now, he has purpose in his life here in Honduras; he has experienced the success of helping to organize others for the good of the community; he has helped improve the quality of life for him and his family. He is at home in his home country, in his aldea.

But José is but one of many who have the dream of a good and meaningful life for his family and his village. (He is very active in promoting education in El Zapote even though he has had limited education).

But he is a minority since real development is beyond the reach of many – even the educated. I recall a very sharp young man whom I tried to dissuade from going to the United States. At one point he told me, “What does Honduras offer me?”

He had much to offer Honduras but his hopes and dreams were stilted, his gifts not recognized, his capacities not given a place to grow.

So what about the future of Honduras?

Politicians offer dreams of success, but often at a price – selling your soul to the party. Jobs are offered, but with poor salaries. Individual efforts are lauded, but not always rewarded. The efforts of people working together are not often encouraged.

Small efforts – and larger ones – need to be made. I feel very glad that this one small effort has made a difference in the lives of some people I know. I hope there are more.

And if you want to help people like José, buy more coffee from direct market sources. El Zapote Coffee, the fruit of this small association, is available at St. Thomas Aquinas Church and Catholic Student Center, Ames, Iowa. Buy some – and then, if you like it, get some friends to buy some more. That might make it easier for people to stay here in Honduras.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Preaching forgiveness in the midst of violence and impunity

This morning I went to preside at a Celebration of the Word with Communion in a community that has suffered violence – and impunity.

A few years ago, one young man was arrested and two young men were killed by the police. The young man is still in prison and I think there has been no trial for the policeman who killed the two young men.

A little later, a jilted lover came and killed the woman and her two kids by locking them in a room and setting it on fire. They survived briefly but died. He is in prison.

A bit later, a couple related to people in this village and to one of those imprisoned was killed in their home in a machete attack in a different village.

How do you preach in a place touched by violence and injustice when the readings are about forgiveness? Here are some notes on what I shared.

I started by expressing my trepidation of preaching on forgiveness in the face of the sufferings of the people.

I asked them to remember, above all, that our God is compassionate and merciful, as we prayed in the responsorial, psalm 103.

First, I tried to explain that forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting or ignoring. In many societies, we try to ignore offenses and so never face them. Ignoring or claiming to forget an offense really leaves no place for real forgiveness.

Ignoring or forgetting an offense, a crime, can lead to the impunity that surrounds us here in Honduras – where the poor suffer and no one is held responsible.

But, real forgiveness can lead to reconciliation, to finding a way to live in peace with others. It is above all a way to leave the offended and the offender free to grow, to change.

The person who suffered can leave aside feelings of anger, revenge, resentment. These often tear at the heart of those who are offended, like a parasite depriving the person offended of peace, of the possibility of new life and growth. This pain, unattended to, can eat us up - from the inside. It can also lead, when resentment is allowed to fester, to feuds between persons, to fights, and even to deaths. When there is no justice, many take “justice” into their own hands – resulting in a cycle of pain and violence.

But forgiveness is liberating.

It can leave the offender free to change, to ask forgiveness, to make amends, to begin anew.

Forgiveness leaves a space for reconciliation and even solidarity between the person offended and the offender.

To help them think and pray about all this, I shared two stories. 

I spoke of a man whose little boy had been violated. He brought a complaint against the perpetrator to the justice system. The man was arrested. Some condemned him for doing this: “You are a delegate of the Word and have to forgive.” I told him that what he had done was good, especially since it cam out later that the man who violated other children and so he was preventing future harm. But, as I saw it, the delegate brought the charges without anger, without a desire for vengeance.

The other is the story of a Spanish missionary priest in Chile, Joan Alinsa, who was killed on September 19, 1973. (I wrote about him in a blog post three years ago.)The soldiers came and sought him out in the hospital where he worked. They were going to blindfold him before shooting him; but he told them “Please don’t blindfold me, kill me face to face, because I want to see you to forgive you.”

These are contrasting examples of how to deal with the call to forgive.

I closed emphasizing that our God is merciful and compassionate, but also noting that in the Lord’s prayer, which were about to pray before Communion, we ask our Father to “forgive us our offenses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”


We experience forgiveness from God, every day. We are called to forgive every day, especially in the little details of life. And thus God will forgive us even more.

And so I prayed that the forgiveness that leads to reconciliation will help regenerate this and all other places beset by violence, death, and injustice.