Friday, March 23, 2018

Stations of the Cross in Dulce Nombre, 2018

The Sufferings of Christ, 
the Sufferings of the Poor and the Sick, 
and the Sufferings of Creation

It has been a long tradition in the Catholic Church to celebrate the Friday before Holy Week as the Friday of Sorrows, remembering in a special way Mary, the Mother of Jesus, the Mother of Sorrows.

For many years, the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán had the tradition of a diocesan Stations of the Cross on this day. This no longer happens but in the parish of Dulce Nombre de María and in some other parishes we celebrate a parish-wide celebration of the Stations.

This year the diocese and the entire Honduran Catholic Church has taken as its theme: “La Iglesia cuida la casa común - The Church cares for our common home.” Thus our Stations had a very definite ecological theme in most of the stations, with many quotes from Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’ as well as a January 2018 pastoral letter from CELAM, the Conference of Latin American Bishops, entitled Discípulos, Misioneros, Custodios de la Casa Común; Discernimiento a la luz de la Laudato Si’- Disciples, Missionaries, Caretakers of our Common Home: Discernment in the light of Laudato Si’.

In addition, the coordinators of the varied sectors of the parish, as well as the pastor and I picked up trash along the path of the Stations. We ended up with about two truck-loads.

There were some parts of the Stations that were particularly moving.
At the first station, I marveled at this woman, kneeling in the street.

As we left, I caught a photo of our pastor in a ditch, picking up trash.

The second station was at the home of a poor family with a gravely-ill twenty-four-year old woman. They had prepared an altar with a saw dust carpet.

I had visited this family with Padre German in December when he anointed her. The house is pretty run down – and it is not even their own; they are renting it. But they had prepared a beautiful spot for us to contemplate the Way of the Cross.

At the end of the formal prayers, Padre went inside and prayed the Our Father with the young woman – and, with the help of a remote microphone, we prayed with them.

We stopped at some other places of suffering, including the home of a young woman who died of cancer, leaving a young child, as well as the homes of others suffering, several from cancer.

Our Way of the Cross embraced those suffering – as well as the suffering of creation.

It also included beauty. All of the Stations had an altar, fashioned by those who lived there. A few prepared sawdust carpets, such as this one for the station: Veronica wipes the face of Jesus.

We concluded with Mass and sent people on their way with the text of the stations. We hope they use them in their communities on Good Friday.

The text of the Stations, in Spanish, is available on my Spanish blog, here.  

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Coming to the end of Lent

Holy Week is upon us. Summer, the dry season, is also beginning. It has been dry and hot, and there is plenty of dust. But that doesn't mean that the land doesn't bring forth beauty. Almost every time of the year has its flowering trees and bushes. Here's how it was a few days ago from my home.

But I've been busy, as usual.

Last Thursday our pastor went to San Agustín to celebrate the feast of La pastora, Mary the shepherdess, a unique feast of Mary found in Spain and here in San Agustín. He left me to work with the missionaries who will be visiting several communities in the parish during the first half of Holy Week.

On Friday Padre German presided at a Mass here in Plan Grande to mark the end of the novenario for Miguel Ángel, nine days of prayer in the home after the burial. Miguel Ángel was nineteen years when he died. He has had many health problems. But in January, he disappeared. He did not recognize his parents and wandered off. His family began an extended search – which ended finding his body in a morgue in San Pedro Sula about March 8. He had died near Copán Ruinas on January 30, from a head wound. It isn’t clear whether he fell from a truck or was hit by a truck. He carried no ID, but thanks be to God they identified him by his fingerprints. Otherwise, he would have been buried in an unmarked grave.

I went to one of the nights of the novenario in the home of his parents. I noticed heads of garlic braided hanging on a beam. His father told me how he was very good at selecting garlic for planting and harvesting. It was good to hear Don Pedro talk about his son, with affection.

I remember him. He had prepared for confirmation one year but got very sick and couldn’t get out of bed. The next year he was confirmed. He was a simple young man – with special problems.

Saturday was Parish Council. Our pastor left me with several tasks since he had some meetings. But gratefully he came at the end to deal with some difficult situations.

Later Saturday afternoon I went to a meeting of some people with the pastor in Dulce Nombre preparing the liturgies and popular devotions for Holy Week.

After the meeting I headed to Dolores with the pastor for Mass. I preached and stood by as he prayed the third scrutiny over six young people who will be baptized at the Easter Vigil.

Sunday morning, I went to Vertientes for a Celebration of the Word with Communion. I purposely went there because they have five elect who will also be baptized at Easter. I presided at the Third Scrutiny.

After the celebration I went to visit the sick, bringing Communion to an old woman confined to bed and to a blind old man. One of those to be baptized is the grandson of Don Gustavo and lives where his mother cares for his grandfather. I tried to impress on him the importance of showing love to his grandfather and also telling about his upcoming baptism.

The feast of St. Joseph, March 19, is Fathers’ Day here in Honduras. Being neither a father of family or a father in the church was not an impediment to celebrating it with the people.

I started out accompanying our pastor to visit a 98 year old man in one of the most distant villages. He was sitting up in the dirt-floored kitchen of the house where at least one of his sons also lived. After confessing him, Padre German asked his wife about their state in life. He asked both of them if they would like to get married in the church. Yes, though it was hard to understand Don Fausto. They were married right there. He was anointed after the wedding ceremony. Father hadn’t brought consecrated hosts and so said a short Mass using a low table for the altar. So moving.

We then went to the nearby town of San José El Bosque to celebrate their feast day. Padre German heard confessions for about 45 minutes, followed by Mass in which I preached. What I found interesting was the large number of men in the congregation. In fact, I think almost half of those attending were men.

Before Mass, I was in my usual rare form – talking with people, joking with them trying to find a little about their lives. I sat down with a few men by the back of the church, talking a bit about fathers’ day. A young man mentioned that he was with a woman and they had a little girl. I asked him if he was married – as I also asked a few of the other men there. I then said, “Why don’t you get married?” They were surprised – but in a very good-natured way. I didn’t have time to pursue this with them since the Mass was about to start. But I still continue to wonder (and, at times, marvel) at the presence of men with a wife and family who are attending Mass but aren’t married. I hope my jocular way of asking about this stirs some to seriously consider marriage.

Tuesday, I had to go to San Pedro Sula to renew my permission to be in Honduras. I am in the middle of seeking permanent residency and so have to get extensions every two months or so. This time, Sister Nancy had asked if she could go with me. With great joy, I said yes. It’s always great to have time with one of the Dubuque Franciscan sisters. We arrived at the Immigration office at 9 am and were out by 9:45 – which must be a record! Then we had lunch, went shopping in a large grocery store (even by US standards), and drove back. A long but good day.

Wednesday, I worked on the parish Stations of the Cross. We’ll celebrate them in Dulce Nombre on Friday and I had to get them done so I can go to Santa Rosa on Thursday to get them printed. I should have done this way before – but I’ve gotten into the bad habit of procrastinating. (Does this mean I’m getting more Central America?) I did finish them and you can find the text in Spanish here.

Thursday I passed by the parish and Padre German reviewed the Stations. When I arrived he was working with about twenty men digging a trench by one of the buildings, since the basement has been flooding. 

After he reviewed the Stations, I took them to Santa Rosa de Copán to be photocopied since it’s cheaper there. I used the trip to get some food shopping done and to drop by Weekend’s for a pizza.

Back in Plan Grande, I led the Holy Hour. At the end of the hour, I blessed the small congregation with the Host in the monstrance. I’ve done this a few times, but each time I find myself praying that the blessings of Jesus in the Eucharist may pass to all corners of Plan Grande. I feel as if God is blessing all of us here, not just in church, with his presence.

Tomorrow, I’ll leave early for the parish Stations of the Cross in the streets of Dulce Nombre. Holy Week has begun.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Preparing for Baptism at Easter - the catechumenate

The Catholic Church has a special extended preparation for adults to enter the church through the sacraments of initiation – Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist – at the Easter Vigil.

I first encountered this – the Catechumenate -  in Ames, Iowa, when I was a campus minister at St. Thomas Aquinas Church. Many were university students, but they included a good number of older adults.

Here in our parish we also have the Catechumenate, though most are between fourteen and twenty-one. The other difference is that the formation takes place in disparate communities. This year we will have up to 48 baptized in the Easter Vigil, from twelve different communities.

They came together in Dulce Nombre in December to be received in the catechumenate and in February they participated in the rite of election also in Dulce Nombre. Since our pastor, Padre German, was on a much-needed vacation, I presided at the Rite of Acceptance into the Catechumenate in December. One of the most moving parts of the rite is when the candidates are signed with the Cross on their bodies. There is something holy and humbling to sign another person with the cross, especially when I kneel before them and make the sign of the cross on their feet. (The Rite in the Mexican books doesn’t include this but the Spanish version for the US includes this.)

Padre German presided over the Rite of Election, but there were three who couldn’t make the rite and so I ended up having two small Celebrations with the Rite of Election for them. I took the opportunity to speak with them. One of the most moving was when the catechumen was a young man who was raised by his paternal grandmother, having been abandoned to her by his birth-mother when he was six months old. In this rite he was being chosen, elected, by the whole Church – with his grandmother present. No matter what we humans do, God wants us to be truly be children of a loving God.

During Lent there are also three rites, called the Scrutinies, for the third, fourth, and fifth Sundays of Lent. In the rite the elect are called forward and kneel in prayer as the community prays for them. Then the presider, the priest of deacon, prays the exorcisms, asking God to guard them from the power of evil, from the devil, and from all that might keep them from becoming true children of God, members of God’s people.

Because there are so many communities with those who will be baptized, Padre presides at the scrutinies in the communities where he presides at Mass on Saturday evening or Sunday. I go to a different community each Sunday, trying to go where there are the most elect, presiding at the Rite in the context of a Celebration of the Word with Communion.

Padre German praying over the elect during the first scrutiny in San Agustín, Copán

This past Sunday I went to Descombros where there were six young people, three men and three women. I spent a few minutes before the Celebation of the Word talking with them. During the rite, when they knelt I was moved at their piety. They were taking this very seriously.

During the exorcisms, the presider places his hands on the heads of the elect, praying in silence. I felt a deep sense of God’s presence at those moments, praying for each of these young people. But I remembered that I was not doing the praying; the entire Church was praying through me.

As I laid my hands on then, I thought of all that these young people face – poverty, violence, lack of respect for persons, especially women, and more. I prayed – and pray that these powers of darkness do not control the lives of these young people, as well as many others.

The powers of darkness are strong here – the temptations that young people face, the violence and corruption of the political and economic systems, the throwaway culture that regards the poor and the young as persons to be used and discarded.

I prayed and I continue to pray.

This week I will go to another community – but I need to pray for all these elect and for this country, and for myself, that the powers of darkness may be dispersed by the love of a God who became flesh, lived among us, and gave himself up for us.

The prayer I used on Sunday is particularly apt:

Lord, Jesus, when you were baptized the heavens were opened and you received the Holy Spirit, so that, with the strength of the Holy Spirit, you brought good news to the poor and opened the eyes of the blind. Pour out that very same Spirit on those who wish to receive your sacraments, so that, preserved from the contagion of error, doubt, and incredibility and guided by a sincere faith, they can contemplate you with a renewed and radiant vision, you who live and reign forever. (My translation)