Thursday, May 31, 2018

Celebrating Sister Water

May 30 is Arbor Day here in Honduras and many schools have their students plant trees. But today I went to the community of San Isidro La Cueva to bless their water source and to pray with them.

Some people had come to plant trees. Other came to help do some cleaning out the forest around the water source. But our reason for gathering was to bless the water source.

The community had asked our pastor to come but he was going to the nearby community of Agua Buena to pray at the inauguration of their water project. Yes, Agua Buena, Good Water, has not had a good water source until yesterday!

I met Luciano, the president of the Water Board (Junta de Agua) at the church and we walked to the watershed where the spring is. 

The watershed is four manzanas, almost 7 acres and the spring serves the eighty or so households in the village. This year they had sufficient water during the dry season in contrast to last year.

Before we had a small celebration, they took me up to the spring. As we entered the forest, it was significantly cooler, full of vegetation. It was a bit slippery and people gave me a hand trying to negotiate the path.

Halfway up the hill there was a pool that collected the water from the rock that is the source of water. We gathered at the pool and I talked for a while with the people there.

A few people took the opportunity to drink from the source, using a “cup” made by folding a large leaf!

I concluded our time there with a short blessing of the water source. I also commended them for their care of the source and the need to continue caring so that the grandchildren of the children around us could enjoy it.

We then went down to a lower pool that gathers the water from above.

Finally, we gathered below, just outside the forested watershed and prayed.

I had found a few prayers that I used, including this one from Franciscans International.

Creator God, whose Spirit moved over the face of the waters, who gathers the seas into their places and directs the courses of the rivers, who sends rain upon the earth that it should bring forth life: we praise you for the gift of water. Create in us such a sense of wonder and delight in this and all your gifts, that we might receive them with gratitude, care for them with love, and generously share them with all your creatures, to the honor and glory of your holy name.

 Then we prayed parts of psalm 65: 10-14:

You visit the earth and water it… God’s stream is filled with water; you supply their grain. You prepare the earth: you water its plowed furrows, and break up the clods. With the rains you soften the earth, blessing its plants…. The meadows of the desert turn green; the hills are robed with joy.

I also shared a legend I had recently read about Saint Isidore, the patron of this community. The saint was with the owner of the land he worked one hot summer day. Don Ivan de Vargas noted that he was thirsty. Saint Isidore knelt down, put his staff in the ground, and said, “When God wants it, here there will be water.”  Fresh water bubbled up and they drank.

I then spoke briefly about how impressed I was with the care they are giving for their water source. I also urged them to continue their care for God’s gift of water and to develop a sense of awe before this gift.

Several men also shared their concern for the water and their desire to have a larger celebration next year. We walked down the hill for a small snack.

I left filled with a deep joy, an appreciation of the labor of this community, and deep gratitude to God and to the people that I had a chance to celebrate with them the gift of water.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Inculcating values in Honduran youth

There are two proposals that some in the Honduras Congress are pushing that are somewhat troubling.

The Patriotic Alliance, a new right wing party, is proposing a return to mandatory military service for all young men.

This is supposed to provide a year of training for young men in a country where unemployment of youth is high and many young people do not have access to high schools. Many children do not even study beyond the sixth grade, even though the government regulations say that they should study until ninth grade.

Conscription is touted as a way to deal with the violence in the country, which is bedevilled by gangs in the major cities and drug trafficking on the north coast and other areas. The recruits will supposedly be formed in discipline and values.

I have my doubts.

First of all, I see this would be the increasing militarization of the country which already has member of a military police and the army on the streets of the country. There is also a program that brings the military into the schools, inculcating a militarized approach to life. Also, following the “Winning Hearts and Minds” strategies promoted by the US in Vietnam and in El Salvador, the military has been encouraged to be more involved in civilian life, with military medical brigades. My guess is that this is something being promoted by the US government, since US military is involved in the training of Honduran soldiers and police and the US has been involved in medical and construction brigades in many places in Honduras.

Secondly, there is the way the military is tied with the growing power of the current Honduran president.

Thirdly, the military and the military police are reputed to be responsible for most of the more violent repression of demonstrators after the most recent election.

What values would military service inculcate in Honduran youth?

The second proposal is the recommendation of daily reading from the bible in the public schools. This also is touted as a way to inculcate values and even lessen violence.

I am skeptical of this.

My concern is this is a subtle way of manipulating religion to serve the interests of the political, military, and social elites of the country. The program will be aided by a board consisting of representatives of the Catholic and Protestant leadership, as well as governmental and educational institutions.

This opens the door for a religious instruction at the service of the rich and powerful, with little place for those scripture texts that favor the poor and castigate injustice and oppression.

Will they read the Beatitudes, especially those in Luke – Blessed are you who are poor; woe to you who are rich?

Will they read those passages of the prophets that castigate injustice, bribes, and inequality of land?

Will they open to bible to read passage where Jesus calls his followers to “Love your enemies” and where Saint Paul urges the Roman Christians to “repay no one evil for evil”?

Would they dare read today’s first reading in the Catholic lectionary, James 5:1-6?

Come now, you rich, weep and wail over your impending miseries. Your wealth has rotted away … Behold, the wages you withheld from the workers who harvested your fields are crying aloud; and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on earth in luxury and pleasure; you have fattened your hearts for the day of slaughter.

I doubt it. Most likely they will choose passages that support a religious divorced from the reality of the life of the poor.

I do not buy this as a way to inculcate values – unless you want submissive subjects, not conscientious, responsible citizens.

Yes, Honduras does need to develop a culture of peace – but a peace based on the justice of God. I believe neither compulsory military service or bible reading in schools will bring this. Something more is needed, that gets to the roots of the injustice, inequality, impunity, and oppression that keep Honduras down.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Learning forgiveness from prisoners

Two weeks ago I wrote on another blog on encountering a family which had forgiven the man who had killed two members of their family. Their faith in a God who called us to love our enemies gave them the strength to forgive the killer face to face.

A week ago, in a prison in Honduras, I learned even more about forgiveness.

Sister Pat Farrell and I were facilitating a second-level workshop of the Alternatives to Violence Program on forgiveness with ten of those in prison. We had never worked on this theme before and so there was quite a lot of reworking and even improvising.

For reasons of confidentiality I will not share the stories, but I saw men who were in need of forgiveness and in need of forgiving. Many of those in prison, having suffered from abuse and violence since their youth, having never learned to deal with alcohol and drugs in a healthy way, have ended up in prison – some falsely accused.

I was surprised to hear three of the men speak of experiences of forgiveness that they had seen or experienced – persons who forgave others despite the harm suffered. It was humbling.

It was also a reminder that we are so often besieged by the stories of violence and vengeance that we do not have our ears attentive to the stories of forgiveness and reconciliation which are more common than many of us believe.

This morning, I listened to two speeches of Fr. Greg Boyle, a Jesuit priest who has worked with gang members for decades. In his commencement speech at Pepperdine University this year he concluded his talk with these words:

Graduates, you go from here to the margins because that’s the only way they get erased. And you brace yourselves because the world will accuse you of wasting your time, but the prophet Jeremiah writes “in this place of which you say it is a waste there will be heard again the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness – the voices of those who sing.” Make those voices heard. For you go to the margins, not to make a difference, but that the folks at the margins make you different.

Those visits to the village and to the prison are slowly making me different.

Fr. Boyle’s 2017 Laetare Medal speech at Notre Dame can be found here.