Wednesday, May 09, 2018

What does a deacon do in rural Honduras?

Several years ago, our bishop here in the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán, Honduras, asked me to consider the permanent diaconate. I was very reluctant but this passage from the Second Vatican Council influenced me in my decision to begin the process toward ordination as a permanent deacon:

Where Episcopal Conferences deem it opportune, the order of the diaconate should be restored as a permanent state of life, according to the norms of the Constitution on the Church. For there are men who are actually carrying out the functions of the deacon’s office, either by preaching the Word of God as catechists, or by presiding over scattered Christian communities in the name of the pastor and the bishop, or by practicing charity in social or relief work. It will be helpful to strengthen them by that imposition of hands which has come down from the apostles, and to bind them more closely to the altar. Thus they can carry out their ministry more effectively because of the sacramental grace of the diaconate. (Ad Gentes, 16)

In a way I had been ministering in all three ways mentioned:
      Preaching the Word of God as catechists
      Presiding over scattered Christian communities in the name of the pastor and the bishop
      Practicing charity in social or relief work.

Since my ordination  on July 15, 2016, much of this has intensified.

Here’s a summary of April and the first third of May this year.

In the last six weeks I have had four workshops with catechists in different areas of the parish, I’ve met with the leaders of youth groups and visited one youth group, and I’ve helped in the faith formation of the members of the community church councils on Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’.

I’ve gone to several villages on Sunday and presided at Celebrations of the Word with Communion. In these and other communities, I’ve brought communion to the sick. I’ve also presided at several funerals or assisted the pastor at funerals or the memorial Masses on the ninth day after the burial. Twice I’ve accompanied the community to the cemetery for burial.  

I’ve done several of the interviews for couples getting married. I also help in the continuing formation of our extraordinary ministers of Communion and in the formation of new ministers.

I try to get to a Mass each Sunday and to accompany the pastor for Masses in some of the villages, especially for the feasts of their patrons. Often he has turned to me and asked if I had a homily ready. I usually do and so preach at least once a week at Mass and also when I preside at the Celebrations of the Word with Communion.

The parish has a Solidarity Fund to assist people in need which I help administer. In most cases, the communities and the persons involved try to raise money to cover expenses, which are mostly medical. Recently we helped with medication for a woman who had a stroke and a young boy who fractured his arm and had to have a pin inserted. (Most of the funds come from a donation made by St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Ames, Iowa, our sister parish.)

In addition, I’ve been working with the coffee association in El Zapote de Santa Rosa which has been exporting coffee through St. Thomas Aquinas. I’ve been helping prepare for exportation of about 5000 pounds in a month or so.

The parish has a coffee field which provides some financial help for the parish. The work is done, voluntarily, by members of the parish. When they did the weeding and pruning recently I got up early to bring workers from a village – and took them home when the work was done.

Just this week I was with one of the Dubuque Franciscan Sisters here in Honduras, Sister Pat Farrell, facilitating an Alternative to Violence workshop on Forgiveness in the prison in Gracias, Lempira. It was a tremendous experience, a privilege to share in the lives of the men in the workshop, some of whom shared powerful stories of forgiveness and the need for forgiveness.

Of course, all is not work and ministry. In April I took three days off to go to the area around Lago Yojoa and had a chance to walk in nature – and to see an incredibly beautiful waterfall. At the waterfall, I ran into some seminarians, two from our diocese, who were there with a priest from the seminary who is teaching their class on Theology and Ecology.

I also try to get to Santa Rosa de Copán, about 50 minutes away, about once a week. Sometimes it’s for car repairs; sometimes I have coffee with a young Honduran friend who has an English language institute; sometimes I’ll stop at Weekend’s Pizza for lunch. I almost always stop in one or two grocery stores to get supplies which aren’t available here in the countryside.

On Easter Sunday I went to La Entrada for a get-together and meal with the Dubuque Franciscans here in the diocese – good food and good company which help sustain me.

And then there are the random events. Last week was the birthday of Don Cruz, an elderly neighbor. The community, in place of a Holy Hour, had a Celebration of the Word with him in the house of his son where he is living and I brought him Communion.

Today I am awaiting the visit of a young priest friend who’ll be here a few days – for rest. Next week the two directors of Honduras Amigas, a group that brings medical brigades to our area, will be staying with me as they with a shipment of medicine and prepare for a July brigade.

Next week we’ll have a meeting of the coordinators of social ministry in the different villages of the parish. I also have to go to San Pedro Sula to renew my residency. I also will be preparing for our Pentecost Vigil – from 6 pm on Saturday to 7 pm on Sunday. The pastor asked me to prepare short pointed reflections on the gifts of the Holy Spirit for the procession which will begin our vigil. He also asked me to preach at the end – if I’m still awake!

I have presided at a few weddings and baptized many, including one young man shortly before his wedding, as well as groups of children and babies - once about 25 children under 7 at one time! But I haven't had weddings or baptisms in the last few months. But this may soon change.

Such is part of the life of a celibate permanent deacon in rural Honduras.

God is good.

And nature is beautiful here, even in the dry season.

1 comment:

Liam O'Doherty said...

Looks like you're keeping busy in the Lord's vinyard, John. I pray that you get over your cold rapidly.