Thursday, June 21, 2018

Winning hearts and minds, Honduran style

The military had a medical brigade at the Candelaria Health Center today. 

I did not stop and enter to see what they were doing. I didn’t want to be seen there, since it could be interpreted as support. As the sign read, general medicine, dentistry, ophthalmology, pediatrics, psychology, cytology, as well as legal advice and hair styling.

Call me cynical, if you want. But, in a society that is increasingly militarized, in a country where there have been scores of killings and excessive use of force by government security forces, as noted in a recent Amnesty International Report, what are they doing with a medical brigade?

During the Vietnam war and during the US-backed Central American wars in Central America, there was a policy of “winning hearts and minds.” The often-repressive governments would send troops to do public projects. This seems very much like a new form of the same.

It seems like a form of psychological warfare to get the people to “feel good” about the military despite the repression.

It almost feels like an extension of the Roman empire’s tactic of pacifying the masses with “bread and circuses.” People came and, according to a poster, were seen by health workers (in military uniform, I presume) for various ailments. They were given medicine and a bag of clothes. There was even an inflated tent that looked like a play tent for kids you’d find at a fast food restaurant.

I have serious reservations about most medical brigades, especially this type.

Without a commitment to the integral development of a public health system, why is the military bringing needed health services to communities where medicine is often scarce?

Without seeking to hire and bring in some of the trained and unemployed doctors and other medical personnel, why is the “security” branch of the government providing needed medical services”

Without an apparent commitment to enhance the capabilities of local health workers, what is an outside group doing here?

Without a commitment to the area and a knowledge of the local situation, what does a group that comes in for a day or two really doing? Is there possibility of medical malpractice, as people come seeking medical help whenever a brigade shows up? See my previous blog post about a US military medical brigade three years ago.

Call me cynical, if you want.

The people need and deserve real medical care, not a band aid approach, especially a band aid approach that seems to try to make them grateful to or dependent on an agency or a political party. Health care is a human right which shoulc not be politicized or militarized.

There are medical groups that do brigades in a very different style. They commit themselves to a place as a way of helping develop the medical infrastructure in that region. They return regularly to that area. They assist local medical persons and medical centers to improve their service to the people.

Most importantly, their major concern is the health and well-being of the people and they try to distance themselves from any partisan political efforts. There is one working this way in our area, thanks be to God.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Viaticum, food for the journey for Don Antonio

This morning I got a phone call that Don Antonio from Mar Azul had died earlier today. I had visited him during Holy Week and last Sunday I went back to visit him and bring him Communion. A church worker in a neighboring village had told me that he was very ill. He was about ninety years old.

The visit on the Wednesday of Holy Week was still present in my heart. Then he had some strength. We helped him get a sponge bath with warm water. But he washed and dried his private parts and even bent over to pull up the clean pants that were there.

For me, that visit was living the Washing of the Feet a day early.

This time, it was different. When I entered the house, I saw a large number of people from Quebrada Grande were there to accompany the family. I also spoke with a daughter who was taking care of him and met some of his grandchildren and a teen age great grandchild with some special needs.

I tried talking with Don Antonio, but though he didn’t speak I sensed that he was aware of what was happening.

I had a sense that this might be his last communion and so I used some of the parts of the rite for Viaticum outside of Mass.

The word Viaticum comes from Latin: Via cum te – on the way with you. The Eucharist is the provision for one’s journey to God.

I spoke with Don Antonio, as well as with his daughter who, I noticed, had a gentle touch with her father, as she gave him spoonfuls of water after I had placed a particle of the host on his tongue. I also asked him to pray for me, for our parish, and for his village, beset with divisions.

The rite for Viaticum is moving, especially the final blessing, which is different in Spanish than in English. Here is the Spanish with my translation:

Que nuestro Señor Jesucristo te acompañe y te defienda.
Que te anteceda para guiarte y vaya detrás de ti para protegerte.
Que ponga sus ojos sobre ti, te guarde y te bendiga.

May our Lord Jesus Christ accompany you and defend you.
May he go before you to guide you and go behind you to protect you.
May he place his eyes over you, guard you, and bless you.

As I reflect on this prayer this morning, I note how much this is like a famous prayer of Saint Patrick:

Christ with me, Christ before me;
Christ behind me, Christ in me;
Christ under me, Christ over me;
Christ to right of me, Christ to left of me;
Christ in lying down, in sitting, in rising up;
Christ in all who may think of me!
Christ in the mouth of all who may speak to me!
Christ in the eye that may look on me!
Christ in the ear that may hear me!

May Don Antonio rest in the loving arms of God and may he pray for us. 

Monday, June 18, 2018

Staying in Honduras, avoiding sin

To avoid an occasion of sin, I remain in Honduras

I think many people are surprised to find someone from the US here in Honduras, who has been here more than eleven years and intends to stay.

How many times I have heard people noting that so many Hondurans want to go to the US but they find me wanting to stay here in Honduras.

How many times I have tried to convince people that it is dangerous to try to go to the US and that it has been so for years. The trip through Mexico has been dangerous. For the past few years, the situation in the US has been extremely difficult, especially with anti-immigrant bias and propaganda. Most recently, the policy of separating parents from children is barbarous.

But this hasn’t stopped many people. A few days ago I heard of someone I know who fled to the US with one of his daughters. They are together. I keep hearing people talking about leaving.

I know some who have been deported. A major complaint is that they are hardly fed in the detention centers and sometimes the lunchmeat is bad.

I have also heard of a father who was separated from his child and deported, without knowing where his child is. Reading a report in today’s New York Times confirms that this is not an isolated case.

Last week someone asked me why I am staying here.

My usual answer is that here I have found a way to live out my calling, to serve God and the poor.

But I also mentioned, almost teasingly, that I am staying here because, if I were in the US, I would probably be in jail.

The treatment of migrants is so appalling, sinful, evil, that I would probably find myself in jail for opposing that policy. At the very least, I would find myself living in a state of permanent rage at the policies of the US government.

So I stay here – to try to be of service to the poor, avoiding at least one occasion of sin.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Near tears - migrants

Today I assisted and preached at two Masses to celebrate the feast of Saint Anthony of Padua. But at the prayer of the faithful in the first Mass, I added a prayer for migrants, especially since I know that one bright young man from that village is in the US.

But I nearly cried as I prayed for a change of heart for the US. Thinking of the policy of separating families, my heart filled with lament in the face of such inhumane – and sinful – policy. I prayed that we might build bridges, not walls.

This expression of grief is the result of pent-up anger and sorrow over US immigration policy and the results in the lives of so many.

I thought of the article on the Honduran who killed himself when separated from his family. Then there was the article that mentioned a Honduran child separated from his mother. An article earlier this week detailed the horror a Honduras boy experienced separated from his father.

I do not know what is happening but in the last month I have heard more of persons trying to get to the US, of persons deported, and of some who have made it there. People ask prayers for their loved ones at Mass. Others just mention to me that so and so is in the US.

After the second Mass, I spoke with a young man I knew. He told me that his wife and one child have been in the US for about two months. She was detained but now is released with a tracking device. Thanks be to God the child is with his mother. He wants to join her – but I warned him about the new policy.

Later, talking with some of the men I heard of a case that has me reeling. A man with his son was arrested in the US by immigration agents. They were separated. The father was deported and he does not know where his child is. I don’t know the age of the child, but this is a crime against humanity.

I cry for my country. I fear for a country that separates children from parents in such a way. I beg forgiveness from God and from all those affected by these actions.

God have mercy on us.

The words of Cardinal Sean O’Malley, OFM Cap, Archbishop of Boston, speak eloquently:

by the order of the U. S. government, individuals with children and families with children who are seeking asylum at the southern border of the United States now have their children separated from their parents. The intent of this policy is clear: to discourage those seeking asylum by severing the most sacred human bond of parent and child. Children are now being used as a deterrent against immigrants who are appealing to us for asylum in order to protect themselves and their families. As disturbing as this fact is, the narrative of this development makes clear the misguided moral logic of the policy.
These individuals and families are fleeing documented violence, chaos and murder in the neighborhoods of Central America. The United States is now openly before the world using children as pawns to enforce a hostile immigration policy. This strategy is morally unacceptable and denies the clear danger weighing upon those seeking our assistance.
As a Catholic bishop, I support political and legal authority. I have always taught respect for the civil law and will continue to do so. But, I cannot be silent when our country's immigration policy destroys families, traumatizes parents, and terrorizes children. The harmful and unjust policy of separating children from their parents must be ended.

The support of the US bishops meeting today in Florida for a strong statement by Cardinal DiNArdo against this and the new government policy regarding victims of domestic violence and gang violence offers a bit of hope.
Fort Lauderdale, FL—"At its core, asylum is an instrument to preserve the right to life. The Attorney General's recent decision elicits deep concern because it potentially strips asylum from many women who lack adequate protection. These vulnerable women will now face return to the extreme dangers of domestic violence in their home country. This decision negates decades of precedents that have provided protection to women fleeing domestic violence. Unless overturned, the decision will erode the capacity of asylum to save lives, particularly in cases that involve asylum seekers who are persecuted by private actors. We urge courts and policy makers to respect and enhance, not erode, the potential of our asylum system to preserve and protect the right to life.
Additionally, I join Bishop Joe Vásquez, Chairman of USCCB's Committee on Migration, in condemning the continued use of family separation at the U.S./Mexico border as an implementation of the Administration's zero tolerance policy. Our government has the discretion in our laws to ensure that young children are not separated from their parents and exposed to irreparable harm and trauma. Families are the foundational element of our society and they must be able to stay together. While protecting our borders is important, we can and must do better as a government, and as a society, to find other ways to ensure that safety. Separating babies from their mothers is not the answer and is immoral."'
The call of one bishop to consider canonical penalties is really encouraging.

But I am still nearly crying – and we should all take up the prophetic stance of lamentation. Maybe it is time for a “cry-in” at federal offices.