Sunday, August 26, 2018

Busy but blessed

This will be a busy week and October will be pretty much the same. In the details of life, God works and calls us to seek holiness.

And in the glory of creation, God is present, even if some people continue burning the fields.

This Sunday morning I had a friend visiting and so I only went to the afternoon Mass in San Agustín. But the next three Sundays I’ll go back to the practice of going to a village for a Celebration of the Word with Communion.

This coming Wednesday and Friday, the parish will host the bishop in four parts of the parish for the confirmation of more than 220 young people, together with some older people who have never been confirmed. Some were baptized in the Easter Vigil; others have been preparing since April.

Last Monday we had a reconciliation service for the confirmation candidates and their sponsors. I think there were more than 600 people and, even with nine priests, the confessions went from 9 am to noon. After this, we had Mass with first communion for almost 100 of those who will be confirmed. We ran out of consecrated hosts, even though we had three ciboriums filled!

This Thursday, the bishop will also be in the parish for the institution of fifteen new extraordinary ministers of Communion. They have been in formation for about two and a half years. As I have mentioned earlier, their major ministry is visiting the sick.

Next month, September 23 to 30, we will have a week of mission in the parish. Members of the parish will visit other villages in two, visiting the sick and others. In the past, this has helped bring some back to the practice of their faith and even has opened the way for various sacramental marriages.

This past Tuesday, I led a day of formation for the missionaries, using Pope Francis’s recent apostolic exhortation on holiness. Padre German was going to lead it and I was going to do a part, but he had to go to San Pedro that day and so I did it all (even though he asked me to do this with just a few hours notice. 

This past Wednesday, Padre Fausto Milla, who is a young ninety years old, celebrated his ordination on August 22, 1968, by Pope Paul VI, in Medellín, Colombia. (My translation of an article on his life can be found here.)

Padre Fausto is, and has been, a priest committed to the poor and to justice. He was instrumental in publicizing the Rio Sumpul massacre in 1980, something he mentioned in his remarks.

I have known him since my first month here in Honduras in 2007. When I lived in Santa Rosa I often went to his Sunday morning Masses in the chapel of San Martín de Porres. It was for me an honor to serve as deacon at this Mass.

This coming week the community of San Agustín celebrates their feast day. They will celebrate tomorrow with a Mass in honor of Saint Monica, Saint Augustine’s mother. I hope to be there for their Mass on Tuesday afternoon, even though I have a meeting with the diocesan social ministry committee. I will try to leave there early enough to arrive on time.

The week after next we begin the novena to prepare for the celebration of the parish feast day on September 12. I’ll have some responsibilities on the day of the feast.

I’ll have a meeting with the communion ministers in September as well as one with youth leaders. I’ll be doing at least one pre-marriage interview and today I was asked to preside at a quinceañera in late September.

I will probably be involved in the parish mission in some way, though there is a chance that I will go to El Salvador that week for a few days. Six persons who lived in the canton of Haciendita II, Suchitoto, where I lived in 1992, were killed in a car accident. The forty-day Mass should be during the mission week. I wanted to go for the last night of the novenario but it would have been difficult to fit into the schedule. But I do want to spend some time with the canton.

So life goes on. Even though there are scandals in the church in the US and even here in Honduras, God works among the poor and outcast. My ministry is to be present to serve them. For that I am grateful to God.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Three weeks - gone with the wind

Since I returned home after the US National Deacons Congress in New Orleans, I feel as if I’ve been in a whirlwind – even though, when I look back, it’s not as busy as it seemed.

When I got back to Honduras, I was met at the airport by Honduras Amigas, the St. Louis-based group that has been brining medical brigades to our area for several years. They’ve been coming to Honduras for about eleven.

The ride back to plan Grande was an adventure. What usually takes three and a half hours took seven.

Before I left drivers of taxis, busses, and trucks had been staging road blocks (tomas de carreteras) because of the rising costs of fuel and a major increase in taxes on the transport industry. They closed the roads for a few days and then took a break while they tried negotiating with the government. But, feeling hemmed in by government intransigence, they returned to the streets. One such return happened the Friday I returned.

We were stopped any number of times, waiting to get through, sometime for more than 30 minutes. I talked with some of the folks there and, to my surprise, the people were patient and, in a sense, supportive of the cause.

The other surprise is that even the truckers were participating in the blockade. There was one carefully crafted blockage by large trucks which did allow small cars to get through but prevented the passage of large vehicles.

I got home at 11 pm that night and found the gate to the church locked. I tried the key and had but found that someone had changed the lock. I climbed over the fence (as the two directors of Amigas looked on) and brought out all the keys I had in the house. Luckily I had the old church lock key which fit the lock on the gate. I was not a happy camper.

For the next couple of days I combined help translating for the brigades with my church duties.

I have been translating for AMIGAS several times but this time I translated for a pediatrician. On the first day, they were in Bañaderos. I don’t know if it was because I was working with a pediatrician or because of the zone, but the cases were much more serious than other times. But then there were always the beautiful babies.

Medical care is a real concern here – even though there re physicians out of work. Not only is the service limited, there often is not enough medicine available in the rural health centers and often there is no real service provided. On the last day I translated, we came across an eleven-year old with Downs Syndrome who had never been seen by a doctor. The brigade doctor wrote a reference note with the hopes that the mother would take the child to a physician. I also told her to contact me if there was any need for help for transportation, since we have a parish solidarity fund for emergencies.

Honduras AMIGA is wonderful, especially since they have made a commitment to be in our area. They are not a group that is fly by night, get in and get out quickly. They want to be here and get to know the people, responding to their medical needs.

I’ve also had meetings with youth twice and just finished two workshops with catechists.

As usual I’ve assisted at Mass on Sundays and a few other days, preaching at most of them. I baptized about 14 children under seven last Saturday. On Sunday, at Mass in Plan Grande, we celebrated the birthday of Padre German, our pastor. One tradition is to pour water over the head of the persons celebrating birthdays. I got to soak Padre German.

We had a study week for clergy last week. The presenter was a Honduras psychiatrist who was very good. It was a worthwhile time.

Life should be busy the next two weeks. Parish Council is Saturday. Sunday afternoon I’m headed to Gracias to speak about Honduras with members of group from Iowa working on the Sister Water Project of the Dubuque Franciscans. Monday, we have confessions for those who will be confirmed on August 29 and 31 in four locations in the parish.

August 21 is a day of formation for those who will go out to the villages for our parish mission week in September. I’ll probably help the pastor with the formation.

August 22 is the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the ordination of Padre Fausto Milla whom I met soon after I got here in Honduras.

August 23 is the diocesan cultural day in the major seminary in Tegucigalpa. I may go if I can get a ride. Driving the seven hours to get there is much for this old geezer.

August 24-25 there is a retreat for those who will be instituted as extraordinary ministers of Communion on August 30.

I also have a meeting with the diocesan social ministry commission on August 28 and will probably hurry out to San Agustín for their patronal feast day on that afternoon.

I also have to prepare the liturgies for the penance service next Monday, the institution of the extraordinary ministers of Communion, and the confirmations. I used the catechists’ meeting as opportunities to do formation on the Mass and also have them prepare the Masses – choosing readings, songs, lectors, and more.

It’s a lot of work but God’s been blessing us. There are lots of challenges - but many of them are personal. I live a very comfortable life, unlike many of those I serve. 

Pray for us.

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

A congress of deacons

In July, I spent a week in New Orleans for the 2018 US National Deacons Congress. I’m glad I went and had the chance to see a good friend again, meet some deacons, and hear some good presentations.

The venue was the Marriott and Sheraton hotels – rather pricey for me. So I stayed at a hotel at almost half the price and walked to and from the congress, about thirty minutes each way.

The last time I was in New Orleans I was with a group from Ames, Iowa, helping in some house repair after Hurricane Katrina. The first visit played an important part in my decision to come to Honduras. I wrote a short reflection when I first got there. 

New Orleans is a totally different place today and I probably wouldn’t visit again. Too expensive and too much of the culture of pleasure and wealth. I’m spoiled by living in Honduras.

There were about 2700 people at the Congress, mostly deacons and their wives from the US. I was a real anomaly – a celibate deacon, ordained outside the US, working in a poor country.

Yes, there are deacons who serve the poor and the sick, some of them doing marvelous work. But I felt somewhat out of it, witnessed by what I wrote in an earlier post.

Several of the speakers were very good.

Several themes emerged over the course of the congress.

In one of the first presentations, the archbishop of New Orleans, Gregory Aymand, spoke of the deacon as “the conscience of the church to find those in need. If we neglect them, we call you to be our conscience.” As Deacon Greg Kandra noted we are called to “think first of those whom others think of last” or, in the words of Deacon Bill Ditewig to “make [us] aware of needs not being met,” of the persons who are “invisible.”

In the early church, the deacon was called to be the eyes and ears of the bishop, mostly especially the poor and the sick.

This is central to my diaconate, accompanying the poor. Even this blog is a way to make known the needs of the poor and the poor church.

Deacon Bill Ditewig referred to the role of the priests imprisoned in Dachau during the Second World War in the revival of the diaconate. This was very important for me, as I have written in another post

Several priests in Dachau saw the need for men involved in the “world” to bring this to the church so that the church would be able to respond more clearly to evils like the Nazi regime.

As Deacon Bill Ditewig said, “What we do at the altar finds its expression in the street and we bring the street back to the altar.” Thus, “the liturgy must have concrete consequences in the world.” The deacon may be able to mediate this and become a driving force for the diakonia of the whole church.

There were other insights that I gleaned from the meeting and I met a number of committed couples. This helped me understand more that ministry of married deacons.

So, I understand better why does the church need married deacons, continuing to work in their “secular” professions.

They are needed to show that holiness is deeply tied to the altar but it is also lived out in the world and to sanctify and strengthen the holiness of everyday life which becomes, in the married working deacon, a sacramental sign, a sign of Christ the servant in the world and in the church.

For this reason, I believe that the recent Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Francis, Gaudete et Exsultate, is a very diaconal message – not merely urging the church to service but calling all to live holiness in the details of everyday life. As Pope Francis wrote (¶14):

To be holy does not require being a bishop, a priest or a religious. We are frequently tempted to think that holiness is only for those who can withdraw from ordinary affairs to spend much time in prayer. That is not the case. We are all called to be holy by living our lives with love and by bearing witness in everything we do, wherever we find ourselves. Are you called to the consecrated life? Be holy by living out your commitment with joy. Are you married? Be holy by loving and caring for your husband or wife, as Christ does for the Church. Do you work for a living? Be holy by laboring with integrity and skill in the service of your brothers and sisters. Are you a parent or grandparent? Be holy by patiently teaching the little ones how to follow Jesus. Are you in a position of authority? Be holy by working for the common good and renouncing personal gain.