Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Praying to the true God in face of the idol of gold

The community of Azacualpa in the municipality of La Unión, Copán, is in the middle of a serious controversy. The mining company wants to move the cemetery because there is a vein of gold under it. Some have agreed and been paid by the mining company to allow the removal of the bodies, but some have continued resisting. For now, the mining company is prevented by a judicial action from continuing the removal of remains from the cemetery

But the situation is critical. In early September the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán released a strong statement against the situation of Azacualpa and the continuing mining in the diocese, especially the mining which has caused such devastation to the area – deforestation, destruction and contamination of water sources. To make visible the support of the diocese for the people, the Santa Rosa de Copán bishop, Monseñor Darwin Andino, went to preside at a Mass in Azacualpa on Monday, October 29.


When we met the bishop and the other priests in Cucyagua, we heard that mining supporters were blocking the road. When we reached the new town of San Andrés Las Minas, the parish priest of the area spoke with the police and they escorted us up to Azacualpa.

As we passed the curve up to the town, we saw a grand crowd of supporters screaming at us, but we passed through safely. 

But just past the turn, we stopped, seeing a large group of people who were hidden in the forest. They came out and filled the bed of one of the pickups. They had hidden from the crowd of angry supporters but wanted to come with us to Mass.


The Mass was celebrated beside the church. There were probably about 150 or more people there and we – the bishop, eleven priests, and a deacon (me) – accompanied them.

Providentially, the first reading from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (4:32-5:8) spoke strongly of greed.

“no immoral or impure or greedy person, that is, an idolater, has any inheritance in the Kingdom of Christ and of God.”


Monseñor Darwin Andino, the bishop of Santa Rosa de Copán, spoke strongly.

He asked the people who was here first, the community or the mining company. The community, of course, responded the people. He then spoke of the Machiavellian efforts to divide the people in order to conquer them.

He emphasized that the church is not against development, but for integral development, that develops the whole person and the whole community.

His strongest words were framed in terms of the reading from Paul to the Ephesians. Henoted the motive of avarice, which is, in Paul’s word, idolatry. The mining companies want to remove the bodies from the cemetery in order to extract the gold, but, as the bishop said,
“More valuable [than the gold under the cemetery] is what is above – the people buried there. For greed and avarice, for love of money, it doesn’t bother us [the mining company]to destroy a mountain and to damage water.
For they only think of their money – money which is dirty (cochino), damned (maldito), and stained with blood (manchado de sangre)".

He condemned the money of the mining companies and also mentioned the killing of environmentalists for defending the environment.

He also urged them to continue their struggle and to realize the presence of the church with them.
“Be courageous. I invite you to not bend your knees, be strong.”

A part of the homily can be found here on You Tube.


After Mass, the people walked in procession to the cemetery, led by a cross carried by three young men. 

The bishop and the priests accompanied them in their vestments. The people sang and at one point began to pray the rosary.

As we approached the road up to the cemetery we saw a small crowd of supporters of the mining company. Thanks to the presence of the police we were able to pass by, with no violence. But as we prayed and sang, the mining company supporters screamed at us. There was not a confrontation but a parting of the seas of anger with prayers and hymns.

In the cemetery

When we arrived at the cemetery, we passed through an empty space where a tomb had been and went to a spot in the middle of the cemetery.

I looked around at some of the above ground tombs – some still contained the coffins of the dead, but others had obviously been taken away.

We stood around and finished the rosary while young men prepared a hole for the cross. 

I noticed at least one older man grieving.

At one point I noticed that the bishop was holding what were bones of the dead. They had been found scattered at the back of some graves. Later someone picked up another bone, just in front of me.

The bishop then noted that Catholics respect the bodies of the dead. We hope for the resurrection and so we need to respect their remains. And so he buried the bones beside where the cross would be erected.

We prayed as the cross was erected and waited, praying and singing, as the young men filled in the hole. I was moved and went to help move the dirt, praying in penance for all that the nations of North America had done to bringing such pain and injustice on the poor here in Honduras. The mine is run by a Canadian corporation, but Honduras has suffered many decades of control and exploitation by US governments and corporations.

After the cross was erected, the bishop offered a space for the people to speak. One articulate man recalled the prayer of Agur, a passage from Proverbs 30: 7-9:

Two things I ask of you… Put falsehood and lying far from me, give me neither poverty nor riches; provide me only with the food I need; lest, being full, I deny you, saying, “Who is the Lord?” or, being in want, I steal, and profane the name of my God.

Looking down on the devastation

After praying in the cemetery, we were led to a place where we could look down on the mining operations. What tremendous use of resources to take the gold out of the earth.

As we were walking back, a young twenty-five-year old man told me how he had worked in the mine for a time but began to feel very uncomfortable with that kind of work. He quit his job, despite having a wife and two kids. What an example of courage and of conscience. These small acts of a man are signs of the power that is in each person, the power of that small voice of God we call conscience.

I think he is not alone. As I looked around at Mass and in the cemetery, there were a few spies. But there were even more young men and women present, praying and singing and participating in what must be risky for them. I admire their simple, yet profound, courage.

The struggle will surely continue, but it was good to be present where the church offered a sign of accompanying the people – not in a partisan political way, but as fellow human beings seeking dignity, justice, and respect for all.

I was glad to be there and I pray for these people and their community, in the midst of trials and sufferings.


More photos can be found in this album on Flickr.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Blessed martyrs of Izabal, Guatemala

A middle-aged priest and a young lay catechist were beatified Saturday in Morales, Izabal, Guatemala. They were both members of the Franciscan family – Fray Tulio Maruzzo was a friar of the Order of Friars Minor and Luis Obdulio Arroyo was a member of the Secular Franciscans, often referred to as the Third Order.

They were killed, after being brutally beaten, on July 1, 1981, in Los Amates, Quiriguá, in the midst of the fierce repression that Guatemala experienced for decades.

They were as the words behind the altar read “ disciples, missionaries, martyrs.”

In 1960 Fray Tulio left his native Italy to serve the Guatemalan people, where he served in several parishes in Izabal, in the northeast part of the country. Fray Tulio worked with the catechists, the base communities, and the delegates of the word, who led Sunday celebrations when the priest could not come. He introduced Cursillos into his parish. He also could not ignore the injustice and spoke out for the poor. His intent was to help the campesinos legalize the land they cultivated. But the powers, especially the large land-owners, threatened him and eventually killed him.  

Luis Obdulio Arroyo was 31 years old when he was martyred with Fray Tulio. He was a humble man, eager to serve. As Cardinal Becciu said in his homily:

Witnesses remember him as a man who, without making a lot of noise, knew how to find concrete responses to the problems of the community putting his time and his abilities at the disposition [of the community]. He was always available to transport in his car someone who was injured or a woman about to give birth, even at night. He offered himself to do small electrical or mechanical repairs; but his specialty was to serve as chauffeur of the Franciscans and of sisters when they had to go to the most distant villages of Quiriguá.

Even when Fray Tulio was receiving threats, Luis Obdulio continued to serve at the side of his pastor. He said, “It would be very cowardly to abandon him and I will not do that.”

Under the influence of the Franciscans in the parish, Luis Obdulio became a member of the Third Order of Saint Francis and participated in the Cursillos de la Cristiandad, a movement of spiritual renewal. He also served as a catechist. He was returning with Fray Tulio from working with the Cursillos when they were stopped, beaten, and killed.

I was struck by Luis Obdulio, the first native Guatemalan beatified, one of the few lay persons beatified in Latin America. He may also be the first blessed who is shown wearing blue jeans in the official image, at the side of Fray Tulio in his habit.

When I read in the church in Morales that he used to take people to the hospital in the parish car, I was stopped in my tracks and found myself near tears. Our parish just obtained a car, with the help of our sister parish, St. Thomas Aquinas church in Ames, Iowa. Though we’ve only had it for about two weeks, it has already served to make three trips. And our driver is a campesino with a heart of gold, given to service.

I see Blessed Luis Obdulio as one of the holy people of God whom we so often miss, the quiet and humble persons who serve God and their neighbors without fanfare. I pray that he may guide our ministry here in our parish in Honduras and inspire many to holiness.

I also see Blessed Luis as but one of hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children killed in Latin America, many of them witnesses to the faith – catechists, delegates of the Word, human rights workers, women religious, and priests – whom we need to remember as witnesses to the Reign of God, a Reign of justice, love, and peace.

The Mass was simple, yet beautiful, with thousands present. The Rite of Beatification and the Mass were in Spanish (with the decree read first in Latin) but there were prayers in Italian, Q'eqchi', and in the language of the Garifuna. A group of the Garifuna brought the gifts to the altar during the Offertory. 

It was a truly celebration of life in the face of death.

I was also moved by the presentation and incensing of the relics of the two martyrs - Fray Tulio's habit and stole and Luis Odbulio's shirt - simple signs of lives lived in simplicity, service, and holy love.

I feel renewed in my mission. I pray that our parish, our diocese, and the church may live the signs of the Reign of God that I saw on a banner on the road into Morales: