Sunday, April 28, 2019

Bilingual kids in Plan Grande

I have a Honduran friend whom I met in my first years here, when I was trying to do campus ministry at the Catholic University of Honduras in Santa Rosa. Erlin Johnny really wanted to learn English and we talked a bit in English. I did kid him that, when we first talked, his accent made my ears bleed.

Through the years, when St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Ames was sending groups to visit, I invited him to speak with the students over a meal, as a way for them to meet someone their age as well as a chance for him to practice English.

His English improved over the years and, because of his intuition that learning English is a useful skill, not only for those who have the money to send kids to bilingual schools or language institutes, he began an institute to teach English at a price that was more affordable for lower middle class Hondurans. He also provides scholarships, now with the help of the local Rotary Club, for girls at a home for those without a home.

We have talked over the years and I find his vision appealing. I also once mentioned that a dream I have is that one day there would be a bilingual school for the poor, perhaps in a community in our parish. But I have not had the time or the expertise to do that.

However, I did float the idea of a bilingual class in Plan Grande. Finally, this has come to pass. Today, Sunday, April 28, he came for the first class for 18 kids from Plan Grande and the neighboring village of Candelaria. The class is not free, but is being offered at a reduced rate. Also, to facilitate this initial effort, a sort of pilot project, I asked St. Thomas Aquinas in Ames to help by subsidizing the cost of poorer students and, for the first year, providing funding for the books and for the transportation of the teachers from Santa Rosa.

So today, 18 kids showed up, most with their parents. I sat in on the class and noted their enthusiasm. It helps that Johnny’s teaching style is very participative, helping the kids learn English with songs, practice, and more.

I won’t be attending every week, but I am glad that this is starting. Maybe, one day, Plan Grande will be a bilingual village.

Here are a few photos.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019


Holy Week is always busy. This one was no different. But with a twist.

The Friday before Palm Sunday we began with the parish stations of the cross, which I wrote with an emphasis on youth, since the Honduras Bishops have selected as this year’s motto, “Together with the youth, we announce the Gospel of life.”

Hundreds showed up for the stations and we walked through Dulce Nombre, ending with Mass in the church. We began about 9:30 and ended about 2 pm. It would have been a little shorter but between the end of the Stations and the Mass, Padre German heard confessions.

The text is available in Spanish; I hope to translate it sometime in May.

Saturday, I went to Santa Rosa to pick up a priest from the national seminary who was going to be with the parish for a week, helping in San Agustín and the surrounding communities. Father Jacob Lugo was in for a busy week.

He stayed with me Saturday night and then I took him to Dolores for the Palm Sunday procession and Mass. After Mass, we ate at Dulce Nombre and he had a chance to talk with our pastor, Padre German. Then I took him for the procession and Mass in San Agustín. I stayed until the end of Mass and a meeting with the council there. He had a busy week there.

Father Jacob in Dolores

The procession in Dolores

Father Jacob in San Agustín 
The procession in San Agustín

Monday afternoon, I met with the catechists in the town of Dulce Nombre. Many of them work during the week and haven’t been able to attend our training sessions. It went well.

Tuesday we had a retreat for the youth of the parish and had over 60 young people.

Wednesday, in the afternoon, Padre, several communion ministers, and I went to Delicias, Concepción, for the blessing of their new tabernacle. It was proceeded by a procession and stops at three altars on the road between Cerro Negro and the Delicias Church.

Holy Thursday, I went with some folks from Plan Grande for the Chrism Mass in Santa Rosa. I served as deacon for the Mass.

After lunch, I headed for Concepción, where we had Mass. I ended up preaching.  Then, I went to Dolores, where I led the Celebration of the Word with Communion and washed the feet. This picture is courtesy of Profe Arnaldo Chávez.

Friday morning, I went to accompany the Stations of the Cross in Mar Azul. In the afternoon I led the liturgy of the Passion with the veneration of the Cross and Communion in Debajiados. Thinking about the veneration of the Cross, I decided to bring the Mission Cross I had been given at St. Thomas Aquinas when I was sent forth in 2007. It had been the cross of the founder of the St. Thomas Aquinas parish and it has been hanging in my home since I got here. It was so fitting to bring it and I will probably bring it on Good Friday every year.

Holy Saturday morning was spent practicing for the singing of the Exultet, the Easter Praise, sung at the Vigil, and baking -  two loaves of bread and a pan and a half of cinnamon rolls. The house smelled great.

The Vigil was quite the celebration We were supposed to start on a hill in town with the Easter Fire about 5:30. We started about 45 minutes late. 

We got to the church and it was filled to overflowing.

I sang the Exultet and flubbed it – partly because the light was no poor that I had major trouble reading the text and the music. But God was praised.

Youth from San Juan Concepción dramatized two of the readings.

But the highlight was the rite of baptism of the catechumens which we did just outside the main door of the church at the bottom of the steps. About 36, mostly young people, were baptized. It was amazing. Father German is not a minimalist in terms of baptismal water!

Mass continued with the first communion of the newly baptized and the first communion of some young people under 14 who had been baptized in their village of El Higon before Lent.

I didn‘t get home until about midnight.

Sunday morning I sent to La Colonia San José Obrero near El Limón Dulce Nombre. As part of the celebration I gave the community an image of Saint Joseph the Worker which I had found when I was in the US in March so that they would have an image for their novena before the May 1 feast of St. Joseph the Worker.

After the Celebration I asked if there was any sick person who might want to receive communion. A middle-aged woman suffering from cancer lived nearby. Padre German had come a short time ago and had married the couple (who had been living together for thirty years and had about eight children. When I arrived at the house I was taken to her bedside. A niece and a grandchild were sitting there talking with her. Soon a large number of her children, her spouse, a sister, and a few grandkids and other relatives gathered around the bed. I spoke with her for a while. She was very alert and we talked; at one point a joke brought a smile on her face.

We then had a short celebration using that part of the Easter Gospel which talked about the women going to the tomb. We prayed for her, for her family, and for all those who took care of her. Then I gave her communion. I then invited those present who wanted to receive to come forward. Her husband and about four others came. We ended the little celebration with a blessing for her and those present.

This was for me a real Easter moment, a celebration of life in the face of celebration, the gathering of a community around a seriously ill member of a family, a sharing of the Eucharist.

I left and then headed for Gracias, where I arrived just as the Dubuque Franciscan Sisters there were finishing their meal. They had saved enough for me to be delightfully filled – even with a new dessert which Sister Nancy had made – a variation on the Samoa Girl Scout cookies.

I stayed the night with the sisters and had time to eat a good dinner (which included egg salad sandwiches with my bread). It was great to be with these great women. Three are from the US and they have two novices living with then in the house in Gracias. Two members of their community were away, one in the US and the other, a Honduras sister, at a four-month special program at a Jesuit spirituality center in Guatemala.

The meal and the time with the sisters was a delight - a perfect way to celebrate the risen Christ - with a Franciscan community in the midst of the poor.

Monday, I waited for Father Jacob in Gracias to give him a ride to the seminary in Tegucigalpa, since I need to get some materials from the national catechetical office.  It was great to have a companion on the journey and we had some great conversations.

I stayed overnight at the seminary and drove back home to Plan Grande.

I made a few stops. I didn’t eat much just ice cream and lemon pie at two different places in Siguatepeque. But I bought a few things.

In Sigua (the shortened form of Siguatepue) I bought two plants as well as bread, cookies, ice cream, cheese, and yogurt at the Mennonite store there.

I stopped at a vegetable stand on the side of the road about five kilometers before Esperanza. I almost always stop there for strawberries. But today the woman also had peaches, grape tomatoes, potatoes, and – I could not believe my eyes – ASPARAGUS! It was the first harvest day and she only had one pound, harvested today. I bought it, even though it was about four dollars. I love asparagus and had never seen it here. She told me she would probably have some each day for about two months, but it’s too far away for me to go and buy it.

My treasure trove
I continued on home and stopped for coffee outside Yaramanguila and found a large cup of coffee. (I did have a cup – but not that large one.) The store had a tomato jelly and a guayaba marmalade which I bought. 

I got home and prepared dinner – rice, asparagus, and eggs.

Another little bit of heaven.