Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Honduras in crisis?

I am sitting here in my house, in the tranquility of Plan Grande, while the situation is critical throughout the country.

There are occupations of streets, burning of tires in the streets, and more in the major cities as well as other parts of the country.

I am surprised that things have gotten to this point, but it is understandable.

Medical and educational professionals have been on strike, from time to time, for more than six weeks – first of all in protest of legislation which seemed to open the way to privatization of public health and education – or, at the very least, to contracting out these public services. This has already happened to electricity, with terrible results for some people.

This week drivers of large trucks were on strike this week before of problems with government paper work. As a result, there are shortages of fuel in some places.

This reflects a deep of dissatisfaction of many people – a broken public medical system, corruption at high levels, basic food prices going up and up, continuing violence in the cities, impunity and a broken “justice” system, lack of work, manipulation of work and public services by political parties, and more.

What was surprising in the midst of this was the response of the Catholic Church. The Bishops Conference released a strong statement which I translated and posted here.

The words that were the most stunning was the slogan: ¡BASTA YA! – ENOUGH ALREADY!

This was a strong statement against the policies of the government. I will quote a section which reveals what the roots of what is happening.

We are very seriously concerned about the future of our Honduras, thinking that if it is not known how to resolve the problems that have come together adequately, how could we resolve those which, being structural, demand a serious reordering of all the elements which constitute the Rule of Law

A Constitution violated as many times as it suits, some powers which are not at all independent, a Congress that has turned itself into a theater with the worst actors, turning its back on the people. There is a need for an electoral power which guarantees the transparency of voting and gets rid of, once and for all, all the electoral crimes. Any number of State institutions broken by corruption, an economy paralyzed - above all in agriculture, a shameless sale of the natural goods of our earth. A false reform of the Penal Code, which simply converts it into an instrument to protect the corrupt and the drug-traffickers, with the appearance of being better by making harsher the penalties for those supposedly more “dangerous,” who tend to be marginalized young people and the poor who are desperate to eke out a living.

All this, and much more, makes our hearts cry out – Enough already!

Where will this lead, I do not know. I pray it will be a peaceful transition. But I have no intention of leaving. I am where I am called to be.

God help us.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Saint Anthony waiting for a miracle

As I started to write this blog, my iTunes began to play Bruce Cockburn’s “Waiting for a Miracle,” one of my favorite Cockburn songs.
You rub your palm
on the grimy pane
in the hope that you can see
- when you're waiting…
You stand up proud
you pretend you're strong
in the hope that you can be
- when you're waiting…
like the ones who've cried
like the ones who've died
trying to set the angel in us free
while they're waiting for a miracle.
This week our pastor was away for the National Pastoral Congress and left me with the celebrations of the feast of Saint Anthony of Padua.

Here Saint Anthony is called upon as a great intercessor with God, a miracle worker. Though I acknowledged that, I tried to give the people an insight to Saint Anthony as one who responded to the call of God, imbued with the wisdom of God, willing to go where God called him – beyond his native Portugal to Africa, where he had to give up his dream of being a missionary (and maybe even a martyr), to Italy where his boat was blown after leaving Africa, to an obscure friary, to a life of mission in Italy and France, to his death at 36 in Padua. I also highlighted how he was called the Friend of the Poor.

To say that Saint Anthony is popular here is an understatement. There are ten churches in our parish dedicated to this thirteenth century Franciscan saint. I got to nine of them for Celebrations of the Word with Communion. I missed one since they didn’t tell me. In one way they all melted into one grand celebration.

We had one celebration late Tuesday afternoon in one of the most remote villages. As I was leaving I was surprised – by first one little girl sharing a candy with me and then another little boy following her example. I was moved by their simple generosity.

Wednesday I expected just one celebration but got a call at about 8:30 am that two communities were expecting me, beginning at 10. I suggested to have the one celebration at 11 and the second at home. They agreed – thank God. After the second I passed by the house to take y wash off the line. Then I went to a mountainous village for another celebration. I left there as an intense rainstorm started.

Thursday, the feast of Saint Anthony was a delightful marathon. The first celebration was in Quebrada Grande, where there were lots of fireworks. 

Quebrada Grande
Then, it was a short ride to San Antonio El Alto, where I arrived shortly before the procession arrived at the church.

San Antojio El Alto
 When I got to the third village, they asked me if I was going to another village. They were waiting for the priest. Somehow no one had told them that the pastor was gone and that they had to arrange things with me. I felt bad but there was no way I could get there.

The fourth celebration was almost an hour away from the third village. San Antonio Dolores was waiting for me when I arrived. The little church was packed. When we began I was struck by the participation of the whole church in the hymns. I’m used to choirs drowning out the people with acoustical guitars and drums. The electricity was out and so there were no amplified guitars, but I doubt that this was the cause of the participation. The church resounded with the people singing.

San Antonio, Dolores
At the end of the celebration, we blessed Saint Anthony’s Bread. I told them how the custom began with sharing bread with the poor. This is the blessings I used – an adaptation of several friends shared with me.

Señor Jesucristo, verdadero Pan de Vida,
Te alabamos y te glorificamos por el don del pan, fruto de la tierra, trabajo de manos humanas, fuente de alimentación de cada día.
Dígnate bendecir + este pan como bendijiste los cinco panes en el desierto.
Enséñanos a compartir todos tus dones con los pobres, los descartados, los hambrientos.
Haznos solidarios con el hambre de los pobres para que, a ejemplo de san Antonio,
compartamos nuestro pan con los necesitados, imitando así tu generosidad.

Tú que vives y reinas por los siglos de los siglos. Amén
Lord Jesus Christ, true Bread of Life, we praise and glorify you for the gift of bread, fruit of the earth, work of human hands, source of everyday nourishment. Please bless this bread as you blessed the five loaves in the desert. Teach us to share all your gifts with the poor, the discarded, the hungry. Make us be persons in solidarity with the hunger of the poor so that, as Saint Anthony gave us an example, we may share our bread with those in need, imitating in this ways your generosity. You who live and reign forever. Amen.
Then bread was shared.

Bread and coffee at San Antonio Dolores
As the bread was shared I came across a boy I had seen in church. He has some congenital problems that make walking very difficult. In addition, when I talked with him, I noted that he has difficulty speaking. I asked him if he wanted one of the breads. Yes. When I brought the bread, he was asking about coffee. I got it and he was content. Shortly after a boy told me he wanted another piece of bread. Rather than get it myself, I suggested that he go and get it – and he did. A simple lesson in generosity. I passed the boy and he was smiling as he was consuming the bread. That for me was one of the real joys of St. Anthony’s feast.

After that celebration, I went to Dulce Nombre to the church of San Antonio there for the last celebration. The congregation is more urban than rural – and the music was well done by a children’s choir which sings every Sunday.

San Antonio, Dulce Nombre
The opening hymn was from the Salvadoran Misa Campesina, but I was disappointed that they sang only one verse. The last two verses would have been very appropriate.
Dios invita a todos los pobres
a esta mesa común por la fe,
donde no hay acaparadores
y a nadie le falta el conqué.
 Dios nos manda a hacer de este mundo
una mesa donde haya igualdad,
trabajando y luchando juntos,
compartiendo la propiedad. 

God invites all the poor
To those common table of faith
Where there are none who hoard,
And where no one lacks even more than basic food.
 God commands is to make of this world
A table where there is equality,
Working and struggling together,
Sharing our property. 
During the homily I used one of the two stories of Saint Anthony I was using that day. The first was how Saint Anthony preached to the fish when the people wouldn’t listen to him. (I used that one in a noisy church early that day.) But here I used the other story.

Saint Anthony was at a funeral of a rich avaricious man. He proceeded to tell the people that they couldn’t bury him in holy ground, in the cemetery. He has no heart. The people brought in some physicians who opened his chest and found no heart. Then the people went to the usurer’s home where they found his heart in a chest of gold and silver. “Where your treasure is, there is your heart,” Jesus had said.  I asked the people to examine themselves – “Where is your treasure?”

I felt a little uneasy. In the front bench was a coffee grower and his wife. He has a lot of land. I wondered how he was taking it. Well, at the greeting of peace, I decided to go down from the altar and greet several people, including the grower. He gave me a big hug, thanking me for making Saint Antony a little more alive for him. Wonder of wonders.

I got home – tired but grateful for the chance to celebrate with so many people.

These days, especially when I am preaching or have a workshop, I often pray when the alarm goes off that I can be a way that God opens the people to recognize how they are loved by God.  I don’t know if that happened those three days – but I feel that God gave me so many little signs of his love.

In the midst of the pain, the injustice, the sorrow, and the social upheaval here, we are indeed waiting for a miracle. I return to Bruce Cockburn:

You rub your palm
on the grimy pane
in the hope that you can see
- when you're waiting...
like the ones who've cried
like the ones who've died
trying to set the angel in us free
while they're waiting for a miracle, 
trying to set the angel in us free…

There are miracles all around us, if we have open hearts.
May the angels within us be set free.

In San Antonio Dolores