Saturday, September 28, 2019

Meeting Christ - in many places

This past week I went to El Salvador for a little break.

The church in Suchitoto
I stayed in Suchitoto at the Centro Arte para la Paz, an amazing place with classes (for free) in art, music, drama, English, and more for the youth of Suchitoto. It is an effort sustained by donations and by the zeal of Sister of Charity Peggy O’Neill, a friend from decades ago. She was not there since she was in the US.

It was a joy to see the center which regularly has expositions on the history of the area. They are also restoring the former chapel of San José, which was in ruins when they bought the land and buildings (which were a former convent and school for girls, run by Dominican sisters who fled in 1980 due to threats.)

Restoration of the chapel in the Centro Arte para la Paz
I went to San Salvador twice, to see friends, to buy books, and to visit the tombs of Monseñor Romero and the Jesuit martyrs.

I spent some time at the tomb of Saint Oscar Romero, the martyred archbishop of San Salvador. There I recalled how I had dedicated my diaconate to Monseñor Romero, recalling his commitment to the poor and oppressed. I also prayed for friends. It was a time of renewal.

Romero's tomb
When I visited the Jesuit University, I spent a few minutes before the tombs of the Jesuits killed there in 1979. I stayed for the noon Mass and was surprised when the young Jesuit priest noted that he was leaving the next day to serve in Honduras, in Progreso. 

In San Salvador I usually take taxis, for security reasons. I got into one taxi near a shopping mall to go visit a priest friend of mine in a poor neighborhood. As I looked over at the driver, I noticed a contraption near the gear shift. All of a sudden I realized that his legs had been amputated and he used the contraption in place of brake and gas pedals. I was amazed; he did not let his “disability” disable him. I still marvel at how he drove in the awful city traffic with such acumen. But even ore I am amazed at his dignity. I will remember him for some time.

A highlight of my visit was my visit to Haciendita II, about 12 kilometers from Suchitoto, where I lived and worked in 1992. I saw many friends there, including many from the family I stayed with (sleeping in a hammock so that I wouldn’t take over anyone’s bed.) I got to see the youngest son, now in his twenties, with his wife and two kids. His son was a little shy, but at least he didn’t scream when he saw me, as his father did way back in 1992 when he was about three years old. This son, Esteban, is now an extraordinary minister of communion in the parish and I was able to bring him a pyx I had.

The church (of Saint Michael) in Haciendita II
Esteban with his wife and kids

I also met one of his cousins, in his early twenties, who has a vegetable garden in the land around the house where he’s living. I was delighted to see a young man (with a high school education) growing vegetables for himself and others.

José Aurelio in his garden
I also saw several of his sisters, two of whom are teachers (with college degrees) and another is a health promoted. Their parents, Esteban (who died of the consequences of dengue about 8 years ago) and Rosa Elbia, deserve a lot of praise for encouraging their children to study and to serve the community. It is also interesting that only two children are in the US, having gone there more than ten years ago.

Rosa Elbia with two daughters
I spent some time in another village with Lucía, a leader in the faith community. She has shared much with me about the church in the parish (for a book I hope to finish one of these days.) It was good to see her – but a little sad to see that she seemed weaker. She explained how she had headaches and couldn’t hear as well as before – perhaps remnants of the time during the war when a bomb went off near her and damaged her ear. But that didn’t keep her from sharing a mea with me – including some large thick Salvadoran tortillas.

Salvadoran tortillas are huge

I visited another community, El Barillo, and visited briefly with three women I had worked with in 1992. I dropped into the church where they were preparing for a holy hour and happened to talk with a young woman whose three brothers had been killed in a massacre of the seminarian Othmaro Cáceres and about twelve young people in July 1980 in a nearby church under construction in the hamlet of Los Leones. I sensed that the pain is still there as she spoke of the massacre. I hope they have a celebration next year; I’d like to get there.

Church in El Barillo
Memorial in El Barillo to the martyrs of the massacre of Los Leones,
I also had dinner the last night with a family. I’ve known them since the 1990s. He, in fact, came to study English for five months in Ames.  It was great to catch up with them – and to see their two oldest girls who are studying in the university!

I left early on Friday to get home in the afternoon. The journey went well, but…

I stopped near the turn off to San Marcos Ocotepeque for a break and some snacks. As I left the parking area, I saw a man asking for a ride. I asked where he was going - Santa Rosa. Then he went to the shade of a nearby truck and his wife and two kids joined him in the back of the truck. I stopped for a pineapple and a papaya and got them some cut-up fruit. I asked where they were going - Colón, in the extreme northeast.

I stopped in Santa Rosa to get some supplies at a supermarket and let them off. They were still walking when I left the supermarket and so I offered them a ride to the turn off to Dulce Nombre. OK, they said.

When I let them off, I asked where they had come from.

As I was beginning to suspect, they had been deported from the US and had been travelling through Mexico and Guatemala - with nothing but two small backpacks.

I gave them a pittance that might help.

I nearly cried as I drove home after leaving them off.

These four people are the victims of an unjust society here in Honduras and of an unjust migration policy in the US.

Lord, have mercy. Señor, ten piedad. Kyrie, eleison.

There are many ways in which we meet Christ – in joys and sorrows, in Word and Sacrament, in friends and in the suffering. It is a privilege when we are able to recognize Him.

In the church in Suchitoto

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Celebrating Dulce Nombre ... and more

Today, our parish celebrated its feast day, the Sweet Name of Mary – or, for more Anglo-Saxon sensitivities, the Holy Name of Mary.

Here celebrations of feast days of parishes, as well of patron saints of villages, are often preceded by nine days of prayers, a novena. Here different communities came to the main church to pray the rosary, followed by Mass.

Today, the celebration began with songs and fireworks at dawn. I slept in and stayed at home in Plan Grande and so didn’t participate, as I have in some precious years.

Before the Mass we had a procession, with a prominent place for the image of Mary from the Church.

People came from different villages in the parish, several with their images. I drove my car with bags of water for the people and so I had little chance to take photos. But I did take too of a new ritual. In the past a teacher from Dulce Nombre was responsible for the fireworks during the procession, but he is seriously ill. So one of the altar servers took over the responsibility. I guess there is a new ministry for acolytes: shooting off fireworks!

This was followed by a Mass in which six children from Dulce Nombre were baptized. Padre German asked me to baptize them. For me this is always a privilege, bringing new members into the Body of Christ. There were a few fidgety and crying kids, when I poured the baptismal waters over their heads.

Two weeks ago, we had confirmations int he parish. The bishop came and confirmed about 180 mostly young people in three places in our parish. Since I was responsible for coordinating the liturgies as well as serving as deacon at the Masses, I didn't take many photos. But here' are two from the Mass in Dulce Nombre. The first is of the bishop speaking to those who were to be confirmed.

The other is, if I may say so, awesome. As our pastor spoke to the confirmed after communion, I captured a moment when the sun came through the church door and was reflected on the new floor int he sanctuary. 

The past weeks have been hard on me. I’ve had two major repairs on the car – the axle casing (camisa) and one of the axle shafts (flecha), as well as the motor for one of the windows. 

I also had some continuing dental work (due to not going to the dentist for a few years). But the worst was serious stomach problems – including vomiting, acid reflux, and hiccups that had me worried one night. The next day I went to a private clinic and am recovering. Thanks be to God – and modern medicine.

One day last week two young priests came and we worked on the material for base communities for next year. This is the fourth year we’ve worked together. They are a delight to work with, though I think in a few things they defer to me (and suffer my poor Spanish.) This year I didn’t make lentil soup as I have other years. They had rice, broccoli, with gado gado sauce. (Gado gado is an Indonesian sauce with a peanut base, that I love. Though I often make my own recipe, this time I used a prepared block that an Indonesian friend who works at Villanova university gave me when I visited the east coast in March.)

This past Monday I had a training session for twenty-eight new catechists, mostly young people. They were good to work with and I hope they’ll persevere since many of the villages need more catechists and we need to welcome new young people into this ministry.

Last week I had two pre-marriage interviews back to back. The pastor does the initial interview; the couples receive their pre-marriage talks in their villages; I just do the interview with the couple and their witnesses – to try to avoid any problems. I am very happy that  we are experiencing more young people seeking marriage – some of them before living together!

I also had a funeral last Sunday. I had planned to visit the village of Agua Buena Dolores for a Sunday Celebration of the Word with Communion. I got a call Saturday evening telling me that a member of the community would be buried and so the celebration might be delayed. I mentioned that I’d be willing to do the funeral rites at the celebration early. At about 7 am on Sunday I got a call asking me to come as soon as possible to do the celebration and funeral rites. No problem.

For me, it seems rather strange that we sometimes have funerals on Sunday. But here there is almost no embalming and so the bodies have to be buried within 24 or 36 hours. But, in one sense, it makes sense that we have a funeral on a Sunday when needed, remembering that we are remembering the sharing of the deceased in the death and resurrection of the Lord and praying for the acceptance of the deceased in the Kingdom.

I was moved, as I often am at funerals, and make a special effort to connect with the family members – often just mentioning their names in the celebration. This time the challenge was to integrate some remarks on the passing of the deceased in the homily. I think it worked.

Next week we have a meeting of the social ministry. This time the director of the diocesan office of Caritas will be with us. We will also do some follow-up on our concerns about water and deforestation. Our idea is to do a major reforestation campaign for the first two weeks of October (connecting this with the feast of Saint Francis of Assisi on October 4). Some have told me that they have gotten saplings from various governmental bodies and are planning events. We’ll see how this goes. Another concern is the contamination of water. There are two major problems. The first is the water sources, usually springs. They often need to be protected and the reforestation will help this. The other problem is the contamination of streams by the run-off from the initial stages of the coffee production process. The de-pulped beans are soaked in water, but sometimes this water (called aguas mieles) flows into the streams. Some groups said they were going to evaluate the situation, talk with mayors, and try to generate projects to lessen the contamination.

Speaking of coffee production and contamination. Coffee has been sent to the US from the coffee association in El Zapote Santa Rosa. But I found out that, with the help of several international aid groups, they are finding ways to decrease the use of chemicals in production as well as to utilize the pulp and the aguas mieles for fertilizer.

The church in Dulce Nombre is being renovated. It needed to be painted but in the process of removing the stucco, we discovered that the two towers have some beautiful hand-hewn stones. The idea is to preserve them and treat them so that they can be seen – partly because these stones were gathered and hewn by members of Dulce Nombre fifty years ago.

We are also renovating the interior of the church, removing a large retablo and simplifying the sanctuary. I had an idea that I shared with the pastor to have a mural painted on the apse. Next week we will be speaking to a prospective artist.

One big event coming up, that I’ll write about later, is our sending of missionaries to another parish in October. For the last few years, parishioners have gone on mission to different communities in the parish, but this will be different. We’ve had some trainings and we’ll have another next week.

There is much more to write about – especially in terms of the continuing poverty and challenges that our people face, in the light of massive corruption, possible links between political leaders and drug trafficking, and incompetence in judicial affairs and in the infrastructure. Just a few days ago a major portion of the international highway between Santa Rosa de Copán and Cucuyagua caved in. That means that travel between the Guatemalan and Salvadoran borders and the major city of San Pedro Sula and the Caribbean port of Puerto Cortez was stopped and is greatly restricted, or had to be diverted through Guatemala.

More on this later. 

But, for now, a few more images of what I experience.

The kids at the school in Plan Grande celebrated the Day of the Child with a carrera de cintas.

The morning often brings incredible vistas:

And the flowers in the garden continue to amaze me, like this hibiscus: