Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Photos of 2019

Before the Holy Hour and Celebration of the Word here in Plan Grande tonight, I went through the photos I took to show a little of what my life was like. A lot is not here, since I don't usually have someone to take my photos when I'm baptizing or doing something in the parish. But here are a few photos.

January 2019

Even kids help in the coffee harvest in the parish coffee field

February 2019

Rebuilt motor for my pick p

March 2019
With Brother Robert Sevensky at Holy Cross Monastery

April 2019

Parish stations of the Cross

Good Friday in Debajiados

Padre German baptizing at the Easter Vigil
I like coffee - at a café in Intibucá.
English classed for kids in Plan Grande began
May 2019
Procession in San José Obrero with the new status of St. Joseph the Worker

Diocesan Youth Rally in Copán Ruinas
June 2019

Oromilaca, before the Pentecost celebration
One of nine celebrations of Saint Anthony of Padua. This one in Quebrada Grande.

The El Zapote coffee association brining their coffee to the Beneficio
Corpus Christi procession beginning in Yaruconte.

July 2019
Feast of the Virgin of Carmen in Candelaria

August 2019
Confirmations in Dulce Nombre

September 2019
The Church in Dulce Nombre

New task of altar servers - set off fireworks

Visiting friends in El Salvador

Visiting the tomb of Romero

The missionaries 
October 2019
Visiting St. Thomas Church in Ames, IA

In the Fr. Ray Herman room at St. Thomas Aquinas, Ames, Iowa

November 2019
All Souls Day in the cemetery at Delicias, Concepción

Christ the King parish Mass and celebration in Dolores
Thanksgiving dinner at Amigos de Jesús
December 2019

Participants int he four day class I led for formators of religious

The ordination of Fr. Nery

Altar at the house of the Dubuque Franciscan Sisters in Gracias

Sister Katy being received into the sisters novitiate.
Christmas eve altar in Dulce Nombre 
After Christmas morning Celebration of the Word in Pasquingual.
There was a lot more - but this should suffice to give you an idea of my year.

New Year 2020

On the first day of every new civil year, January 1, the Catholic Church celebrates the feast of Mary, Mother of God - as well as the World Day of Prayer for Peace. 

But what is the real situation here in Honduras?

When I came to Honduras in 2007, the road from San Pedro Sula was terrible, full of large potholes. Some I called traga-carros, car-swallowers. Now there is a fine concrete road from Santa Rosa to La Entrada and the rest of the way to San Pedro Sula is not so bad.

When I first lived in Santa Rosa, there were two small grocery stores. Now there are five large supermarkets, including two that are part of Wal-Mart’s empire, and several smaller mini-markets.

In the last couple of years there have been many construction projects in Santa Rosa, including a mini-mall (which was just expanded to include a movie theater) and lots of new houses. There is also a lot of construction in Dulce Nombre and in the rural area where I live. There has also been an expansion of coffee fields, where there were once open fields or forests.

It appears as if prosperity is coming to Honduras.

But under the appearances there are signs of poverty. The poverty rate in Honduras is about 66% and severe poverty is about 44%.

Two images stick in my mind.

A few Sundays ago I went to San Agustín for an afternoon Celebration of the Word with Communion. I passed several small groups of families, with small kids, walking on the side of the road. (They were going the opposite direction and so I didn’t stop to offer them a ride.) It was obvious that they were coming from picking coffee. Some were Guatemalans. Even on Sunday the poor go out to gain a pittance from picking coffee.

A few days ago, as I passed one of the public trash containers in Dulce Nombre I saw a woman with a child going through the rubbish. I don’t know if she was looking for food, though I suspect she was looking for bottles and plastic to recycle for a few lempiras.

This is the reality – in a country where millions are being spent on arms and military personnel; in a country where drug-traffickers flourish with the police, military, and political powers seeming to turn a blind eye – if not getting a share of the drug money for their pockets and political campaigns; in a country where environmental devastation, with attendant drought and hunger; in a country where mining interests continue to devastate the environment, even disinterring bodies from a cemetery nearby to profit from the gold found underneath.

But do I have hope?

I am not optimistic but I do have hope. God can make a way out of the desert, the devastation, the violence and destruction.

There are several things that offer a bit of hope.

This year, in our parish, people are taking more seriously Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si’, and have been making serious efforts at reforestation, especially at the communities’ water sources.

The Catholic Church’s National Pastoral Congress has set this as a theme for 2020: “A reconciled community builds a nation in peace and in truth.”

Our pastor is making an urgent call this Christmas season for disarmament, urging people to turn in their weapons to the parish where they will be destroyed in the sight of the people bringing them. I hope this will happen and that we might be able to get some blacksmiths to turn these weapons of violence into tools for farming.

In addition, this year the Honduran Bishops’ Conference has issued three very strong messages, criticizing the injustices in the country. This is something new and welcomed.

But, above all, I think of the many people in their villages who are seeking to live out their faith, despite the challenges.

Yesterday I baptized thirteen children in the village of El Zapote Santa Rosa. Tonight we will have Exposition of the Eucharist and a Holy Hour and Celebration of the Word with Communion in Plan Grande.

There are innumerable couples preparing for sacramental marriage. I have heard that in at least one village there are five couples in preparation.

There are the ministers of Communion who are visiting the sick, not only in the towns where they live but throughout the parish.

There are the catechists who are preparing for a new year, preparing children for the sacraments and, in several villages, beginning a new catechetical process with religious formation by age levels.

And there is much more – known only to God (and a few people).

In the middle of this, I pray that we may see the presence of God.  

Monday, as I preached at the baptisms in El Zapote, I reflected on the Gospel story of eighty-four year old Anna in the temple, recognizing the presence of God in the tiny babe that Joseph and Mary had brought to be presented in the temple. Only she and the aged Simeon recognized God coming to the temple.

May this world find more people like Simeon and Anna who can recognize God in the poor and humble, can praise God with joy, and can announce that God does not give up on us.

A blessed Near Year of 2020.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Letter from Honduras 2019

May the God of surprises fill you with joy during this season - where the followers of Christ celebrate the irruption of God into our world, as a poor tiny babe.

For those who want to know what I have been up to this year, I offer you this long letter.

Last Monday, I had a tooth pulled and so I had to rest for two days. That was a good excuse to begin to write a letter to friends. Today, Christmas eve, I am doing domestic chores and preparing for the Masses – the first one at 9 pm tonight in the church in Dulce Nombre.

This has been a year with many challenges, some personal, some related to our world and to Honduras, some related to my ministry.

I continue my service as a deacon in the parish of Dulce Nombre de Copán. This keeps me busy with formation of catechists, accompaniment of extraordinary ministers of Communion and youth groups, assisting the pastor in the formation of Delegates of the Word and parish missionaries.

I am also trying to get the parish Social Ministry more active and organized in the parish. This is a good challenge. Each community has people designated for social ministry and many villages have a coordinator of social ministry. In the past this ministry has been limited to raising funds for church projects in the parish and the villages and some fundraising for the sick. Gradually the ministry is getting a little more focused on assisting the poor and the sick, projects to protect the environment (planting trees and clean-up campaigns), and occasional advocacy.

I continue trying to get to a different community each Sunday morning for Sunday Celebrations of the Word with Communion. I especially try to get to communities where there is no communion minister. I often try to visit the sick and bring them Communion. I have also gone a few weekdays to a few areas of the parish where a communion minister doesn’t get.

I also usually go to one of the Sunday Masses with our pastor. He has between four and five each Sunday – in disparate parts of the parish. Since he needs a rest, he usually has me preach.

I also attend the major parish celebrations - Christmas, Holy Week, Corpus Christi, Christ the King, as well as the rites for the catechumens who are entering the church. 

I have also done my share of baptisms this year – most often during Mass, though Padre German sent me to a rural village when he was visiting his parents a few weeks ago.

I also have presided over a number of funerals this year or led a Celebration of the Word at the end of the nine days of prayer after death. These are times when God pulls something out of me that enables me to offer what I hope are words of consolation and hope. It is especially moving when I had visited the deceased beforehand, bringing communion.

I am also interviewing a good number of couples who are going to get married in the church. Our efforts to encourage marriage may be paying off. I just heard of one village which is preparing five couples for marriage. In a burst of enthusiasm, I told the catechist that if three or more of the couples get married together, I’ll buy a pig for their joint celebration.

I also find myself preparing materials for the parish and the diocese. This year I prepared our parish Stations of the Cross and worked with two priests to provide materials for the base communities.

The parish church is being renovated and one of our projects will be a mural in the apse above the main altar. I am working with an artist who has done murals in the popular style and we may have a unique parish church. Watch for details.

I also am helping, when I can, with the parish coffee field. Mostly I help transporting the parishioner-volunteers to the field, but I also occasionally try my hand -my fingers, really - at  harvesting the coffee. More often I'm taking pictures.

On the diocesan front, I found myself serving as deacon at several diocesan events: the Chrism Mass, the diocesan youth assembly, the ordination of two transitional deacons and at the priestly ordination of one of them, and the announcement of the opening of the process of investigation into the possible beatification of a delegate of the Word who was martyred. But a highlight of serving as a deacon was at the Mass where a young woman was received into the novitiate of the Dubuque Franciscan sisters who are serving here in Honduras.

Connecting with the Dubuque Franciscan Sisters has really been helpful for me. I meet them occasionally, including meeting on October 4 for a meal with them and other associates of their congregation. I also worked for five days with two of their candidates to give them an introduction to Catholic Social Thought; I made a special effort to connect this with the Franciscan tradition.

This Thanksgiving I had my first real Thanksgiving meal since I came here in 2007. Amigos de Jesús, a home for children and young people, some orphans but many of them have been marginalized. It was a feast prepared by the directors and the volunteers – Turkey, sweet potatoes, string bean casserole, mashed potatoes, and more. And the desserts were out of this world. I brought bread and ate a large portion of sweet potatoes (which are hard to find here.)

This Christmas will be different. Since I came, I’ve spent Christmas with the Franciscan sisters, even when it was only one of them. I will miss this sine they are in Iowa (enduring the snow and cold) for a Chapter of Elections for their community.  But I didn’t fail to make one of my Christmas specialties, cinnamon buns (which I am about to put into the oven). This year I didn’t find walnuts in time and so I’m going to experiment – one tray will be covered with maple syrup, the other with a sugar glaze.

The year has been marked by a precarious situation in Honduras – with the brother of the president being convicted in the US of drug-trafficking charges and other members of the National Party also involved. There has also been increased militarization of the country with the aid of the US and Israel; not only is the military involved in police work, there is talk of them being involved in prisons; there is also an agricultural project of several hundred million dollars which they are supposed to administer. With all the corruption, with ties to organized crime and drug-trafficking of military, police, and government officials, with the lack of a judicial system which investigates and prosecutes crime. The situation is precarious.

In the midst of this the Catholic bishops of Honduras have released three strong statements which can be found (in translation) herehere, and here.

Another major threat to the lives and health of people is the mining industry. At nights I can sometimes see the lights of the San Andrés gold mine. The mining company found gold under the cemetery and has been trying to remove all the bodies of the dead of the community of Azacualpa, La Unión, Copán. There were also rumors that a mining company was going to mine Cerro Quetzal near San Agustín, in our parish. People came together against this and even the mayor and two owners of land on the mountain came out against it. A temporary victory but the mining companies are devious – and the power of money is terrible. We will keep an eye on this in 2020.

Our sister parish, St. Thomas Aquinas in Ames, is providing scholarships for junior and senior high school students in an alternative weekend program. This is one way to help our young women and men get an education.

I have been working for several years with a coffee association in El Zapote Santa Rosa. This year they exported about 2700 pounds of coffee to a group in Ames that is roasting, packaging, and selling it – and providing a decent price for the producers. This is important, because most coffee growers received very low prices for the last coffee harvest. Because they are organized they have also been approached by a Spanish foundation that will help them improve the quality of their coffee, learn and use environment-friendly ways to deal with the pulp and water used in coffee production, and provide assistance to develop programs for food sustainability, especially for the women.

I have a Honduran friend who established a school in Santa Rosa to teach English, at an affordable price. I had been talking with him of my dreams of having a program somewhere in our parish. Finally, with the help of the Plan Grande grammar school principal, we had a class for about 19 kids between 10 and 13. A subsidy from St. Thomas Aquinas helped keep down the costs for the kids, but the price was extremely reasonable. The first series of classes ended in October. There is hope to continue this in 2020.

A medical group from Missouri, AMIGA, has been coming to our area twice a year for several years. I try to accompany them, including translating. It is very important for our parish.

What else?

I didn’t stay all year here in the parish of Dulce Nombre – although my hermitical streak is coming to the fore.

In March I visited the east coast of the US. I gave a lecture at the University of Scranton, my alma mater. I also was given the opportunity to preach at a Mass and to give a presentation at St. Anastasia’s parish outside of Philadelphia. My cousin, Sister Mary Barrar, arranged that.

I also got to visit a priest friend in New Jersey, whom I’ve known since we both attended Don Bosco Camp in Newton, NJ, one summer when we were in grade school. I also got a chance to visit a classmate from Callicoon, who is now a lawyer living in NYC (with his lawyer wife.) But the great surprise and joy was to visit someone I went to school with at the University of Scranton and who is now a monk at the Episcopal Monastery of the Holy Cross on the Hudson. It was a short visit but it was as if we were taking up a conversation we’d begun before. I had been in contact with him by e-mail, but this was the first face-to-face visit for almost fifty years. And it was a delight to stay at his monastery.

In September I got a chance to visit friends in El Salvador. It’s so close but I hadn’t visited for about three years. I visited Haciendita II, the community where I stayed for part of each week when I was volunteering in the parish of Suchitoto, during a 1992 sabbatical. It was a delight to see the little kid who always cried when I came; now he is married with two kids, and he is also a Communion minister in his parish.

In October I made my annual visit to Iowa. The main purpose is to connect with our sister parish, St. Thomas Aquinas (where I served in campus ministry and social ministry from 1983 to 2007). 

I had a chance to meet with and speak with several groups – including the coffee organization, Café El Zapote, which is importing the coffee from here. 

I also spoke at the Iowa City Catholic Worker. I was moved by their commitment to migrants, their accompaniment and housing of those who left situations of violence and poverty in Honduras and other countries. Their solidarity really gives me hope – in the midst of all the ugly stories I hear or read about in relation to migrants.

In November I was invited by the Conference of Religious of Honduras to give four days of talks in December for a group of religious who are responsible for the formation of new members. The topic: the reality and the stages of formation of religious. I at first demurred; the group probably knows more about the situation than I do (as a non-Central American) and about the nature of religious life. But after talking with two of the Dubuque Franciscans (who had done a session with them a few months before), I went ahead and prepared the week.

The week was great – even though I found myself preparing each night for almost two hours, after spending many days in November working on this. A perk was that I read, for the third or fourth time, Walter Brueggemann’s The Prophetic Imagination.

Now I am looking forward to a new year. I am not sure of where it will lead me, but I need to grow in my trust in God’s loving providence, showing me a way where there seems to be no way.

Tonight and tomorrow, as I assist at the altar, I will keep you in my prayers. I ask for yours.

Peace and all that is good.

      -also known as Juancito here and Jack to my cousins.

A photo of me caught in the act: