Thursday, May 28, 2020

Hear the pain of those who have no voice

An abandoned newborn

Two days ago an infant, less than a day old, was found in a field here in Plan Grande. He was found by a woman who informed the police. The police came (and perhaps the advocate for children and women from a government office in Santa Rosa) and took the child who is now in the Santa Rosa hospital. The medical personnel names him Leonardo David. Yesterday the police were investigating here in Plan Grande and in the nearby health center. They came in an unmarked car.

Photo from LaPrensa
I heard about this from a friend but I also heard about it on a Facebook news source. The young man reporting the news was full of indignation. How terrible and inhuman this was, he repeated over and over again. I agree it is horrible. But I also wonder what drove the mother to do this? Or did someone else do this or force her to do this? What would drive a woman to abandon her own child, the fruit of her womb? She might have been a very desperate woman, even a victim of abuse.

I will not justify what was done, but it is important to understand such horrors in light of the whole society. The number of women killed in Honduras is horrifying; domestic abuse of women and children is an epidemic. The poverty, the oppressive society which relies on violence, the macho culture are among the factors that contribute to a society where a newborn can be abandoned. Children and women are not valued – and this horror is just a sign of a problem of the entire society.

A police murder of a black man

Last night there were riots in Minneapolis, protesting the brutal police murder of George Floyd, a 46-year old man of color. The death was brutal and a sign of the racism in the US society, especially in some sectors.

I have become a bit more conscious of this recently when I read a Facebook post of a friend married to a Haitian woman. He is concerned about his young son going out on the street to play or run – and rightly so. People of color are suspect in many places in the US (and the world.)

Some have been quick to condemn the riots. I won’t justify them but I wonder where the desperation comes from. There have been more and more reports of violence, discrimination, and harassment of people of color recently. Note that I wrote “reports.” I don’t think this is a completely new phenomenon, but it appears that the US culture has changed in the past few years. Hatred, discrimination, and even violence against “the other” seem to have become more “acceptable” in a nation where the public discourse, even of people in power, is marked by its harshness and even hatred. I am a bit relieved that I don’t live there; I might be filled with a continual rage.

And so I can understand, without justifying the violence, which is a response to the violence of the murder and harassment of people of color as well as to the use of violence by police and security forces.

I was thus challenged by something Martin Luther King, Jr., said in 1966:

“And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear? ... It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.”

Can I hear the voices of those who are without a voice? Can I look at what is happening from the perspective of those who suffer the effects of a world that values power, violence, machismo, racism, and more?

Can I look at those who suffer with the eyes – and the heart – of a God who became flesh in a place of oppression, occupation, discrimination, violence and more?

Can I see history from the bottom, where, I believe, God walks and suffers?

Can I remember the witness of the martyrs, especially those in Central America?

Yesterday I read, with great joy, that another martyr of Central America has been recognized. On June 14, 1980, in the church of San Juan Nonualco, El Salvador, Franciscan friar Cosme Spessotto, a  Italian missionary, was killed – martyred, as  the Vatican acknowledged. He may soon be beatified, joining the ranks of Central Americans in Guatemala and El Salvador and missionaries from the US, Italy, and Spain who were martyred for their faith and their loving commitment to the poor.

Central American Franciscan martyrs, Cosme Spessotto and Blessed Tulio Marruzzo
There is hope.

As the US poet Maya Angelou, who died six years ago, wrote:

"Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope."

Let us be people of love, filled with hope, listening to those who are unheard – forging a new world of justice, love, peace, and solidarity.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Celibacy and Holy Orders V

5. The undivided heart of the married and celibate deacon

As a celibate permanent deacon, I continually struggle to be faithful to my promise of celibacy. It’s not easy; I fail and sin, but I seek God’s forgiveness and strength to be a sign of Christ the Servant.

To help me in my personal growth as well as to better understand celibacy, I recently read Donald Cozzens’ Freeing Celibacy. The author is clearly open to married priests in the Latin rite of the Catholic Church. (Interestingly, he writes nothing here about married deacons.) But he writes very positively about what he calls “charismatic celibacy.” I’ll return to this and a few other points in future posts.


A few months ago I wrote about what the celibate deacon can learn from married deacons. Cozzens ’critique of arguments often given for celibacy have helped me to think more deeply about both married and celibate deacons. Though he was writing about mandatory celibacy for priests, his arguments may help us lay aside some approaches to celibacy that need to be carefully critiqued.

CELIBACY FOR THE KINGDOM OF GOD

In the ordination rite, the bishop asks the celibate candidates:

…are you resolved, as a sign of your interior dedication to Christ, to remain celibate for the sake of the kingdom and in lifelong service to God and mankind? [Italics mine]

I was very happy to be able to say, “Si, quiero. – Yes. I wish so.”

For me, the Kingdom of God is central to Jesus’s ministry. He came and preached that “The Kingdom has come near” (Mathew 3:2). As I understand this, Jesus came and revealed the Kingdom in his life and his being. I believe that we are called to be signs of that Kingdom in all we do – both as individuals and as the church.

But Cozzens pointedly asks, “Does [the argument of celibacy for the kingdom] not reveal an outdated dualistic theological anthropology?... Is there not an implicit assertion that married priests are less committed to the kingdom of heaven? Finally, are not all sacramental marriages oriented to the kingdom of heaven? Finally, are not all Christians, because of their baptismal dignity, committed to the kingdom of heaven?” (Cozzens, 98)

We are all called to live the Kingdom in our lives. The centrality of the Kingdom is not an argument for celibacy – but it might help us clear up what should be the focus of celibacy: living for the Kingdom and living the Kingdom.

AN UNDIVIDED HEART

Cozzens also mentions that one argument given for obligatory celibacy is that celibacy is a sign of an undivided heart. The celibate can concentrate on love of God.

I think that the argument that celibacy is a way for the cleric to be solely fixed on God may be one of the most problematic arguments.

Canon 277.1 of the Canon Law of the Church states: “Celibacy is a special gift of God by which sacred ministers can more easily remain close to Christ with an undivided heart, and can dedicate themselves more freely to the service of God and their neighbor.”

In the Rite of ordination, the bishop notes that” “By this consecration you will adhere more easily to Christ with an undivided heart; you will be more freely at the service of God and mankind, and you will be more untrammeled in the ministry of Christian conversion and rebirth.”

I’m not sure that celibacy makes it easier to remain close to Christ, but it does remind us of the need to adhere to Christ with all our heart. I’ll return to this in a later post, reflecting on Psalm 16:2: “My happiness lies in You alone,” from the perspective of a celibate deacon.

But still I wonder if the “undivided heart” argument is sometimes interpreted in dualistic, Manichean ways. To repeat what Cozzens writes about “celibacy for the Kingdom”: 
Who can attest that the heart of the married deacon (or the married priests of the Eastern Rites or the married priests who were ministers before becoming Catholic)? And who can say that a married person’s heart is divided?
I think that what is at stake here is a question of spirituality.

I would suggest that married people’s hearts might also be undivided because they have an incarnational spirituality which moves them to see and respond to God present in their spouse.

When asked by a scholar of the Law, Jesus identified the greatest commandment: 
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22: 37-40)
These commandment of love are not seen in competition, nor merely as complementary. They are, I believe, essentially united. They are intimately linked as John says in his first letter (1 John 4: 20-21) “Whoever does not love ta brother he has seen cannot love God he hasn’t see…. “Whoever loves God must also love his brother.”

Maybe, then, instead of contrasting the celibate and the married person, we need to look at another metaphor. Rather than speak about the undivided heart, might it be better to speak about the heart big enough to love, to love God above all and one’s neighbor as oneself.

The married deacon makes it clear that love in the family, married love, is a place where God is made known and where God’s love is made real. Daily he is challenged to love his family and in that way let the love of God be made known in the world.

The celibate deacon can claim to love God – but is his love really love or is it a form of self-satisfying individualism? That’s a question I often ask myself.

What is needed is a deeper understanding of celibacy, especially for the celibate deacon. What is the charism of celibacy? More on this in later posts.

CELIBACY IS NOT MOSTLY FUNCTIONAL

One way to interpret the argument of the undivided heart is to postulate that the cleric has more time for all that is demanded in the service of God. Some suggest that celibacy helps clerics “more freely dedicate themselves to the service of God and humankind?” (Cozzens, 99). But I think that is a merely functional argument.

But, unless there is a deep spirituality of celibate love, the celibate cleric may not easily resist the temptations of seeking control, being a free agent. He might resent the demands and the needs of others instead of seeing then as opportunities for him to let the love of God shine through him. Without the demands of caring for a spouse and a family, he could easily take his desires as absolutes and close himself on himself. This may happen in marriages, but the temptation is strong to consider oneself the center of the universe or, at the very least, the parish. I know.

CELIBACY AS A WAY OF LOVE AND INTIMACY

The challenge is to understand celibacy as a way of love and intimacy. Donal Dorr in a 2004 article on celibacy in The Furrow (55 [3]) noted that “All of us are called to be loving people.” (p. 138)

But how to we live this love? That is a crucial question and a challenge for all followers of Christ. 

In addition, it's important to recognize that celibate love must involve intimacy. As Cozzens writes:

“Celibacy is not an alternative to intimacy, but a different — often a more difficult — way of achieving intimacy. Anyone who is celibate must make a commitment to developing a love that is deeply personal as well as universal in scope. 
 
“Intimacy involves being present to the other with transparency and trust.” (141)

And so the challenge is to articulate a spirituality of celibacy that is truly loving of God, truly embracing all of life, and which involves real intimacy.

I’ll try to write on this in future posts.


Previous posts on celibacy

“The Joy of Love for Celibates,” October 22, 2015

“The Promise of Celibacy,” July 3, 2016 https://hermanojuancito.blogspot.com/2016/07/promise-of-celibacy.html

“Celibacy and Holy Orders I: Some misunderstandings of the celibate deacon,” January 13, 2020

“Celibacy and Holy Orders II: Celibacy and Latin Rite Catholic priests: an exception for the Amazon? Why permanent deacons probably aren’t enough?” January 16, 2020

“Celibacy and Holy Orders III: The married deacon’s challenge to the celibate deacons,” Janaury 17, 2020.

“Celibacy and Holy Orders IV: Two new books for celibate clerics,” January 31, 2020

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Ordination of a friend

I just finished watching the loved stream Mass of ordination of a young man in the archdiocese of Dubuque, Iowa – Joseph Sevcik.


A few years ago, he accompanied Fr. Jon Seda on a visit to our parish here in Honduras in January 2014. He made a good impression on our pastor, Padre German Navarro, and me. 

In Aldea Nueva, Concepción

In the church of San Antonio, Dulce Nombre de Copán
It was with great joy that I saw him ordained - via live-streaming.

The Mass was simple – Archbishop Michael Jackels, Fr. Jon Seda (vocation director of the archdiocese), the newly ordained Fr. Joseph, as well as some of his family members.

What especially struck me was the homily of Archbishop Jackels. It was short and straight to the point. Drawing on his experience of the recent funerals of some priests, he noted that the good priest is a man of kindness, joy, and love of the poor. He also designated the three he was ordaining this week as “Pope Francis priests.” He especially reminded Father Joseph to be one who “goes to the peripheries.”

What an insightful challenge to Father Joseph and to all priests (and to us deacons)
Be kind.Be joyful.Love the poor.Go to the peripheries, the marginal places of this world.
I also noted that the three readings pointed to God’s choice of the young. Jeremiah protested that he was too young (Jeremiah 1: 7). Paul wrote Timothy, “Let no one have contempt for your youth” (1 Timothy 4: 12).

Let us continue to make places in our world and in our church for the young. This old fogey wants the prophecy of Joel (Joel 3:1, cited in the Acts of the Apostles 2:17) to come true:

…your young men shall see visions, your old men shall dream dreams.

Blessings, Padre Chepito, you “young” whipper-snapper.


As our pastor, Padre German, wrote: 
Que sea mensajero de esperanza y portador de la Alegría del Evangelio donde crecen los muros del miedo y las casas de la angustia.
May you be a messenger of hope and a bearer of the Joy of the Gospel where the walls of fear and the anguished houses are increasing.


Monday, May 18, 2020

What's up now in Honduras and in my life

The Honduran government has set very strict guidelines. Now you can circulate in the streets and in vehicles only once every two weeks, depending on the last number of your identity card.

The most recent change is that it is now obligatory to wear a face mask in public – with actual fines.


 Last Wednesday was my day to circulate and I went to Dulce Nombre and Santa Rosa – to check in with the pastor, to get food and supplies, to fill up the tank of my pick up, and go to the bank.

There were stops by the authorities at several places: before entering Santa Rosa and most notably at the turn off to Dulce Nombre from the international highway, where they took down my name and ID number as well as the license plate number – both when leaving the Dulce Nombre area and returning. They disinfected the car – and in a few places the soles of my shoes and my pants.

To enter a public building, we had to stay two meters apart and wear face masks. Our temperature was taken and we walked our shoes in a disinfectant tray.

Last week I got to Mass for the first time since March, for a Mass on the first anniversary of the death of a man whom I knew, as I mentioned in my last blog post.

The streets of Pan Grande are not as busy as usual. But life goes on, yet people are not taking precautionary measures as seriously as I think they should. Almost nobody in Plan Grande goes around with a face mask, only some folks on motorcycles or in cars. This is another question which I may address later.

The situation in the cities is much more serious than here in the countryside. Most of the cases have been in the major cities of San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa as well as on the north coast. In some of these areas there are more restrictions on movement.

Many people in the cities are part of the informal economy – selling on the streets. Many others would have worked in small shops. Small stores, called tiendas or pulperías, which are like what might be called small mom and pop stores or corner grocery stores in the US, can operate for several hours. But the markets are closed as well as restaurants and most businesses. There are many people who have no source of income.

The government is doing some distribution of basic food and hygiene products. There have been two so far in our municipality (Concepción, Copán) and I’ve accompanied them. From what I’ve seen they generally try to respond to the neediest and, at least in our municipality, are not encumbered by politicization or efforts to aid only those who support the party in power.


There have been complaints in other parts of the country that the neediest are not getting what they need and that the aid is politicized. There have been some protests – which have put down by army and police forces.

In some areas of the country, especially in the large cities, it seems as if the military and police have had a role in the distribution, something which I don’t think is healthy.

But there are always some who will slip through the cracks. I think especially of the workers who have come in from Guatemala to work on the coffee fields. I don’t think they are eligible for Honduran government aid. I know of one family and arranged for them to get some food and supplies from a donation that came to the parish from a Santa Rosa grocery store. When I gave it to the father of the family he told me that they had not eaten the day before.

There are a lot of other questions about the distribution of food stuffs as well as the effect of the curfews on the poorest. This worries me.

But I thought I’d share some of what I see going on, in rural areas, despite the restrictions.

People are connecting a lot less than usual. But they are still going out to work in the fields, working in some construction projects, and more.

The two times I went out with the municipal workers to give out food, I noted people working on making bricks, baking bread, or drying tobacco.




I even saw one young man, studying his first year of high school in the alternative Maestro en Casa project in his area, working on tasks in his home – on the computer. First of all, I was surprised to see someone with a computer at home.


 Another surprise is the prevalence of smart phones here. I never knew what you could do on one until I decided to get a cell phone plan several months ago. I’m guessing that some distance learning might not extremely difficult, though my guess is that not many teachers or students really know how to use smartphone technology efficiently. I may be wrong. I still don’t know how to answer a phone call on my smartphone.

The rainy season is beginning and we have had several severe afternoon storms – usually after a day where the temperatures had risen to close to 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

As I mentioned, people are going out to prepare fields to plant corn and beans.

In some areas of the parish there are abundant bananas and plantains. People would often sell these outside their communities, but without transportation that is not possible. So one community gave bananas to us who were distributing the aid packages.


This is also the season when the izote trees flower. People here like the flowers and often eat them with eggs. At times they are a little too bitter for my taste, but I am told that the bitterness is due to the way they are prepared.


Just outside my house is a small “grove” of izote trees. Every year there are a few blooms but they have not always been harvested, since they are at the top of the trees, three to five meters above the ground. But kids and young guys often climb – as I look on with some trepidation. This year the grove by the house has had 20 flowers. Only three are left after some neighbor kids cut five about ten days ago; then I cut three last week and a young guy cut about ten the day the pastor came for Mass. He took them to share in Dulce Nombre.



I feel very blessed that I am not lacking for tomatoes. A local young man and his cousin have a project that grows large “beefsteak” tomatoes in green houses. The first tomatoes came a few weeks before the shutdown. A major problem they now have is marketing, since transportation is difficult. But I have bought from them three or four times, and even made and froze spaghetti sauce. I hope that the farmers can survive this.


I am baking bread, making soup, and cooking a bit more than usual. I have more than enough – including a reserve of brown rice. I was going to buy coffee last week but a friend who works with the association exporting coffee to Iowa gave me two bags of ground coffee from his farm.

The association is going strong, though I think the quality of its coffee may have suffered from the high temperatures and close to drought conditions mid-year. But they will be sending close to 7000 pounds of green coffee to Iowa shortly. They are working with a Santa Rosa beneficio which processes and ships coffee to Houston. The coffee is now in San Pedro Sula being processed. I pray that this goes well.

One last set of commentaries on my life.

Outside of a bi-weekly trip to Dulce Nombre and Santa Rosa, I’m staying in a lot and only going out to but bottled water and necessities from local pulperías. I am reading a lot and praying a bit more than usual.

This may change a little. There are about 20 couples in the parish who were preparing for the sacrament of matrimony before the curfews and travel restrictions. One of the ways I serve in the parish is to do the last interview with them and two witnesses, which is mostly to see if they know what they are getting into and that there are no impediments to a sacramental marriage. I normally did these at the parish. But now, since we can only go out on certain days depending on our ID numbers, it is almost impossible to have five people get together on the same day. I’ll be trying to get to the villages to do the interviews there. If I can get a salvoconducto from the mayor that enables me to circulate in my care, I’ll try to begin the interviews in a few weeks.

Though I’m reading a lot – novels, theology, and more – I want to try to use this time to find ways to improve my ministry.

I have written a paper on my thoughts which I will try to publish in a few week or so.

Yet I've felt a need for some intellectual input. So last week I decided to find other ways to use my time.

I found a Honduran Spanish language school that does classes by internet. I’ve already taken four hours of classes and will be taking six more. The woman teacher is really good, helping me with some details.

I also found out about a diplomado, a short course, on abuse in the family run by a center at the Mexican Pontifical University that also is working on the prevention of abuse of minors and the vulnerable in the church. It’s four weeks long – and I’m hoping it will help with my ministry, since domestic violence and sexual abuse are serious problems here in Honduras.

Over all, I’m feeling very much at peace – in the midst of all this.

God is good.

And weird things happened. After I had finished a draft of this blog post, I heard a noise and went out and saw that a car had fallen into a drainage ditch on the road beside my house. They finally got it out - but I have no idea how he got that stuck.


Thursday, May 14, 2020

Pastoral work and worship in the time of COVID-19 – first thoughts

Last Monday our pastor came to Plan Grande for a Mass on the anniversary of the death of the father of a member of the community, a dear man, Raul Aguirre. I knew him and his sons. Though enfeebled he would walk each Sunday from his home about two miles from Dulce Nombre for the 9 am Mass there. I would often give him a ride when I saw him. He’d throw his crutch into the bed of my truck and sit next to me in the cab.

There were probably twenty five persons in the church in Plan Grande – carefully separated. We also remembered three other deaths in the community in the last few months.

This was my first Mass and the first chance I’ve had to receive communion since March.

I’m been thinking a lot about what we can do. Many here think that because we have not had cases of COVID-19 in our parish one can move toward a life as it before the emergency, I try to get people to think about this more carefully. But I have serious concerns about opening up too soon, giving a false sense of security.


In March, just before the pandemic was being felt here, I went with the pastor and a seminarian in our parish to a remote village that has not had pastoral work for many years. We visited the abandoned church and prayed there. But what I noted was that two words were written on the front of the church - Cristo vive - Christ is alive. I believe that this is the message that needs to guide our present and future pastoral work. 

I am trying to put together an article to share here to help us respond. In this post, I’d like to share some of my ideas, concerns, and observations (some of which are probably wrong.)

Some people are concerned about the life of faith. I have people calling me asking about return to religious education of children. I strongly advise against it, explaining the reasons – and now that the pastor and I have talked we have agreed that we should put off any religious education and not have classes.

I urge the catechists to encourage parents to pray together with their children in their family, perhaps beginning this month with the rosary, a traditional Marian devotion which is practiced especially in May and October.

I have heard that there are a few families that meet together to pray and read the scriptures from the lectionary. That is admirable and a great idea.

But the problem is that many families do not really know how to pray together. We have failed to teach them

There is a lot of promotion here of the family as “the domestic church,” but have we really given the families the resources and the formation to be a domestic church?

There are base communities in our diocese, but some of them are rather large (20-30 people) and their meetings are more mini-celebrations of the Word than places to share together about their faith and their daily lives. I fear they have become too institutional, connected with filling the needs of structures in the parish and, in some places, as requirements for receiving sacraments. Have we formed communities where people can share their faith and grow in solidarity?

As we think about living with COVID-19 for months, and perhaps years, we need to think about alternative structures of worship, the sacramental life, and parishes.

Most of all, I believe, we need to find ways to help people grow in their faith in a way that is personal and participative. It is not enough to watch a Mass on the television, as a fairly passive spectator. If a family is finding ways to make their televised Masses a time to pray together as a family, perhaps including a time for personal intentions and sharing on the scriptures, that makes of what might be a mere spectacle into moments of family intimacy with each other and with God.

I think we also need to help people learn how to pray – on their own, not dependent on a priest or the local delegate of the Word. This is perhaps one of the most critical challenges here – and throughout the world.

This means faith formation of parents as well as young people and children and faith formation that is not linked to receiving sacraments. Religious formation of children which is only preparation for sacraments is a major issue here and the diocese is promoting programs of religious formation by ages or grades. This is a needed first step and the material does see a role for the parents in the formation, but more is needed. Perhaps we should think in the long term of family catechesis. Who knows what might work, but we need to dream and experiment.

Base communities and small groups might become in the future places where adult can grow in their faith – not receiving instruction but reflecting together on their faith and their lives. This means training of leaders in their faith and in promoting participation and reflection by all members of a community.

A major challenge in this is the sense that many people have here in Honduras that they really don’t have anything to contribute. There are people who know – and we need to have them teach us. (I almost wrote indoctrinate us.) Whether these are the clergy or delegates of the Word or professors or people with degrees, they are the “authorities” and we have to obey them and accept what they say. I will write more on this later, but I think this is what has led to the political mess we have today with corruption, boss leadership, and partisan politics. But that’s another blog post.

I am not pessimistic; neither am I optimistic. But I have hope, a hope that can challenge us to look for imaginative, creative, and life-affirming alternatives.

But that’s a lot of work. I look forward to this work and I am trying to use these days of confinement as an opportunity to read, think, and pray for a new Honduras.


Friday, May 08, 2020

Aid to the hungry

Monday through Wednesday of this week, the municipality of Concepción, Copán, distributed bags of food stuffs and of soap and bleach to more than 1600 households. 


I accompanied them as I had done in the first distribution in Holy Week when 1623 or so bags were distributed.

My truck ready to go to a community
The contents of the food bags were each worth a little more $25 dollars and included basic food stuffs, like salt, sugar, beans, rice, shortening, tinned fish, and coffee.

Bag from the first distribution
This time a non-governmental organization that works in the area with a child-sponsorship project, Plan International, was also distributing goods, but only in two communities. To prevent duplication, and to open the way for more assistance, they worked with the municipality to avoid any duplication and in hopes of expanding outreach to needy families that had been missed in the first distribution.

The municipality of Concepción was perhaps the first to do the distribution in April. From my experience, they tried to avoid any favoritism and politicization. In at least one village where I was, I saw that they adhered to the decision not to give more than one bag to a household. (I have been told that there might have been problem in another village whose authorities had presented a list with more than one person from a household.)


A few days ago I saw the public announcement of the president of Honduras about the distribution. What disturbed me was the decision that had been made to have the military distribute the goods in some cities. In a highly militarized society, where there are serious human rights issues, especially in relation to the military, this worried me. But in our municipality the distribution was mostly done by employees of the municipality with no military presence that I saw, except for a few in one village during the first distribution (because there were some concerns about the situation there.) I was very happy to see that the distribution was not militarized here and that this time neither the mayor nor a vice-mayor were present, as far as I could determine.

Helped by a member of one of the communities
The distribution went fairly well, though we found some needy families who had not received anything in the first distribution. This ended up being a problem. The government had decided that only those who had received the first distribution would receive the second. I think this was done to minimize the problems of the first distribution in some areas. But I think it was misguided. There were places, even in our municipality, where more than one person from a household received a bag in the first distribution; this should have been corrected. There were any number of persons who did not receive anything in the first distribution but were obviously in need. In addition, at least in our area, it was determined not to give a bag to people who had a small grocery store – a tienda or pulpería; but some people who had only a trucha, a small area where they sold mostly drinks and snacks, and who are obviously poor were denied a bag in the first distribution.

What ended up happening in our area is that the coordinators in the villages were told to contact the persons in charge of the distribution about those needy families that had not received anything. Because Plan International covered a number of households in two communities, there were perhaps fifty sacks that could be distributed to those in need.



Our experience, it seems, is not what people are experiencing in other parts of the country. I have already mentioned the militarization of the aid in some cities. In addition, there are charges of politicization of the aid, favoring those who belong to the party in power. In addition, the aid has arrived all too slowly in some urban areas and people have come out in protest.
                                                           
But worst of all are charges of inflated prices for the goods. I don’t have details of this but I would not be surprised if this happened due to the rampant greed and corruption in the country.

But there are other possible problems to keep in mind.

In Honduras the political parties have used aid to the needy as a weapon in their political campaigns, as a way to sway voters. It is not always aid that does not help those of other parties but it does give the impression to some that if they want to get aid they have to support the party in power. Some of this is a political naïveté that confuses government aid with aid from a politician or political power; I once heard of a woman who showed off the concrete flooring in her house and said that the president had given her this. Sometimes it’s not so subtle as the bags I saw being distributed about a year ago with the name and picture of the president on the bag.

A second concern is the way that this aid seems to take away people’s initiative to do things themselves. I remember a few years ago when I visited a village and had to take an elderly woman to a nearby clinic. She had fainted. When I entered the house I knew what had happened. The house was low with a tin roof: it was an oven. We left her at the clinic overnight because she was dehydrated. I recommended that the village members, most of them close relatives of the woman and her husband, make adobe bricks to raise the roof of her house. It never happened until a few years later when the mayor’s office gave them funds for this.

This sort of dependency can help perpetuate the corruption of political leaders, having the people feel that they need these leaders to get things. Such dependency just leaves a larger space for corrupt politicians.

It also creates a belief that they need to seek the favors of these politicians. A commentary on the Jesuit-supported Radio Progreso recently spoke about this:

Favors are given when people stop believing in their rights and when their dignity has been crushed. Leaders of the society, for the most part, have de-educated society. They have educated people to expect the favors to come from above, in response to people's pleas and humiliating requests.
What is valued is begging. Demands are seen as rude, as enemies of democracy and national reconciliation. This practice of begging and granting favors is typical of a society based on patrimonialism [what the government gives is a gift of the ruler to his subjects]. And what is patrimonialism? It’s the mentality, culture, and political practice which educates in order that  the entire society is convinced that the assets of the State are the properties of  the politicians, who can use them to grant favors or make donations in exchange for loyalty, silence, and obedience. Whoever receives a favor, shuts up, can no longer say anything against the one from whom he received the favor. A favor is never a right. It's a gift, and one gives thanks by shutting up. 
Patrimonialism needs people who don’t think for themselves.
But what does one do when there is great need?

I believe people and governments must respond in ways that respect the lives of the people and their dignity, without any political ties.

At times, giving out the bags, I heard the people say thank you. Several times I said, “No. It’s what you need and ought to receive.”

In the long run, I think we have to think of ways that people can get together and help each other. This is happening in some areas of the country, but it needs to be encouraged and promoted so that, when this ends, people can begin to live with less dependence on the politicians and with a greater sense of interdependence -  a sense that we are in this together.

ADDENDA:

I did hear of one case in another municipality where the person receiving the packet said he didn't need it but would give it to someone who did. That is one step.

One last note. In one community the people brought us bananas and plantains. They probably have more than they can use because they can't get out to sell them. But it was a nice gesture - and I;m looking forward to frying some plantains today or tomorrow.



Thursday, May 07, 2020

Corona virus in Honduras, day unknown

It’s been more than two months since corona virus has affected us here in Honduras. I don't know how many weeks we've been in some type of curfew. Here is the first of a few posts on what I think and see here.

The situation has been precarious and there have been problems that continue.

Honduras was not prepared, to put it mildly. The healthcare system has been broken for years, with insufficient medicine in the clinics, without a budget that pays medical personnel on time and that sees that hospitals and clinics have the equipment they need. This is not to mention the scandalous crime of a few years ago when there was serious corruption in the national health service.

Thus there were – and are – doctors and nurses without adequate biosecurity equipment. There are not enough machines for inhalation therapy. And, according to one report, there are not enough places in intensive care units in at least one hospital in San Pedro Sula.

One of the problems has been the availability of tests. First, the only facility to analyze tests was in Tegucigalpa. Later it was possible in San Pedro.  This week, there is a private testing facility in San Pedro which is assisting. In mid-April there were less than 100 tests being reported each day. This past week they have begun reporting more than 400 tests per day.

As of last night, according to reports from an international source, there have been 1461 cases detected, 99 deaths, 132 recovered patients: 1230 active cases detected. But this means 10 deaths per million inhabitants of Honduras and 148 cases detected per million. There have been 5635 tests, which means 571 tests per million. A quick comparison: the US has 3840 cases per million and 228 deaths per million inhabitants, but 24,416 tests per million. My guess is that there are more cases here in Honduras that are not reported due to lack of testing and backlogs of reporting of tests.

The largest number of cases in Honduras come from the San Pedro Sula area, the industrial capital of Honduras. There are also a significant number of cases detected in the region of the capital, Tegucigalpa. Other parts of the country have been seriously affected, especially the north coast. There has been only one case detected in the department (the equivalent of a state) where I live, Copán. The patient recovered and returned home from the hospital with a warm greeting from her neighbors.

The measures taken here are very strict on paper. They have gotten stricter over the course of the past five weeks. At first we could go out once a week, depending on the last number on our identity card. The first weeks they had three or four id number per day. It was, in my mind, a disaster that could endanger people. Later, one could circulate only once a week but only two id numbers per day. This week only one id number can circulate each day and so it’s two weeks between the time when you can get to the bank or a grocery store. You can go out to local small stores (tiendas or pulperías) but what you can get is limited. This means a lot of planning (and also helping or seeking to help your neighbors.)

In addition, we are supposed to wear face masks in public.


In addition, people are not to congregate and no one should be out between 5 pm and 6 am.

In the past week or so there has also been a complete curfew in the department of Cortes and in two cities, El Progresso-Yoro and Las Vegas-Santa Barbara, where there have been serious outbreaks of COVID-19.

Some see this as a type of military control – and there may be an element of this. But one of the problems that I detect is that the idea of keeping a distance between person is something foreign to the culture. I still see people shaking hands. In addition, wearing masks is a problem. Some see this as giving in to fear and have no idea of the problems of contagion. In addition, there is the problem of obtaining masks – and the cost for the poor!

One of the measures taken in our part of the country is control of entry and exit from communities. In some places this has been done by local authorities who have set up road blocks, checking on the persons and where they come from as well as spraying disinfectant on the vehicles and the shoes, pants, and hands of the passengers.


There are still a few road blocks within the area of our parish but the number has decreased. Part of this is due to the fact that there are roadblocks, with military presence, at the three major points of entry into the parish.

I don’t know if this isolation is really effective, but I think it has cut down on the dangers in our area. We’ll see.

What about the future?

I think what is important is the need to keep one’s guard up.

I have been receiving calls and text messages for people regarding religious education in the villages. I advise the catechists to put it off, because of the continuing risks. But I hear of people getting together for Sunday celebrations and fear that this may open the people to future risks. One community is taking a little better approach; only one neighborhood of the village can come to the Sunday celebration to lessen the number of people present. I still have some problems with this, but at least this is better than other places.

Another problem is that some think that because COVID-19 has not come here there is no problem, not recognizing that the measures taken may have contributed to the safety here. To let down one’s guard could be disastrous.

There are other concerns.

There are people who do not have enough food. I’ll write about this in a future post since it’s a complicated issue and there have been different responses in different parts of the country.

There are also questions of what to do in the long run, when COVID-19 has decreased. How are we to respond, especially in terms of pastoral work. That’s material for another future post.

In the meantime, I’m staying at home (except for my assisting the municipality’s distribution of food stuffs and May 13 when I’ll try to stock up on food, pay bills, and connect in person with the pastor).

Pray, study, stay at home, keep well and safe. And imagine a new way of living together as we move out of this.