Monday, October 26, 2020

COVID, Pastoral work, the Apse Mural, and Coffee

Life goes on - and every once in a while I come across a picture opportunity - as I did one day last week driving through a neighboring village.

A few days ago, the pastor told me to be more careful and to be sure to wear my mask in Dulce Nombre. 

I have been very cautious, even since things have opened up. I wear my mask outside the house, except when I’m in the parish center and talking with the pastor and others there. I avoid large concentrations of people and try to keep a distance. 

The pastor was going to ask me to preside at a funeral of someone who had been killed but then decided that it might be best for me not to go. He went instead. 

The cases of COVID-19 have increased in certain parts of the parish and there have been a number of deaths. Some of this has been due to the carelessness of people. There was a family who had a vigilia, a wake, for someone who had died – six of those in attendance tested positive for the virus. In addition, there have been political meetings with little concern for safety. The internal elections of candidates will take place in March and so the candidates want to go out and find supporters. Health concerns are not really addressed. 

In the midst of all this, I try to be careful and prudent. One thing I have done is buy a large number of masks and give them out to people whom I am meeting with. I have had almost no rejections, especially when I explain why. 

But I still have done some pastoral work. 

Most Sundays I preside at a Celebration of the Word with Communion, often here in Plan Grande where care is taken for health concerns. In the afternoon I usually go to one of the places where there is Mass where I preside and often preach. 

I don’t go out to communities as much as I used to – and miss the opportunity to visit the sick. But last week Padre German asked me to visit a thirty-one-year-old young man who is bed-ridden because of a cerebral blood clot (or something like this.) He has already had three operations. He and his wife want to get married. And so the pastor asked me to see what can be done for the young man and if the couple was ready for marriage. They’ve been together for more than 12 years and have two kids. They also signed up for the marriage preparation in their village, but the pandemic ensued – as did the health of the husband. 

The husband had three operations in the Santa Rosa hospital. His wife accompanied him; but, since there was no room at the shelter for family of those in the hospital, she slept in the streets for nine nights. The doctors recommended another operation in a hospital in San Pedro Sula (about three hours away), but they didn’t go – partly, I believe, for not having $150 for an ambulance and perhaps partly because of the young man’s fear of death. He wasn’t eating much but was taking ENSURE about three times a day. When Padre German saw him two weeks ago, he couldn’t talk since the family had run out of ENSURE. He gave them money to buy a can (about $40). That seemed to help since I was able to talk with him. They had little of the ENSURE left and so I left some money to help them buy what they need. 

The wife has been caring for him and her two children (ages 11 and 8) since he got sick in March. At times she has to carry him to get him in a wheelchair and she often has to feed him. I talked with them about marriage – and I hope that they can soon get married. I also tried to encourage him to proceed with the operation. I hope to talk with them in a day or two. 

Interestingly, I mentioned the case on my Facebook page and someone volunteered to help with the transportation costs. I just pray that he decides to go ahead with the operation. I’ll work with the local church community to raise funds and see what we have in our parish Solidarity Fund. 

I also ended up working with people in another village to help them raise the funds for a family that lost their home in a landslide. They were in the house when the earth came over the house but they escaped without danger. The local church community has raised some funds and also got some help from the municipal government. We were able to help them with some of the tin roofing with our parish Solidarity Fund.

The sacraments continue. 

In the next two weeks, I will be having interviews with two couples before their marriage. One of the couples I’ve known for a few years – she’s a catechist and he went through the catechumenate.

There are a few places that have been preparing for baptisms – with concern for health and safety. I’ll be baptizing four little kids in two weeks. 

The one big project in the last few weeks is helping the work of the artist who is painting the apse and sanctuary area of the main church. I’ve been conferring with him, going to Santa Rosa for supplies, and providing him with some pictures of the area. We want to have a mural that is rooted in the lives of the people here – while calling them to live their faith.

This weekend the apse mural was finished.

Today they moved the scaffolding and the artist began to work on the lower part of the sanctuary.

The upper part is an image of Mary, based on an icon. It is striking. On both sides of Mary you can see scenes from the countryside, reminding us that Mary is a woman of the people.

In the lower section we will have four figures. On the far left we will have a painting of Father Juan Gennaro, an Italian missionary, who built the church and was for many years a beloved pastor. Between the three windows we will have images of two Latin American saints – Saint Rose of Lima who is also the patron of our diocese and Saint Óscar Romero, who was martyred in El Salvador in 1980. At the far right we will have an image of Saint Lawrence the deacon. The pastor wants Saint Lawrence because we are the first parish in our diocese with a permanent deacon.

The artist is using some images and photos as inspirations for the murals. Today he began working on Saint Lawrence, using a woodcut from Ade Bethune as his inspiration, but using features of the people around the saint that reflect people here.

We do not know what the future holds in store – especially since the pandemic still continues to afflict us. The pastor goes out almost every day to one or two villages. There is no religious formation as before though there are a few efforts with small groups. There have been some baptisms of infants and there are marriages.

We will probably have more marriages this year than any recent year. One woman to be married, with a unique sense of humor, which some might call twisted, suggested that they want to be marriage before dying.

Next week will have some celebrations for All Souls Day. They will be scaled back from previous years because of health concerns. For example, we won’t have the usual Mass in the Dulce Nombre Cemetery though there will be a Mass in church in the evening. 

At the end of November, we have celebrated a parish-wide celebration of the Feast of Christ the King. We won’t have one this year, though there will be Masses and Celebrations in several places.

One of the joys of living in the countryside is that at this time of the year there are oranges, mandarin oranges,  and passionfruit. The trees int he neighboring villages of El Zapote and Candelaria are full.

The coffee harvesting has started. It will be interesting to see how it goes this year – whether there will be enough harvesters and if there will be sufficient care for their health and safety.

The parish coffee field looks good. Last week a small group came and cut down the weeds between the rows while other harvested a few of the coffee berries that were ripe or over-ripe. These usually are not good coffee. But the coffee bushes are well-laden. The real harvesting will be, for the most part, from late November till early February.

I'll try to keep you attuned to what goes one. Please continue to pray for us and thank you fro your support. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

A Homily to get me in trouble

In some ways I am glad that I will not be preaching in the US this weekend. 

The first reading, Exodus 11: 20-26, is so strong that I fear that some people would walk out – if they took it seriously. 
“You shall not molest or oppress an alien, for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt. You shall not wrong any widow or orphan. If ever you wrong them and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry. My wrath will flare up, and I will kill you with the sword; then your own wives will be widows, and your children orphans.” 
From what I can see from a distance, this passage is an indictment of current US policy toward the migrant and the poor. (Note: when the scriptures speak of “the widow and the orphan” they are referring to those who are without support and who therefore are poor and marginalized.) 

Combine this passage with paragraph 39 of Pope Francis’ recent encyclical Fratelli Tutti, and we’ve got a real problem. 
Then too, “in some host countries, migration causes fear and alarm, often fomented and exploited for political purposes. This can lead to a xenophobic mentality, as people close in on themselves, and it needs to be addressed decisively”. Migrants are not seen as entitled like others to participate in the life of society, and it is forgotten that they possess the same intrinsic dignity as any person. Hence, they ought to be “agents in their own redemption”. No one will ever openly deny that they are human beings, yet in practice, by our decisions and the way we treat them, we can show that we consider them less worthy, less important, less human. For Christians, this way of thinking and acting is unacceptable, since it sets certain political preferences above deep convictions of our faith: the inalienable dignity of each human person regardless of origin, race or religion, and the supreme law of fraternal love.
Scapegoating migrants, treating them as less than human, characterizing their homelands as “shit-hole countries,” speaking about immigrants fleeing violence and poverty as an invasion, calling them animals, speaking of a political opponent as having a “plan to inundate your state with a historic flood of refugees,” seriously restricting the number of refugee admissions – neither Isaiah nor Pope Francis would tolerate these actions.  

These are appeals to our worse nature, to our fears, to our sinful selfishness. They are not the ways of God or of followers of Christ. 

I speak from Honduras. Hundreds of thousands have fled from here for many years – seeking refuge from the violence, seeking a way out of poverty (as my Irish ancestors did in the 1840s), fleeing a government (financially supported by the US) rife with corruption and probable connections to drug trafficking. 

I know some from our parish, some from the village where I live who have left and are living decent lives in the US, trying to support their families. They are real people whose names I know. 

But I am not just concerned about them. I am concerned about people in the US who support these xenophobic policies. 

What has become of their souls? What sort of fear has overcome them and silenced their better part? What sense of isolation has led them to look down on others? What spiritual pandemic has infected them? 

I grieve for them. I pray that they may find a wholeness of spirit to welcome the stranger. I pray that whatever has led them to this will be purged from the US culture. 

And I have a dream that migrants and the opponents of migrants may sit down at table, share their joys and hopes, their fears and anxieties, so that God can heal the US of the anger and fear, the anxiety and uncertainties and make of them a people who can be healed by the power of a loving God who loves all, especially those who are or feel themselves marginalized. 

May God heal us all.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Reconfiguring the image of the permanent deacon

Much has been written recently about the need for a more profound theology and spirituality of the permanent diaconate. I would like to propose several dimensions of the permanent diaconate that we might want to consider. I offer these thoughts not as the final word, but as starting points for reflection. These thoughts come from my formation, my reading, and from my experience as a celibate permanent deacon in a rural parish in southwestern Honduras.

I invite others to a discussion to help clarify our calling.

Serving as deacon on the day after my ordination in the village of Debajiados.


First of all, ordination to the permanent diaconate is a deepening of the vocational call of all the baptized to be members of Christ, prophet, priest, and servant/king. 

The call to holy orders – as deacon, priest, or bishop – should not be considered separate from our call to be members of the Body of Christ that we received at Baptism. Separating the theology of holy orders from the theology of baptism could lead to a failure to consider he saving power of God in the sacrament of Baptism and the call to follow Christ of every baptized person. 

In our diocese here in Honduras, ministry is organized in terms of the prophetic, the liturgical, and the social – because these are what we are baptized into, as member of the Body of Chrsit. 

In the prayer before anointing the newly baptized child with Holy Chrism, we pray: 

Les unja con el crisma de la salvación, para que se incorporen a su pueblo y sean para siempre miembros de Cristo, Sacerdote, Profeta y Rey.” 

“May He anoint you with the Chrism of Salvation, that you may be incorporated into His people and be forever members of Christ, Priest, Prophet, and King.”

(My translation from the Spanish.)

As I see it, the deacon is ordained to live this baptismal call in a special way, with an emphasis on being the servant. For me the diaconate is trying to live as evangelizer, servant of the poor, and minister at the altar.


Secondly, the deacon is ordained to the ordering of the community and to be a driving force for the diakonia of the whole church. 

I recently finished reading a work from the early 1960s by Yves Congar, OP, Power and Poverty in the Church. I heartily recommend this small book. At several points he puts the sacrament of orders in perspective:

“St. Paul expressly says that ordained ministers organize the ministry of the saints, that is, of Christians, (Eph 4:23). They organize it, but they also invigorate and animate it and drive it forward. They are the drivers and the governors of the Body in that condition of responsibility and universal service that is the Christian condition itself.”  

Yves Congar, OP, Power and Poverty in the Church, p. 45.

One is ordained for the ordering of the People of God in its evangelization, its charity, and its prayer in common (the liturgy, the work [ergon] of the people [laos]).

Thus, the sacrament of orders is for ordering the community and assuring that the Church reflects who it is. It is not insignificant that the diaconate is called to be the animator, the driving force for diakonia, as both Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II affirmed.


Thirdly, the deacon has a special relation to the bishop and in the early church was spoken of as “the eyes and ears of the bishop”. I think this has dimension has not been developed sufficiently. 

Take note of this passage from Pseudo-Clement, from his letter to James, chapter 12

“Moreover, let the deacons of the Church, going about with intelligence, be as eyes to the bishop, carefully inquiring into the doings of each member of the Church, ascertaining who is about to sin, in order that, being arrested with admonition by the president, he may happily not accomplish the sin. Let them check the disorderly, that they may not desist from assembling to hear the discourses, so that they may be able to counteract by the word of truth those anxieties that fall upon the heart from every side, by means of worldly casualties and evil communications; for if they long remain fallow, they become fuel for the fire. And let them learn those who are suffering under bodily disease, and let them bring them to the notice of the multitude who do not know of them, that they may visit them and supply their wants according to the judgment of the president. Yea, though they do this without his knowledge, they do nothing amiss. These things, then, and things like to this, let the deacons attend to.”

(Found in the Compendium of the Diaconate: Kindle Location 1849 ff.)

I would like to suggest that the recovery of the diaconate as a permanent state offers a new way of doing this.

It is notable that the Vatican II restoration of the diaconate owes much to the discussions in the priest block at the Dachau concentration camp. Many of the priests there lamented the failure of the church to recognize the evil of Nazism. As Deacon William Ditewig wrote: 

“Following the war, these survivors wrote of how the Church would have to adapt itself to better meet the needs of the contemporary world if the horrors of the first half of the 20th Century were to be avoided in the future. Deacons were seen as a critical component of that strategy of ecclesial renewal. Why? Because deacons were understood as being grounded in their communities in practical and substantial ways, while priests and bishops had gradually become perceived as being too distant and remote from the people they were there to serve.”

Having people as clergy who worked in the world, outside the institutions of the church, might be a way to keep the church more aware of the challenges of the modern world and the temptations of modern people and nations. A permanent deacon who worked “in the world” might be able, in the words of pseudo-Clement, to “carefully inquire into the doings of each member of the Church, ascertain who is about to sin, in order that, being arrested with admonition by the president, that person [or that nation] may happily not accomplish the sin.”

In addition, the permanent deacon might be able to see more clearly the strain and the pains suffered by the people of God, especially the poor.

As Bishop (now Cardinal Walter Kasper) said at an IDC conference in 1997, 

“The deacons can act as the eyes and ears of the bishop in identifying areas of need and can help him in his task of being father to the poor.”

He can bring the needs of the community to the bishop and, in his pastoral ministry, as Cardinal Kasper also wrote, he can “make the parish aware of urgent situations of need, motivating them to share with one another and to give practical help.”

The deacon’s connection to the bishop is not only in being a herald of the Gospel, but in being the one who assures that the church is aware of the sins of the world and the needs of the poor. He can thus help make real the first paragraph of Gaudium et Spes, the Vatican II Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World.

“The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts. For theirs is a community composed of men. United in Christ, they are led by the Holy Spirit in their journey to the Kingdom of their Father and they have welcomed the news of salvation which is meant for every man. That is why this community realizes that it is truly linked with mankind and its history by the deepest of bonds.”

I think Deacon James Keating puts it well:

“The deacon is sent by the Holy Spirit to the forsaken. This is why it is crucial for the diaconate to remain a liminal vocation. The deacon lives at the doorstep between the culture and the liturgical mysteries so that he can see and hear the cry of the poor and lay these needs at the foot of the altar and the pastor. The deacon is also an ecclesial porter, open the gates of mystery to those who desire to have their spiritual needs satisfied by God, and unbolting the doors of society to other clerics who may want to more deeply understand lay life.”

(Deacon James Keating, “The Moral Life of the Deacon,” in The Deacon Reader, p. 132.)


Fourthly, the deacon is to be the icon of Christ the servant, taking into account the kenosis of Jesus.

When Pope John Paul II spoke to US deacons in 1987, he noted:

“By your ordination you are configured to Christ in his servant role. You are also meant to be living signs of the servanthood of his Church.”

The deacon at the altar is a sign of Christ the Servant, who came “not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a rescue for many.”

But I would also suggest that the deacon is a sign of the servants who are members of the Body of Christ and see their service sacramentalized, present at the Table of the Lord.

The deacon might thus be a double icon – an icon of Christ the Servant and an icon of the Servant Body of Christ, the Servant People of God.

Can the people of God see in the deacon their living out of their baptismal call to be servants? Does the deacon call them to recognize that calling and put it into practice?


Fifthly, the deacon is called to the margins, to the periphery, to those neglected. It is worthwhile noting that the call of the seven (who are sometimes called the first deacons) came in response to those who felt marginalized, the widows and orphans of the Hellenists. 

Some have argued that this is a limited understanding of the deacon arguing mostly from the work of John Collins. But from the beginning, the deacon has been called to serve the poor, to look after their needs, and distribute the resources of the community to those in need. Note the example of Saint Lawrence. 

I would suggest that a major part of the call of the seven was to attend to those who were marginalized, first of all the widows and orphans of the Hellenists in the community. We might also note that one of the seven, Philip, is seen as evangelizing those outside the community, most notably the Ethiopian eunuch and a Samaritan village. 

I believe that a major part of the deacon’s identity must be his attention to those on the margins, those left out of the church and of the wider society. He is to bring their presence to the Church and to bring the presence of the Church to them, where they are. 


Fundamentally, the deacon is for evangelization and charity, to show the connection of these with the altar. The crossroads of evangelization and charity is found at the altar. 

In July 2020, the Vatican’s Congregation on the Clergy released an Instruction on The Pastoral Conversion of the Parish Community in the Service of the Evangelizing Mission of the Church. Significantly there is a large section on deacons. There, the deacon is seen mostly in terms of evangelization and charity. The liturgical dimension is extremely important, but the key aspects of the diaconate seem to be “evangelization” and “charity.” 

Paragraph 82 reads, in part:

“the history of the diaconate recalls that it was established within the framework of a ministerial vision of the Church, as an ordained ministry at the service of the Word and of charity; this latter context includes the administration of goods. The twofold mission of the deacon is expressed in the liturgical sphere, where he is called to proclaim the Gospel and to serve at the Eucharistic table.”

These two aspects are not unrelated, nor are they separated from liturgy. Indded, the intersection of evangelization and charity is found at the Table of the Lord, in the Eucharist.

The deacon should come with the concerns of the people of God, especially the poor, as the minister who would normally offer the Prayers of the Faithful. 

The deacon also is the one who sends out the people to evangelize the world. As Pope Paul VI said at the end of the Second Vatican Council:

“We stress that the teaching of the Council is channeled in one direction, the service of humankind, of every condition, in every weakness and need. DEA Church has declared herself a servant of humanity…”

The connection of evangelization and charity with the Table of the Lord is perhaps the area where we most need to reflect to develop a theology and spirituality of the diaconate. 


What images could we use to describe the permanent deacon? 

Some have called his ministry as a bridge between the church and the world. This has its limitations because it seems to posit and breach between the two.

Others have spoken of the permanent deacon being in a liminal space, the place where the world and the church meet. 

I wonder if we might think of the deacon as being at the crossroads. 

At first, I thought of describing the permanent deacon as being at the intersection of evangelization and charity at the altar. But, driving to a distant community in our parish, I thought it might be better to speak of the crossroads of these two dimensions in the Eucharist. One of the words for an intersection in Spanish is cruce, which reminded me of cruz, the cross.

The cross reminds us of the integrity of our ministry – Word and Charity united at the Altar. It also reminds us of our identity in Christ, who humbled himself even to the Cross (Philippians 2: 5-11). Finally, it reminds us of our commitment of witness, martirio, even to martyrdom, servants of the Blood of Christ, willing to pour out our blood for the Reign of God.

Friday, October 16, 2020

The times are difficult but hopeful

Before the pandemic shut down our lives here in Honduras (and in the world at large), my calendar was full. There were training sessions with catechists, parish meetings and formation meetings for delegates of the Word and Communion ministers, Sunday visits to communities to bring the Eucharist, visits to the sick, working with the social ministry coordinators in the aldeas, doing the last interviews with couples getting married, accompanying the pastor to villages for weekday Masses as well as one Mass on Sundays. And more. 

 For the first few months, mostly because of the government travel restrictions, I stayed at home. I did go our several times for funerals, to attend to a sick person, or to get supplies on the days we were allowed to travel (about once every two weeks). I twice accompanied the local municipal workers handing out basic foods and supplies. 

When the restrictions were relaxed and there were protocols for church meetings, I began to preside at the Sunday Celebrations here in Plan Grande, where I live. When I had a safe conduct pass, I went out a bit more for parish ministry, but I didn’t go out on weekends because no one was supposed to travel on those days. When this changed, I began to go to one Mass each Sunday. 

Now there are fewer restrictions, but I still consider it important to be prudent and careful, not trying to fill up my schedule, but going out when needed. I am probably a bit more cautious than I might be – but I am 73 years old and I’m finding my energy is less than even a year ago. 

So what have I been doing? 

For my mental and spiritual health I have been reading, praying, getting to Mass every Sunday. I've taken advantage of several educational opportunities and I'm participating regularly with a small group studying the social teaching of the church (in English) and also with a community organized by Maryknoll reflecting each week on the Gospel (in Spanish). I’ve had Skype sessions with my spiritual director (and should schedule another soon.) I also have had the chance to be with the Dubuque Franciscan Sisters twice; in fact, I spent the evening of the feast of Saint Francis with them. 

In terms of pastoral ministry, I have, as mentioned above, served as deacon at Mass once each Sunday, usually at an afternoon Mass in San Agustín or one of the larger aldeas. Often the pastor has me preach. Several times I have gone out on Sunday mornings to preside at a Celebration of the Word in a community and bring them the Eucharist. Other Sundays, I preside here in the aldea where I live. 
I also served as deacon at the diocesan Chrism Mass at the end of September.

The weekend of October 3 and 4, the pastor took off – a well-deserved vacation. Since the fourth is the feast of St. Francis, the patron of three villages in the parish, as well as a Sunday, the seminarian with us and I had to cover seven celebrations. I covered three on the feast of St. Francis. What a joy to be able to preach on his feast day in communities that I know and cherish. 

I have also made occasional visits to communities to visit the sick, being careful for their health (and mine.) 

I am probably stricter than many in terms of safety and security measures. I also try to take a supply of masks for people when I go anywhere. After an initial error when I castigated someone harshly for not wearing a mask, I realized that if I am really concerned about the people I should not make demands that cannot be met, but rather I need to provide ways for people to respond. So I'm buying and giving out masks.

Catechesis has been curtailed since March but there have been several places where people were prepared for sacraments before the pandemic struck and so we’ve had a few celebrations of the sacraments in various places. 

In San Agustín there were five young people in the catechumenate who would have been baptized at the Easter Vigil. I met with them as well as with an adolescent in a nearby village to do the last Scrutiny and the final preparations for their baptism and first communion. The pastor was going to baptize them at a Mass on October 10 but couldn’t make it and so delegated me for their baptism. It was a time of great joy, which was enhanced by the desire of the young people to be baptized with lots of water! The five from San Agustín received their first communion the next day at Mass in San Agustín and the one from the village waited until Wednesday when the pastor celebrated Mass there. 

This year we’ve had a record number of couples preparing for the sacrament of Matrimony. The pastor has me do the final interview with the couple and two witnesses. Before we did them in Dulce Nombre but, because of the difficulties of travel from the villages, I have done most in the villages. 

It is great to see these couples serious about their faith lives. Some of them have been living together for a time and have children, but there are a number who have not. There also have been three who had not been baptized. I did a special session with them (to supplement what they had received in their villages) and baptized them. There are also couples in two villages who have not followed up. Some of this is due to the difficulties imposed by the curfews and the closure of government offices. (In Honduras, couples have to be married civilly before they can receive the sacrament of matrimony.) But I’m hoping that we can facilitate their marriages in the next few months. 

A few times I have helped respond to the physical needs of people in the parish. The parish car to take the sick to clinics or hospitals in Santa Rosa (between 45 and 90 minutes) or San Pedro Sula (3 hours away) has been busy, taking two or more trips a week. We have a very attentive driver and so I don’t need to worry about this aspect. 

I have taken supplies once to a family at the suggestion of someone in the aldea, but often the people are finding ways to help others. A family lost their home in a landslide (but escaped safely); the local community has responded and they are constructing a new house in a safer place. 

There have been at least two very serious cases of medical need of two children for medical procedures. The costs are beyond the capability of the families – one was for close to $1000. The people often have been able to get some support from the municipal authorities as well as from the local village church community; thanks to a parish Solidarity Fund, we have been able to provide what was lacking and the children have been attended to. 

 Violence continues in the villages, often due to alcohol or substance abuse or mental illness. I don’t know all the cases and I am almost sure that there has been an increase of domestic violence and sexual abuse. 

We have attended to the needs of one extended family. A woman was brutally killed and left the family with various degrees of trauma. I went and talked with them and then arranged to bring two psychologists from the diocesan office of Caritas to meet with them. The situation worsened with the sudden death of the mother of the woman who was killed. Four adults, three adolescents, and five children have been affected. The psychologists have been able to meet three times with the adults and one of the adolescents. They also met briefly with some of the children. This has been good for the people involved, though some follow up will be needed. 

But this is only the tip of the iceberg of the trauma caused by violence and domestic abuse. We really need to find ways to support people as well as to work for the prevention of violence and abuse. We really need psychological attention at least once a week in the parish as well as formation in dealing with conflict and violence and the prevention of domestic violence and sexual abuse.

Work continues in the parish center with the re-modeling of the center to make it a better place for our many meetings for formation of pastoral workers. Thanks to a donation from someone at St. Thomas Aquinas, we are able to continue this work. 

There has also been continuing work on repairing and repainting the church, much of this financed by fund-raising activities in the parish, including the sale of food on Sunday evenings. This was going strong before the pandemic struck, but in the past few weeks the sale of food continues, but mostly as "carry-out". 

There is one other project, which I wrote about recently – murals for the apse of the church. An artist has been working for almost four weeks and the work is astounding. At the center of the apse will be an image of Mary, based on a Russian icon. 

Beside here will be a few houses and scenes from daily life to show how Mary is with the people and was rooted in the daily life of the poor where she lived. 

We also plan to have four images in the area below the apse. In the center we will have images of two Latin American saints – Saint Rose of Lima (the patroness of our diocese) and Saint Oscar Romero (the martyred archbishop of San Salvador). On the left, we plan an image of the pastor who built the church in Dulce Nombre, Padre Juan Genarro, an Italian missionary. On the left, we plan an image of Saint Lawrence, the martyred deacon who served the poor. The pastor wants this because we are the first parish in our diocese with a permanent deacon (me). I have received offers of assistance from three persons in the US whom I know – without asking for help. 

In the meantime, we need to think about how we can slowly expand our ministry in the parish. It will need to be done carefully, with concern for health. I think that our ministry must be more personal and relational, not focused on large events with lots of people. The pastor and I have spoken about a different way of doing mission – having pastoral work reach out to people where they live, visiting them in their homes. I also think we need to find ways to encourage a spirituality within the families, where the parents have a role in the religious formation of their children. Even catechesis may need to be re-thought – not gathering lots of children together in one place, but having smaller groupings of children in neighborhoods. (This seems to be happening in at least one village.) In addition, this may be an opportune time to renew the base communities, some of which had become large (30 people or more) and were more like celebrations than meetings of a community which could share faith and concerns about daily life. I hope we can promote smaller communities of four or five families.

Thus, we go forward, in the midst of many difficulties, but with hope – and with the determination to be signs of life and love.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Staying home here in Honduras

For the last thirteen years, I’ve visited Iowa in the fall as a way to keep up connections between our parish and the parish of St. Thomas Aquinas in Ames and as a way to reconnect with friends. This year I’m staying home, here in Honduras. 

COVID-19 has changed our lives throughout the world. What do I see? These reflections are anecdotal, but you can find various sources that may help corroborate my observations.


 Even as the country is opening up there continue to be hundreds of persons identified as COVID-19 positive every day and there have been more than 2500 deaths. 

Most of the cases are in the major cities, the north coast, and in certain municipalities. A friend told me that there is a special cemetery for COVID deaths in La Entrada, with about thirty interred there. La Entrada is a crossroads for transportation and so it has been more in peril than some other large towns.

There have been a number of cases in towns and villages in the parish, though it hasn’t affected Plan Grande where I live. I have heard of two who died with possible complications of COVID, as well as cases of people quarantined and even one young person has been intubated. This is not only in two municipal centers but also in some villages. 

A major problem, as I see it, is the failure of people to take even simple precautions here in the countryside. It’s troubling. I can understand why members of a family don’t wear masks, but I am troubled by the gatherings of people in towns for church services or other events with little concern for preventive measures, such a mask and distancing. 

Another problem, that I’ve mentioned before, is that people don’t want to let others know that they have been tested positive, for fear of being stigmatized. Thus, the number of cases may be undercounted. 

Yet, in the face of this, I have seen photos and reports of political meetings with little concern for health and safety. This may get more problematic as Honduras approaches the internal elections next March to choose the candidates for next November’s elections. (The internal elections are like the party primaries in the US.)

A few weeks ago, I came into Plan Grande and saw a large number of cars parked on the road. I stopped and asked a young man who is my godchild. He told me that is was a political meeting and added that many were without masks. Sure enough. I passed the patio of the house where the meeting was being held. There were more than sixty people there, seated close to each other in rows, with very few masks. Even the political authorities are not taking this seriously. (I wonder where they learned that.)  


 There have been a number of cases of violence in the parish in the past two months. 

I am helping bring psychological help from our diocesan Caritas office to one extended family affected by a brutal death of a young woman. 

In at least one case, alcohol abuse seems to have had a role in the killings. Depression, mental illnesses, and drug and alcohol abuse are ills that are not being addressed. I wonder if we really need more regular psychological assistance to people in the countryside. 

In addition, I am sure that there is continuing domestic violence though this is hard to document since there is so often a veil of silence around domestic violence and intra-familiar abuse. 


We are in the rainy season, which begins in May and goes until early February. 

I feel as if there has been more rain this year than earlier. It also has been very hot during the days and the rains have been heavy. I have heard of several landslides, including at least one that destroyed a home (but, thanks be to God, the family escaped and the community is working together to help them.) 

Partly as a result of the rains and partly as the result of continuing maintenance the roads in our parish are worse than I have seen in three or more years. No wonder that I have had major repairs on the pick-up.


The corn harvest is upon us. It seems to be pretty good which is a blessing. If there is sufficient corn, the people will at least have tortillas.

For a few months, the parish has been helping distribute corn and beans from the reserves in the parish. The custom here is for the parish to accept donations of corn and beans, especially for our parish training programs. Since there have been no major meetings in the parish since March, there is sufficient corn and beans to share with those in need.

The coffee harvest season is beginning. I have seen pickers out in a few fields, picking the first ripe berries, most of which are not very good. Later the fields will be ripe with higher quality berries. This will continue until February. A concern is whether there will be sufficient coffee-pickers, due to the corona virus. In our area a number of large coffee growers bring in Guatemalans to pick in their plantations. I wonder if this will be possible this year.

I'll be going down to the parish coffee field this week to take a few photos.

Pastoral life 

I’ll address these issues in a later post.

Thursday, October 01, 2020

A mural for the church of Dulce Nombre

The main church in the parish of Dulce Nombre de María is unique. The building was designed by Father Juan Gennaro, an Italian missionary, who was pastor for many years. Rather than build a church like the many colonial churches, he looked to the Romanesque churches of his native Italy.
In the past two years the parish has been doing some major repair work, including repainting the interior. Removing the stucco on the two towers revealed the stones which had been quarried by members of the parish and used for the foundations as well as the towers. The pastor decided to leave the stones exposed. It’s impressive. 

Much of this work has been done with the support of the local parish. A major activity, until the pandemic closed the country, had been the selling of food outside church before and after the Sunday evening Mass – mostly pasteles and empanadas/pupusas. This has resumed in a different form in the last month or so. 

The inside of the church, now bright with the new coat of white paint, is impressive but the pastor and I have thought that it might need something. In particular, we thought of a mural for the apse above the sanctuary. After some conversation, we invited a muralist to paint this. I had seen his work on the exterior of the natural medicine and foods center of Padre Fausto Milla in Santa Rosa de Copán and I was impressed. 

The artist, Alejandro Carbajal, came here last year and we had some preliminary discussions, but we couldn’t get started on the work because of the restrictions on travel imposed to lessen the impact of the pandemic. But ab out ten days ago, with some busses running from Tegucigalpa to Santa Rosa, he came and began working. 

The first week was planning, talking about design, and preparing. One of the major problems was putting up the scaffolding so that he could work safely. One scaffold was put up and ready for some work this Monday. Another scaffold was put into place. 

To help facilitate the process of painting the mural, Alejandro worked with Fernando, a seminarian with us in the parish this year. We put together a mock-up for the upper part of the mural. At the center of the apse will be an image of Mary, inspired by an icon of Mary.

Computer generated first draft

Monday, Alejandro began working, first by painting the outline on the curved apse. The image was projected and Alejandro proceeded to work on this. During the work, he also referred to a printed version of the icon. 

 When the projection was turned off, the outline was clearly visible. To say the very least, I was deeply moved. 

Wednesday, after picking up supplies for Alejandro in Santa Rosa de Copán, I went into the church and saw his initial painting of the image of Mary and Jesus. I was blown away.

As the work progresses, I will try to keep a photographic record of this process and share our work. When this is done, we will, I believe, have a unique apse that, I pray, may inspire our people for many years to come. 

I will post all the photos on my Flickr site in this album.