Friday, December 31, 2021

Reviewing 2021 - a deacon's adventures

It’s been quite the year for me.


Here’s a review of my life this past year. 

Visits to the US

I visited the US three times for very different reasons. 

For almost four weeks in May and June I went to Iowa, primarily to renew my Iowa license. But I also took advantage of the visit to get two doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine as well as to go on an eight-day silent directed retreat at the Creighton University Retreat Center in southwest Iowa. It was also a good time to catch up with some friends.

Cross - Creighton Retreat Center

In October I went for my annual visit to St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Ames, our sister parish. I got to connect with more people.

In December, I took part in an 8-day study-immersion with Maryknoll at the US-Mexico border at El Paso-Ciudad Juarez. It was good to see and hear about what is happening at the border, since we have so many people who have migrated from our parish. Just this week I heard that one rural village has seventy people in the US. It is helpful to have more accurate details of what is happening at the border, although it seems as if things are constantly changing.

Border wall between El Paso and Ciudad Juarez

Parish formation work

I’ve had several meetings with catechists, mostly meeting them for meetings in the various sectors of the parish, though we had one general meeting. I’ve also assisted the pastor in his meetings with the catechists for confirmation. (We will have about 500 confirmed early next year.)

I’ve also accompanied the meetings of the communion ministers as well as the formation meetings of delegates of the Word.

Our parish participated in the Asamblea Eclesial – Church Assembly – of the Latin American Conference of Bishops. We had more than ten “listening” sessions, including one in each rural sector.

I also helped in putting together the synthesis, in the parish and the diocese. I was a little “bull-headed” in the synthesis sessions, insisting that we use the words of the people (instead of general terms, such as "secularism") and that we not discard something because we don’t agree with it or think the people didn’t understand the question. But, for me, the listening sessions were a great experience, although we had to explain some of the terms in the material provided by CELAM, the Latin American Bishops Conference.

Responding to the needs of the people

The parish has a solidarity fund which we use to help subsidize the efforts of people to respond to needs.

There was also a donation from St. Thomas Aquinas Church that helps people rebuild after last year’s hurricanes. With these donations we’ve provided help to at least four families to replace their homes and to others to subsidize the costs of medicine or medical procedures.

I am probably a bit too demanding, but I ask to see that the family in need is providing something (even if it’s only labor) and that the local church community also is working to help the family.

The help is a subsidy and, I hope, a way to encourage people to help each other.

November, 2020, we were devastated by the two hurricanes that hit Honduras – though not as much devastated as other parts of the country.


We thought it would be helpful to help the people be more prepared for emergencies. I developed a short workshop, based on a project that Caritas Santa Rosa had run a few years ago on community-based responses to disasters, based in the work of a Filipino community organizer, Rusty Binas.

We had meetings in six parts of the parish. A few were very well attended and the people went on to organize their communities’ even though we didn’t need to mobilize the committee this year, I believe that we have helped the people to see that they can do things in their communities – and don’t have to wait for politicians or other groups.

Medical and psychological problems plague the people in Honduras.

I have worked for several years with Honduras AMIGAS, a Missouri-based group that has sent brigades to Honduras for many years, in the last few years to our region, especially in the municipalities of Concepción, San Agustín, and Dulce Nombre. They came once this year and spent three days responding to needs.


They also provided a wheelchair for a young man in a very distant village, which I delivered. 


Caritas of the diocese of Santa Rosa has done some psychological assistance for about three years. I connected them with a family in a distant village that suffered the murder of a young woman. This year they sent out psychologists to work in the parishes. We arranged visits in several communities during the first week of July.

Sacramental and pastoral ministry

I continue to do the final interview of couples before their weddings. This year I did the interviews for at least 10 couples. I usually don’t preside at the weddings since most want a Mass (and many who have being living in “union libre” want to go to confession before the wedding.) But I did have the privilege to preside at one wedding this year, since the pastor was away. It was sheer joy to me. 


I also continue to baptize, though I don’t know how many. Often this is in the context of a Mass, but there have been several cases where it has been just a baptism in the context of a Celebration of the Word.

This past week I baptized two children at Mass on Christmas Eve and two children at a celebration in the main church on the day after Christmas.

I also have presided at five or so funerals this year. Three were particularly difficult.

In March I went to the Mass for a young girl from a distant village with epilepsy and special needs; she always came with her mother to the celebrations and Masses in her village. The Mass would be in a village closer to the cemetery but I went to transport the casket and people from her village. The people had put the casket in a pick-up with a longer bed and so I just transported folks.

In April I was called to a village where someone had been murdered. I stayed there until they took the body to the morgue in Santa Rosa and then returned the next day to help them transport the body from Santa Rosa to the community. I wrote about this here and here


In October I went to a funeral of an elderly woman but when I got there a young woman asked me if we could include her son in the prayers. He had died in the US about two years ago, but it had taken all that time to identify the remains and send back the ashes. I wrote about this earlier this year here

I also continue to visit the sick, though not as much as before, though I hope to do more visits this coming year.

In one case, I was ready to spend several hours visiting the sick after the Sunday Celebration of the Word with Communion. But a road had nearly washed out and I arrived late at the Celebration and didn’t have time to visit those who lived far from the church in the center of the village.

I also continue my practice of going on most Sunday mornings to villages that don’t have a communion minister for a Celebration of the Word with Communion. I also almost always go to a Mass in the afternoon, where I almost always am asked by the pastor to preach.

I also participate in many of the parish-wide activities - the celebration of our feast day, the rites of the catechumenate, Holy Week, Christ the King, Christmas. 

Feast day procession

This year, though, the pastor asked me to be at an Easter Vigil celebration in a rural community.

Preparing for the Easter Vigil in Vertientes

I also have participated in several diocesan events, including the Masses of ordination of three young men. The day after Christmas (which I spent with the Dubuque Franciscan sisters in Gracias, Lempira), we went to Mass at the Gracias cathedral and the bishop invited me to serve as deacon at the Mass. The bishop preached - quite well, I thought.


What else?

This year the artist we hired finished the murals in the church – which are splendid. We also had him do a mural of St. Thomas Aquinas for the new auditorium of the parish, named in honor of St. Thomas Aquinas to remember, with gratitude, the generous support of our sister parish.



I also helped in our parish coffee field, mostly transporting the volunteer workers from the parish. 


This year I have, as before, participated in various diocesan meetings. But they are fewer than before and our deanery has not met even once since the pandemic began in March 2020.

I have taken advantage of some educational programs offered on Zoom. Some have been mediocre, but a few have been good including one on the diaconate by a Dominican priest from Colombia.

I have been reading a lot, about 54 books this year. I’m planning to write another post today or tomorrow on my reading. There were a few books I found very good. 

Politics

This past November we had elections for the president, the National Congress, mayors, and more.

Internal election site in Plan Grande

The election process was not completely peaceful in some parts of the country, including the deaths of several people, including a few candidates. There was also some publicity accusing some candidates as promoting communism and more. There were reports on the internet of possible lock downs after election day.

Election day came and went with some conflict and lots of dissension, but almost entirely peacefully. 

The big surprises were the results.

In Honduras there have been two traditional parties – the National Party and the Liberal Party – which have controlled the elected offices for more than a century. But after the golpe de estado (coup) in 2009, a new movement and a new party emerged LIBRE. In earlier elections they made a few gains, mostly in terms of congressional representatives and a few mayors.

This year the newly elected president is from LIBRE, Xiomara Castro, the wife of the president overthrown in 2009 in the coup. She won majorities in all except one department of the country.

But there were other surprises. The newly-elected mayors of the two largest cities, Tegucigalpa (the capital) and San Pedro Sula (the industrial center of the country), are from LIBRE. Though LIBRE doesn’t control Congress, neither does the National Party which had been controlling the presidency, the Congress, and the Supreme Court for many years.

Locally there were surprises.

In the internal elections earlier this year, one candidate in the municipality of Concepción defeated the incumber who, with his brother, had held the position of mayor for many years. He won in the November election.

In the municipality of Dolores, a thirty-one year old whom I have known for several years due to his participation in the parish, especially with youth. He defeated the incumbent mayor. I’ve talked with him a bit and I hope that he can be a breath of fresh air for his municipality.

Over all, the big surprise is that, in a country where the two traditional political parties held major power, promoting voting by party for all candidates – called votar en plancha, many people voted for candidates from different parties for different positions.

I think there might be several reasons why this happened.

First of all, the candidates for the two traditional parties seem to have ties to money laundering, drug trafficking, and more. I think the people were so fed up that they decided “no more,” and so they voted for candidates from other parties.

In addition, the Bishops of Honduras put out a very strong statement before the elections. Just read this one section of their letter.
We ask the people to overcome sentiments of indifference, apathy, and skepticism, brought on by our deficient system of government and its institutions, and which result in absenteeism. 
We, the bishops of the Honduran Bishops Conference, make an urgent call for you to go and vote, with responsibility and liberty. Our country is living through momentous and significant times. Therefore, we urge you to give you vote to the best candidates, with the best personal, familiar, and social profile, who are honest candidates, responsible and sensitive to the needs of the people, who participate in good politics, in favor of life and the family. This is to say: elect those candidates who, like you, think in favor pf a better future for your children. 
If you discover that you have in your hands the potential to aid the good of our fatherland and change the ineffective and unproductive direction that we have as a nation, you will take into account that your vote is sacred and that you cannot give it to someone who does not deserve it. 
Honduras does not deserve you voting for those who want to destroy it and seek to gain the elections “as it happens” [a como dé lugar], including fraudulent and deceitful actions. Elect candidates who are not stained with corruption, organized crime, and drug trafficking which have damaged the population so much. Be careful with the call of some candidates to “vote a straight ticket” [votar en plancha], which means renouncing the capability to elect conscientiously, as a fruit of a profound reflection. 
The electors should not be part of a fraud, for no reason at all and in no circumstance whatever, nor should they approve or consent to abuses of power, like the ones that happened in the last electoral processes: you have to live the electoral process as a true civic festival, during and after the elections. 
As Bishops and pastors, we feel obligated to make a call to the consciences of all citizens to be objective observers of the electoral process, in order to avoid any irregularity, and, if there are any, to know how to denounce them.
The future

There are some hopeful signs – many as a result of the election.

But there are serious problems, including the continuing presence of gangs in the cities, and of organized crime and drug-trafficking throughout the country, at times aligned with political and military powers.

In addition, the economy is precarious. Just this week I heard some people talking about how some agricultural fertilizers had gone up one hundred percent. Though the cost that growers are receiving for coffee is going up, the cost of inputs may lessen the positive effects.

This coming year I turn 75 years old. I have no plans to retire. I may slow down a bit, but I am doing what I love and I want to continue to serve the people here. I also want to continue to be blest by the natural beauty here. 


I pray that God gives me the health and strength to continue. I do have my COVID-19 vaccines ups to date, even receiving my booster in the Dulce Nombre health center on Wednesday.

I do need to see my dentist and doctor soon, but what can you expect for a seventy-four year old?

March 29 in Debajiados





Thursday, December 16, 2021

BORDER EXPERIENCE 1

I spent a week in El Paso, Texas, with a group organized by Maryknoll Mission Education to participate in an Encuentro Project Immersion.

I went mostly to find out what really is happening on the border.



In Honduras there are many stories about migration into the US, some of the most optimistic spread by coyotes, those who are paid to guide people to the US. They have their motives, especially to get people to give them thousands of dollars to get to the US.

I wanted to find out what is the true situation. It’s complicated and changing.

The week we were there, the US reinstated the so-called Migrant Protection Program, often called “Stay in Mexico.” This began during the Trump administration and was rescinded by a presidential order earlier this year. Yet a Texas judge declared that it should be reinstated. Though it is being appealed. the Biden administration reinstated the program.

With this program, the names people who come to the border and ask for asylum are taken and they have to await an immigration court hearing but are returned to stay in Mesico.

When this was initiated, huge numbers were returned to Mexico and waited a long time. Some stayed in an open field, housed in tents, others were housed in shelters, some even just looked for a place to stay in Ciudad Juarez.

But the wait was long – six months and more. The Biden administration is saying that the cases will be adjudicated earlier, but people are still returned to Mexico.

This program was restarted last week and some are being returned to Mexico. Yet there are reports of migrants being stopped on the bridge into El Paso and not allowed to step into the US. This prevents the migrant to apply for asylum since one cannot apply for asylum unless one is standing on US soil.

There is also another US law that allows for the immediate return of migrants to Mexico. This law states that people can be turned away for reasons of public health.

This is being applied during the present COVID-19 pandemic and does not give those turned away any sense of when they could try again to cross the border and apply for asylum. They do not have their names put on a list for a court hearing.

There are other complications with US border procedure.

Those who are released often have ankle bracelets to track them. Even if they do not, they have to report into ICE every so often and then appear before an immigration judge.

When an unaccompanied minor asks for asylum they are put into detention for a short period and they are then released (with court dates) to journey to family members in the US.

When people cross into the US outside of an official entry station, they may be apprehended by the US Border Patrol which hands them over to other US authorities. If there is a question of criminal behavior or criminal history, they will be handed over to one authority; if not, and if they request asylum, they are handed over to another which will initiate proceedings.

There are all sorts of problems with the system, which needs to be seriously changed.

That’s what I understand about the legal part – but the human part is even more complicated. 

There are the problems of those who are waiting months and who stay in shelters or try to survive on the street or in private residences. In Mexico, they are sometime harassed by organized crime. There are cases of kidnappings and holding for ransom.

Also when in Mexico, some who are frustrated by the long waits or whose claim is denied, will contract a coyote to try to get them across without passing through the inspection stations. 



These are my preliminary observations. More to come.

------------------

To get an idea of the complications of the system, here's a chart from the Hope Border Initiative on what happens when one seeks asylum. (A better image in a pdf document can be found here.)




Monday, November 29, 2021

More glimpses of hope in Honduras

Advent is a time for hope – a time to recall a God who makes rough ways smooth and opens a path in the wilderness.


On the first Sunday of Advent this year, Honduras held elections for president, congress, and mayors.

There were concerns and there were even rumors that there would be a toque de queda – a curfew – on Monday or even for a week or two. Even last night, after the polls were closed, there was a rumor that the electricity would be shut off nationwide at 8:30 pm. These notices seem to have been part of a campaign to sow fear among the people.

But things went surprisingly well and peaceful. Yes, there were irregularities throughout the country, including closing voting stations when there were people waiting to vote. I have heard reports of a candidate offering voters 3 thousand lempiras (about $130) for their ids so they wouldn’t vote.

But I observed something different. 

The voting place here in Plan Grande was in the school right next to the church and close to my house.

I left in the morning for a celebration in a nearby mountain village and there were crowds waiting to vote. 


When I returned later in the morning there were still people waiting to vote. 


I left for a 2 pm Mass in San Agustín and when I got back about 5 pm, all was calm since voting had finished. Then they began counting the ballots.

I went out a few times to see what was happening.

The ballots were being counted in two classrooms – since there were two voting places – urnas - in the school. People were outside the classrooms looking in.

All was calm, with kids running around (and some stopping by my house asking for candy.) One kid and his friends even planted a flower that had been left by my door. 


The results began to come in. The four municipalities in our parish area have been controlled by the National Party, which has also controlled the presidency for twelve years. And so I was surprised when they told me that Xiomara Castor, the LIBRE party candidate had won the presidential vote– not only here but in most of the municipality. 

Though an alternative candidate for the mayor's race won by a slim majority in Plan Grande, the National Party candidate won in the municipality of Concepción, where I live. But he had defeated the incumbent mayor (whose family had controlled the city hall for years).

What surprised me, and a few people I talked with, is that here and in other parts of the parish and the country many people did not vote a straight ticket. They voted for persons, not parties. (in some places, however, people did vote “straight ticket – called “votar en plancha”- but for LIBRE, the opposition party that arose after the 2009 presidential coup. This is extremely significant for Honduras, where party loyalty has ruled for over a century, resulting in what was a closed two-party system. Locally, the majority voted for the LIBRE candidate for president and the National Party candidate for mayor.

Another surprise is that some towns very tied in the past to the National Party went for Xiomara Castro, the LIBRE presidential candidate.

But a very big surprise is that a young man I know and who had been active in the church was elected mayor of the municipality of Dolores, overthrowing the incumbent mayor, a member of the National Party  who had held city hall there for several terms. 

I haven’t seen the full results but Xiomara Castor is the present-elect, the Congress will probably have a LIBRE majority.

The two largest cities, the capital Tegucigalpa and the industrial center San Pedro Sula, have elected mayors from the LIBRE party. 

The people are fed up with the incompetence and the corruption they have seen in the rule of the National Party or other entrenched candidates, especially at the national level. 

The voters also showed a political savvy and political maturity that I was glad to see. 

What will happen next is critical. There is need for national reconciliation – which means looking for the good of all the people of Honduras but also bringing to justice those who have violated the trust of the people with corruption, incompetence, bribes, and connections with drug-trafficking and organized crime.

But last night’s speech by the president-elect was hopeful and offers a challenge. She began saying that she has no enemies. In fact, she called for dialogue with the opposition. But her priorities are clear:
We are going to build a new era, we are going to build together a new history for the Honduran people. Out with war, out with the hatred, out with the death squads, out with corruption, out with drug trafficking and organized crime, out with the zedes. No more poverty.
The path ahead will not be easy – but I have hope, since it appears that many people are beginning to think and act differently. The task may be to help people realize democracy in their lives and in the country – recognizing that though elections are important, they are, as Salvador Monsignor Ricardo Urioste used to say, only a note in the symphony of democracy.

Perhaps part of our social ministry is to help people mature and recognize how they can contribute to the common good. As Pope Francis wrote in Fratelli Tutti, 162:
“…political systems must keep working to structure society in such a way that everyone has a chance to contribute his or her own talents and efforts.”
Perhaps this is the time to carefully study that encyclical and its call for justice, political love, and reconciliation.

To close with what may seem rather far-fetched, I would suggest this is the moment for tenderness, meditating on these words of Pope Francis in Fratelli Tutti, 94:
“Politics too must make room for a tender love of others. ‘What is tenderness? It is love that draws near and becomes real. A movement that starts from our heart and reaches the eyes, the ears and the hands… Tenderness is the path of choice for the strongest, most courageous men and women.’ Amid the daily concerns of political life, ‘the smallest, the weakest, the poorest should touch our hearts: indeed, they have a “right” to appeal to our heart and soul. They are our brothers and sisters, and as such we must love and care for them’.”
That would be a way to make hope real.

Monday, November 22, 2021

Hope in times of trouble

“Hope is always just about to turn into despair, but never does so; for at the moment of supreme crisis, God’s power is suddenly made perfect in our weakness. So we learn to expect His mercy most calmly when all is most dangerous, to seek Him quietly in the face of danger, certain that He cannot fail us....”
 Thomas Merton, No Man Is an Island 

In the midst of the pain, the suffering, the violence, the neglect of the poor, the corruption and governmental incompetence, I have seen signs of hope. I want to share a few of them. 

CHRIST THE KING

Though I have concerns about the possible health consequences of a large gathering, I could not help but rejoice at the more than 800 people who showed up for the parish’s Christ the King celebration yesterday – even though we did not do as much promotion as in previous before the pandemic.
What struck me was the hidden work of preparation of the place where we gathered (a new auditorium where we used to have a poorly used soccer field). Some women got up at 5 am to get to the parish to make tortillas and freshly squeezed orange juice. There were also the women (from Plan Grande) who prepared enough rice with chicken and brought it.
PARISH COFFEE FIELD
On November 1, parishioners from several parts of the parish came out to do the first harvest of coffee, as well as to do some weeding. They worked really efficiently and had everything done by early afternoon. (In contrast, last year it took almost three days.)
BAPTISMS

The day before the celebration, after the parish council meeting, I told the pastor that I was available if he needed anything. 

He had scheduled nine baptisms in a rural village, El Limón, but had many responsibilities to prepare for the feast day Mass. So he sent me – for nine baptisms of children under seven years. The small church was packed. 

As I began the baptisms (which were celebrated within a Celebration of the Word with Communion), I noticed that the parents and godparents were very responsive. At times I can hardly hear the godparents and parents, but here they were responding loud and clear. There were are few kids about five years old who were very responsive – when we have the parents and sponsors raise their right hands during the profession of faith, the kids also raised theirs.

There are 18 baptisms next Saturday in Plan Grande where I live. I hope they are as responsive.

HONDURAS AMIGAS 

Amigas is a Missouri-based medical group that has been coming to our area for many years. Because of the pandemic they haven’t been here for two years but decided to make a short trip here. Before they came here, they attended people in La Lima, Cortes, which had been devastated a year ago by Hurricanes Eta and Iota. They visited two places during this visit but almost 1000 people were seen. They also left medicines for a local public health center. 




REBUILDING

People are still doing some rebuilding after last year’s hurricanes and for other reasons. 

The parish has a solidarity fund to help. The money comes from various sources, including some donations from our sister parish, St. Thomas Aquinas in Ames, Iowa.

Perhaps I am a little too first-world, but our policy is to supplement what the family and the community can do. I ask that each community helps in some way with the needs of their own members; in this way I think the fund can help foster a sense of solidarity. Some communities are very good in this; some have established their own village or sector solidarity funds; others help by collections or fund-raising events; others help by volunteer labor on the houses.

This month we have helped two families – with cement, tin roofing, and other details.
ASAMBLEA ECLESIAL

Today the Latin American Church opens the Church Assembly in Mexico. There are about 1000 participants – only 100 in person, the rest by Zoom.

The Assembly was preceded by consultations – hearings – in dioceses throughout Latin America. In our diocese we had hearings in the parishes.

In our parish we held hearings in the sectors of the parish as well as with some other groups. They were analyzed and summarized. 

I had a role in compiling both the parish and diocesan summaries. It was fascinating to read what the people had said. I also tried to assure that the parish and diocesan summaries reflected what the people had said and were not “interpreted” by those compiling the results. It was good to hear in the diocesan assembly one of the priests saying that the summary reflected what he had heard in his parish!

DIOCESAN ASSEMBLY

Last week we had a three day diocesan assembly with clergy and representatives from the parishes of the diocese as well as from some movements. It went fairly well. Today, the diocesan pastoral council is meeting to produce a final document.

ELECTIONS

Next Sunday Hondurans will go to the polls to elect the president, the members of the national congress, and the mayors. It’s been a very conflictive campaign, including persons killed and wounded. There are also real concerns about possible irregularities and fraud. The last week or so, especially the last weekend, there have been noisy party assemblies and car caravans as a way to close the campaign. (There should be no public campaigning this week.)

I saw one mayoral candidate at the Christ the King Mass. I have known him for several years. I asked him if he was going to have an event to close the campaign. He said no – because of his concern that it might be dangerous. I think he may have even been offered funding for an event. I’m impressed.


UPCOMING

This Friday we’ll have another meeting of the catechists who are preparing people for confirmation, hopefully in February. We will have close to 500 confirmed. Because of health concerns, we will have the Masses in 6 or 7 places; the bishop also has asked that only parents and godparents be present. 

We will have the rite of entry into the catechumenate on Sunday, December 5, in the main church. There are about 44 preparing to be baptized at next year’s Easter Vigil. We usually have the rite on the first Sunday of Advent but. We’ve changed the date because of elections on that day.

PERSONAL

On a personal note, I’ll be having a Thanksgiving meal on Wednesday with the Dubuque Franciscan Sisters at their Gracias house. It will be a great joy to be with them. I still don’t know what I’ll bring – probably bread and/or cinnamon rolls.

We have had a good number of people migrate from our parish – and almost every Sunday we pray for people on the road. The pastor and I are very concerned, especially since we hear of kidnappings and other dangers the people face. Also, neither of us have really good information on what exactly is the US policy and what happens at the border.

I read about a border immersion in December organized by Maryknoll. I decided to go, in order to get a first-hand look at what is happening at the border. I’ll be with them in El Paso and Ciudad Juarez from December 8 to 15.

I’ll get back just in time for our parish assembly – and planning meeting on December 17-18.

The other news is that the pastor of our sister-parish, St. Thomas Aquinas in Ames, is planning to visit us in early January. 

Please keep us in your prayers.

I’ll be posting on these events as they happen.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Touching with hope

It has taken me some time to adapt to some aspects of the Catholic religious culture of Honduras. 

There are some things that I will probably never get used to – and a few with some good theological and pastoral reasons. But there is one that I first reacted to somewhat negatively but which I have begun to understand differently.
At times, after adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, the priest walks through the assembly with the monstrance, the fireburst metal vessel which bears the consecrated host in the center. As he passes many reach out to touch the monstrance. 

My first reaction years ago was very mixed. I recognized the devotion to the Eucharistic presence of Jesus in the host, but I wondered whether it was almost a substitute for communion or just a type of magical piety.

But two years ago, on the feast of Christ the King, the pastor asked me to carry the monstrance through the crowd, halfway through the crowd. I wrote about it two years ago here.


This year the pastor had me carry the monstrance through the whole crowd. Again I was filled with emotion as young and old, men and women, children and young people, reached out to touch the monstrance. Again, I thought of the pain and suffering of the people reaching out for some healing. Then I thought of the Gospel story of the woman who had been hemorrhaging for twelve years. She knew that there was something about this Jesus who was passing through. So, she reached out to touch the hem of His garment. And she was healed. (Mark 5: 25-34) The people who reached out are searching for the Presence of One in their midst who will take on their sufferings.
I could only respond humbly, aware of their great faith, looking around and stopping when I saw someone wishing to touch the monstrance, stooping when a little child reached out.
May Jesus heal us.

But the nation of Honduras needs to be healed and so we had someone read the recent statement on the coming elections by the Honduran Bishops. Here a short selection that I translated.
We ask the people to overcome sentiments of indifference, apathy, and skepticism, brought on by our deficient system of government and its institutions, and which result in absenteeism. 
We, the bishops of the Honduran Bishops Conference, make an urgent call for you to go and vote, with responsibility and liberty. Our country is living through momentous and significant times. Therefore, we urge you to give you vote to the best candidates, with the best personal, familiar, and social profile, who are honest candidates, responsible and sensitive to the needs of the people, who participate in good politics, in favor of life and the family. This is to say: elect those candidates who, like you, think in favor pf a better future for your children. 
If you discover that you have in your hands the potential to aid the good of our fatherland and change the ineffective and unproductive direction that we have as a nation, you will take into account that your vote is sacred and that you cannot give it to someone who does not deserve it. 
Honduras does not deserve you voting for those who want to destroy it and seek to gain the elections “as it happens” [a como dé lugar], including fraudulent and deceitful actions. Elect candidates who are not stained with corruption, organized crime, and drug trafficking which have damaged the population so much. Be careful with the call of some candidates to “vote a straight ticket” [votar en plancha], which means renouncing the capability to elect conscientiously, as a fruit of a profound reflection. 
The electors should not be part of a fraud, for no reason at all and in no circumstance whatever, nor should they approve or consent to abuses of power, like the ones that happened in the last electoral processes: you have to live the electoral process as a true civic festival, during and after the elections. 
As Bishops and pastors, we feel obligated to make a call to the consciences of all citizens to be objective observers of the electoral process, in order to avoid any irregularity, and, if there are any, to know how to denounce them.

 

Friday, November 19, 2021

A new directory for US deacons; some initial reactions

As the only permanent deacon in my diocese and one of only four ordained in Honduras, I am always looking for inspiration and guidance in my diaconal ministry.

There is a fair amount of material written in English, mostly in the United States, that I find helpful, especially the writings of Deacons William Ditewig, Greg Kendra, Tim O’Donnell, and James Keating, as well as those of Bishop W. Shawn McKnight. The translations of articles and compilations of the Italian deacon Enzo Petrolino are very helpful.

There is some limited material available in Spanish. I am in the middle reading a magisterial work of a Dominican priest, José Gabriel Mesa Angulo, O.P., who has also led several on-line educational sessions, mostly through the Red Iberoamericana de Diáconos Permanentes, which has a Facebook page and a WhatsApp chat group. In addition, there is Servir en las periferias which has a webpage and a monthly digital publication.

So, when I heard that the US bishops had published a new edition of The National Directory for the Formation, Ministry and Life of Permanent Deacons in the United States, I was anxious to read it.
I wasn’t disappointed. 

Below I will share some initial reactions to the document. 

Though most of the book deals with the processes of formation of the permanent deacon in a US perspective, the first two chapters provide short discussions of the “Doctrinal Understanding of the Diaconate” and “The Ministry and Life of Deacons.”

The directory weeks to provides a doctrinal and pastoral understanding of the deacon and his three-fold ministry of word, liturgy, and charity. Much of this is a review of what has been taught about the permanent diaconate during its more than fifty years of existence. But there are seven aspects of the directory which provide the basis for further discussion and study – as well as implementation. 

1) The baptismal roots of the diaconate

The diaconal vocation is rooted in the Sacraments of Christian Initiation. The sacrament is described in relation to the baptismal call to holiness.
In Baptism, each disciple received the universal call to holiness. In the reception of the Sacrament of Holy Orders, the deacon received a “new consecration” to God through which he is configured to Christ the Servant and sent opt serve God’s People. (258)
In particular, the deacon “should feel encouraged to foster closeness between the ordained ministry and lay activities, in common service to the Kingdom of God.” (31)

2) The deacon and the laity

The ministry of the deacon is intimately connected with the apostolate of all the people of God. In particular, citing Pope Saint John Paul II, the deacon’s tasks include that of ‘promoting and sustaining the apostolic activities of the laity’.” (31)

Deacons are “at the service of the People of God” (29), called to lead “the community to reflect on its communion and mission in Jesus Christ, especially impelling the community of believers to lead lives of service.” (34)

3) The importance of service, especially of the poor and suffering

Though the directory insists on the three-fold ministry of the deacon (word, liturgy, charity), there is an emphasis on the ministry to the poor. “The deacon is to cultivate an imagination that takes him to the heart of human need.” (90) And so the deacon has a special role:
In a world hungry and thirsty for convincing signs of the compassion and liberating love of God, the deacon sacramentalizes the mission of the Church in his words and deeds, responding to the Master’s command of service and providing real-life examples of how to carry it out. (40)
I was also very pleased to see the emphasis on study of Catholic social teaching and putting it into practice, not just seeing the deacon as one who does charitable works.

4) The deacon: bringing the needs of the suffering to the table of the Lord

Tim O’Donnell’s recent book, The Deacon: Icon of Christ the Servant, Minister of the Threshold, notes the connection between the church and the world and the deacon’s role. The directory, though using different language, points to the need to connect the sanctuary and the everyday world, especially the needs of the poor.
For the Church gathered at worship, moreover, the ministry of the deacon is a visible, grace-filled sign of the integral connection between sharing at the Lord’s eucharistic table and serving the many hungers felt so keenly by all God’s children.(35)
5) The deacon and the everyday world

Citing,Pope Saint John Paul II, the directory notes that
A deeply felt need in the decision to reestablish the permanent diaconate was and is that of a greater and more direct presence of Church ministers in the various spheres of the family work, school, etc. (31)
Thus, the directory continues:
The deacon, because of his familiarity with the day-to-day realities and rhythms of the family, neighborhood, and workplace, can relate the rich tradition of Catholic teaching to the practical problems experienced by people. (31)
In particular, the directory notes how this can witness to “the gospel value of sacrificial love” and make evident ‘the dignity of human work.” This offers “an opportunity and obligation for deacons in their secular professions to boldly proclaim and witness to the Gospel of life.” (31)

Therefore, “A good knowledge of [the social doctrine of the Church] will permit many deacons to mediate it in their different professions, at work, and in their families.” (260)

In a pointed remark, the directory notes that 
“The deacon is ordained precisely for service in both the sanctuary and the marketplace.” (64) 

6) Cultural sensitivity

The directory calls for formation of the deacons that opens them to cultural sensitivity, even suggesting that deacons might learn a second language to serve different communities in the diocese. 

7) Married and celibate deacons

Some celibate deacons have felt left out in some discussions of the diaconate. These include those who are ordained as celibates and those who are widowed.

On a personal note, I am a celibate deacon and have been trying to develop a spirituality of the celibate deacon. I am glad that our presence is being addressed (though I have never felt left out).

The directory acknowledges the presence of celibate and widowed deacons and offers a few suggestions in the formation and ongoing life of these men – including some initial remarks on the celibate deacon (75-77) and the widowed deacon (79-81).

These and other parts of the document can help us deepen an understanding of the different ways in which the diaconate is lived. 

Though the modern permanent diaconate is over fifty years old, I think we are still in our childhood or adolescence in developing our theology and spirituality. This document can help us in this endeavor to be servants of God and the People of God.

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Potholes, elections, rains, and more

Yesterday I drove back from Quimistan to my home in Plan Grande, Concepción, Copán, on CA-4, the international highway that connects to San Pedro Sula and then, on another road, to the Honduran Caribbean port of Puerto Cortes. The road is a major route for goods from the port and San Pedro Sula to the Salvadoran and Guatemalan borders in the southwest.

The road is, to a great extent, a mess. There are a few good portions, notably from La Entrada to Santa Rosa de Copán. But the road south of Santa Rosa is a disaster, partly because of a major geological fault

The road to San Pedro Sula from Sula to La Flecha is another disaster. I have often traveled this road and I think it’s worse now than when it was really bad ten years ago. They did some repairs some years ago, but it’s really been neglected in the last two or more years.



I think the state of this road is a good metaphor for Honduras at this moment.

Honduras has potential – great coffee, hard-working and welcoming people, natural resources, archeological sites, beautiful mountains, and more. But how can the country go forward with massive insecurity with roads that are treacherous? How can Honduras go forward when many politicians have deep ties with organized crime and drug trafficking? 

We are in the last two weeks before the national elections, which are held every four years. The country will elect the president, the congress, and mayors. There are three major parties and there are serious questions about the presidential candidates of two parties and their connection with money-laundering, corruption, and drug-trafficking. There are serious questions about the fairness of the coming elections – not only because of anomalies in the election process voted on by Congress (which is controlled by one of the parties).

There have also been a number of cases of intimidation of candidates, and even worse. Some candidates have been killed and there have been cases of violence at some campaign rallies, including attacks in nearby San Jerónimo, Copán, where one person died and three were seriously injured. There have also been at least two candidates killed in other parts of our diocese. 

According to a new report, “Honduras' National Autonomous University Observatory of Violence reported that at least 64 people have been victims of political violence between December last year and October this year.”

In the municipality where I live there has not been any violence, but campaign banners have been slashed. Tensions are high.

On a national level, there are also some people and groups calling some opposition candidates and parties communist, attempting to spread fear and more in the population. 

Many doubt the elections on Sunday, November 28, will be fair and transparent, remembering certain irregularities in the last election.

November 28 is the first Sunday of Advent.

We’ll be having Masses and Celebrations of the Word throughout the parish, as usual. But there will be one change. Usually we have the rite of the entry of candidates for baptism (over 14 years old) into the catechumenate on the first Sunday of Advent. This year we’re transferring it to December 5.

To close this blog post on the same note as I started it, I have to write about the dirt roads in our parish. 

The persistent rains, accompanied by cooler temperatures and little sun, have left some roads extremely muddy and slippery. I am glad I have four wheel drive, or I would have gotten stuck a few times.



The causes for these problems are many, including, of course, failure of the government to maintain the roads. 

At this time of the year we often have several days with rain, throughout the day and night; with little sun and temperatures in the low sixties the roads don’t have much chance of drying out.

Since many of the roads are clay, they can become rather slippery. If the authorities have put down gravel, it is considerably less slippery. But there are some road with little or no gravel, some because it has been washed away, some because the gravel was spread out too thinly or was pushed to the side when a tractor was brought in to level the road or fill potholes or trenches. It can get to be quite a mess. In addition, the soil is not stable in some places and there has been at least one landslide in the parish that blocked a road between two villages in the mountains.

But Honduras is going to open a new international airport in the coming weeks at Palmerola (which was a US base for many years, particularly in the 1980s). And it has a military budget of 392 million US dollars (with no wars or threats of war on its borders.)

It is also a recipient of millions of dollars of aid from the US, much of which is supposedly to fight drug-trafficking and decrease the migration to the US. But drug trafficking continues, since it has deep roots in politicians and in other elites. 

And migration continues, since many people see little hope for the future and there is a real lack of security for many people in the large cities, as well as for opposition politicians and human rights advocates. 

It doesn’t look good.

But I’ll try to write later this week on some events that might give a bit of hope.


Saturday, November 06, 2021

The deacon embedded in the secular world: witnessing and listening

In an interview in the virtual Deacon Conference on November 5, 2021, Deacon James Keating spoke of deacons as “clerics embedded in the secular world.”

I think this is a very useful way to speak of the vocation of the diaconate as a permanent state. But this needs to be unpacked, not in terms of the status of clerics versus laity, but in terms of the vocation of the deacon.

Keating and others are pointing to the unique place in the church of the deacon who also has a vocation, including employment, outside the church. The worker-deacon can be in places where a priest usually cannot be found – in the factory, in the courtroom, in the hospital emergency room, in the halls of government.

I am somewhat reluctant to use the word “secular” since it is all too often used in contrast to the sacred. I believe that our role as deacons should reflect an incarnational spirituality.

Jesus is God made flesh, God-Human, Son of God and Son of Mary. He is both. He manifests the presence of God in the midst of human life and living. God reveals Himself in the flesh. As the early fathers (and St. Thomas Aquinas) affirmed. God became humans so that humans may become God – revealing the presence of God in the world.

Thus, the deacon can reveal the presence of God in the daily world – in Spanish, lo cotidiano. His is, as Deacon Tim O’Donnell writes, the ministry of the threshold. I heartily recommend his book, The Deacon: Icon of Christ the Servant, Minister of the Threshold.

But it is, sometimes, useful to note that the world of the church and the secular world often seem to be proposed as not only distinct, but even opposed, realities. But, as “clerics embedded in the secular world,” the deacon can see his call to be a presence in the world and to be one who hears “the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties” of the world (Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et Spes, 1). 

PRESENCE IN THE WORLD 

In France, in the middle of last century, the worker priest movement was an experiment by the Church in France to reach the working class which seemed so far away from the message of the Gospel. Priests worked in the factories, without identifying themselves to the other workers. They saw the importance of the presence of the church in the "secular" world. 

Also, one can also look at the example of the Little Brothers and Little Sisters of Jesus who live and work among the poor as a silent witness of the love of God in the world of the poor.

I believe that it extremely important to remember that the restored diaconate has several roots, including the Priest Cell block at Dachau. There, the priests noted the failure of the church to be attentive to the rise of Nazism. They saw the need to have persons, including clerics, who were immersed in the world so that they could share with the church what they were seeing and experiencing.

After the Second World War, one of the priests, Wilhelm Schamoni, noted:
The Church has not succeeded in holding its ground among either the leading intellectual classes nor among those classes most easily led astray, the proletariat. In their own milieu, deacons from these classes for these classes could gain influence incomparably deeper than could any priest, since priests would never develop within this milieu the kind of rapport that deacons would have already established. One could develop the diaconate into a means to win back the de-Christianized milieu. An intelligent deacon from the working-class would, without any special theological training, be able to touch the heart of his worker colleagues with just the right words.
However, Deacon James Keating, speaking of the role of the deacon as bringing the Word to the world, seems more intent on role of the deacon as one who shows the faith to the people he is around. In the interview, Keating mentions a deacon being present at social events and responding to the needs of the people. 

True, but is this the most significant aspect of this description of the deacon's call to de present to the world? 



LISTENING TO THE WORLD

As a cleric living and working in the world outside the institutional church, the deacon might be able to hear more than a priest would. 

This role of listening – and helping make it heard within the Christian assembly – is unique for the deacon working outside the institutional church. (I should note that I work full-time in a rural parish and thus don't show forth this aspect of the diaconate.)

As noted above, the priests in Dachau’s Priest Block saw the need to have persons, including clerics, who were immersed in the world so that they could share with the church what they were seeing and experiencing. They could hear and see what was happening and what one could miss if he were totally immersed in the affairs of the church.

Cardinal Walter Kasper has spoken of the deacon as “the listening post.” Referring to an ancient document, he noted that the deacon “is depicted as ‘the ears, mouth, heart and soul of the bishop’ (Didasc. II, 44).“ Thus, “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.”

The deacon thus can become the advocate of the poor and oppressed, amplifying their voices, which he has heard.

Saint Oscar Romero, martyr-archbishop of San Salvador, was called “La voz de los sin voz” – the voice of the voiceless. His homilies – which were extremely long – were a combination of reflection on the scriptures and sharing the news of the week, including the names of people killed or disappeared. These homilies were broadcast on the archdiocesan radio as an alternative source of news, as well as a call for justice.

What Monseñor Romero did, the deacon can do – listening to the Word of God in the scriptures and listening to the word of God in the cries of the poor. We can do this, I believe, when we are present to the world – especially with those at the margins of society.

A few weeks before I was ordained, I was in El Salvador and visited the tomb of Romero and dedicated my diaconal ministry to him. As I look back, I see how fitting this has been.




-------------

Marshall Gibbs, “The Deacon as Preacher,” Forming Deacons: Ministers of Soul and Leaven.
Walter Kasper, “The Deacon offers an ecclesiological view of the present day challenges in the Church and Society,” Paper given at IDC Study-Conference, Brixen, Italy, October 1997. 

Tuesday, November 02, 2021

The deacon, laity, and mission in the world

While in the US I purchased a copy of The National Directory for the Formation, Ministry, and Life of Permanent Deacons in the United States of America and started reading it. Chapter One is entitled “Doctrinal Understanding of the Diaconate.”
Paragraph 31 struck me. Citing Pope Saint John Paul II, the Directory notes that “the deacon’s ministry is defined as a ‘service to the bishop.’” This may sound to some as a type of subservience to the person of the bishop, but it is explained as service to the ministry of the bishop for the whole church. “St. John Paul II has clearly in view, therefore, the reasons for not only the diaconate but also the whole apostolic ministry: serving the discipleship of God’s people.” 

The diaconate is oriented toward the whole People of God. 

Guiding force of the diakonia of the church 

Citing Pope St. John Paul II again, the Directory notes that the deacon’s tasks, include ”promoting and sustaining the apostolic activities of the laity.” Thus, the deacon, as one “more present and more involved than priests in secular environments and structures” ought to ‘foster closeness between the ordained ministry and lay activities, in common service to the Kingdom of God.” 

I find this encouraging because it points to the common roots of our service in our Baptism and presents a way to understand the deacon’s intimate relation with the laity. He does not serve on his own but is called, as several popes have noted, to be “the animator, the driving force” of the diakonia of the whole Church. I have written on this in an earlier post, based on my experience. This is an interesting way to help understand the deacon – as clergy, but intimately related to the laity. 

The deacon at the threshold 

In the next section of Paragraph 31, the Directory, again citing Pope St. John Paul II, notes an important aspect of the deacon: the presence of the church in the “secular” world:
“…a deeply felt need in the decision to reestablish the permanent diaconate was and is that of a greater and more direct presence of Church ministers in the various spheres of family, work, school, etc.”
The deacon, involved every day in the world outside the church, “can relate the rich tradition of Catholic teaching to the practical problems experienced by people.” 

They can even, as envisioned by the priests discussing the diaconate in the Dachau concentration camp in Nazi Germany, provide a look into what is happening in the world, so that the Church is not caught off-guard in the face of the evils of Nazism and other oppressive regimes.

The deacon provides an entry for the institutional church, of the clergy, into the lived experience of the People of God – as well as all the people of the world. The deacon is thus a ”minister of the threshold,” as described in Tim O’ Donnell’s The Deacon: Icon of Christ the Servant, Minister of the Threshold. (I reviewed it here.) 

Being on the threshold can be important for a deacon – showing with his life, and not only his words, the intersect of faith and life. He can bring the world to the altar and the altar to the world.

In some ways, I don’t fit this dimension of the deacon – being a celibate who is a full time volunteer with the church. But I think it is an extremely important dimension of the diaconate.

It speaks to what I have promoted for decades – the dignity of work and the witness of the worker in her or his work environment, not by what one says but by how one lives.

When I was a campus minister, I often heard some students lamenting that they weren’t involved in the church, that is, in the activities based in the parish or student center. I still hear that here in Honduras where some people lament that they aren’t more involved in church activities. But I say: What you do in the church is important, but perhaps even more important is how you live as Church, as People of God, in the world, sanctifying the world with your presence, your daily work.

As the Directory notes, “In their secular employment, deacons also make evident the dignity of human work.” They can show in their professions the presence of the Incarnate God, who did not cringe from being called the son of a carpenter. 

What might change in our way of living faith and in our culture when we see a deacon on the altar with hands marked by calluses, signs of hard manual labor?

I have a priest friend who jokingly used to say of his vocation, “These hands are made for chalices, no calluses.” I think he would agree that the callused hands of a deacon might be signs of the God who works among us. The deacon, working outside the institution, can show the dignity of work and he also can see, in his work, “an opportunity and obligation… to bold proclaim and witness the Gospel of life,” not only in words but in his way of living.

This recalls one of my favorite quotes of Thomas Merton:
“The saint preaches sermons by the way he walks and talks, the way he picks up things, and holds them in his hand.”
Such can be the sermon of the deacon in his daily work. A marvelous vocation.

Monday, November 01, 2021

Shame and immigration policy

The US Embassy in Honduras has been posting messages on Facebook to try to persuade people not to leave for the US. But the way they do it shows a real lack of understanding of the situation of the poor in Honduras, as well as the Honduran advocates of human rights and of the care of creation. The last US Embassy post read:
"No permitas que las falsas promesas te hagan emprender un viaje peligroso al norte. No vale la pena arriesgar tu vida y la de tus seres queridos." 
"Don't let the false promises make you take up a dangerous trip to the North. It is not worth it to risk your life and that of those you love."
What blindness and insensitivity - and hardness of heart, as a friend reminded me.

There has been a rash of migrations from our parish, here in the hills of the department of Copán. I am not sure why, but I do know that there is at least coyote in one of the villages of the parish and she has at least one assistant in another village. 

I often try to dissuade people from leaving – citing the dangers of the journey and the insecurity of getting into the US. But I understand a little of what they are experiencing – continuing poverty, lack of response of the government to the effects of last year’s hurricanes, the lack of work, the corruption, the alliance of some politicians with drug traffickers, and more. There are some who leave because of the violence – domestic violence and the violence of retaliation. I think there may be more leaving because many do not expect a decent coffee harvest, because of the heat and lack of rain in the region, due to climate change. In other parts of the country people leave because of the threats of the gangs and of drug traffickers or because of threats to those who work for justice or to protect their lands from international corporations or greedy Hondurans. 

The pastor has delegated me three times to baptize those making the trip – once a teenager, and twice a child going with a parent. But I know there are many more. 

But I also hear the stories, often horrible.

One young man made it once but was deported. He tried again but was left without a guide in San Antonio. He decided to turn around and go back to Honduras. Without money, he walked most of the way, often walking 90 kilometers a day. 

I also heard of three cases of people being kidnapped and held for ransom in Mexico, near the border. Thanks be to God they have been released, but the pain of the families is evident. I prayed with the parents, sister, and wife of one man and his child being held for ransom – surprisingly just after baptizing another child, grandson of the father of the one being held for ransom. 

Trying to frighten people from fleeing shows, I believe, a lack of sensitivity to the real suffering of the people here in Honduras.

A poem of a Somalian woman graphically reveals the truth about migration. Here are a few lines of the poem, “Home” by Warsan Shire. The complete poem can be found here.
no one leaves home 
unless home is the mouth of a shark 
you only run for the border 
when you see the whole city running as well 
your neighbors running faster than you 
breath bloody in their throats 
… 
no one leaves home 
until home is a sweaty voice in your ear 
saying- 
leave, 
run away from me now 
i dont know what i’ve become 
but i know that anywhere 
is safer than here
She has more wisdom, more understanding, and more compassion than the embassy of the country I am from. 

I won’t, at this time, write about what the US must do. Wait for a later post. But pay attention to voices like Warsan Shire as well as to a recent statement of a group from the Central American Catholic church. You can read it here, but I hope to be able to translate it soon. 

And remember that the Holy Family had to flee because of the threats of Herod, the king who served the Roman Empire.

From the Cathedral of St. Lazarus, Autun, France