Saturday, January 30, 2021

The year at Dulce Nombre de Maria: challenges and signs of hope.

I began to write this post on January 28, the feast of St. Thomas Aquinas to thank the parish of St. Thomas Aquinas in Ames, Iowa, for their continued support of our parish, Dulce Nombre de María. The day before our pastor had told me to send them his profound thanks for all that they have shared with us. This post is an expanded version, with photos, of a letter I sent to St. Thomas Aquinas parish.

On the morning of January 28, at 7:05 am, I got a phone call from a communion minister in a nearby village. He greeted me on the feast of St. Thomas Aquinas and expressed his gratitude for STA’s support of the parish. He was going to the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament in the church in his village (which they do every Thursday for several hours) and told me that they would be praying for St. Thomas Aquinas Church during the day. I was moved by his call which showed me how much the people here appreciate the solidarity of St. Thomas.

That afternoon I went out to Mass in a remote village, getting there with no trouble. During the Mass, Padre German prayed for St. Thomas. Mass started late and rains began. The trip back home was hazardous; there were a few slippery hills where I wondered if I would get out. But I got home with no scrapes on me or the new truck; going over this narrow road by a landslide was one of the easier parts of the trip.

Today I want to take remembering the feast of St. Thomas Aquinas as an opportunity to review the past year. 

It has been a difficult year throughout the world and especially here. Honduras has been plagued in recent years by poverty, corruption, and a broken infrastructure, especially in the areas of health and education.

Then the pandemic hit. Honduras went on almost complete lockdown, which actually may have helped prevent the spread of the virus. But the medical system was overwhelmed and the efforts to bring in temporary hospitals and treatment equipment have been plagued by corruption and inefficiency.

For me, an introvert, this has been a time for reading, praying, and almost a retreat. I have also taken advantage of several on-line education programs, including a course on Intrafamiliar Abuse offered by CEPROME, which works on abuse prevention, especially in the church. CEPROME also provided a virtual study week on abuse for all the clergy of Honduras. Thank God for a fairly decent internet connection.

I also used the time for a lot of reading and a fair amount of baking bread. 

I am also blessed because a friend here in Plan Grande has a tomato project and even delivers the beef-steak sized tomatoes. This makes cooking and shopping much easier.

Our parish has not suffered from COVID-19 as much as the major metropolitan areas. There have been cases in several of the municipal centers and some villages – with several deaths. But the pandemic has disrupted life – and made life more difficult for many of the poorest.

During the pandemic, the pastor and I helped one municipality distribute supplies to the needy on two occasions. We went along to help assure that the aid was distributed to those most in need and was not used for political purposes (which is a great danger here, especially since elections are being held this year.)

In regard to pastoral work, we have tried to minister to the parish within the limits of the restrictions as well as in light of the need to adhere to health safeguards.

The pastor and a seminarian (ordained a deacon in December) went around to a number of places. I restricted my travels a bit more (now that I’m 73 years old), but found myself involved in pre-marriage interviews, baptisms, funerals, and more. I have presided at a good number of funerals, five here in Plan Grande. I also did pre-marriage interviews and helped in the baptismal preparation of three persons who were going to be married. There also have been a number of baptisms, not only of children but also of several adults preparing for baptism.

When the bishops conference released guidelines for public worship, I presided at Sunday morning Celebrations of the Word with Communion in the church here in Plan Grande and went out a bit more, though I adhered to travel restrictions which limited use of vehicles to certain days. When I got a safe-conduct pass, I went out a bit more and have visited a number of villages for Sunday morning celebrations.

I haven't traveled much outside of the department of Copán where I live, but the pastor and I did go to the ordination of three transitional deacons fore our diocese. 

Deacon Fernando's ordination in Dulce Nombre

Enroute to one ordination in Santa Bárbara we saw how Hurricane Iota devastated parts of that department, especially along the river Ulua.

In the midst of this, with the help of donations from St. Thomas as well as fund-raising efforts of parishioners, the parish was able to avoid laying off any of its few employees, notably the secretary and cooks. The parish was also able to continue the rehabilitation of the church in Dulce Nombre, mostly from donations of parishioners and the fund-raising efforts of some women in Dulce Nombre, selling pupusas, pasteles, and other food.

Thanks to a few other independent donations, the parish was also able to contract an artist to paint an impressive mural in the apse of the church. He will begin painting murals in the side chapels this month. 

This month the parish will start a major effort to prepare spaces in the parish center in Dulce Nombre for parish-wide meetings for formation of parish leaders, thanks to a very generous donation in the past.

The St. Thomas Aquinas parish support of the distance learning education program of Maestro en Casa has enabled many junior high and high school students to study, even during the pandemic. I remember visiting a home while we distributed provision and seeing a young man working on his homework. This year the scholarships will help about 160 young people to continue their education.

In the midst of all this, we had to attend to the parish coffee fields. We have had volunteers come out and do pruning and weeding. We have had several days when parishioners came out to harvest the coffee. A few weeks ago, more than 160 came out on a Monday and 60 more the next day and harvested more than 800 five gallon containers of coffee beans. 

As if the pandemic wasn’t enough, Honduras was buffeted by two hurricanes in October and November. Much of the devastation, especially from the first hurricane, affected the north coast, especially around the industrial center of the country in San Pedro Sula.

The parish was also affected somewhat by the first hurricane, Eta. Yet we experienced the brutal force of the second hurricane, Iota, with landslides, collapse of soils, and fallen trees. The ground was already saturated because of more rain than usual this year. The heavy rains and winds led to the isolation of many villages because of impassible roads and fallen bridges, some for almost two weeks. The rains, fallen trees, and mudslides also contributed to the breakdown of water systems in some areas as well as lack of access to electricity. Some roads are still hazardous when it rains.

But the worst damages from Hurricane Iota were to houses in several villages of the parish, as well as to the loss of farmland and coffee fields. More than 180 families in the parish were affected. Some have had to abandon their homes; others are living in hazardous areas where major storms could provoke more  landslides and destruction of houses.

At least one village will probably need to be relocated and some people in other areas will have to move to more secure places in or near their villages.

some of the destruction in San Marcos Pavas

Yet in the midst of this we have seen many persons respond to the needs of others, even though they are themselves poor. People have collected food stuffs, shared beans and corn with the parish to distribute, and even gone out to take provisions and clothing to villages. Migrants from here in the US and Spain have sent money to help respond to the needs of those affected by the hurricanes. We have also received aid from other parts of the diocese and even from some people in Tegucigalpa.

This coming year presents us with many challenges. How will we safely resume formation of pastoral workers in the villages? How will we help restructure the local faith communities, including a revival of base communities? How will we help communities that need to rebuild? How will we accompany the people as they deal with loss of houses and farmland, with seriously damaged water systems, with roads in terrible condition? How will we be present in the major health crisis of COVID-19, with hospitals overwhelmed.? How can we help assure that the vaccines, when they arrive, are distributed to those most in need and not used by politicians to garner votes in this year’s elections? How will we serve those people who are so desperate that they are thinking of migrating? 

We have received some financial assistance to help people rebuild, some from St. Thomas and some from my personal friends. 

We are doing some planning to work on restructuring the base communities in the parish as well as the work of the catechists. This coming week I’ll begin visiting catechists in the ten rural sectors of the parish.

We have work to do. But with the help of God, of the members of the parish, and of the generous friends of the parish, especially the parish of St. Thomas Aquinas in Ames, Iowa, we are encouraged in our efforts.

This year we also have the help of a seminarian, Melvin, in his year of pastoral practice as well as the transitional deacon, Fernando, for at least a few months - if not more.

On behalf of the parish, I want thank all whose who support us. We are grateful and I want to assure you that we pray for you.

May God continue to bless you. Let us pray for each other and support each other in loving solidarity.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Holocaust Remembrance Day

My life has been shaped by my high school encounter with the reality of the Holocaust.

I don’t know when I first learned about the Holocaust but during high school I began to be concerned about this horror. At that time I was in a Franciscan minor seminary and so one of my concerns was the apparent failure of the Catholic Church to respond to the rise of Nazism and the Holocaust

There was Rolf Hochhuth’s 1963 play, The Deputy. Some consider it to be overstated and a piece of propaganda against Pope Pius XII, but it raises the question of why the church was so hesitant to speak openly.

I also ran across Gordan Zahn’s 1962 study, German Catholics and Hitler’s Wars: A Study in Social Control Though Zahn’s interest was mainly in the failure of most of the German bishops to respond to Hitler’s wars, it also brings to the fore the failure of the church to speak out.

Two years later, Gordon Zahn published In Solitary Witness: The Life and Death of Franz Jägerstätter, his account of the life of an Austrian who refused to serve in Hitler’s army. He ran across the story when he was researching his book on war and German Catholics and proceeded to make known the life and writings of this farmer who discerned the evil of Nazism and sacrificed his life for his convictions. He was subsequently beatified by the Catholic Church and recently a movie was released, A Hidden Life, which I heartily recommend.

About this time, I came across the speech that Albert Camus gave at a Dominican monastery in 1948. It put into words my concerns – not just about the Holocaust but also about the Vietnam War which was raging in the mid and late 1960s.
“What the world expects of Christians is that Christians should speak out, loud and clear, and that they should voice their condemnation in such a way that never a doubt, never the slightest doubt, could rise in the heart of the simplest [person]. That they should get away from abstraction and confront the blood-stained face history has taken on today.”
Camus concluded his remarks with these prophetic words:
“…if Christians made up their minds to it, millions of voices — millions, I say — throughout the world would be added to the appeal of a handful of isolated individuals who, without any sort of affiliation, today intercede almost everywhere and ceaselessly for children and for [human beings].”
In 1973, I took an extended vacation to Europe, traveling mostly by bicycle and train. I stopped in Munich, in part for the beer, but also I wanted to visit Dachau, the concentration camp. It was not a death camp but many died here and their bodies were cremated. I walked in silence around the camp, paused at the crematory (where I sensed the smell of death), and prayed at the chapel there. As I returned to Munich on a train, I noted that this place of mass death and detention was so close to a major city. How could the people in the nearby town not notice the smell of death and how could the city of Munich not note the presence of this center of evil.
Crematoria at Dachau

Remembering the holocaust and other crimes of mass destruction of the twentieth century as well as the massive civilian deaths in war and concentration camps throughout the world, I have been moved to be with those who suffer and to speak up with them. In some way, it opened me to come to Honduras. 

But it opened me to something more.

A few years ago, the bishop asked me to consider the permanent diaconate. As is my custom, I began to look for information. The first article I came across, by William Ditewig, mentioned that priests in Dachau discussed the permanent diaconate. They asked why the church didn’t respond to the evil of Nazism and wondered whether the clergy was too distant from the realities around them. They thought that it might be good to have people involved in the world as members of the clergy to keep the church closer to the reality people experience. I wrote about this in a blog post a few months before I was ordained. I also wrote ab out this last year in another blogpost.

Last year, I had planned to go to an international deacons’ conference in Germany and had planned to spend a day at Dachau. That, of course, was cancelled due to the outbreak of the Corona-19 virus. I still have hopes to one day visit that seedbed of the contemporary diaconate.

For me, this has meant that for me the diaconate has a strong prophetic dimension.

We are called to announce the Reign of God, that God has come near and is present among us. But that also means that we help people identify the evils – both personal and institutional – around us. We are not just to wash the wounds of those who suffer but we are called to speak up about what has brought about this suffering and death.

This means that we may have to take risks of offending others. But silence opens the way for evil to flourish. It might also mean that we stand with those who suffer. 

I know many deacons stand at the side of the unborn, but how many of us stand with those who suffer from racist attacks? Many stand with the poor, offering them assistance, but how many of us raise questions about why they suffer

For this reason, I have a rather peculiar idea of what it means to be a deacon. 

The deacon must stand at the side of the people in need – all of them, most of all the impoverished. I have my concerns with any deacon who does not get his hands dirty at the side of the poor and who is not willing to speak up with them (and for them). 

We should not do this from the outside, but from within the world of the poor - living the "culture of encounter" that Pope Francis stressed. 

It’s a challenge that I don’t live up to – but God keeps calling me. 

 Photo of crematoria at Dachau from Wikipedia.

Friday, January 15, 2021

Migrants, caravans, desperation

A new migrant caravan gathered yesterday and this morning in San Pedro Sula. They are hoping to pass the Honduran-Guatemalan border and proceed to Mexico and even to the US. 

Some have hopes that US policy will change with a new president. But I believe that many are leaving out of desperation. Reacting to this, I decided to write a few scattered thoughts on what may come. 

I expect there will be many who will flee in the coming months, some in caravans, others in small groups, or alone.

Honduras has been buffeted by the pandemic COVID-19. The economy has been severely affected, most of all the informal sector.

Then the hurricanes hit. Many communities on the coast have been inundated; people have lost all they had. The photos from places like La Lima, Cortes, near San Pedro, have been heart breaking. When I went to San Pedro Sula last month, my heart ached as I saw people living under bridges and ramps. 

In our area, people have lost homes and some crops have been devastated, mostly because of the landslides brought on by the rains, in areas that were already in peril.
Honduras has become a nightmare for many people. 

Poverty has been compounded; corruption has increased. People feel robbed of hope. 

All this came home to me about a week ago when I went to baptize in a rural community. 

After the Celebration of Baptism, I talked to a young man whom I knew. He had fled with his wife and child from the community where he lived when his home was destroyed by a landslide. We talked and he mentioned that he was thinking about trying to go to the US to find work. His family is living with a relative in another village and he sees no way to find the funds to get land for a safe place to build and to buy the supplies needed for a home. We talked and I told him that the parish is looking at ways to help people rebuild. We hope to have a small project.

These months in our area people are working in the coffee harvest. But in late February, when the harvest is mostly over, I expect that there will be more people who will leave. 

I’m hoping that we can do something significant that will offer alternatives to at least a few people. I’d like to start in one community where many people have been affected and which will probably need to be relocated. That will be a big project. But there are also some families, without resources, in other communities who will need to find land and rebuild. I’m beginning to speak with folks in those communities to see how much interest and support we can get in the communities. Our dream is not to build houses.

The dream is to build community, which means building houses but much more. Too many come in and give people things, creating dependence and stifling initiative. Our hope is to work in the communities, generating processes of working together.

I'll try to follow up on this.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Baptisms, renouncing evil - and more

In this New Year, I have baptized six persons, five children and one young man. 

A group of children had been baptized in Dulce Nombre at the end of last year, but one child was sick and so we arranged to have a baptism before Mass on the Epiphany. I really love being able to welcome new members into the Body of Christ, but this baptism was special. I have been working in this parish since a few months after I got here in Honduras, at first on an occasional basis. In the process, I met a fair number of people, including a few young people. One of those was the father of the child I baptized. What a privilege. 

On Wednesday, the pastor was going out to a rural community for Mass and baptisms. I decided to go along, But, as I was leaving Plan Grande, he called me and told me he was stuck in Santa Rosa with the parish car for the sick which needed serious repairs. Could I preside at a Celebration of the Word with Communion and baptized the four children. Of course. It was a good celebration, and I knew a few of the parents. One or two of the kids decided to exercise their vocal cords during the rite. But, even though the parents wanted the children baptized with lots of water, holding them standing in a plastic tub, it went off very well.

Today, at the request of the pastor, I baptized a young man who had been in the catechumenate, starting in 2019. He would have been baptized at the Easter Vigil 2020, except for the pandemic. I met with him on Friday and we talked about the baptism. He, with his mother, his girlfriend, his godparents, and a catechist from his village, arrived before Mass for the rite.

Since he had already participated in the catechumenate rites of welcome and election, the rite was shortened. But I decided that it would be good to use the long form of the renunciations with him. They are found in a ritual book from Mexico that I use. I had used a form of it in a Lenten booklet I prepared when I worked at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Ames, Iowa, but I cannot find my files. So here is a loose translation, which misses some of the nuances of the Spanish, but this may give you an insight into another way of looking at renouncing Satan. 

Do you renounce Satan, that is:
• sin, as a sign of the denial of God;
• evil, as a sign of sin on the world;
 • error, as obscuring the truth;
• violence, a contrary to charity
• egoism, as lack of the testimony of love? 
Do you renounce the works of Satan, which are:
• envy and hatred;
• laziness and indifference;
• cowardice and insecurities;
• sadness and lack of confidence;
• materialism and sensuality;
• injustices and favoritism;
• lack of faith, hope, and love? 
Do you renounce his seductions, which can be:
• thinking oneself the best;
• seeing oneself as superior;
• being overconfident of oneself;
• believing that one is completely converted;
• staying put in the things, means, institutions, methods, rules and no going to God?
Do you renounce believing oneself superior to others, that is, every type of
• abuse;
• discrimination;
• pharisaism, hypocrisy, cynicism;
• pride;
• personal egoism;
 • despising [others]? 
Do you renounce holding back in the face of injustice and the needs of persons and institutions for:
• cowardice;
• laziness;
• comfort;
• personal advantages? 
Do you renounce the materialistic criteria and behaviors which consider:
• money as the supreme ambition for life;
• pleasure above all;
• business as an absolute value;
 • one’s own good above the common good? 

As I prayed this, I kept wondering if this is what we need to use more often as part of our examination of conscience. 

I also wonder if this list might be a good prayer for the US, in these days after the terrorist attacks on the Capitol building. I think so. 

But I wonder how many parishes would dare use these.

Friday, January 08, 2021

Prayer for purifying the sacred vessels

Our diocese had a special Mass to commemorate the canonization of Mother Teresa.

The Missionaries of Charity have a home for malnourished children, Hogar San José, under five, which I have sometimes visited. When I first came to Santa Rosa, I went several times a month but, since moving out of the city, I’ve visited only a few times.

A few years ago, I was asked by the directors of a home for children, Amigos de Jesús, to visit with their volunteers, mostly from the United States. I have continued to connect with them and their current chaplain is a good friend. Amigos de Jesús provides a real home for over 125 children and also provides them with education. They have a school as well as a bilingual program on site and several of those who finished high school there stay in a house in San Pedro Sula to go to the university. 

The Missionaries of Charity were at the Mass as well as staff, volunteers, and children from Amigos de Jesús I was blessed to assist at the Mass as deacon. 

One of the responsibilities of a deacon is to clean the vessels after Communion.

As I began to clean the vessels, I noted the people from Amigos de Jesús in the middle aisle of the auditorium where Mass was held. The ciboria were filled with particles from the consecrated hosts and so I took care to carefully clean them, seeking to consume even the tiniest particles. 

I looked down at the ciborium and looked up at the children in the aisle, some of whom are orphans, some have been abandoned, some have been maltreated. There were many small particles in the ciborium and small children in the aisle.

I realized that as just I took care for every particle of the Body of Christ in the ciboria, I am called to take care of the least of our sisters and brothers, the face of Christ in our midst. I often recall this as I clean the vessels.

Today I wrote this prayer
Lord, Jesus, you are present in the Eucharist, present in the tiniest and most fragile particle of the consecrated host. Help me treat your sacramental presence with care and devotion, seeing You in every fragment. You, Lord Jesus, are also present in the least of our sisters and brothers, especially children and the poor. Let me remember Your presence in them and treat them with as much care as I treat You present in the Host. Let me respond with care and love to the least of them, as I care for the least particle of the Host. Let me ever reverence You in the Host and in the poor and care for them as for You. Let Your presence in the Host and in the poor open me to Your great love for me, and for all. Amen.
Purifying the sacred vessels at the church in Debajiados, on the day after my diaconal ordination.

Saturday, January 02, 2021

Looking back and forward

What awaits me?

Last Wednesday I spent a few hours going through my journals, trying to see what was going on in my interior life. Yesterday, I decided to look at the past year and the coming one, in terms of what I do. 

Last year was not easy, but I realized that I really am called to accompany those at the margins. I also realized that I am, in some ways a hermit at heart. It’s not that I don’t love to be with friends, but I am learning to live in solitude.

I also found myself doing a lot of reading and taking a few advantages of on-line study programs. I got to learn a little about Zoom – with an online Spanish class, a four week seminar on Abuse in families, a clergy study week on sexual abuse, weekly meetings of an on-line base community (in Spanish) facilitated by Maryknoll, as well as a few other meetings. I also talked with some friends over Skype. I even managed to meet a few times with my spiritual director over Skype. 

The pandemic and the lockdown started in mid-March. I had originally planned to attend a permanent deacon meeting in Germany in March, but it was canceled. I had also planned to visit Dachau and Chartres, two places of pilgrimage for me. But it was not to be. Supposedly, there will be a meeting in Barcelona in September 2021. 

I stayed at home for the first three or four months, only going out for supplies or for essential ministerial responsibilities. I had envisioned Holy Week as a personal retreat, but I spent three days going with young people working with the local municipality, taking provisions to people in the villages. I did spend the last three days in quiet. 

Our parish usually has an all-night Pentecost Vigil in one of the parish communities, but, since this was cancelled, I spent several hours meditating on the Vigil readings.

In July, when the Honduran Bishops Conference had established guidelines for celebrations, I began presiding at Sunday Celebrations here in Plan Grande, but I avoided going to Masses (partly because of travel restrictions) until September.

Yet I found myself at several funerals.

The week before the pandemic lockdown happened, I was asked to go to a community for a funeral. As often happens here, the funeral was in the home of the family of the deceased. During the pandemic, I ended up presiding at funerals at least seven times – one newborn, one three month old, a young man shot and killed, an older man and a few weeks later his son, an elderly woman whose daughter had been killed about two weeks before, a middle-aged man, and a 97 year old man. I also assisted at several funeral Masses, including a recent funeral of a 36 year old woman who died of cancer, leaving behind four children.

Surprisingly, a fair number of couples were in preparation for marriage before the pandemic started. I had more than ten pre-matrimonial interviews, many of which were in the couples’ villages, since transportation is a problem. I visited a number of the couples, including some who had not been baptized. I ended up baptizing four persons before their celebrations of the sacrament of matrimony. I assisted at several of the Masses.
In one village there were five couples who got married. They had been meeting before they began their preparation and it was a joy to accompany them

In another village, there was a couple that had begun preparations in March. The pandemic put this to a stop but, more seriously, the husband who had struck his head a few years ago, suffered serious cerebral complications and, unless he had Ensure he was not able to get out of bed. I visited them and we decided to go ahead with the wedding, but there was one complication. He was not baptized. And so, the pastor sent me out to baptize him. A few days later they were joined in Holy Matrimony, with their three children present.

We had a number of catechumens who would have been baptized at the Easter Vigil. I visited with seven of them in San Agustin and one in a nearby village and later baptized them. This is not the normal route, but in times of pandemic and hurricanes, the pastoral concern is primary. I also take masks along with me which I freely distribute.

I haven’t visited the sick as much as I used to, partly because I was trying to be careful, with my health and the health of others. This year I have to find a well to visit the sick much more.

As I mentioned, during the height of the pandemic I helped to take supplies to villages with the local municipality. Padre German and I went, partly to provide another vehicle, but also to try to make sure that the neediest were not neglected. We did this twice.
After the hurricanes, we have also been going out, with supplies donated by people in Dulce Nombre, Santa Rosa, Tegucigalpa, and Madrid, Spain. I have gone out with others several times and several times have brought supplies alone. At least once, I got stuck in the mud! I also went with others, including Fernando, the newly ordained (transitional deacon, to distribute provisions and clothing that had been donated.
There are several other ways I sought to help those in need. 

After a terrible killing of a young woman in a distant village, I arranged for family members to visit with psychologists from the Santa Rosa office of Caritas. The first time I took the two young women psychologists to the village (about one and a half hours from Santa Rosa), but later we arranged for the family member to come to Dulce Nombre and I brought the psychologists in from Santa Rosa (only half an hour each way.) This experience only made it more evident to me that psychological assistance is a great need of people in our parish, partly because of the presence of violence and abuse in the Honduran society.

Our parish has a fund to subsidize medical costs when the families don’t have the resources. I’ve used this several times. 

We have a parish car to transport the ill to hospitals and clinics and it is being well-used. But on Christmas eve, the driver was unavailable and so I ended up bringing someone home from the Santa Rosa hospital. I managed to get to the Christmas Mass, where I ended up preaching.

When our pastor went to visit his family in October, he left the seminarian and me to cover the Saint Francis day celebrations – I ended up with four on October 4, but I managed to slip out after the last one to meet with the Dubuque Franciscan sisters in Gracias. I only saw them three times this year, though we’ve been in contact by phone and e-mail. It’s been hard, since they are an important source of emotional and spiritual support – real friends. But we did have a great Christmas dinner at the home of Sister Nancy in La Entrada. (By the way, dinner is the mid-day meal according to Iowa usage.)

Three seminarians have been doing pastoral work in parishes in the diocese, including one in Dulce Nombre. They were ordained (transitional) deacons in December and I participated in the three ordination Masses.

I am now doing some visiting of villages for Sunday celebrations as well as trying to attend at least one of the Masses in the parish. When I go to Mass, the pastor almost always has me preach. 

We have suspended much of our formation of pastoral leaders, though we hope to begin some this year, probably small sessions in each of the eleven sectors of the parish. Many people are anxious to begin again. They have had Sunday Celebrations of the Word for several months, but we have been very careful in terms of religious education in the communities. We will have to look at this carefully and perhaps make decisions related to the situation of the community. 

COVID-19 has affected several places in the parish, though most of the countryside has been spared. But the hurricanes have affected many areas – with loss of houses, roads caved in or blocked by landslides, houses in danger, communities isolated, and infrastructure damaged. We’ve tried to respond, but the major effort will be rebuilding. I will be working on this, together with the transitional deacon in the parish. Next week we will meet with one community that has been devastated and may have to relocate.
I also ended up working for three months with Alejandro Carbajal, the artist who painted an incredible mural for our parish church. I plan to write more about this marvelous mural that graces the church.
I also found myself sustained by the beauty of the world around me and took many photos. I got to appreciate the different light at different times of the day and the oriole that occasionally visits my house.
I also read a lot and did watch one movie (on the computer), A Hidden Life, on the Austrian martyr Blessed Franz Jägerstätter, who was executed for refusing to erve in Hitler's army. I recommend it (and recommend reading his letters.) I did a lot of reading from mystery novels to theological works (including Yves Congar's Power and Poverty in the Church, from books of spirituality (Henri Nouwen, Timothy Radcliffe, Metropolitan Anthony Bloom, Thomas Merton, Caryll Houselander, and more), from Albert Camus's The Plague to biographies of Dorothy Day, Solanus Casey, and Charles de Foucauld, as well as Jim Forest's memoir, Writing Straight with Crooked Lines, from books on nonviolence (John Paul Lederach) to books on preaching (including Ann Garrido amd Joshua Whitfield). I began Joe Laramie's Abide in the Heart of Christ; A 10-Day Personal Retreat with St. Ignatius Loyola a few days before the pandemic lockdown; I'm sure it helped me. I read a bit on the diaconate; a collection of Pope Francis's writing was helpful but I was disappointed with a new book on diaconal spirituality, which seemed too spiritualized. In my efforts to try to figure out a spirituality of a celibate deacon I found writings of Henri Nouwen and Donald Cozzens helpful.

As I look back I realize that, in all this, I have learned how much contact with the suffering and the marginalized is my calling. I am amazed how I so often, without thinking, find myself reaching out to those one the margins – the guys at the doors of the churches, the coffee pickers who show up at celebrations here in Plan Grande. I also find myself seeking out those grieving. I probably am violating protocols, but how often at funerals I find myself talking with and putting my arm around those who have lost loved ones.

As we remember this Christmastime the One who drew near to us, was born among the poor, and who walked with the neglected and marginalized, I find myself called to renew my commitment to serve them, to accompany them, and to help them grow into the persons and communities that God wants them to be. I thank God I am here. 

It’s a marvelous gift – that I never expected.