Thursday, February 18, 2021

Summer, Lent and life in the parish


Summer is here in our part of Honduras. Here we have two seasons – summer (the dry season) and winter (the wet season). 

In our part of the country, in the mountains in the south of the country but on the Atlantic side of the Continental Divide, we have a short dry season – usually from February to May. The rest of the year is the rainy season. The dry season is usually the hottest time of the year. The sun is strong and it seldom rains, which makes for dusty roads.

This year, after all the rain in the middle of the year and the heavy rains of the two hurricanes that hot Honduras, it is a welcome change to not have to worry about wet, muddy, slippery roads.

A few times in January, I thought I wouldn’t be able to get up a few hills that had become very slippery, with just a little rain. A few times I thought I wasn’t going to make it or would get too close to an embankment. But, with the help of God and a few friends, and the fancy tools of the new parish car, I got where I wanted to go. 

The other day, meeting with catechists in one sector of our parish, we were sharing how we felt about this past year. I realized that I was not really fearful of COVID-19, although I am extremely careful and share my concern with others. But I realized that I really am a bit afraid of getting stuck in the mud – again! 

One day I had to go to a distant village where I had gotten stuck trying to go up a small hill and, for a few moments, I hope the meeting was cancelled. I didn’t want to get stuck. But I went there with no problems. 

But going around to a few distant aldeas (villages), I noted the effects of the hurricanes, especially roads that are very narrow because of landslides, including some that may suffer more damage when the rains come again in late May. It’s been three months since the hurricanes and still there are roads that have not been repaired or have only had minimal repairs.
The after-effects of the hurricanes are still wreaking havoc in Honduras and people are still suffering.

In our parish we are working with one community which will probably have to relocate most of the houses. They have organized a committee to oversee the work and have prepared a report and a map of the situation. Out of the 131 houses in the village, 5 sere destroyed by the landslides and land settling and 40 more were slightly damaged or are at risk. We hope to help them as they rebuild or relocate.
Last Friday I took a friend, a Dubuque Franciscan sister, to San Pedro Sula to pick up their community’s car which had been in accident.

The traffic into and out of San Pedro Sula was terrible. But what really shocked me was what we saw at the entry into San Pedro. The roads from Santa Rosa de Copán and from Tegucigalpa come together just as one enters the city. Recently an overpass was built to ease traffic. 

Now, there are more than thirty tents with people displaced by the hurricanes – three months after these disasters. When will the government do something to respond to theses needs? Money has been promised and some has come in – but will it be siphoned off for enrich corrupt politicians and their allies? And, since this is an election year here in Honduras, will aid be politicized, going to party followers and not to those really in need? And will the aid be publicized as gifts from a politician or a political party, rather than the money which has been designated by donors or governments for the good of those affected? 


In our part of Honduras, coffee is harvested between November and March, depending on the local climatic conditions. For your information, coffee “berries” (which have the coffee beans inside) mature at different times on the same coffee bushes; thus, they have to be collected three or more times during the harvest season.

This year many people are reporting good harvests. There are some people whose harvests are poor because of coffee rust (la roya) or the loss of fields by landslides. 

We have had several good harvests of coffee in the parish coffee field. I help a little with the harvest but I cannot harvest even one-fourth as fast as many people who have been harvesting since they were four years old. But I do transport the volunteers who come in from distant villages and often help bring the lunch prepared for them by women here in Plan Grande. There should be at least one more harvest later this month.

For at least eight years, the parish of St. Thomas Aquinas in Ames have been providing partial scholarships to high school and middle school students in a distance education project in four places in our parish. This year about 150 students were helped. The program, called Maestro en Casa (Teacher in the Home) or IHER (Honduran Institute of Education by Radio) meets a need, mostly for those who live in remote rural communities who would otherwise have little or no access to study past sixth grade. They listen to radio program, have workbooks, and meet once a week with a teacher. It may not be the best option, but it does help.

About seven years ago, after a visit from Fr. Jon Seda from St. Thomas Aquinas parish, a group of small coffee farmers began working together to improve the quality of their coffee and to export quality coffee to the US through St. Thomas Aquinas. Now a separate group, El Zapote Café, is importing coffee from this association which now includes twenty-one members, two of whom are women. 

Working with some foundations here and with the help of the Iowa group, the association is building a processing facility which will help them to cut costs, improve the quality of their coffee, and uses processes which do minimal damage to the environment. It has been a great joy to see their growth.
Moises, the president of the association, with his son

After the second hurricane hit our area, we began receiving assistance from other parts of the diocese – mostly in terms of food stuffs and clothing. We have been able to deliver these to rural communities. On Ash Wednesday, I combined taking 56 bags of provisions to a community with presiding at a Celebration of the Word with distribution of ashes and communion.
The work on murals in the church continues. The chapel with the Blessed Sacrament is being painted now with images of Saints Francis and Clare.
Work on the other chapel will probable begin in March and will include images of Saints Isidore and María, patrons of agricultural workers, and Saint Nunzio Sulprizio, a 19 year old who was recently canonized (on the same day as St. Oscar Romero and Pope Saint Paul VI); he was an orphan who was maltreated by an uncle and died about much suffering. He also was a blacksmith; in Dulce Nombre there are many blacksmiths, mostly making horseshoes and so his image will remind them of the dignity of their work.


We are slowly and cautiously opening up in our parish pastoral work.

We had our first Parish Council meeting in January. We have our second this Saturday.

The pastor, assisted by a recently ordained transitional deacon and a seminarian in his year of pastoral experience, have been visiting many communities for Mass as well as visits to the sick and the sacraments of baptism, confession, anointing of the sick, and a few weddings.

I have begun to visit communities on Sunday mornings several times a month to preside at Celebrations of the Word with Communion. Sometimes I will also visit the sick.

Last Sunday I visited, bringing communion to four persons in three homes in a community. It has no communion minister and so there are few occasions when they and a neighboring have communion. The pastor gets out there every two months for Mass, but I think I’ll try to get out there about once every two months or so. I was reminded of the importance of this when a catechist in the village told me that Don Efraín, who is partially blind, asked her when I was coming to bring him communion.

I have begun meeting with small groups of catechists in the rural sectors of the parish. It has been a very good experience because this has provided a space for me to hear how they are feeling, to help them think through what they might be able to do now and what they might be able to do in the future. I have come away from them with a sense of hope, since I see their enthusiasm but also the growing ability of some to make thoughtful decisions on their own, not referring every issue to the priest or deacon.

I’ve started the meetings sharing how we are feeling after all that has happened this year. I hear some fear of the pandemic as well as some depression because of the isolation, some sadness because of the suffering of people as well as some spirit of struggling to go forward as we can. I heard of efforts to help others in the community as well as efforts to pray in family groups. After I’ve visited all the areas, I need to plan how to go forward – with great care, but helping the catechists develop a strong pastoral sense and a capacity to carefully discern what can be done.

I’ve also had some meetings with people preparing for baptism or marriage. There will probably be more as Lent ends and people prepare for baptisms of children and for marriages after Easter. 

I had one last baptism before Lent last Sunday in Dulce Nombre.


The pandemic is still here and recently it seems to have affected our parish more than before. 

There is one community that has been severely affected and there have been cases even here in Plan Grande. Here, the families of those affected have mostly been very cautious and have avoided contact with those outside their households. 

There are also continuing cases in the town of Dulce Nombre. 

Santa Rosa de Copán has been affected quite a bit. This week a priest of the diocese died as a result of COVID-19.

When will the vaccine get here? The President had said that we could expect it n the second half of February but now the government is saying the first vaccines will get here in March. We shall see. But what will really be important is careful attention to how the vaccine is distributed. There is a great danger of politicization and favoritism. 

Lent will be different this year. 

We won’t have village-wide Stations of the Cross on Fridays or the large parish Stations on the Friday before Holy Week.

Ash Wednesday was much like it was in the past, since it is largely decentralized. In the morning, we had a Mass at 10 for the Delegates of the Word from more than half the villages. The blessed ashes were shared with them for distribution at a celebration in their communities.

In addition to that Mass, Padre German, the pastor, had at least four other Masses. Fernando, the transitional deacon, went to two villages and I presided at three Celebrations of the Word with Ashes and Communion. 

My last was here in Plan Grande. The surprise for me was the presence of at least twenty of those who had come here to Plan Grande to work in the coffee harvest. Most were young people from Esperanza, Intibucá. It was a joy to see them present for the celebration of Ash Wednesday with members of our Plan Grande community. 


 “Remember that you are dust and to dust you have to return,” I said many times on Ash Wednesday as I traced a cross on the foreheads of many people.
As I prepared for preaching, I began to think about this.

According to Genesis, human beings were made from the dust of the earth. What a miracle. God transforms dust into a living being in God’s own image. 

Yes, we will die and return to dust. But God will transform this dust into the new creature, resurrected in and with Christ.

There is hope – though it looks as if evil and suffering will triumph. But our God is a God of miracles and transformation.

Last Friday, talking with Sister Pat in the car on the way to San Pedro Sula, she asked me for some references or ideas about the Cross and Resurrection, as she prepares a presentation for a congregation of sisters. I was inspired and said that that it is important to consider “the transformative power of suffering-with.” Note that I didn’t say “suffering,” but “suffering with.” 

As we talked, I realized that this is part of my understanding of the power of Jesus. He suffered with us; he suffers with us – and this is transformative. 

I need to develop this and will try to use this Lent as a time for reflecting on this, especially in light of the hymn in Ephesians 2 that reminds us that Christ Jesus humbled himself and took on our humanity, to the point of suffering with us. By this we are saved.

There is hope. There is resurrection.

Wednesday, February 03, 2021

Que viva la virgen campesina - Suyapa

Hoy Honduras celebra a su patrona, María, bajo el título de la Virgen de Suyapa. La imagen de la virgen de Suyapap fue encontrada en 1747 por dos campesinos - una estatua de aproximadamente 2.5 pulgadas (6.5 cm).

Hace tres años vi por primera vez una foto de la estatua sin vestido. María es un poco fea, y aparentemente no blanca. Me gusta mucho la imagen.

Me han desanimado un poco las imágenes de la Virgen de Suyapa, a menudo de diez a veinte veces más grandes que la original, adornadas con un hermoso vestido galán. 

María ha sido secuestrada. 

No como las dos veces que robaron la imagen: una vez fue encontrada en el baño de hombres en un restaurante en Tegucigalpa. 

No, ella se ha sido robada de su identidad; ya no es una campesina pobre.

Además, es la patrona de las fuerzas armadas hondureñas, su “capitana”. Y la misa del festival en la basílica de Tegucigalpa a menudo se ha convertido en un festival de amor para el gobierno, con el presidente y otros en los primeros bancos. 

Pero ella es la María que dijo "sí" a la improbable propuesta de convertirse en madre de Dios.

Ella es la María que dio a luz a su hijo y lo acostó en un pesebre.

Ella es la María que estuvo al pie de la Cruz de su hijo.

Ella es la María que, al enterarse de que su pariente Isabel estaba embarazada, la visitó, mientras ella misma se encontraba en los primeros meses de embarazo.

Ella es la María que, reflejando las palabras de Ana en 1 Samuel, cantó un canto revolucionario de alabanza a Dios que derriba a los soberbios, despide a los ricos vacíos, derriba a los poderosos de sus tronos.

Ella es la María que lleva a un Dios que ensalza a los humildes, llena a los hambrientos, despide a los ricos con las manos vacías. 

Me pregunto si su cántico Magnificat será prohibido en Honduras por ser tan revolucionario.

Sin embargo, amo a la Virgencita de Suyapa.

Esta María, la virgen pequeñita de Suyapa, campesina un poco fea, morena, es la sierva del Señor que lleva a Dios hecho carne y me muestra el Dios verdadero. 

Esta María, la virgen pequeñita de Suyapa, campesina un poco fea, morena, es la sierva del Señor que lleva a Dios hecho carne y me muestra cómo es Dios realmente. 

Ella es la Virgen cuya estatua fue encontrada cuando el campesino Alejandro Colindres, durmiendo en el campo, sintió un dolor agudo en la espalda, por tratar de dormir donde fue la imagen. ¡Que todavía sea un dolor agudo, una espina, en la espalda de todos los que oprimen a los pobres, que confían en el poder y la riqueza, que no se dan cuenta de que son siervos del Señor y a su pueblo! 

Gracias, Virgen de Suyapa. Ruega por nosotros. Ruega por Honduras. 

Virgen, fea y revolucionaria, te amo. Ayúdanos y a todo Honduras a convertirnos.


Una traducción (por Google, pero corregida) de un blog en inglés de 2018.