Thursday, March 25, 2021

Lent, where did it go?

Holy Week – Semana Santa – is upon us. 

For some here in Honduras this is a week of vacations. In past years, many people went to the beaches or rivers to escape the heat. Others took part in the great processions and religious services in their cities and towns. This year it will be different, though we will be having limited celebrations. But life goes on – with its joys and sorrows.
A lot is happening in Honduras and in the world and I’m trying to make sense of it. For me, this means paying attention to the people I encounter. This doesn’t always offer concrete “solutions,” but it may help me and others understand what is going on and begin to work together with the people for ways to envision and create societies that are more just. 

And so, I’m writing this to help me articulate what I’m seeing and to help others see the human side of what is happening. 


Last Sunday I went to a distant village to preside at a Celebration of the Word with Communion and meet with a committee which is leading to effort to help them recuperate from the effects of last year’s hurricanes.
The village was cut off from other places for several days during and after both hurricanes. The road into the community was seriously affected with several landslides that took out parts of the road. It was still slippery last Sunday.

After the Celebration I spoke with the committee. They have asked for a study of the situation and, with the help of a friend, a geologist will be coming this coming Saturday. I wanted to help them prepare for the visit and think of what questions they had for him.

I was rather impressed with their thoughtfulness as well as their intent to be helping all in the community, regardless of religion or political allegiance.

I have tried to be very careful, avoiding taking over but helping them develop their skills, praising their initiative. I look forward to Saturday.

Before I left several of the women on the committee brought me to the sacristy where there were bags of cement, cyclone fencing, and a few bags of fertilizer. They told me that this had been brought to the community the week before the March 14 primary elections by the supporters of one of the candidates. One supporter had the keys of the church and put the “bribes” there. The pastor wants the material out as soon as possible.
For me, this reveals some of what is wrong in the Honduran political scene.

Some candidates use gifts like cement and fertilizer, to try to influence people to vote for them. For me, this comes very close to bribery. They also try to manipulate the church and other institutions. 

These actions also exacerbate the divisions and even violence that permeate the political process here – even at the level of municipal elections. Families are divided over candidates, threats have been made against candidates, and more. A concept of politics as working together for the common good is largely unknown or, if it is acknowledged, policies outweigh their pious words.


Honduras had primary elections on Sunday March 14. The three major political parties were to choose their candidates for national and local offices – president, members of congress, and mayors. The candidates chosen will compete in the national elections in November. As of Tuesday, this week the national electoral commission had not released the results. 

The lines were long here in Plan Grande and there was even a car supporting a major opposition party, LIBRE, even though one of the candidates for the National Party is from our village.
Before the elections there was the usual electioneering – signs on buildings and on cars, caravans of cars going through the streets in towns and even venturing into the countryside with their supporters – waving flags, shouting slogans. There were even cases of candidates handing out provisions, bags of cement or fertilizer.

The ruling political party, the National Party, had two major candidates – one of whom is rumored to be involved in corruption. Both candidates are closely tied to the current president. (The president’s brother has been convicted of drug trafficking in the US and the president has been mentioned in a press release on the conviction of another drug trafficker in the US.) In the Liberal Party, the family of one candidate has been implicated in drug trafficking. The opposition party, Libre, will probably choose the wife of the president who was thrown out in a coup in 2009.

During the campaigns, at least in our municipality, the competition between two candidates proved extremely divisive. Families and communities are divided over the candidates. There was one incident that I’ve heard of in which a vehicle of partisans of one candidate ran into the vehicles of the other. There are also rumors of threats against one candidate.

Politics, which has been filled with corruption for many years and which has been largely a contest between two parties until 2009, has been even more polarizing. 

Is there a way out? I don’t know.

At the national level I have my doubts, largely because of the influence of the two major political parties and their access to money for campaigns as well as their reliance on a system that awards members of the party.

At the local level, there may be some opportunities. I know two young men (in different parties) who were candidates for mayor in their respective municipalities.

But I believe that the real efforts need to be made to help people at the local level organize, assume responsibilities for their lives, and go forward to pursue the good of their communities, without being involved with political parties. In the meantime, many people feel powerless and this, I believe, often leads some to look for a way out, by going to the US.


The coffee harvest is almost completely finished in our area. There seems to have been a good harvest, except for those areas affected by landslides and for those coffee farms that have not been severely affected by roya, the disease that devastated almost all of Honduras about five years ago. In addition, many of the coffee bushes are beginning to flower.
While I’ve lived here in the countryside, I’ve noticed an influx of Guatemalan workers for the coffee harvest, with whole families coming here to work.

Because of COVID-19 and the difficulty to cross the borders, there are not many Guatemalans, at least in our area. But there have been a good number of people coming from Intibucá as well as from around Copán Ruinas. These are most often Lenca or Maya Chorti.

This came home to me last Sunday when I was driving to a community. It was about 8:30 am when I noticed three young guys walking up a hill and offered them a ride. They were grateful and I left them off near the international highway between La Entrada and Copán Ruinas.

I asked them where they had come from and when they had left to start walking. They had started in San Agustín about 5:00 am. They had been working in the coffee harvest and were going back to their villages. In order to get some work they had left home and lived for months away from home.

These guys at least were close to home; many of the people I met in Plan Grande had come from Intibucá – many hours away from here.

This is part of the desperation and the lack of local work that feeds the desire to look for a way out, often seeking to go to the US.


COVID 19 is still present and is most forceful in the large cities and on the north coast. There have been a few cases in parts of our parish with a few deaths, but – thanks be to God – the situation seems manageable in our area, though the major hospitals are experiencing difficulties, due to a broken public health system that really has not responded to people health needs for ages.

I have three major concerns. 

First of all, the public health system needs major overhaul which must include decent wages that are paid on time, sufficient medicine for the needs of the poor populations, and preventive measures.

Secondly, there is a great laity in terms of issues of medical security measures in the face of the pandemic. Pickups and cattle trucks were packed solid with people during the coffee harvest, with few people wearing masks. The political car caravans also had pickups filled with people, often without masks. In the church we try to have the people wear masks and use gel, but it is extremely difficult for many reasons. Some don’t see the need for these measures – some think that it won’t affect them since there haven’t been cases nearby; a few have an almost magical notion of religion, saving God will protect them; others just don’t have the money to buy gel and masks. A teacher in a rural community told me that the government has not provided masks or gel for the children in here school.

Thirdly, we have no idea when vaccines will arrive for the general population. Some have arrived and medical personnel have been vaccinated, which I perfectly justified. There are reports from the government that several million doses will be coming – but they have been saying this since early February. It does appear, though, that Russia will be donating several million doses of the Sputnik vaccine. But the question is who will get these vaccines. Will they be doled out as political favors or as ways to “buy” votes before the November national elections?

All this leads to great uncertainty.


It is hard for me to get a good handle on the numbers of people who have migrated from our area of Honduras.

A few weeks ago I went to a community for a Sunday Celebration of the Word with Communion. I asked about a catechist from there whom I had seen a few weeks before but he wasn’t answering my phone calls. He left for the US, I was told. But then a few days ago, he showed up at the parish council meeting. He had gone but was deported and flown back to Honduras. He was a very committed and capable person and so I was surprised that he had left.

A little before that I heard from someone on Facebook who was from the area but had been living in another part of the country. He was a real leader in his parish and with youth in his diocese. But he had left and found a job in the US.

Two Sundays ago I came across someone who had left from here about 18 months ago with his son. He had decided to return home.

Twice, in the past three weeks the pastor has asked me to talk with couples who wanted their child baptized before the husband left for the US with the child.

I knew the first couple and spoke with them. I began by saying that I was opposed to parents going with their children, mostly because of the insecurity and danger. The husband told me that the coyote (as they call the one arranging the transit, for a price) had told them that at the border they were letting in parents with children. I tried to tell him that this was probably not true and was a misunderstanding of what was really happening. But he still was planning to go. 

I went ahead with the process of baptismal preparation and the baptism. But shortly after he wrote me to tell me that the trip was put off by the coyote, who said the situation had changed at the border.

I don’t trust coyotes. I don’t know if this coyote had misunderstood what was happening at the border or was manipulating the information to obtain clients. 

I talked with another couple and we were going to meet again but they called me to say that the husband and child weren’t going together and so they could wait for baptism afterwards.

These are not isolated cases. I keep hearing of people leaving, trying to go to the US. I have also heard of a friend who is going to Spain - with papers.

What is happening?

My guess is that people are desperate and are grasping at straws, trying to find a way out of the abyss they perceive around them here in Honduras. I can only try to encourage people to stay, try to find ways to help them stay, and pray.

At least two things really need to change.

First of all, Honduras needs and deserves a government that is honest, transparent, just, and concerned about the good of all its people, especially the poor. 

Secondly, US immigration policy needs to change so that it is more open to the needs of the people here who can offer a lot to the US. How much of the meat packing and the agriculture work is being done by migrant labor? At least, the US could look at programs that offer short-term work for people from poor nations. 

I know of a fair number of people who have taken advantage of a Canadian program (all too limited) to spend several months in agricultural work – mostly in Québec. 

I know the US has or had recently a very limited form of this, but my guess is that it hardly responds to the needs of US agriculture and the number of people here who would profit from it. 

I will leave policy planning to others who have more knowledge and experience in this. I only demand that it be a policy that respects the rights of the poor and is otherwise consistent with Catholic social teaching. For more on Catholic social thought on the issue confer the statement of the Catholic Bishops of Mexico and the United States, Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope: A pastoral letter concerning migration

In the meantime, we work to help the people live in dignity and find ways to live their faith. It’s the least we can do. 


The murals of Saints Francis and Clare in the Blessed Sacrament chapel have been finished. They are astounding.
The artist has been working on the other side chapel, which will feature murals of Saints Isidore and María, patrons of agriculture workers, and Saint Nunzio Sulprizio, a young blacksmith who died of cancer. He is gone for two weeks but will return after Easter and probably finish before the end of April.
Lent has been subdued. 

We won’t have our parish-wide Stations of the Cross tomorrow, but people in many of the villages have had small groups praying the stations on Fridays.

The pastor has gone out and celebrated Mass and heard confessions in most of the villages. Today he’ll be in a nearby community and so I’ll be able to go to Mass to celebrate the feast of the Annunciation.

Yesterday was the commemoration of the martyrdom of Saint Óscar Romero, archbishop of San Salvador. Padre German celebrated a special Mass in the main church at 6:00 pm. I went, assisted at the altar, and preached. It was a great honor to be able to speak of San Romero.
Holy Week will be different this year. 

We are encouraging small celebrations in the communities and had about 55 people in a training session. 

We often have had Lenten retreats in the sectors of the parish, often led by the Oblate sisters who are in Dulce Nombre; but this year the pastor decided to have the retreats in each village, led by people who came to a training session last week.

In addition, the parish is sending out about a few people in mission to the communities. 

My week will be busy. 

Palm Sunday I’ll be in the main parish Mass in Dulce Nombre and will help send out the missionaries who will spend several days visiting people in various villages.

Tuesday and Wednesday I will be going to two villages to visit the sick and also to facilitate a Lenten retreat.

Thursday we will have the Chrism Mass in Santa Rosa de Copán for this part of the diocese. In the afternoon, I’ll be presiding at a Celebration of the Word with Communion in Concepción, with Washing of the Feet.

Friday, if all goes well, I’ll be going to a distant village for the Celebration of the Passion with Communion. 

Saturday, for the Easter Vigil, we are obviously not having one big celebration. The pastor will be in Dulce Nombre; Fernando, the transitional deacon, will be in San Agustín. I’ll be in Vertientes, and we will be joined by people from nearby San José El Bosque. We will have it in the new church that they are building in Vertientes, which is quite large. I am looking forward to this.

Sunday, I’ll be at the morning Mass in Dulce Nombre where we’ll welcome back some of the missionaries who spent Holy Week in several villages. After that, if all goes well, I will have Easter lunch with some of the Dubuque Franciscan sisters.

As you can note, we are not as restricted in our celebrations as in some parts of the world (and even some parts of Honduras), but I will be taking biosecurity measures very seriously.

LAST FRIDAY - Sorrow and Hope

Last Saturday we got word after the Parish Council meeting that a young woman, about 15 with special needs and epilepsy, from Debajiados, had died. The young woman was always at Masses and Celebrations with her mother. She was almost always full of energy and joy. 

Padre German decided to have the funeral Mass in Delicias Concepción where here body was to be buried. I went to Debajiados to see if I could help bring people to the Mass. Four cars were filled with people.

Marcelita's casket in the back of a pickup

Padre German preached but I read the Gospel - Matthew 11: 25 - 30. I was close to tears as I read: "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and learned and revealed them to the simple people." Marcelita was one of these.

I also led the prayers of commendation around the casket at the end of Mass. I again found myself close to tears. 

Marcelita was a moment of grace for many, in her weakness and infirmities. Celebrating her funeral Mass, was, as father mentioned in his homily, a moment of experiencing Easter. 

TODAY - Hope

I am off in about an hour to the nearby village of El Zapote Santa Rosa for Mass. The pastor will have arrived there earlier for confessions. 

I don’t know if he’ll want me to preach but I find today’s feast – the Annunciation – is a feast of hope.

In the midst of darkness, there is light. In the midst of darkness, a young woman learns that she is going to give birth – to the Son of God. God is with us, sharing our joys and sorrows, our hopes and disappointments. And she says yes. And, though this is the work of God, the responsorial psalm reminds us that God invites us to say yes: “Here I am, Lord, I come to do your will.” 

 In Spanish, we have a beautiful way to speak of childbirth: “ella da a luz”; she brings to light. We need that light – and we need people willing to risk themselves, as Mary did, to bring that light to the world.

Saturday, March 06, 2021

March is upon us

I wrote about two weeks ago but I wanted to share more information. If there is some repetition, please excuse me.

There is still a lot of coffee in the fields and I guess that people will be harvesting coffee for a week or two. We’ll probably be spending a day or two soon in the parish coffee fields next week.

But I have also come across coffee bushes in flower. The fragrance of the coffee flowers is one of God’s gifts and you can smell them from a distance. The closest fragrance in the US is honeysuckle.
I have been involved for several years with an association of small coffee growers in the nearby community of El Zapote Dulce Nombre. There are twenty-one members, two of them women. They’ve been exporting some coffee to the US, first through the parish of Saint Thomas Aquinas in Ames and now through a non-profit, El Zapote Coffee. Click for their facebook page. I have independent testimony on the quality. 

The association has had some help from veracious non-governmental organizations to help them develop their work. Most recently, a foundation has given them some seed money for setting up their own beneficio, a processing plant. This will enable them to cut costs as well as to lessen the environmental effects of the coffee production process. EL Zapote Coffee is doing some fund-raising to help them. The association already has some funding and they have worked to prepare the site for the processing and to set up a solar dryer and a one-sided shed. But much more is needed. It is great to see them working taking and taking the initiative, with very competent leadership. 


Last year, shortly before the pandemic began, a neighbor and his cousin began a tomato project, producing beefsteak tomatoes in a large greenhouse.
Since he could deliver the tomatoes to my house, I enjoyed fresh tomatoes until about October, when the plants needed to be uprooted and new ones planted. I had to endure other tomatoes until the beginning of this year when the new harvest began. 

 I have been ordering for myself, but several women at the church in Dulce Nombre have been asking me to get some for them. I’m so happy to be able to share them and to support a local farmer. 

Friday I had a chance to visit Alex and the tomato greenhouse. It was amazing to see what they are doing. His cousin had learned how to do this in the department of Ocotepeque and the two of them had put together their resources to start the project.

But I was also pleased to see that Alex and his cousin were also cultivating other vegetables in their gardens – garlic, onions, green peppers, mustard, cilantro, squash, cucumber, and more. I hope I can buy some of their produce. 


I’ve been connecting a lot these days with a community that was severely affected by Hurricanes Eta and Iota last year. Many homes were destroyed or severely damaged, About a third of the houses in the community are in precarious situations and could be severely affected when the rainy season arrives.

They’ve formed a board to help consider how to go forward. They hope to have a study made of the geological situation to help determine if they need to relocate the village. 

The parish has brought aid to the community several times. This past Wednesday night, a woman from the community called and told me that there had been a fire in the home of an elderly woman and that she had lost clothing, a mattress, and more. The fire came from a defective light fixture. Since the roof was of tin with metal beams, the house itself had not caught fire and so she could continue living there. 

I brought a mattress, clothing, and supplies from the parish. 

I got another call just before I left the parish asking me to bring a mattress, clothing, and supplies for an older man who had showed up in the village a few weeks ago.

One of the women helped him get washed up and set him up in a room be the church. She told me how the stench was overpowering but she went forward and washed him. He is also rather ill with inflamed stomach and legs. And so the woman and others are raising money to take him to a clinic to have him examined. In their poverty, they have reached out to one who is suffering even more. They put me to shame. 

Providentially, the Gospel for the day I went there was the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, in Luke 16, 19-31.


March 14 the country’s parties will hold internal elections, choosing the candidates for November’s elections for the presidency, congress, and municipal mayors. I have seen some signs for candidates and once almost got stuck in a caravan of cars in support of one candidate.

One of the most interesting things I’ve seen is a sign for one candidate for the mayor of Concepción about a block away from the house of the other candidate.

It’s also interesting that I know a number of the candidates for various positions and parties. There are even two young men I know who are running for office. Whether these elections will make any difference remains to be seen. (Excuse the cliché.) 

Corruption runs deep in the country and there are rumors of corruption of one presidential candidate. But above all are the continuing stories about the involvement of the current president in drug trafficking. It just so happens that his brother is waiting sentencing in the US. 


COVID still afflicts the country. In our rural area, there have not been a lot of cases, though one village seems to have had a serious outbreak. In the aldea where I live, five persons were tested positive but have recuperated. 

There were stories from the government that the vaccine would begin to arrive in the second half of February, but the date was changed to March. According to some news reports about 2000 vaccines have arrived from Israel and have been given to medical personnel. There is some controversy about the protocols but something has begun.

There are also reports that the government is purchasing 4,200,000 Sputnik V vaccines from Russia. My concerns are that the poorest will be ignored in this. 


The artist is continuing with the murals in the church in Dulce Nombre, most notably in the chapel of the Blessed Sacrament. Our hopes are that he will be able to finish in April. 

Holy Week is almost upon us. We are planning to have a session for parish leaders to help them prepare for Holy Week. It will be different from last year, when we were in lockdown, but we will be trying to be responsible as we help communities offer some small gatherings to celebrate the death and resurrection of the Lord – offering hope in the midst of all the suffering the country has suffered in the last twelve months.