Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Back HOME in Honduras

I got back home from a visit to the US on Wednesday, June 16. 

I had gone, primarily, to renew my Iowa driver’s license but I took advantage of the trip to get the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine and to do an eight-day retreat. About the end of the second week, I was homesick for Honduras. 

I’ve been back now for almost two weeks days and so it would be good to reflect on what is happening here. 


I took advantage of my trip to the US to get vaccinated against COVID-19. I got both doses of the Pfizer vaccine. It was so easy to do and I had almost no reactions, except for a little soreness where the needle was.

I decided to do this since I had no idea when the vaccines would arrive where I could take advantage of them. So far, only 80,000 Hondurans have been fully vaccinated (with 2 doses). Some people I know have been vaccinated, but only with one dose. They have to wait two or three months for the second dose.

According to one news source, “Pfizer highlights the importance of applying the second dose 21 days after the first one. The JOH regime recently announced that they intend to wait three months.” 

According to other sources, “The 1.5 million vaccine doses donated by the Biden administration arrived in Honduras [in the last few days]. Even before that donation, the JOH regime had only purchased 4.11% of all the vaccine doses arriving in Honduras, even though it received millions to do so.”

It is hard to know when people in the countryside will have access to full vaccinations. But COVID-19 continues to plague the country.

The medical system is stretched thin and there are reports of some new strains here. It strikes home a bit because some people I know, including three priests have tested positive in the last two weeks.

Despite this, many people in the countryside are not using masks and are taking few precautions. I fear this will lead to further degradation of the health of the people. In the meantime, though vaccinated, I will continue to wear a mask – most of all to give a good example to people.

Pastoral Work 

I have assisted as deacon at a few Masses and have begun again to go to rural communities on Sunday mornings to preside at Celebrations of the Word with Communion.

Two Sundays ago, I baptized nine children under seven at a Mass in Plan Grande.

Last Sunday, I went to El Bálsamo and, after the celebration, I spoke with ten young people beginning confirmation preparation, encouraging them to continue with this step to deepen their faith commitments.

I also shared several photos that I had taken at the marriage of five couples there last year. 

Parish work

This past Monday a group came to work on the parish coffee fields. I got up early to bring them in from a village an hour away.

The original idea was to do two tasks, to apply fertilizer after dehijando, which can be translated as “removing the suckers from the plants.” The fertilizing was put off because it has been raining a lot and there is concern that the fertilizer would be washed away. But we worked several hours on the other task.

Deshijando is a specific and rather easy process of removing shoots which come put under the branches and would take a lot of energy and nutrition away from the coffee berries. Here are a few photos.
The main church

Since more than a year ago, we have been working on the renovation of the main church in Dulce Nombre. It has been painted inside, including a grand mural. The outside has also been painted. 

Now there are a few details being worked on, including the possibility of having some stained-glass windows installed in the sanctuary.

We hope to have all finished for the parish feast day, September 12, when the bishop will come to consecrate the church. (It was blessed but has never been consecrated.) That should be a great day.

The new space for assemblies and formation meetings

Several years ago, we were talking about having a place for formation activities in Plan Grande but the people suggested that it would be better to have a space in Dulce Nombre, where those who come for a meeting could also take advantage of the trip for shopping, going to the bank, and so on. So, the pastor decided to turn the former soccer field into a large auditorium. 
Some photos of the work follow. 

The new space will be named “Auditorio Santo Tomás de Aquino,” “St. Thomas Aquinas Auditorium,” to express our parish’s gratitude to our sister parish, St. Thomas Aquinas in Ames, Iowa. We hope to dedicate it on the same day as the consecration of the church. 

Latin American Church Assembly

Later this year, in November in Mexico City, the church of Latin America and the Caribbean will hold an assembly, which will include more than bishops – priests, deacons, religious, and – most important of all – lay members of the church. 

The assembly will be the culmination of a process which is beginning throughout the continent in local listening sessions. 

The Latin American bishops’ conference, CELAM, prepared materials for these sessions which were adapted for our diocese. Last week we had sessions in nine places in the parish, with participation of 10 of the parish’s eleven sectors. (The only area not involved, so far, is the city of Dulce Nombre de Copán.) I was pulled into helping lead the sessions in three parts of the parish. We had over thirty people in each location and there was good participation. 

I felt that the material was a little too complicated and not always written in ways that could be easily understood by people who do not have a lot of formal education. There was even mention of a challenge – “La incorporación de lenguajes pastorales actualizados o significativos para los destinarios” [incorporating pastural languages which are up-to-date or significant for the audience] – which was written in a way that was hard for people to understand.

But it was worthwhile to offer all people the opportunity to share their concerns. I felt a bit rushed, trying to do all this in five or six hours. I also wonder if there were some questions that were not asked, including access to the Eucharist and other sacraments.

My concern now is that the syntheses of the inputs are respected and not manipulated by those who report all this to diocesan, nation, and area groups.

An educational challenge

The issue of education came up in several areas, but in one part of the parish the situation is extremely grave.

According to what I have heard, teachers in three communities are not willing to return to even a few classes a week in person. But, even before the pandemic, some of these were not present for classes five days a week. As a result, the students suffer. People are concerned about fifth graders who cannot read. There are also a few allegations about the way some students have been treated by at least one of these teachers.

At a later meeting of church leaders of that sector of the parish, they discussed the situation and ways to go forward in obtaining quality education for their children. They emphasized that they are not seeking to replace the teachers but will go forward trying to remedy the situation, talking with education leaders in the district. 

Challenges of life 

On June 20, after Mass, we had a thunderstorm and one of the lightning bolts struck close to my house. As a result, the electricity was off for almost a day and, because the fiber optic converter was burnt out and I was not able to be at home because of commitments, I had no internet in the house until Friday morning. Just a small, somewhat first-world inconvenience.

This morning, while doing some laundry, I realized that the water from the faucet was not clear. This happens any number of times, especially after heavy rains. I think this is sometimes because the rains at times stir up the mud in the springs that are the water source and sometimes because one of the pipes has cracked or broken. The water for most of our communities in this area come from mountain springs, sometimes several miles from the villages.

The next few weeks

This Thursday we plan to visit the jail in Santa Rosa de Copán, bringing about tamales, other food, and about 4000 tortillas. This is in response to a request from a prisoner who leads the pastoral work inside the jail. I’ll be helping to transport the food. We will be a small group and will all have to be tested to avoid the spread of COVID inside the prison.

Next week Caritas will send two psychologists to provide attention to members of the parish. Father Fernando, the recently ordained young priest in the parish, and I will be trying to coordinate this, bringing them to various locations in the parish.

This is critically important – not only because of the trauma of the pandemic and the two hurricanes that hit our communities, but also continuing problems of domestic abuse and violence. One visit won’t be enough, but we can begin to see what the needs are and think of how to respond in the future.

I am also hoping to have more meetings with catechists in the zones of the parish to discuss how to begin again the religious formation of the young. I also plan to meet with the coordinators of social ministry in the zones to continue to respond to the needs of the people as well as to prepare for any possible emergencies during the hurricane season, around the month of October.

There is no lack of pastoral work. I am hoping that we can motivate and animate the people in this important ministry and do it in a way that is safe for the health of the people.

Back in the US of A

I realized today that I had published this in the wrong blog. It was written a month ago, on May 28, before going on retreat. I have been back in Honduras since June 16. 

I've been in Iowa for a little more than eight days.

My Iowa driver’s license was about to expire, on my birthday, June 1. I have a Honduran driver’s license, but I think it might be helpful to have a US license so that I’d have fewer hassles when I get back to the US, especially if I want to drive or rent a car.
So, I decided to take a trip back to Iowa, especially since the prices were the lowest I’ve seen in ages – some as low as $500 for a round trip.

Once I made the decision, I pondered getting the COVID-19 vaccine while in the US. I have no idea when there will be vaccines available generally in Honduras. According to a May 22 online report in Contra Corriente,
"According to data from the Ministry of Health (Sesal), Honduras has vaccinated only 1% of its population. Only 5687 frontline health personnel have been vaccinated with the two doses, and 108,538 people, including health personnel and older adults, have been vaccinated with the first dose."
According to the online Proceso.hn:
The second batch of vaccine doses bought by the IHSS arrived yesterday in Honduras, another 81,600 doses.
There are about 8 million people in Honduras. 

There are promises of vaccines by the government, but they were promising vaccines way back in February. So, I decided to take advantage of my visit to get vaccinated. It is extremely easy to get vaccinated in the US and so I am, in a way, leaving a place open for a dose of vaccine for Hondurans by getting my shots in the US. I managed to arrange an appointment by internet and received my first dose of the Pfizer vaccine on Friday May 21. My second dose is schedule for June 11. 

I am staying with friends who even offered me use of a car – which makes life even easier. From their house I was able to see the gorgeous sunset above as well as this photo of deer in a neighbor's yard.
I’ve been taking it easy for a few days, though I’ve gone out to get somethings I need as well as to visit a few people.

I discovered, trying to make a purchase, that my debit card had expired a year ago – and so I managed to arrange that fairly easily. Another good reason for the visit.

Sunday morning, I served as deacon at two Masses at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Ames, where I had served for almost twenty-years before leaving for Honduras in 2007. It was very different – with all the bio-security measures, but I did see a few friends from the past. The twin daughters of two friends were baptized at the 8:30 am Mass and I was overjoyed to see them and their other three daughters, as well as members of their extended families.

I’m also visiting with a few people, including Fr. Kyle, the pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas in Ames. St. Thomas is the sister parish of Dulce Nombre de María and has helped us greatly. It was good to share with him some of the stories and photos of what is going on. After the visit I got to the noon Mass and then went to the Department of Transportation office to renew my license – which will be in the mail shortly.

I have also been able to visit or arrange visits with other friends, including with one of the donors for the mural project in the church of Dulce Nombre.

There's also the culinary aspects of this trip. In May you can find two of my favorite foods - rhubarb and asparagus. I got asparagus once in Honduras from a roadside stand near La Esperanza, Intibucá, but rhubarb cannot be found. I ate asparagus three times already and I made a sauce from rhubarb which has graced both yogurt and ice cream. Yum. And today I found a food truck in Ames what has Salvadoran pupusas. Even though it was not on the menu I asked if they had pupusas with cheese and lorroco - and they did. 

I’m also trying to tie up some loose ends of my life.

I have a lot of books stored with friends in Ames and am slowly going through them. I also have a good number of these books that I want to give away and I’m slowly finding ways to do that. I sent a list to a friend to share and I have been able to share more than four boxes of books, sending packages all around the US.

I’m also going through photos and files, throwing out what I really don’t need and trying to find ways of storing the many photos – some from my parents and uncles. But I found a large number of photos that I didn’t realize I had and am going through them. In the course of this, yesterday I came across an interesting document from about 1954 – a notice from the Pennsylvania Department of Health that I was eligible for the second Salk Poliomyelitis Vaccine! Now I am eligible for the second Corona-19 vaccine!

I got a chance to visit the new Catholic Worker in Ames, the Romero House. I brought them an image of Romero; it’s the least I can do to support this effort to serve the poor. It is amazing to see this work, initiated by a young Iowa State University graduate. I hope it flourishes. 

I had originally pondered going back to Honduras after the first dose and then coming back for the second, but a friend suggested that I look for a retreat for some of the time. Looking around the internet I found an eight-day Ignatian retreat at the Creighton University Retreat Center in Griswold, Iowa; I head there today, Friday.

But life is full of surprises. Wednesday I got an e-mail telling me that I had to get a PCR COVID test to go on the retreat, if I wasn't fully vaccinated. A quick run to a MercyOne in Des Moines and, by yesterday morning, I had the proof that I was negative.

When I booked my travel, I decided to return to Honduras on June 22, leaving enough time to assure I could get the second dose of the vaccine. But I got a June 11 appointment and so I’ll be returning home earlier. 

I was reluctant to leave and I'm anxious to return. I’m a homebody and travel gets a little harder as you get older. But I’m guessing that this will be a good opportunity to rest, to see some friends, to get somethings done that I’ve put off, and to have a retreat. I hope and pray that I can return renewed and invigorated for the years ahead.