Saturday, July 31, 2021

Out of the depths - crying with migrants

I just returned from the baptism of a six year old who will soon be leaving with his father for the US. 

This is the second baptism I have celebrated in the past two weeks of a child who would be going with his father on the long trek to the US.

But I can hardly call them celebrations in the normal sense. In some way, they can only be celebrations of the hope that God gives to people amidst the anguish, that drives people to flee their homes with a child.

In the last two weeks I’ve also been with family members who had someone who died in the US. One was at a Mass for a teenager who went with his father but who drowned. The other man was older but was killed in the US. There must be more, but these were in our parish and I spoke with family members. 

In the last week I’ve also come across two families whose family members have been kidnapped and held for ransom in Mexico. The kidnappers of one man and his child asked first for several thousand US dollars but lowered the amount significantly. But how can a poor family here afford even a thousand dollars? The family is distraught; I prayed with them – and cried with them. 
The numbers of migrants from our parish is staggering. The other day I was giving a ride with someone who was talking on the phone with family members or friends who had left and were waiting to cross the US border. 

I was in conversation with someone else who was talking about a number of persons planning to leave, as well as with a teenager who hopes to leave but wants to be baptized beforehand. 

I recently heard that a large group of young people from a village have left for the US. I don’t know who they are but I do know a good number of young people from that village.

I don’t know what is happening that is driving so many to leave. We don’t experience the violence and the presence of gangs, as do many in the cities and the coast. But there is a lot of poverty and a lack of opportunities for young people, even those few who have finished high school. 

In the midst of this, I feel powerless – as must many of the people around me, especially those who flee. 

And so, in the midst of this, I pray the first words of Psalm 130, as I did with a family today: 

Out of the depths I cry to you, 
O Lord, Lord, hear my voice.

Stations of the Cross, El Rosario Church, San Salvador

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Honduran Bishops against the ZEDES

At least since 2013. the Honduran government, ruled by the National Party, has promoted the idea of setting up ZEDES - Zones of Economic Development and Employment. These zones are mean to function autonomously. According to a 2019 Market Trends report, "They would be independent jurisdictions with their own laws, courts and police." 

There has been significant resistance to what people see as an attack on the national sovereignty of Honduras as well as another policy that exploits the resources of Honduras without the consent of the people involved and without benefit to the poor. 

Yesterday, July 28, 2021, the Honduran bishops' conference entered the fray with a strong statement. 

The original can be found here. Below is my translation. 

Honduras Conference of Bishops 


“Blessed are those who have hunger and thirst for justice,
for they shall be filled.” (Matthew 5:6) 

 Dear brothers [and sisters], 

We, the bishops of the Honduran Bishops Conference (C.E.H.) in an extraordinary meeting have prayed to the Lord and reflected on the reality of our country, as well as on the way our authorities govern; at the same time, we attest to the uncertainty, the fear, the indignation, and the anger which this reality awakens in those good, noble, and working Hondurans who look upon their future and that of their children with desperation.

As Pastors of the People of God, we are concerned that the government does not listen to or pay attention to the demonstrations and statements, just and well based, of many very important institutions in the country, such as the National Autonomous University (UNAH), the Association of Public Prosecutors [Fiscales], the Northwest chapter of the Honduran Association [Colegio] of Economists, the Lawyers Association [Colegio], the National Anti-Corruption Council [CAN - Consejo Nacional Anticorrupción], the Social Forum on the Foreign Debt and Development of Honduras [FOSDEH - El Foro Social de la Deuda Externa y Desarrollo de Honduras], as well as debates and other forms of expression of the people.

On the other hand, we are witnesses of the incomprehensible and suspicious insensitivity and laziness of the respective authorities and of most of the politicians of our country in the face of the voices which cry out for justice and respect of rights so fundamental as [the rights] of national sovereignty and the integrity of our country.

The Bishops Conference expresses its solidarity and joins itself to the statement of our brother bishops in their dioceses, who made their own the criticisms [reclamos] of civil society, demanding in a peaceful way that the Zones of Employment and Economic Development [Zonas de Empleo y Desarrollo Económico – ZEDES] not be put into effect, because they have been created in open violation of the Constitution of the Republic of Honduras and to the detriment of our national legislation.

Some state that in this moment is it juridically understandable that the demand should not be directed to the National Congress, because they “already fulfilled their duty to legislate.” How easy it then is to wash one’s hands of a problem so great, a problem that they themselves have caused! The attitude shown by the majority of the members of the National Congress is depressing and questionable. 

Members of the National Congress, firmly and with the respect which you your position [investidura] deserves, we say to you that the moment has arrived in which you show if you wish the good of the population. As we have stated before, show why you were elected and who you really represent. Show that you are concerned for the common good and that you do not seek to protect [salvaguardar] personal and egoistic interests. Therefore, we ask that you revoke [nullify] the reforms to the Constitution which have made the ZEDES possible and that you also revoke the Organic Law [Organizational Law] on the Zones of Employment and Economic Development.

Members of the Supreme Court of Justice, we ask you to not lend yourselves to the political game of the National Congress and that you maintain your independence, not bending yourselves to interests opposed to the good of the Republic. In a confused and muddled environment, as we are now living as a country, it is of supreme importance to recall the necessary separation and independence of the Powers of the nation.

Those who defend the ZEDEs exceedingly emphasize development and the jobs that these will come to create. According to some economists, this is not possible.

Will this project really give the promised benefits? Why continue promoting insistently, by means of various social communications media, the creation of the ZEDEs as the panacea that Honduras was waiting for? Will it not be a smoke screen that we’ll all be involved with, while time will pass without attending to the real problems of the country? However, if the ZEDEs are going to produce the development they say, why haven’t they done so already?

We bishops are not opposed to the development of Honduras; we are in favor that this come about – but not this way.

Instead, we support the Appeal of Unconstitutionality filed by the National Autonomous University of Honduras [UNAH]. By its legal representative, Rector Francisco J. Herrera Alvarado, before the Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ) asking that article 34 of the Law ZEDE be declared inapplicable, with the effecting of repealing [the article].

The Rector of UNAH, anticipating whatever act of censure or disapproval, has stressed that the document was put together by the highest level experts, guaranteeing the character of the act in question as academic, objective, and above all, apolitical.

When the good of the population is in play, together with the well-being of every Honduran family, we are convinced that it is not a question of seeing who has the most political power or who defeats whom. We are part of a great family and part of a beautiful country. We are in the same boat; if one wins, we all win, but if one loses, we all lose.

The creation of the ZEDEs, with all the reality and projection with which it surrounds itself, is the saddest and most ironic way to celebrate the bicentenary of the independence: erecting “exclusive and privileged cities,” in the face of a population which lives submerged in poverty. The ZEDEs are not only unconstitutional but violate the first paragraph of the Act of Complete Independence of 1823, which calls to mind “the sacred rights of nature.”

Now, more than ever, Honduras needs all of us and hopes for the commitment of everyone, in the construction of a nation with greater dignity and prosperity, a nation where one struggles arm in arm [codo con codo], where the good of one becomes the benefit of everyone, where the happiness of one is the cause of joy for everyone.

We call on the blessing of God for our people and over every Honduran family, confident that their petition will be heard as well as the cry for justice which is born in the noble hearts of our people. 

Mary, Help of Christians, 
pray for us. 

 Tegucigalpa July 28, 2021 

S.E. Mons. Ángel Garachana Pérez 
Obispo de San Pedro Sula y 
Presidente de la C.E.H. 

 Rev. P. Emigdio Duarte Figueroa 
Secretaria General de la C.E.H.

Saturday, July 17, 2021

A Lament for Honduras

- COVID-19 continues to ravage the country, and there are rumors of more restrictions because of the effects on certain areas and the overcrowding of hospitals. 
- With corruption and lack of transparency, most of the population is not vaccinated. According to one report: "While more than one million Hondurans have received one vaccine shot so far, only 79,737 have received both shots, 0.8% of the population." (The population of Honduras is about 9.9 million.) 
- A weak and overburdened medical system.

- An economy that leaves the poor with unjust wages and unjust prices for their farm goods.
- Emigration seems to be increasing astronomically, even in the rural areas where I live.

- Continuing violence, including domestic abuse and killing for vengeance.
- Families torn apart by migration, as well as by domestic violence and alcohol and drug abuse. 

- A debilitated educational system, both at the local area and in terms of national policy. 

- The degradation of the environment, including destruction of forests and pollution, including pollution by mining interests.
- A government and others pushing for ZEDES, business zones out of the control of the government, which would enact their own laws, etc. 
- The Honduran Congress approving more hydroelectric dams (which raises the concern about environmental issues and respect for lands of native peoples and others.) 

- Government corruption and ties to drug-trafficking leave the country without adequate responses to the needs of the population. 
- With elections in November, there are questions about the fairness, justice, and transparency of the election processes. 
- A non-functioning judicial system that leave people fearing to testify against violent crimes. 

The list can go on and on and on. But those who are affected have faces and names. 

This morning, after seeing so many Facebook posts on the Pope’s stand on the use of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, I thought of the real concerns, and the real issues, that people confront every day in the parish where I serve. 

They face these issues with the few resources they have and with the rich resources of their faith – even though many have access to Mass only once every few weeks.

They don't worry about the language of the Mass, but whether there will be Mass, whether the priest can arrive for the confessions of the sick and dying, whether a child can be baptized before heading out to the US with her father, whether there will be a priest to say a Mass for the burial of a loved one, and many other cares.

And so I began writing this litany of the needs of the poor, here in Honduras, and the threats they experience to life and well-being. It is a litany that could go on for hundreds more pages.

Lord, have mercy on us.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Five years as an ordained deacon

On July 15, 2016, I was ordained a deacon for the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán. 

Five years an ordained deacon but, when I look back at my life, much of my life has been spent in a diaconal ministry. Serving those in need has been part of my life since high school and so I see my ordination as confirming my vocation of being a servant, deepening it in Christ the Servant, and opening up new horizons.

A few months after I was ordained, my pastor asked me what was different.

Except for presiding at Baptisms and weddings, and more presiding at Celebrations of the Word, not much had outwardly changed. Before ordination, I had been taking communion to the sick, assisting and giving reflections at Celebrations of the Word with Communion in remote villages, training catechists and accompanying extraordinary ministers of Communion.

But there have been changes.

First of all, I find myself becoming more "present" to people who are sick or caring for the sick as well as to people grieving at the loss of a loved one or suffering in one way or another.

I don’t find myself doing more, but there is a different spirit in my ministry.

Visiting the sick, the elderly, and the homebound, bringing them Communion, and just praying with them is an important part of my ministry. For the most part, I try to go where there are no communion ministers or the needs are great.

I also find myself at more funerals, wakes, or prayers during the novenarios, the nine days of prayer after a person is buried.

Being present to a family that has lost a member, being present at a community suffering after a violent death, or just praying around a casket in a home have opened up depths of compassion and tenderness that I didn’t know I had.

During the early months of the pandemic, I did go out a few times, mostly for funerals and occasionally to help bring supplies to communities. After last November’s hurricanes, I found myself visiting the most affected areas, sometimes just to listen to the people explain what they are experiencing. I also have tried to accompany people in efforts to rebuild, especially encouraging community-based efforts to help families whose homes were destroyed or damaged.

I also, aside from the first few months of the pandemic, usually go to a rural village for Sunday morning Celebrations of the Word with Communion, especially where there is no communion minister. I often visit some of the sick in that village.

Sunday afternoons, I try to get to Mass in one of the towns or villages of the parish. Almost every week, the pastor or the associate has me preach at these Masses, mostly to give them a break (since they often have three or four Masses each Sunday). I thus preach much more than many deacons.

Another essential part of my diaconal ministry has been to accompany those who are doing pastoral work in their villages, mostly the catechists, the communion ministers, and those involved in social ministry.

I was doing some of this before, but now I look on this ministry in a different way. Pope St. Paul VI and Pope St. John Paul II both spoke of the permanent diaconate as the animator or driving force of the diakonia of the people of God.

I am not just training people to be catechists or communion ministers, or helping people respond to the needs of the people in social ministry, I am trying to help them live their baptism, as member of Jesus who is prophet, priest, and servant-king.

This is a challenge because it is trying to break down any notion that only a cleric lives out these ministries.

My role is not to do, though I need to be available to teach and preach, to preside as celebrations and distribute communion, as well as baptize and witness marriages, and to respond to the many needs of the parish which is very poor.

My role is to foster the participation of the people in their three-fold ministry, role, of being prophets, priests, and servants, to open spaces where they can exercise their ministry, their diaconia, and to help them develop the skills – and more importantly, the spirituality, to be active members of the Body of Christ.

I had some idea of this before but my experience as a deacon has helped me to understand this more as well as to incorporate this in my ministry. Accompanying the People of God also means, for me, learning from them, listening to them, being at their side.

I love this photo that someone took, several years ago, when I was accompanying the medical group, AMIGAS, in a rural village. The man from the village is showing me where we would be serving. He was my guide.

Finally, my ministry continues to stretch me – pulling me out of myself but also trying to let go of any desire for control. I’m slowly learning how to be more available, which is really important when calls come at 6:00 am, sometimes for a funeral.

I am also developing and trying to live out a spirituality of pastoral work which is much more open to all. I see my role as opening spaces where people can live their lives of faith, personally, in their families, and in their communities, or, perhaps better stated, opening spaces for grace.

May I continue to try to be faithful to my call – to be of service to those in need, reflecting the Icon of Christ the Servant, and opening up spaces where the People of God can live as true servants of God and be a Church of the Poor.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

The personal tragedy of migration

This morning I baptized a four-year old girl in a rural village, a village that suffered a bit from last year’s hurricanes. Her parents, the godparents, a village catechist, and about ten other people were there. 

It’s not the first time I baptized; in my five years as a deacon, I must have baptized more than several hundred.

But this one was different. A parent and the child will be setting out tomorrow, in the hope of reaching the United States.

This is not the first parent-child group from our parish to set out for the US. My guess there have been scores in the last few years, not counting those who have left solo. Some villages have lost many people, especially the young.
A few have had the fortune to be able to go to Spain, where many work under the table. A very few have had the chance to go as legal, hired workers to Canada, enduring six or seven cold months working in agriculture in Quebec.

But most leave – on their own, in a group, or assisted by coyotes (for a hefty fee). 

But here I was, baptizing a child who would go on a long journey, with no assurances. 

What to say?

I didn’t say much in the liturgy, though I did include invoking Saint Raphael the Archangel, patron of travelers, and Saint Turibio Romo Gonzáles, the Mexican martyred priest who has become a patron of migrants.

As I often do, I reminded the parents that in baptism is welcomed into the church, a member of the Body of Christ. I also reminded the godparents and those present on our responsibility to welcome and care for the newly baptized. Afterwards, I reminded the parents that the child was a member of the church and specifically told the father that there were members of the Catholic Church whom he could trust and call upon. The witness of so many people of faith is encouraging.

I also noted privately that I didn’t think it was a good idea but that I’d be praying for them. I didn’t tell them that I’d be crying for them – but I am, as was a woman at the baptism.

After the baptism the catechist asked me to bless a cross that was in the form of an anchor. I shared with them that the anchor is a traditional Christian symbol of hope.

The chain of the cross was knotted, and the father was trying to unknot it. I tried and thought it might be impossible. But then I remember Pope Francis’s devotion to Our Lady, the Undoer of Knots, and prayed to her. The knot came undone, and the mother put the cross around the child’s neck. I recalled the devotion to Mary and we prayed a Hail Mary.

I left with a heavy heart. But pray for the safety of that father and child – as well as for the many others who feel so desperate that they leave home and family. 

Migration is not an “issue” for me – the fathers, mothers, children, who migrate are those who call out to me in their agony.

Lord, have mercy.

Wednesday, July 07, 2021

July has been busy - prison, rains, and psychologists

We're only in the first week of July and it's been busy.
And rainy. 

July began with a visit to the Santa Rosa jail. 

No, I wasn’t incarcerated. The parish had been invited to make a visit to the jail as we’d done in previous years. Before the pandemic, parishes would visit the jail about once a year, bringing a meal and celebrating the Eucharist with the incarcerated. But since March 2020, there have been no visits. So, the pastor mobilized us for the visit, their first for over a year.

Currently, there are more than 650 persons in the jail, only 26 are women. Many are waiting sentencing. Pre-trial detention is not uncommon, sometimes for extended periods.

So, several groups of women in the parish were mobilized for the meal on July 1 – more than 1500 tamales, 4000 tortillas, and arroz con pollo - rice (100 pounds) with chicken, as well as four jugs of juice.

The pastor, Padre German, the associate pastor, Fr. Fernando, three women from the parish, and I went in four trucks, full of food, to the prison. For a number of reasons, we arrived late and so we started distributing the food before Mass. During the distribution, some of us went and visited with the women. 
 Mass was well-attended with hearty singing. Father Fernando gave good sermon that spoke to the condition of the prisoners.


 On Saturday, July 3, I went to the San Pedro airport to meet two Dubuque Franciscan Sisters returning from the US. Sister Pat had been there for a short visit. Sister Katy had been there for more than a year, as part of her formation. She finished her novitiate there and made her first profession of vows on June 15.

It was great to see them and get a chance to talk with them about many things. There are now four Dubuque Franciscan Sisters in Honduras.

I began the trip with 9,999 kilometers on my odometer. That's since December 2020. The average per month is about 886 miles, with just a few trips outside the parish. 


This week, the parish is taking advantage of an offer by the diocesan CARITAS office, which has sent us two young psychologists to visit with people in the parish. After two hurricanes, with the continuing pandemic, and with cases of domestic abuse and some killings, there is a real need to help people work through the trauma and disruption of life. We’ve arranged for the two psychologists to visit five locations where they will be seeing people. 

Monday, they were in Dulce Nombre, Tuesday in San Agustín, today here in Plan Grande. It will be interesting to see how this goes since the people do not have much experience with psychological counseling and often look on it as only for the “crazy.” 

It was good, though, to see that one rural village sent people for seven sessions. I gave them ride to and from San Agustín, with a full truck (since many brought children.)

My concern is what type of follow up is needed and how can we see to it. I would really like to be able to find a psychologist to come out to the parish for one or two days per week. At the very least, I hope we can find a way to get psychological assistance to the people who need it. 


The rainy season is here.

During this part of the rainy season, it is often sunny and hot during the day followed by heavy rains in the afternoons and evenings. Because of the precarious nature of the soils, especially after last year’s hurricanes, there have been a few small landslides.

I am concerned that we may have major problems if there are severe hurricanes later this year. I am hoping to meet with the village coordinators of social ministry and we’ll try to work on ways to prepare our communities for any such emergencies. 

We are slowly opening up and even beginning to work on religious formation for confirmation. There have been two training sessions for catechists for confirmation. We want to help them see their ministry as more than just giving classes. We hope they see the importance of forming the young people and also helping the young people develop an ongoing commitment to live their faith. We also hope that some of them form youth group or youth base communities.

I will also be having new meetings with the other catechists. I met with most of them in small groups a few months ago, mostly in the sectors of the parish. We may have some larger meetings, in zones, but being very careful in light of the continuing presence of COVID. 

COVID-19 is still among us and there have been cases in several rural villages. Masks and gel are increasingly important. I wear a mask, even though I am completely vaccinated, mostly to give good example to the people. I have noted to them that I am vaccinated but I wear the mask for their health and safety, just in case.


The parish is continuing the work in the main parish church and in the parish center – including the construction of a new area for formation. The church is almost completely finished, except for the possible installation of a few stained-glass windows. Most recently tow statues of angels were put in place as the base for the new main altar.
The new auditorium is in progress. The roof is finished but a concrete floor has to be laid.
We are planning to have a major celebration on September 12, the parish’s feast day. The main church has never been consecrated and so the bishop will be coming to consecrate the church. There will also be a blessing of the new formation area which will be named “Auditorio Santo Tomás de Aquino,” St. Thomas Aquinas auditorium, to recall the assistance of our sister parish, Saint Thomas Aquinas in Ames, Iowa. We hope that some people can come from St. Thomas to celebrate with us.


I continue going to rural communities on Sunday mornings for Celebrations of the Word with Communion. I usually go to a Mass in the afternoon. I often am expected to preach - giving the priests a break.

I will trying to do more visits to the sick in rural villages where there are no communion ministers nearby. It is a very important part of my ministry and one which I value.