Monday, December 26, 2022

Saint Stephen, deacons, and the poor

Today, the feast of Saint Stephen, deacon and martyr, I’ve been reflecting on my ordination as a deacon on July 15, 2016.
Stephen, “a man filled with faith and the holy Spirit,” was the first among the seven “reputable men” chosen by the apostles to serve the Greek-speaking followers of Jesus who complained that “their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution.”

There are some scholars who say that these seven were not really “deacons.” Yet, the prayer of ordination of a deacon refers to the naming of seven men by the apostles, as narrated in Acts of the Apostles 6: 1-6. I remember that day, as the bishop prayed:
en los comienzos de la Iglesia, los apóstoles de tu Hijo, movidos por el Espíritu Santo, eligieron siete hombres de buena fama, como auxiliares suyos en el servicio cotidiano, mediante la oración e imposición de manos, los dedicaron al servicio de los pobres, para poder entregarse ellos, con mayor empeño, a la oración y a la predicación de la palabra. 
"in the beginning of the Church, the apostles of your Son, moved by the Holy Spirit, chose seven men with a good reputation, as helpers in the daily service; by means of prayer and the laying on of hands, they dedicated them to the service of the poor, so that they [as apostles] could devote themselves with greater commitment to prayer and the preaching of the Word." (My translation)
Though I had read and prayed over the prayer before that day, when I heard the words “los dedicaron al servicio de los pobres,” my body shook. It was as if all that I was trying to do in my life here as a missionary and all that I had tried to live in my life before coming here was being confirmed and indeed “ordered” as a public witness and ministry with the People of God. 

The English translation of the prayer of consecration is slightly different: “the apostles entrusted to those chosen men the ministry of serving at tables.” For me, the Spanish version has a fuller meaning: we are called to be at the service of the poor. 

The poor are at the center of my diaconal ministry, as they have been at many times of my life before coming here to Honduras, as they have been part of my missionary calling here in Honduras since I arrived in 2007.

I am convinced that being with the poor, at their side, serving them and accompanying them is central to who I am and to what I have been called. 

This past year, especially the last few weeks, I have been remiss in this – partly due to emotional pressures and, more recently, a series of colds. But I am convinced that we deacons ought to include this question as we examine our consciences: “When was the last time I was in the house of a poor person?” – more specifically, a physically poor person. 

It is good to be an advocate of the poor; it is good to minister to those who are poor emotionally or in terms of their faith. But I am convinced, partly by my experience, partly by the words and witness of Pope Francis, that Jesus calls us to be with those who are impoverished physically and that this is a special call for us deacons. 

In his Mass on December 24,  Pope Francis noted:
"...let us remember that it is not truly Christmas without the poor. Without the poor, we can celebrate Christmas, but not the birth of Jesus. Dear brothers, dear sisters, at Christmas God is poor: let charity be reborn!"
In that homily, Pope Francis cited the sainted archbishop Óscar Romero, who on Christmas 1978 preached these challenging words:
“No one can celebrate an authentic Christmas unless they are truly poor. The self-sufficient, the proud of heart, those who despise others because they do not possess the material goods of this earth, those who do not need or want God --- for these people there is no Christmas. Only the poor, the hungry, and those who need someone to come to them because they have need of someone, someone who is God, someone who is Emmanuel, God-with-us --- only these people are able to celebrate Christmas. Without the spirit of poverty, one is unable to be filled with God.”
Toward the end of his homily, Pope Francis said:
"He who lay naked in the manger and hung naked on the cross, asks us for truth, he asks us to go to the bare reality of things, and to lay at the foot of the manger all our excuses, our justifications and our hypocrisies. Tenderly wrapped in swaddling clothes by Mary, he wants us to be clothed in love. God does not want appearances but concreteness. Brothers and sisters, may we not let this Christmas pass without doing something good. Since it is his celebration, his birthday, let us give him the gifts he finds pleasing! At Christmas, God is concrete: in his name let us help a little hope to be born anew in those who feel hopeless!"
I believe that we ordained deacons need to show the love of God for the poor concretely, being at their side, listening to them, making their cause our own, suffering with them. This is not easy. It takes us out of our comfort zones. It takes us where we sometimes done want to go. It may even get us into trouble. 

But it is where our Lord Jesus, the Servant of Yahweh, is.
“For you know the gracious act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that for your sake he became poor although he was rich, so that by his poverty you might become rich." (2 Corinthians 8:9)

 One extra reminder of all this came in the early hours of Christmas. Just back from our Christmas Mass (our midnight Mass that began at 10 pm), I was doing a little computer work when a message arrived from a young man I know from one of our parish villages, with a Christmas greeting. In the course of our messaging back and forth, I found out that he was at the El Paso/Ciudad Juárez border, hoping to cross the bridge and get legally into the US. Jesus among the migrants.

Thursday, December 22, 2022

Advent 2022

This has been quite a different Advent for me.

Apse mural, Dulce Nombre

Advent began with the visit of the image of the Virgin of Suyapa in the parish. This year, the tiny image of the Virgin of Suyapa has been visiting all the dioceses of Honduras. The image arrived in our parish on Saturday, November 26.
After a visit to the church in Concepción, we celebrated with an all-night vigil in the parish auditorium, attended by more than 1000 people.
I took a few breaks and fell asleep for a short time before Mass at midnight as well as in the early morning. We also had a Mass for the first Sunday of Advent in the parish at 9 am – at which I preached. 

That week, I had the first of five pre-marriage interviews I've had in the last four weeks. The couple first meets with the pastor and then has a twelve session formation with leaders in their villages. Before the marriage date is set, I meet with the couple and two witnesses. For me, it is an honor to be able to be present and to help them in their final stages of preparing for the sacrament of matrimony. 

That week, Sister Nancy Meyerhofer, a Dubuque Franciscan sister who is a good friend and has been here in Honduras for 16 or so years, came over for a short visit. We had a two hour long lunch and a long supper and many hours of talk. She was very much responsible for enabling me to be able to come here to work in the diocese in 2007. She and the other Dubuque Franciscans will be leaving Honduras next month, which will leave an empty space in Honduras and also for me.

The second Sunday of Advent the parish received forty into the catechumenate, who, if they persevere, will be baptized in the Easter Vigil.  I work with the catechists and so I was glad to see them there with the new catechumens who were between 14 and 40 years old. I talked with them before the Mass and then I went with them after the Homily for a reflection period. I had a chance to speak with a number of them and it was a joy to hear of their desire to be baptized. One catechist, from a village that has 9 catechumens. introduced me to two young men in their twenties who have learning difficulties; they were so enthusiastic that I could not help but feel the hand of God in all this. A day later reflecting on this I was filled with tears of joy. 

Since I had not been at a complete Mass that Sunday morning and hadn’t had the chance to receive Communion, I went to Mass that afternoon in Dolores and preached. 

Monday through Wednesday we had a diocesan assembly, evaluating and looking toward the future. I found myself often just hanging around, sometimes with the priests and lay people. The last day I was standing around with a number of people. They asked me how long I had been there in Honduras. When I said 15 years, they said that I was in one sense a Honduran – one even saying that I was more catracho [Honduran] than gringo

Also, a number of them from the southern part of the diocese talked with me about Father Beto Gallagher, a US Capuchin priest who worked there for several years. (I wrote about him in part of the past found here.) He is buried in the church in San Marcos Ocotepeque. I find myself humbled and graced that I remind them of him. He was a priest who was really with the people. One man told how if Frey Beto was in a meeting and someone arrived and there were no chairs, he would give up his chair and sit on the floor. He was my type of missionary. 

Friday, I had a meeting for new catechists. The attendance was low, probably because many are working in the coffee harvest. Picking coffee is one of the few ways that many people in the countryside have to earn cash. I completely understand their absence. 

I used this session to help the new catechists understand the Mass. Previous sessions for the new catechists have included discussion of Baptism, grace and sin, and the Bible. The new catechists also are expected to attend the meetings every other month for all the catechists. In this way, I hope that they will be ready in about two years. 

Saturday, there was a get-together of people from the deanery in a rural ecotourism center outside of Corquín, which featured animals, including crocodiles.
What was most interesting was the road to the center, which was by a river that had been diverted by the hurricanes of November 2020.
The third Sunday of Advent I went to the early Mass in Dulce Nombre, where I preached again. Our pastor, Padre German Navarro, is very open to having me preach, which is a blessing that many deacons don't have. I think it is also a chance for him to rest, since he usually has four or five Masses each Sunday in different parts of the parish.

I had been invited to attend the middle school graduation of the students in the IHER program in Dulce Nombre on Sunday afternoon. The student listen to radio programs during the week, fill out a work book, and have classes on Saturdays and Sundays. I was glad to see so many young people, including some I know, continuing to study after sixth grade, since most rural villages only have elementary schools. This program is an alternative to classes on Mondays through Fridays, which would be difficult for many from rural villages. About 150 students receive partial scholarships each year, thanks to our sister parish, St. Thomas Aquinas in Ames.
Monday there was Mass for the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the small village of Torreras. Lo and behold, the Mass was held in the home of one of those who had graduated in Dulce Nombre the day before!

That Tuesday two good friends from Central Iowa, Gary and Nancy Guthrie, arrived and I picked them up at the airport. 

They had come mostly for a meeting of the Central American associates of the Dubuque Franciscans. They are associates in the US and it was good to have them here to know the Central American associates, who come from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. 

Gary and Nancy have been here before and speak Spanish (having been volunteers with the Mennonite Volunteers in Bolivia and El Salvador in the 1980s.) We had a great visit – mostly talking and eating a few simple meals before and after the meeting. They even got a chance to work a few hours on the parish coffee fields. I didn't get a picture of them, but here's my pickup loaded with people who helped with the coffee picking, going back to their villages.
Monday, their last night here, we went out to the El Zapote coffee association’s buildings and watched the machines at work.

The meeting of the associates was a good time to get to know a bit more the other Central American associates. Since the sisters are leaving, we have to find our way to live out the Franciscan charism and to keep a relationship with the sisters. This will be a challenge and we all have to work on this.
The sisters and associates
Padre Loncho celebrated Mass (and I served as deacon)
Sister Brenda Whetstone who was visiting sharing bowls with Gary and Nancy.
New associates with Sister Pat Farrell

On Monday, I made a visit to the parish center to talk with a muralist who is there to paint ten images of American saints in the church (above the columns in the nave.) These are the saints we plan to commemorate: Saint Martín de Porres, Santo Hermano Pedro de San José Betancourt, San Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin , Santa Kateri Tekakwitha, Santa Dulce Pontes, San Francisco Solano, San Toribio Romo González, San José Sánchez del Río, San Pedro Claver, and Santa Nazaria Ignacia March Mesa. (How many can you identify?) It was hard to make the choices and we didn’t include the many blessed from the Americas. We hope this helps people recognize sanctity in our continent.

Wednesday, after leaving Gary and Nancy at the San Pedro Sula airport on Tuesday, I met with a urologist in San Pedro and tried to make an appointment for a test in January.

On a personal level, I’ve had bronchitis and then a bad cold. Not fun. As a result, I haven’t got out to visit the sick. 

 Tomorrow, there is a get together for the clergy of the diocese. 

 In some ways this has not felt like Advent – and I don’t feel ready for Christmas. But it ‘s coming. 

Saturday Christmas eve, I’ll spend the morning and early afternoon baking – making cinnamon rolls and more.

Then, I’ll be at a 6 pm Mass with baptisms in Plan Grande. I’ll also go to Dulce Nombre for the 10:00 pm "Midnight" Mass, which has been a custom. Christmas morning I’ve been invited to a community for a Celebration of the Word with Communion.

After that, I’ll head to La Entrada for the traditional Christmas lunch with the Dubuque Franciscan sisters. For me, it will be bitter-sweet since It’s the last time I’ll be at a holiday meal with the sisters. 

The week after Christmas I have two commitments, one will be working with several priests to develop materials for the weekly meeting of the base communities. But I’m hoping to take it easy, cleaning the house, preparing for the new year, and catching up on reading and correspondence. 

In the meantime, I ask you for your prayers for our parish and for me. I pray that your lives may be filled with hope. May God-with-us bless all of you who have read this.

Monday, December 05, 2022

Forty catechumens in Dulce Nombre

Sunday, December 4, our parish celebrated the Rite of Entry into the Catechumenate for forty persons, between 14 and 40 some years old.

We usually celebrate the Rite on the first Sunday of Advent, but this year our parish hosted the image of the Virgin of Suyapa from noon Saturday, November 26, to about noon Sunday. I need to write and post photos on the visit of the Virgin of Suyapa as well as the celebration of the feast of Christ the King on the previous Sunday, November 20.

I have no photos from the Rite of Entry into the Catechumenate since I was in the middle of seeing to the details (and ended up preaching).

This morning, Monday, I was moved close to tears remembering the rite.

Before and after Mass, I had a chance to meet some of the new catechumens as well as their catechists. I talked with one 28-year-old who is single and is preparing for his baptism. There are other young men and women in their twenties and thirties preparing for baptism, though the majority are between 14 and 18. I also talked with two young men in their twenties who are intellectually disabled; they were full of enthusiasm, and we talked a bit about their lives – with the catechist of their village.

After the rite and the Liturgy of the Word, I went with the catechumens when they were dismissed so that we could do some reflection together.

Even though they were not very talkative, I found it a moving experience. The willingness of all these women and men to commit themselves gives me hope. There is one part of the rite that touches me deeply – the signing of the senses with the sign of the cross. The catechumen is signed on the forehead, the ears, the eyes, the mouth, the heart, the shoulders, the hands, and the feet. (Although the signing of the feet is not found in the Mexican rite, I have added it, using the formulas found in the Spanish-language rite from the US.) While the hands are being signed, the priest prays:
Reciban la señal de la cruz en las manos, para que Cristo sea conocido por el trabajo que hagan. 
Receive the sign of the Cross on your hands so that Christ many be known by the work you do.
As Padre German introduced the signing of the hands, he mentioned that the catechumens’ hands were mostly rough from hard labor.

When I was with them after the dismissal, I mentioned that their fingers were probably stained by the coffee berries that they had been picking in the coffee harvest (which began a few weeks ago).

For me and for Padre German, the signing of the hands of a manual laborer are a sign of the holiness of daily work with one’s hands. What a way to affirm the dignity of the work of these poor women, men, and young people. 

I am reminded of a quote of Saint Charles de Foucauld which I recently read in Little Sister Cathy Wright’s Saint Charles de Foucauld:
"Have the greatest regard for the most humble and littlest of our brothers.... Let us mingle with them, be one of them. Woe to the one who, out of foolish pride, would look down on those to whom God has given the highest place. He descended in his incarnation, descended in becoming always taking the last place."
In a world that looks down on those who are poor and work with their hands, the signing of the hands reminds us of a God who also worked with his hands and works through ours.

The other part of the rite of signing which touches me is the signing of the feet. 

As I mentioned, this is not in the Mexican ritual but I added it from the US ritual, because I think it is one of the most significant of the signings. The sponsors go down on their knees and sign the feet of the catechumens. The sponsor is there to serve, to be a sign of a God who washed the feet of his disciples. It is a real sign of what being a Christian is. 

The priest prays:
Reciban la señal de la cruz en los pies, para que puedan caminar siguiendo a Cristo. Receive the sign of the Cross on your feet, so that you can walk, following Christ.
In a society that does not value the poor, the young, the disabled, kneeling before them is the beginning of a new way of being – living as the Body of Christ.

Today, I am off to the diocesan annual planning meeting. I hope that the witness of the new catechumens sustains us in our journey. It will definitely sustain and challenge me.

Friday, December 02, 2022

Santiago Atitlán massacre of December 2, 1990

Today is the anniversary of the massacre of thirteen people in Santiago Atitlán, Guatemala.
I have been in Santiago Atitlán a number of times since the late 1980s. 

This morning I had a vivid dream about being there. I have been thinking a bit about this massacre. Also, a friend and his wife who live there a few months a year dropped by last month. In addition, I am asking the intercession of Blessed Stanley Rother for a medical condition; he was martyred there in 1981. 

The first time I went with Gilberto, a Guatemalan young man who had studied at Iowa State University. He had been a seminarian at a seminary on a hill the other side of the lake, with an amazing view.

Lago Atitlán

He had left the seminary and gotten a scholarship to study in the US where I met him. 

We stayed at the seminary but went across the lake to Santiago Atitlán. 

He is indigenous and speaks several indigenous languages, including Tz'utujil, the language of the people of Santiago Atiltán. Since he had done some pastoral work as a seminarian there, he knew some people and we went into the backyards of some families and we saw women weaving there, as he spoke to them in Tz'utujil. 

I went back to Santiago Atitlán several times, visiting the church and at times visiting the room where Father Stanley Rother was martyred on July 28, 1981. 

His body was taken back to be buried in his native Oklahoma, but, at the request of his people, his heart was interred in the church in Santiago Atitlán. 

Here are some photos from a visit.

The room where Fr. Stanley Rother was martyred.
Interior of the church of Santiago Apóstol

The people called him Padre Aplas’, a term of endearment for all the ways he had made himself one with them. He was beatified a few years ago. One time, I went to the site of the December 2, 1990, massacre, which is movingly described here. At that time, there were a number of crosses by the shrine of Padre Aplas’ – people who had been killed by the Guatemalan security forces, including the names of those killed in the massacre.

The crosses with names of those killed in December 2, 1990.
The memorial of Father Rother with crosses of people killed, injured, captured.

They are no longer there.

The memorial 2018

There are metal crosses by a garden outside their room where Padre Aplas’ was martyred.


In January 2018, Padre German and I made a pilgrimage to the site of martyrdom of Padre Aplas'. I wrote about that visit here. We visited the room where he had been martyred, a bit different from my earlier visits.


But one part of the pilgrimage stands apart for me. When we entered the church, there were a large number of people in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament exposed on the main altar. But just below the exposed Blessed Sacrament, in a niche in the altar, was a reliquary of the blood of Blessed Stanley Rother.


That evening Padre German concelebrated Mass there and I assisted as deacon. What a privilege to be able to proclaim the Gospel in a church where a missionary martyr had served. 

 To learn more about Padre Aplas’, I recommend two books in English, Henri Nouwen’s Love in a Fearful Land: A Guatemalan Story and María Ruiz Scaperlanda’ The Shepherd Who Didn't Run: Father Stanley Rother, Martyr from Oklahoma, which has been translated into Spanish as El Pastor Que no Huyó: Beato Stanley Rother, mártir de Oklahoma

A friend is working on a book with a man who worked closely with Father Rother. 

But we must not forget the many others in Santiago Atitlán who died or suffered during these times because of their faith and commitment to the people. 

That it is why it’s important to remember those killed on this day in 1990. 

May they rest in peace but may their memory be a blessed call to continue to struggle for the reign of God, a reign of justice, love, and peace.

Saturday, November 19, 2022


Tomorrow is the feast of Christ the King, but I’ve had the Gospel story of Jesus entering Jerusalem on my mind.

Palm Sunday 2015

Part of my ministry in the parish is training of catechists.

A few years ago, I did each training session in each of the four zones of the parish. Five years ago, I did the first of the sessions in the mountain village of Delicias Concepción. An account of that experience can also be found here.

Because many catechists and pastoral workers have been taught scripture in very limited ways, I often try different ways of reading and praying scripture. They are used to looking for moral guidance in the readings or doctrinal affirmations or literal accounts.

Often I try the imaginative contemplative reading in the style of Saint Ignatius of Loyola. I read the passage one or more times, leaving time for quiet. I urge the catechists to try to put themselves in the narrative and pay attention to their senses – what they hear, see, small, taste, feel physically as well as how they feel emotionally. Then, after some time of quiet, I ask them to share with one or two others. Afterwards I invite several to share their experience.

That day I used the Palm Sunday accounts, reading the Gospel three times (each time from a different evangelist).

When I asked some to share, one young man noted that he had been afraid for Jesus. Jesus was going to sit on a mule that had never been mounted before. As a campesino, he knew what usually happens: the animal bolts and the person ends up on the ground. But when this did not happen to Jesus, he was relieved.

I never had heard such a reading and continue to be amazed at the wisdom of this young man and the implications this has on our understanding of Jesus. (I’ll get to this later.)

A few months later, I was in Iowa and was asked to give a presentation for the retired sisters at the motherhouse of the Dubuque Franciscans, several of whom I have known from their ministry in El Salvador and in Honduras.

At the end of my presentation, which was pretty grim, given the situation of Honduras at that time, one sister asked me if there was anything that gives me hope. I immediately thought of this bible reading and shared the story.

When I got to the point of the young man’s concern for Jesus’s safety with the untamed donkey, I heard chuckles throughout the room. Probably most of the women in that room had been raised on Iowa farms and knew what happens when you try to sit on an untamed beast.

A retired priest who is a published biblical scholar and former professor at Loras College was in the room, since he serves the sisters. I asked him if he ever heard any scholarly note of this. He hadn’t.

But this past week, I found one Baptist biblical scholar who did. Clarence Jordan, the founder with his wife and others of Koinonia Farms in Georgia, had degrees in Agriculture and theology. He did Cotton Patch translations of the Gospels, placing Jesus in Georgia. 

Koinonia Farms is an interracial community that has sought to live the Gospel in a unique way and has suffered for their witness. 

 Last week, I finished reading a book of selections of his writings published by Plough Publishing, an arm of the Bruderhof, The Inconvenient Gospel: A Southern Prophet Tackles War, Wealth, Race, and Religion, edited by Frederick L. Downing.

The book is a delight and inspiring. But the real surprise was his chapter “Jesus, Leader of the Poor.” In it, he retells the Palm Sunday event as a great demonstration:
So he gathered together a great crowd of these poor people and then told his disciples he was going to lead the demonstration. He said, “I need something to ride on.” Now, this is interesting! Anyone who is going to enter the city as the king usually gets himself a big, white Arabian steed. We would expect Jesus to say, “You all go up to Tyre or Nineveh and get me one of those fine Arabian stallions – I want to do this thing up right!” But do you know what he said to his disciples? “I want you to go into the village there and get me a mule.” And he said, “I want you to get me one on which no one has ever sat” (Mark 11:2). Now Jesus must have been a real man to ask for that kind of mule! I tried once to sit on “a mule whereon no man had ever sat” and when I got through with him he was still “a mule whereon no man had ever sat!” But Jesus could ride that mule. The mule was the symbol of the lowly, the working classes, the toiling people.
Raised on a farm, living on a farm, he knew what happens when you try to sit on “a mule whereon no man had ever sat.”

The Honduran campesinos, the retired Franciscan sisters, and a Baptist preacher got what almost no scripture scholar had ever noticed. I am floored! 

But, as I reflect on the Palm Sunday story, I begin to see that what Jesus did that day was not just announce the coming of the Reign of God; he lived it and made it real.

In the Reign of God, there is peace and harmony in the world. The Reign of God is a restoration of the harmony in the Garden of Eden. The Reign of God is the prophecy of the Peaceable Kingdom of Isaiah 11 made real. The Reign of God is the way that Jesus was "with the wild beasts" in the desert (Mark 1).

The will of God is this peace and harmony.

Jesus makes this real and we are called to make it real.

But it is not brought about by arms and violence. Jesus enters Jerusalem, knowing that many were planning to kill him. But he enters unarmed, not on a war horse but on a donkey, a mule, an ass.

In his simplicity, in his vulnerability he saves us and shows us the way to live in the Reign of God, on earth as in heaven. 

 All this has been going through my mind as I prepared for our parish celebration of Christ the King tomorrow.

Christ the King, November 2015

A few weeks ago, Father German noted how the image of Christ the King central to the understanding of most people is that of a dominating ruler, whose word is law. Instead, he noted, we must look to Christ the servant. We’ll try to offer a different vision tomorrow.

I will give the opening marks for our procession before Mass, centered on Christ the Servant King, who brings victory by his service, his commitment even to the cross, and his love. You can read my draft in Spanish here. I hope I have time to translate it.

But above all, I pray that this message of the servant king, who enters the city on a mule, and shows us the Reign of God, a reign of justice love and peace, will transform all of our hearts, here in the parish and in the world – especially in the Church.

As I prepared for Christ the King Sunday, I came across this quotation from the address of Pope Francis to the Bishops of Mexico on February 13, 2006:
Above all, la Virgen Morenita teaches us that the only power capable of conquering the hearts of men and women is the tenderness of God. That which delights and attracts, that which humbles and overcomes, that which opens and unleashes, is not the power of instruments or the force of law, but rather the omnipotent weakness of divine love, which is the irresistible force of its gentleness and the irrevocable pledge of its mercy.
May “the omnipotent weakness of divine love” empower us to be instruments of our servant King in this world in so need of love and justice.

Thursday, November 17, 2022

A different type of medical brigade

Last Saturday, a medical group, AMIGAS, arrived in force to do three medical brigades here. They have been coming here for several years. 

I have my reservations about many medical groups who come to Honduras to do a quick “Gringo doctors will heal you” with a single visit. 

But this group is different. First of all, they return to the same municipalities each year. )This year they also spent a day near la Lima, on the coast, since they have connections there and there was a community very devastated by the rains this year.)

 They came to our area for the first time at least six years ago and they come once or twice a year (although they were not here in 2020, due to the pandemic.) Thus, they get to know a bit about the area and its specific problems and also get to know and support the local public health people. They are also great in interacting with local people.
I have accompanied them for several years, often translating for the doctors who don’t speak Spanish. I also end up being the extra vehicle to help get them to the distant sites. 

They do not stay in hotels. This year, they stayed in the parish center which worked out rather well for them, mostly in terms of having sufficient space to prepare the medicine for their rural visits. 

 This year they went to three locations: the municipal center of Concepción, the village of El Limón, and the mountain village of Delicias Concepión. They probably saw around 1000 people. 

This year I didn’t do much translating. They have some adolescents from a Santa Rosa bilingual school who regularly come and help.
But this year there was something that I found very encouraging. 

In Delicias, I was helping get people in line to see the doctors. At one point, I looked up and saw the doctors and nurses. Five of them were Hondurans. The other four service providers were from the US.
This is not a “gringo” brigade, although funded and led from the US. 

Interesting the directors are a US doctor from Missouri (I think) and a Honduran Sister of Mercy who does her ministry in Missouri. I wonder if the people realized this. 

The presence of Honduran medical volunteers is a very subtle way of trying to avoid the danger of the brigades undermining Honduran health personnel. 

This blogpost is somewhat sketchy since I am tried and need more sleep, but I am grateful that I could accompany them. (I even took six of them to the Copán Mayan ruins on their day off.) 

They were also a group filled with a lot of energy.
I look forward to their future visits and am very grateful for their commitment to serve the poor

Sunday, October 30, 2022


Introductory note: I wanted to share two events that happened in the past few days. After I finished, I realized that they have to do with trying to be a servant, being images of Christ the Servant to the world. 
 Friday we had another training for Delegates of the Word, those who lead Sunday Celebrations in the absence of a priest so that people can come together and worship. There were about ninety participants. 

During the first part of the morning Padre German led the group in the retreat in the training manual for delegates. 

After a break, I went aside with about eighteen women and men aspiring to become delegates. I am very encouraged that almost all are young. We need new blood in this important ministry. 

Padre German asked me to work with them on basic church teaching and to start with examining them. Being a rebel, I decided to do the exam differently. They divided into groups. I asked a question which they were supposed to answer in the group and then we’d discuss it. This broke down when people began to just shout out a response and then we discussed the response.

But Padre German had the more difficult task with the delegates, some of whom have served for more than twenty-five years. 

 About a week ago the shared with me a concern about our annual celebration of Christ the King.

The tradition here is to get the whole parish together for Mass, often preceded by music and presentations, at times with a procession. The feast of Christ the King is also the day to honor the Delegates of the Word.

Father was concerned that we give an image of Christ as a king, who lords it over others, dominates, has the last word, and is the supreme leader.

I too share this concern. When I discuss our baptism into Christ - Prophet, Priest, and King, I almost always say King/Servant. 

A problem is that emphasizing this image  of a worldly king on the Day of the Delegate of the Word may give the message that the delegate is to be the one who makes the decisions. I have even heard of a delegate who said something to the effect that the pastor rules in the parish, but he’s there; I rule here. 

And some think clericalism is just something that has to do with priests. Clericalism runs deep in a patriarchal society and the notion of a privileged caste in the institutional church.

Don’t get me started. But, if you want to read more, I highly recommend Clericalism: The Death of Priesthood, by George B. Wilson, S.J.

Anyway, Padre German spent time trying to elicit from the delegates another way of looking at Christ the King – gentle, suffering, servant, humble.

We’ll be trying to emphasize these images for the feast. 

Today, Sunday, I was supposed to pick up a group of people from Ames, Iowa, connected with the group importing coffee from an association in our parish. They are also connected with our sister parish, Saint Thomas Aquinas in Ames. 

 I was late leaving home for the airport (three and a half hours away) when I got a WhatsApp message that they had only twenty minutes to get to their second flight because of delays due to fog.

A few minutes later, there was another message – they had to rebook their flight.

So, I stayed in Plan Grande.

Tomorrow I’ll pick them up and be with them until next Sunday. 

In the meantime, this morning, the pastor had called me to ask if I could assist at a funeral this afternoon.

I finally tracked down the people concerned and went for the two o’clock funeral.

I wasn’t as prepared as I usually want to be. I almost forget the books and my vestments and when I arrived there I realized I had only green vestments – for hope, as I explained to the people gathered at the family home. 

 The house was poor and up a path where only motorcycles could enter.

The woman who died, whose husband had died two years ago, was in her seventies. They had twelve children, only two of them women. Most were there, together with lots of kids and friends. 

I was moved by the presence of kids around the table we used for an altar, just outside the tiny room where the coffin was. They were attentive as I put on my vestments, as I explained to them a little of what they meant. 

The Celebration went well, and God provided me with what seemed like the right words. People seemed attentive. 

I was also surprised and grateful that so many came forward for communion. 

At the end of the celebration, I asked the adult children to come into the house for the final rites of sending – saying goodbye. La despedida. 

Then they carried the coffin to a pick up to begin the procession to the cemetery.
What a privilege to be able to share with these people, to offer them a few words which I hope will give them courage and consolation. This gives me joy. 

Just a last note. People usually give the priest who comes for a Mass a donation to cover fuel. They ask me and I try to decline. But today one of the sons insisted on handing me a two hundred lempira note, which, I told him, I will put into the parish solidarity fund for the poor. He insisted. How can I refuse?

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Worker priests, deacons, and the Little Brothers and Sisters of Jesus

Today is the anniversary of the death of Pere Henri Perrin, the worker priest, born in 1914, who died on October 25, 1954.
The worker-priest movement arose to respond to what many in France and other parts of Western Europe saw as the failure of the Church to reach the working class. Priests left the rectories and worked in factories and other industries.

The priest-worker movement was especially strong in France, responding to the sense that France was not really “Christian,” and that the Gospel seemed irrelevant to the concerns of the working class. The movement was suppressed by the Vatican, partly because the priests got involved in all aspects of their work, including unions. Since many of the unions were dominated by the Communist Party, their involvement in the unions, even elected as union officials, was a “red” flag, literally and figuratively. 

I believe that the Vatican’s decision was sort-sighted and blinded by the virulent anti-Communism of the 1950s (and beyond.)

Though the movement was officially ended, the immersion of priests as well as women religious and lay missionaries, in the daily lives of the poor, living among them, has continued to nurture the real missionary dimension of faith, especially in parts of Latin America. 

About the same time, faithful in the German Church were pushing for the diaconate as a permanent state.  

There had been discussions since the nineteenth century, but one of the most profound discussions happened in the priests' barracks in the Nazi concentration camp at Dachau.

The priests there pondered the tragedy, the scandal, of a church that had not been ready to respond to Hitler. They wondered if the institutional church needed the input of people who were involved in the daily life of the people, in the offices, streets, and factories. 

The notes of one of the imprisoned priests, Father Wilhelm Schamoni, are pointed:
3. The preaching of these deacons, who would be involved in the work-a-day world, would be particularly persuasive and down-to-earth. One perceives in current preaching that it is being done by individuals who are “segregate a populo” [“separated from the people”]. 
4. The Church has largely become a Church of authorities and officials. The feudal state and the civil servant state have rubbed off on her. The diaconate would be an effective means to return Holy Mother the Church to a Church of the people. 
5. The Church has not succeeded in holding its ground among either the leading intellectual classes nor among those classes most easily led astray, the proletariat. In their own milieu, deacons from these classes for these classes could gain influence incomparably deeper than could any priest, since priests would never develop within this milieu the kind of rapport that deacons would have already established. One could develop the diaconate into a means to win back the de-Christianized milieu. An intelligent deacon from the working-class would, without any special theological training, be able to touch the heart of his worker colleagues with just the right words.
After World War II, several of these priests wrote and discussed the diaconate as a permanent state of life. Their work, the work of theologians such as Karl Rahner, and various movements, especially in Germany, paved the way for the diaconate as a permanent state as approved at the Second Vatican Council.

Another movement to be leaven in the everyday world was the formation of the Little Brothers and Little Sisters of Jesus by René Voillaume and Little Sister Magdeleine of Jesus to be a presence among the poor and outcast.

Their first field of presence was among the Muslims in Algeria, following their inspiration by Little Brother Saint Charles de Foucauld. But now their field of mission is among the poor and marginalized. They work and live among the people, witnessed to Christ by their prayer and their daily presence.

All these three movements, in my mind, rose from a concern to be present to those who might not be part of the church community.

The witness of the worker priests and the Little Brothers and Sisters as well as the testimony of Saint Charles de Foucauld mark my understanding of the diaconate. My ordination stole bears the heart and cross of Saint Charles.

Today, remembering Père Henri Perrin, I remember the witness of priest workers as well as many women and men religious who immerse themselves in the lives of the poor, especially the Little Brothers and Little Sisters of Jesus. 

Reflecting on their commitment with the poor and marginalized, I believe that the diaconate should always include some sort of physical presence with those on the margins of society, especially the impoverished.

We are called to reach out to those who might not come to the doors of the church. The call of Pope Francis to go out and encounter those in the margins, central to Evangelii Gaudium and found throughout his teaching, should be central to our diaconate. 


 Some photos of me in action as a deacon.
Picking coffee in the parish coffee field
Getting help in directions from a campesino
Helping change the flat tire of the pastor's car
Incensing the faithful at Mass
Baptizing a child in San Agustín

Saturday, October 22, 2022

A long-overdue update on the Dulce Nombre parish

It´s been a long time since I wrote about my daily life. I have been slowing down a bit - partly I'm getting older (75), partly torrential rains and a hurricane, partly a bit of laziness.

The past few months we have experienced a lot of rain, much more than usual. The ground is saturated and the rains have been heavy. In September we had very few days without rain – and not light rains but strong, extended downpours, often with strong winds.
Houses have been damaged, roads have been washed away, parts of bridges have fallen. As a result, communities have been isolated, busses have stopped running for a few days. Life is precarious. 

Here´s the experience in one part of the parish, near El Limón. 

On July 24, part of the ramp up to the bridge.
It was repaired, but even more of the ramp was washed away about August 17.
But the rains were so intense that the river washed away half of the road on the way to Vega Redonda. Another bridge suffered intense damage, wiping out a large concrete block of the bridge.
The roads in the parish have been a challenge. 

There are a few places that are inaccessible and others where you must find a different route. A few times I have had to negotiate really muddy roads, Thanks be to God and a generous gift, I have a good four wheel drive pickup.
Last Sunday began our week of missions. Twenty-five parishioners went out to various communities to visit people in their homes. 

I was asked to take two to a distant village, San Marcos Pavas. Normally you can go there directly, but there was a landslide that wiped out a road and prevented access. So I had to take an alternative route that was much longer. 

But when I go to the place where a bridge crosses the river and usually provides access to both Las Pavas and Bañaderos, I found the area devastated. The road to Bañaderos was cut off and I had to negotiate over narrow paths to get to Las Pavas. 

Here are a few photos.
Here's a photo of the two missionaries with a woman from Las Pavas who was arranging their visit.

We, as a parish, have been trying to help and accompany the persons. 

While I was away for a short visit to our sister parish in Ames, the pastor visited a number of communities, including one where people had to abandon their homes and others were in danger.

We have a parish solidarity fund that has been used to help subsidize people medical exams and prescriptions.

We have also used it to help people rebuild their homes or make repairs. I went out a few times.
There were a few donations of clothes. Thanks be to God, the clothing was good and appropriate for our people. (The last time clothing came, the quality was poor and much of the clothing was XL – with pants large enough for three Hondurans. 

Some communities also donated food stuffs, including one that has suffered from the storms. 

I also learned of several communities where there was a need for mattresses. So I bought some in Santa Rosa.

I went out to a few communities with food, mattresses, and clothing. In one community, even the kids helped in the distribution of supplies.
While in Mar Azul, I visited a ninety-four year old woman who was dying. I prayed with her and the family. Although she couldn’t speak and the family thought she was not conscious, she was responding with her eyes and even with a gentle touch when I took her hand. She had not received communion for a while, partly because she couldn’t easily swallow. I asked the family if she had been anointed. She hadn’t. I told them I’d mentioned this to the pastor. 

Padre German went out a day or two later, which was good since she died just af ew days ago. 

This week we had a group come out to weed the parish coffee field. Twenty-five came, including about 16 young people. I went and picked them up some of them in one community.
There was a horse grazing near the coffee field. Two guys decided to give it stylish braids!
I didn’t take them back to their communities since I had planned to visit a priest friend of mine who is the priest for Amigos de Jesús which serves about 130 children from difficult living situations.

The trip was filled with surprises. The international highway had suffered from the rains.
There was even a new road sign – “Geological fault.”
In addition, the road into Amigos had been cut off for a short time; part of the road being washed away by a river. A new road was carved out a little above the washout.
I was at Amigos de Jesús less than 48 hours, but it was a time to catch up with Padre Pato, serve as deacon at Mass twice (preaching once), relax, pray, and read. It was good for me. I want to return sometime next year.
I left Thursday morning, since I had agreed to a Celebration of the Word with Communion for the end of a novenario in San Antonio El Alto for Don Efraín.

 The novenario is a beautiful tradition here after a death. People meet, usually in the home of the deceased, for nine days. People come and pray and be with the mourning family. What a great way to say goodbye to a loved one and to mourn in community.

Often the family asks for a Mass on the ninth day. The pastor was not available and so they asked me. I was most happy to go since I had brought Communion to Don Efraín and his wife several times. I drove part of the way and parked the car up from the house and walked the rest.
A good crowd was there from many villages, since family members and friends often come from afar.
For me, it is privilege to be able to be present and bring the consolation of the Church.

Friday, I had a training for new catechists. Because of the weather we didn’t have as many as I had hoped. But I did an extended catequesis on the Bible. 

Today, Saturday, I'm working at home: cleaning the house, rearranging drawers, washing some clothing (and hope it dries in three days), writing this blog, preparing for Sunday's homily.

Tomorrow, we will welcome the missionaries back with a 10:00 am in the main church in Dulce Nombre.

One last thought. About a month or two ago, after visiting a family in their home, I thought about my ministry and my vocation. I realized that I need to make a regular examination of my life, asking "When was the last time I was in the home of a poor family?" 

 Here's a picture of the home of a family we helped with clothes and food.