Monday, June 20, 2022

Corpus Christi 2022 in the Dulce Nombre parish

Here in Honduras the feast of Corpus Christi is celebrated on Sunday, but in our parish it has been celebrated for almost a week in several different ways - hours of adoration, processions, Celebrations of the Word with Communion, Masses.

Our parish has more than 40 different places for community worship, mostly churches in the widely scattered towns and villages. Almost all the villages have Delegates of the Word who lead Sunday celebrations; more than twenty Communion Ministers serve in the countryside.

Devotion to the Eucharist is strong – even though there are not many who receive Communion with regularity (though this is changing).

Where there is a communion minister there is usually a Holy Hour every Thursday – and, in some places, exposition and adoration for several hours. Before the pandemic, we had days of prayer with exposition of the Eucharist every other month in the ten rural sectors of the parish. We began the year of the pandemic, 2020, with a theme of peace and reconciliation.

Corpus Christi is therefore very special. 

As has been the case for several years, Corpus Christi has been preceded by Forty Hours of Adoration.

I remember this devotion from my youth, where the altar boys would be scheduled for at least an hour before the exposed Eucharist. Parishioners would come for an hour, some in the middle of the night. 

Here some communities have forty continuous hours of adoration. Other places, having found it difficult in the past to have people come in the middle of the night, scheduled forty hours over three days.
Oromilaca where they had forty continuous hours of Eucharistic adoration

In some areas where there are not communion ministers, the ministers arranged to be in communities for between three and ten hours during the day so that all communities would have the opportunity to spend time before the exposed Eucharist. In many of these the ministers visited the sick. In some there were processions. I was available to go to communities where there is no communion minister, but the communion ministers had arranged visits to almost all the villages in the parish. 

In a few sectors of the parish, the forty hours ended with Mass, preceded by a procession. We stopped at five altars for prayer and, where a priest or deacon was present, Benediction with the Blessed Sacrament.

On Friday I went to Delicias Concepcion where people from two sectors of the parish gathered.
Saturday evening, I was asked to preside at Benediction in Plan Grande, the village where I live. 

Sunday morning I went to Oromilaca where they ended forty continuous hours with a procession and a Celebration of the Word with Communion. 

Sunday afternoon, I went to Mass in San Agustín where Mass was preceded by a procession around the central square. At Mass, twenty-one children from eight to thirteen received their first communion. (Needless to say it was a long afternoon.)
Since the pastor had participated in several processions over the course of the week, he asked me to carry the monstrance for part of the processions in Delicias Concepción and in San Agustín.

In each place we had five altars with prayers related to the situation of migrants. I wrote about this in an earlier post.

Our pastor, a Guatemalan, rooted in the popular piety of his hometown, sees the importance of connecting liturgy and popular devotions with the lived reality of the people. Each year our parish stations of the cross connect pointedly with the reality of life here. So, this year he asked me to prepare the prayers at the altar with the reality of migration in mind.

The reflections are quite strong. (The Spanish text can be found here.) But I shared them with the communion ministers who would be leading the reflections in the processions in different parts of the parish during their monthly meeting. One woman noted that though they were pointed they revealed the reality of what people experience – why they leave, what they experience on the journey and when they arrive, what those who are left behind feel.

Pointedly, we prayed at one altar for four groups of refugees, inviting people to name those they knew: those who have died in the US, those who are on the road at this time; those who are living in other countries (most notably the US and Spain); and those who have returned (by their own will or deported).
Benediction at an altar in Dulce Nombre in front of a mural on refugees.

Sunday morning, in one village, they mentioned more than 30 persons who have migrated, several who have died, some who are now on the road, and a few who have returned. I thought of a good number of people whom I know who are in the US as well as some who have been returned. I remembered several distraught families whose family members have been kidnapped and held for ransom in Mexico. 

The reality is hard for all concerned. We pray that Christ will sustain migrants and their families – and that the nations of the world will open their hearts and their borders to those in need, with just, non-discriminatory migration laws.

We began the procession with the prayer of Pope Francis for the 2022 World Day of Prayer for Migrants and Refugees. This is a good way to end this post.
Lord, make us bearers of hope,so that where there is darkness, your light may shine, and where there is discouragement, confidence in the future may be reborn. Lord, make us instruments of your justice, so that where there is exclusion, fraternity may flourish, and where there is greed, a spirit of sharing may grow. Lord, make us builders of your Kingdom, together with migrants and refugees and with all who dwell on the peripheries. Lord, let us learn how beautiful it is to live together as brothers and sisters. Amen.

Mural of migrants, Dulce Nombre de Copán


Saturday, June 18, 2022

Migrants - and Corpus Christi

On Monday, June 13, the feast of Saint Anthony, I went to one village for the Mass of their patron, Saint Anthony. Our pastor had four more Masses that day and another priest who is temporarily living in the parish to care for his ill mother had several Masses. There are six rural communities and a church in Dulce Nombre dedicated to San Antonio.

A custom here is to have Mass intentions mentioned at the beginning of Mass. They usually include those who have died, the sick, those celebrating birthdays, and more. They also include praying for migrants. At this Mass, there were more than twenty-three people who had migrated and were living mostly in the US. They also asked for prayers for migrants who were on the road, seeking to get to the US – they included on man and a couple and their child.

Yesterday I noted a young man I know who lived for a while in Plan Grande who had just arrived in the US and was with a sister there. 

Migration hits home. It is more significant than I had thought.

Recently I came across a report by the World Justice Project on a 2021 poll of Hondurans on migration.
“More Hondurans would prefer to move permanently to another country than respondents from regional peer countries. Forty-nine percent of respondents would prefer to move permanently to another country and 18% of respondents reported having plans to move internationally in the next 12 months.”
The report also noted that
“Seventeen percent of Hondurans have attempted to migrate to the United States. Most (63%) respondents who reported having attempted to migrate to the United States did not end up entering the country. Of those, 42% of respondents were unable to enter because they were sent back by law enforcement, 20% changed their mind, and 14% reported that the journey was too difficult. Of the 37% of respondents who were successfully able to enter the United States, 43% were deported by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and another 17% left due to family or social reasons.”
I also just read in another report, that in contrast to 17,809 Hondurans deported from the US in 2021, in the first four months of 2022, 32,517 were deported.

Because this is so important and impacts the lives of those who remain or who have returned or been deported, our pastor asked me to write short reflections for Corpus Christs processions.

The custom here is to have Eucharistic processions for Corpus Christi in many places, at times led by the communion ministers. The pastor or another priest will have Mass at several of these places and I will have a Celebration of the Word with Communion in at least one place.

Corpus Christi procession in Delicias Concepción, 17 June

Before the Mass or Celebration the people will go in procession with the Eucharist and stop at five altars to pray. 

I shared the reflections I had prepared at a meeting of the communion ministers last Saturday, warning them that they were very pointed. I told them that if anyone complained, tell them that I wrote them. But one of the women affirmed that the reflections reflected the reality.

There are five themes, corresponding to the five altars where the Corpus Christi processions will stop and pray. 
  • Jesus: the Word became Flesh; the Word became Bread; the Word became poor. 
  • The vulnerability of Jesus and the vulnerability of migrants 
  • The presence of Christ in the Eucharist and among the migrants 
  • Jesus affected in those suffering from migration 
  • Mary, the Mother of Jesus and the Eucharist. 
You can find my reflections here in Spanish. 

Here are translations of a few excerpts. 

2. Vulnerability 

In their vulnerability, many, looking for something better, migrate, leaving behind their homes. The lack of work and of opportunities, poverty and, at times, violence push them to seek a way out.
The migrants are also vulnerable on their journey. Many endure hunger. Some suffer violence, extortion, kidnappings. Some are abandoned and others are objects of human trafficking.
At times, their dreams are converted into nightmares, deceived by the false promises of the coyotes [those who arrange transport for a hefty fee].
When they get to other countries, some are still vulnerable. Some feel alone, separated from their families. Others fear being jailed or deported. Some are exploited by their employers. Without legal recourse, others suffer violence, assaults, and thefts. God is with them in their vulnerability, in their sufferings.
Jesus, God made human, wants to accompany us in our vulnerability. 

3. Those affected by migration 

Jesus is always with those who suffer.
Migration affects not only those who migrate but also their families and the communities they leave behind. Migration leaves behind broken families - children who scarcely know their fathers, mothers without the assistance of their spouses.
How can we give migrant families the aid they need, especially moral and spiritual support? 
Migration has left some communities with few men or adolescents.
Families find themselves in debt to pay the coyotes and kidnappers. And so some seek to find money by means that are scarcely legal; therefore we find the increase of the sale of drugs and prostitution. 

5. Mary 

Mary is a woman who has seen the suffering of her son and has compassion for all whose who suffer. She can witness the suffering of women and girls who are abandoned, abused, raped, trafficked for prostitution.
She fled with Joseph and her son to escape the violence of King Herod, much like women today who flee violence.
Mary beholds the suffering of women who migrate, facing the dangers of the journey, the threats of violence, trafficking and rape, the days without food for themselves and their children.
Mary is also present with the women left behind, alone, by the migration of their spouses and children.
Mary, at the foot of the cross, shows us how to respond to those who suffer; her presence shows us the compassion of God.

Saturday, June 11, 2022

Cassocks, Roman Collars, Permanent Deacons, and Worker Priests

There’s a long string of comments on a Facebook post noting the decision of a French archbishop prohibiting his seminarians from wearing cassocks. Many of the comments bore me and some of the comments scare me. But so far none of the comments seems to take seriously that this is the decision of a bishop in France.

To understand his action, we might look at France and Europe now and in the middle of the last century.

Fra Gerard Francisco Timoner, OP, Master of the Dominicans, in a November 2021 Crux interview, noted that Europe is mission territory. 

This reminded me that in the 1940s, Abbé Henri Godin wrote France: pays de mission (France: mission country) which noted the loss of the working class to the Church. His book struck a chord. 

One response was the movement of worker-priests who worked in factories, without revealing their priestly identity. This was established first in Paris in 1944. The movement endured for several years until it was suppressed by the Vatican. One reason given was the involvement of worker-priests in unions, largely connected with the Communist Party. Some priests found themselves in leadership positions. 

It is very interesting to note that about the same time, priests in the priest block in the concentration camp at Dachau, began to discuss the possibility of married men as deacons. One of their concerns was the failure of the church authorities to be sufficiently aware of the evils of Nazism and to respond strongly.

After the war, one of the priests, Fr. Wilhelm Shamoni wrote in favor of married, working deacons:
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.
There was a serious concern that the church had lost contact with the intellectual and working classes. The presence of deacons from these environments could enrich the church and open it to respond to the reality of contemporary life.

I also think of the foundation of the Little Brothers of Jesús by René Voliaume in 1933. The Little Brothers live and work among the poorest and in this way witness to the presence of Christ.

I wonder if Archbishop Guy de Kerimel of Toulouse who issued his admonition to seminarians  might have been affected by these experiences of the European and French church and so sought to avoid widening the breech between the church, its ministers, and the vast majority of “nones” in the French society who consider the church irrelevant or worse. 

I think we must consider all this before condemning the archbishop’s position. Perhaps he has a point and a concern that goes much beyond the question of clerical attire.

I have one quarrel with the bishop. He seems to tolerate seminarians wearing Roman collars. I got into a lot of trouble a few years ago suggesting that deacons not wear Roman collars except in ministerial roles. You can read my remarks here and here.

Deacons, the sick, and communion ministers

In our parish of Dulce Nombre de María, we have about 28 extraordinary ministers of Communion. They meet once a month, for planning and for continuing spiritual formation. I have accompanied them for several years, even before being ordained a permanent deacon. 

This morning we met. 

Our pastor, Father German, was with us for about an hour helping us plan for the celebration of Corpus Christi. Though there are many villages in our parish without communion ministers, we want to have all the parish the opportunity of Eucharistic adoration for some time during the week leading up to next Sunday’s celebration of Corpus Christi. 

In some places there will be the traditional Forty Hours celebration, forty continuos hours of adoration before the exposed Eucharist. In other places, there will be shorter times for adoration.

The ministers had already made provisional plans in their sectors to have adoration in most places for at least ten hours. They’ll have to make some changes because there will be Masses with Father German or another priest in most of the sectors of the parish to close the Forty Hours devotion. 

 After this, the pastor left for some pastoral visits to the countryside. 

During the course of the meeting, concern arose about one minister, not just because of his absence at many meetings but also for other reasons including his failure to visit the sick and elderly in his village. 

Our parish’s understanding of communion ministers is very clear. They serve at Masses; they lead Holy Hours and other Eucharistic devotion. But key to their ministry is visiting the sick and bringing them Communion. They are expected to visit all the sick, even those who do not receive Communion. If they don’t do this, their ministry in not complete. 

This is not the case in many parishes, even here in Honduras.

A young priest, who spent almost two years in our parish in a pastoral experience, then as a deacon, and finally for a few months after his priestly ordination, has shared how the communion ministers in his parish just serve at the altar.

As we discussed this, one of the communion ministers remarked that they are doing what a deacon does. 

I was pleased, even flabbergasted, that they see that the role of an ordained deacon is to serve at the table of the Lord and the bedside of the sick and the poor. And they identify their service with the order of deacons.

Central to my understanding of the diaconate is that the permanent deacon is called to be “the driving force” for the diakonia of the entire People of God, a phrase used by Both Pope Saint Paul VI and Pope Saint John Paul II. 

 In my service and in my accompanying these ministers and others, I hope to arouse in them and all the faithful a deeper desire to live out their baptismal call to diakonia, as servants. 

When I can do this, I do not feel threatened by what they do. I do not try to do everything and thus displace their living out their call. I serve in building up the Body of Christ by helping People of God see their place in the Body of Christ and live it more fully.

For all this, I am grateful to God, to the Church that called me to this ministry, and to these extraordinary minister of Communion who show me how blessed and “extra-ordinary” is the call to serve the sick.

Part of the mural on the front of the church office, by El Indio Rivera.

Sunday, June 05, 2022

A real Pentecost Vigil

Our parish knows how to do a vigil.

Last night we began the Pentecost Vigil with a bonfire in neighboring Concepción and a procession (about three kilometers) to the main parish church in Dulce Nombre.
It looked like a great night – but, just as the fire was blessed, a torrential rain fell and continued for a few hours. I, taking advantage of the privilege of age, rode in the parish pickup that carried the sound system. Yet most everyone got soaked.
When we arrived at the church, people tried to dry out and the pastor shared some of his clothing. Sweet bread and coffee helped to take off a bit of the chill. 

The evening began with one of the choirs leading the people in songs – mostly of the charismatic genre. Then the local sisters, Oblatas al Divino Amor, and their aspirants led an extended reflection.
About midnight we had a break for coffee and tamales and ticucos (which are a specialty of western Honduras). 

We had a holy hour and Benediction – which the pastor asked me to give – for about 90 minutes or so. 

Then we had Mass. The pastor had asked me if I wanted to preach. I said no, but I’d rather give a closing message (which I did).

After Mass and a short break, as dawn was lightening the skies, we began a procession around the center of Dulce Nombre de Copán with the parish statue of Mary, while we recited the rosary.
During the procession, I noted a woman with a baby. I offered to carry the baby for a bit, and she obliged. The ten-month old was heavy, but I was glad and privileged to carry this child. I passed the baby, Jairo, back to his mother as we approached the church. As I walked the last two blocks back to the church, I felt overwhelmed by the opportunity this mother had given me to carry this little boy for about five blocks. I also reflected on how mothers carry their children, first in the womb and later in their arms. What sacrifice – but often with great joy.
When we arrived back at the church, the pastor gave the final blessing and I read a short reflection, sending us forth to live the Spirit in our lives. (The Spanish text is here.) 

It was a few minutes after six am when we finished and people headed home.

A real Pentecost vigil - and I didn't fall asleep.