Saturday, September 24, 2022

Grace in the margins

 I was going through files on my computer and came across this which I don't think I published, I made a few quick revisions and offer this as a reflection on one aspect of my ministry.

December 22, 2020, I went to Granadillal for the baptism of eight children (between 8 and 12 years old.) I had met with them about two week ago. The pastor had asked me to meet with them to see if they were ready, understanding what baptism means. That meeting was good. 

Today it’s been cloudy and rainy and a bit cool. I really had second thoughts about going up to Granadillal. It’s about 45 minutes from home and the roads were slippery. I really wanted to just find a place to sit and read, but my better judgment got me moving. 

We had a Celebration of the Word with Communion.

Before everything started, I talked with the kids and even asked their input on a trivial matter: Should I wear a purple stole because it’s Advent or should I wear white since it’s a sacramental celebration? Six said purple and two said white. I compromised. I wore white up until the actual baptism. Liturgists may cringe but I used the occasion to model compromise.

After the Celebration, it was time for pictures – with and without masks. I was in photos of the whole group as well as with some individual kids and their godparents. By the way, I always brought masks to celebrations and give them away. I don’t want to complain without giving people a way to respond. 

As the photos progressed, I noticed one kid who had come with an elderly woman as his godmother. He was in some of the other photos but there was none with him and his godmother and me alone. I asked them if they wanted a photo. They agreed – a bit reluctantly, I think. As we found a place by the altar to take the photo, another kid and his godfather also came to be in a photo with me.
After they left, I took a selfie with the kid, Fredy, and his godmother, Blanca Rosa.
I had the sense that they were poorer than most of the other folks (who are by no means rich or even middle class).

Why did I do this? I think it’s revealing a part of myself that I am discovering – a part that actually goes back many years. I have a sense of trying to connect with those at the margins.

A priest friend of mine, whom I worked with several times, talked about connecting with the back row Catholics. In a campus ministry setting, that meant saying hello to everyone, especially those who were not involved in the parish events.

But this is more than that. I noticed this a few weeks before this visit to Granadillal at a Sunday Celebration of the Word here in Plan Grande. It was the coffee harvest season and there are a fair number of young men who have been brought in from other parts of the country. In previous years, people were brought in from Guatemala, but with border restrictions growers have had to seek other sources of workers.

Before the Celebration one Sunday I noticed a family whom I hadn’t seen before who were very clearly indigenous. I went over and talked with them. I later saw a few other new folks and went over and talked with them, just to welcome them.

This reaching out is something that seems to be so much a part of my ministry. A few months ago, I stopped and spent some time talking with a woman and her son, asking them about their lives. 

As I drove away, I asked myself why I do this, stopping and talking with people. I think it’s really important to spend time with people, especially those who do not seem to recognize their dignity, their worth. I want them to know that someone thinks they are important and wants to listen to them.

But as I continued to drive,  I realized there was something more basic. I do this because I love them. 

I am an introvert, but I find this type of welcoming a challenge that gives me life. If I can give someone a sense of welcome, a sense that he or she is valued, that gives me joy. It is a gift that God has given me, and I am grateful. 

The other thing I’m noticing is that I use a sense of humor (that I’m sure is a gift from my father) that I often use to welcome people or to gently challenge them. That’s another reflection that I think is related to this one.

What Jesus taught me about the Eucharist

After the September 17 parish council meeting, I stayed around for a few minutes talking with people. At one point a young man and I started talking about a number of topics. He expressed his concern about the catechists in his area.

At one point, he began to reflect on the Eucharist.
He noted that many people do recognize the presence of Christ in the Eucharist they receive. But he added that, when we receive the Body of Christ in communion, we also are connected with the people of God. We are also receiving the mancomunidad of the Eucharist, calling us into Communion with the Body of Christ present in our world, and not only in the Eucharist. 

He used the word “mancomunidad” which is used for associations of municipalities that work together for the good of the communities involved. He grasped something that so many forget but which is central to the Catholic understanding of Eucharist, especially among the Fathers of the Church, such as St. John Chrysostom. In a sermon on the Gospel of Matthew he said:
Do you want to honor Christ’s body? Then do not scorn him in his nakedness, nor honor him here in the church with silken garments while neglecting him outside where he is cold and naked. For he who said: This is my body, and made it so by his words, also said: You saw me hungry and did not feed me, and inasmuch as you did not do it for one of these, the least of my brothers, you did not do it for me.
I was overwhelmed by the depth of this man’s reflections. He is a campesino, who works the land, who lived with his wife and kids. His formal education is minimal, but he has grasped the mysteries of God and he has opened my heart.

The Eucharist is communion with Jesus and it is also communion with others. These both aspects are intimately related. If we forget one of them, we have missed an essential part of the mystery of God. 

This young man taught me and inspired me. 

 His name is Jesús.

Friday, September 16, 2022

Torrential rains - the effects of climate change in our parish

It rained again yesterday in the afternoon; then there was a torrential downpour about 7 pm; then it rained again, more gently, in the early hours of the night.

It feels as if it’s been raining here for over two months. Looking at, I find that it has been raining consistently for just the last two weeks.

But, before that, there have been major downpours at least since the vigil of Pentecost, June 4. As the procession began, the heavens opened and most everyone was soaked as they walked several kilometers in procession from Concepción to Dulce Nombre. 

In addition, the temperatures have been in the eighties since June, unusually hot for our area.

There has been a lot of damage from the rains, which are heavy and last for hours, often during the night. The earth is saturated, and the streams and rivers are high.

In June, a rainstorm left a major sinkhole in the road leading into Dulce Nombre from most of the villages in the parish, near the aldea de Caleras. 

But there has been even more extensive damages to the infrastructure. 

Because of the rains, part of the ramp up to the bridge by El Limón has washed away two times. The first time abut July 24.
It was “repaired.” But when I had to go to El Limón on August 16, I found it washed away again.
But the damage downstream was worse. Half of a road had collapsed and major damage was done to a bridge; several fields were swept away.
These left several communities isolated, with no access by vehicles or busses, except for motorcycles. 

About a week before the first collapse, I had scheduled a visit to San José Obrero, on July 17. I was warned to watch out for a problem. I proceeded in and took what was the former turn off and, if I hadn’t been alert, I would have gone off a ten foot cliff, where the road had collapsed a few days before.

I reversed the car and took the other path, which led through a stream bed.

The people told me that they had gone out and prepared the path by themselves – no help from the municipality.

Just a few days ago, in another part of the parish, the ramp to another bridge was washed out. This bridge connected several villages with the highway to La Entrada. Here are some photos from Facebook, the first two from the page of the mayor of Concepción.

Heavy rains washed away the ramp and several villages are isolated (though there is a long way to go around to get to the paved highway).

This bridge was recently rebuilt and the area around the bridge (which had been flooded during the Eta and Iota hurricanes of 2020) was rebuilt. 

Photos from 2020

There was a major project to reconstruct the bridge with some other projects which, according to a sign at the site, cost 6,867,571.53 lempiras (about 279,000 dollars). 

 But a few years before that, the bridge had been replaced. Yet with the rains, it collapsed, revealing that the builders had taken short cuts and there was a part of the bridge where there were no reinforcement rebars. Ineptitude, shoddy work, short cuts to cut costs (for the construction firm), and corruption.

There are other problems. There have been a few landslides and there are several places where the threat of more landslides is great.

I personally had a problem with my sewage lines. After heavy machinery went down the road blow my house and smashed the underground sewer lines, a landslide detached the sewage lines (one for solid waste, the smaller one for liquid waste. 

I was fortunate to have a plumber and three guys fix it in two days. 

This is not just in our area. 

The paved road that goes from La Entrada to Copán Ruinas has suffered extensive damage in two or three places.

When I went to Santa Rita for the installation of the new pastor of the parish, on September 27, I had to pass a place near El Jaral where half the road collapsed into the river and traffic is reduced to one lane.

A friend posted on WhatsApp a photo of the road near Nueva Esperanza in the municipality of San Jeronimo where the highway has deteriorated significantly.

My major concern now is that we have not yet begun the hurricane season, which usually is in October and November. 

With the ground so saturated, with the roads in horrible conditions, with the river banks eroding, what will happen if we get the rains like we had in November 2020, with hurricanes Eta and Iota? I fear major disasters.

Last year I led a number of workshops in the parish to help people organize to monitor the situation and to be ready for disasters. I’ll be doing two more in October.

My hope is that the people will be organized, will monitor the situation, will be ready to response if there is a major threat, and so avoid loss of life, while at the same time avoiding panic.

It is really important that the people are organized to respond in their communities.

There is a great temptation is look to the political authorities (as well as non-governmental organizations) to provide the solution. In my opinion, this can lead to situations where the politicians manipulate the aid, especially here where corruption has been rampant and many politicians use aid to garner support.

And so we continue to struggle – in the face of the effects of climate change, the ongoing vestiges of corruption and ineptitude, and the ongoing impoverishment of our people.

May God accompany us in our struggles.

Thursday, September 15, 2022

A new affront to migrants in the US

I am appalled and a bit angry.

The governors of Texas and Florida, both of whom were raised Catholic, are sending migrants to cities in the north of the US as a kind of public theater. They are using these people for political purposes and are, in a sense, trafficking with human lives.

The "wall" between Juarez and El Paso.

The latest stunt of the Texas governor was sending two busloads of migrants to the home of the Vice-President.

But it is a stunt that shows, in my mind, a disregard for human life, a manipulation of people. 

I say this because every week, in our Sunday Masses, we pray for people who have migrated. Sometimes people ask us to thank God for the safe arrival of their family members to the US, mostly people ask for prayers for those who are on the road.

I openly try to discourage people from migrating, but I will not stop praying for them. They are my brothers and sisters; they are people I know and whose families I know.

They migrate for many reasons. Those in the big cities and in the areas controlled by gangs or drug traffickers often leave to save their lives and the lives of their families. Some flee the violence which affects them and their families. Over 60% of those who experience violent crime do not report the crime; such is the fear of retribution by criminals as well as lack of trust in the police and the judicial system. Others flee in search of work to sustain their families. Crop failures, torrential rains that sweep away fields and roads, and other effects of climate change push some to leave. Others find themselves unable to afford the steep rises in costs of living, transport, and inputs for their crops. Vulnerable populations, such as women in situations of domestic violence, feel they have no other recourse than to flee. The list of reasons goes on.

Migrants should not be used as pawns by politicians. What the governors of Texas and Florida are doing cries to heaven for justice.

The prophet Ezekiel castigates Sodom for not aiding the poor and needy (Ezekiel 16:49-50).

In the judgement parable of Matthew 25:31-46, the nations are judged on how they treat the stranger. 

How do I feel? I am close to tears, lamenting the hardness of heart of my fellow Catholics, crying for the migrants who face uncertain future and who are placed in even worse situations than those on the border. 

Jesus wept over Jerusalem for not knowing the ways of peace (Luke 19: 41-42).

I weep.
Jerusalem from the church "Dominus flevit" - "The Lord wept."