Monday, February 27, 2023

Christian Initiation of Adults in the Dulce Nombre parish

Yesterday we celebrated the Rito of Election of the process Chrsitian Initiation of Adults, I decided it might be helpful to give an idea of what we do.
2023 - election of catechumens

When I was at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Ames, I got to learn a lot about the journey, observing the parish's practice. 

But our parish is so different.

The parish of Dulce Nombre de María includes about 45 widely scattered places of worship, in five municipalities. Four of these are the municipal seats – Dulce Nombre is the largest of these and has three churches. Some of the aldeas, villages, are fairly large with more than 1000 people, including El Zapote Santa Rosa, Candelaria Concepción, Plan Grande Concepción. There are a few places that are more like hamlets, caserios, with a few families or even just one extended family. 

Religious formation takes place in the cities, villages, and hamlets. Sometimes there is only one catechist. Many of the catechists have limited formal education. This past year there have been several young people who are in formation to be catechists in their communities. In one, more than five are in formation; most of them were confirmed last year. 

The bishops’ conference and the diocese are promoting religious formation by levels. This is difficult for us because of the number of catechists we have. We were about to do pilot projects in three places when the pandemic changed our plans.

Most of our formation is preparation for the sacraments. 

There are three different formal processes for the sacrament of baptism. 

For children under seven, the formation is for parents and godparents: six sessions and a retreat. Each year there are one or two celebrations of baptism of children in most communities.
A baptism in 2016 in Plan Grande

There is a separate process for children between seven and thirteen. This is almost a year long and begins whenever the catechists on a village are ready to do the catechesis and have enough candidates. 

The third process is for those fourteen and older, the catechumenate. 

For a number of reasons, a fair number of young people are not baptized as babies and so there are a good number of children between 7 and 13 baptized in their communities. And there are also young people who wait until they are 14 or older.

There is not a tradition of baptism soon after birth. I have baptized few babies less than a year old. I am not sure if there are cultural reasons or if this is merely a holdover from the time when the parents had to be married in the church and in a base community in order to have their children baptized. (Thanks be to God this ended in our parish in 2013 with the new pastor, Padre German.) 

There are usually a good number of children between 7 and 13 who are baptized each year. (There were more in the past when the regulations about married parents were in effect.) 

This year we have about 37 catechumens who will, God willing, be baptized at the Easter Village. More than 12 of them are over 18, though the majority are between 14 and 18.

We are probably one of the few parishes in the diocese who have a program for Christian initiation of adults. Due to the expanse of the parish, we don’t have a centralized catequesis. Most of the formation goes on in the local community, even if there is only one candidate. I have tried to encourage neighboring communities to join together and this has happened in a few places. 

The formation normally begins 8 or 9 months before Easter. 

 We do celebrate the major rites in the main parish church in Dulce Nombre. 

We celebrate the rite of acceptance into the catechumenate on the first or second Sunday of Advent. This past December we celebrated the rite on December 4, since the first Sunday of December we had the visit of the image of Our Lady of Suyapa in our parish. There were 40 candidates. 
welcoming the catechumens at the church entrance, December 2020

 We use the rites from Mexico, although I have added the signing of the feet from the US Spanish version. I think it is such a significant part of the rite that we have adapted it for our parish. How important it is to see godparents, priests, and even a deacon on their knees, signing the feet of the candidate!

signing of the hands

signing of the eyes

signing of the feet

Signing the feet, San Agustín 2017

This past Sunday we celebrated the Rite of Election in the church with 36. A few dropped out. One has Sunday morning classes and couldn’t get permission for the rite. Another didn’t get to the church on time – a longer story. The pastor or I will arrange for the rite in their communities. 

Since we don't have a book of the elect and because some of the catechumens can't write their names, we give each  a card and have someone write their name. They sign or put their thumbprint on the card. In the rite we have them come forward, put the card in a bowl and say their name aloud. 

I had enough energy to be able to help arrange the rite at a special Mass at 10 am in the parish. I even preached – very much inspired by the presence of so many catechumens. I reminded them that they were elected (elegidos) – not like the politicians, but “chosen” (elegidos) by the Church, the People of God.

The diocesan radio station, Radio María, broadcasts Masses every Sunday and usually broadcasts a Mass from Dulce Nombre once a month. Yesterday’s Mass and Rite of Election were broadcast. I talked to the staff of the Radio who were unfamiliar with the Rites of the Christian Initiation process. 

In Lent, there are a number of rites and activities for the “elect.”

There are three scrutinies which involve prayer and “exorcisms” as well as the handing on (entrega) of the Creed and of the Our Father. We have designed our formation so that the Creed and the Our Father are handed to the elect during their weekly sessions. 

But I was concerned about the scrutinies. It would be a major burden (of time and money) to have them come to one of the Sunday Masses, if they lived far from the Mass sites. Where there is a Mass nearby or where I could get to a Sunday morning celebration, we would use the scrutinies in the rite. 

The pastor usually celebrates Mass in five different sites – Saturday evening in Dolores, Sunday morning in Concepción and in the Saint Anthony Church in Dulce Nombre, Sunday evening in the main church in Dulce Nombre. He also usually has one or two Masses in other places in the afternoon – every other week in San Agustín. 

Scrutiny in San Agustín, 2018

I have tried to get to a village with “elect” for the rites on several Sunday mornings. It has been a real blessing, especially when a community has several “elect”. 

I spoke with Padre German about this yesterday and gave him the list of communities where there are “elect” as well as the scrutiny rites. He visits communities for Mass every day. His suggestion is that he could preside at the scrutinies at the Mass in the community during the week. For me, that seems great.

My pastoral solution for the other communities was to do a minor re-write of the scrutinies so that they could be celebrated without a priest or deacon in the communities. The scrutinies of the “elect” would take place in a community Celebration of the Word, led by the local Delegate of the Word and Catechist

In the past, the final preparation for the Easter Vigil was a retreat in their communities. But this often meant that there were only one or two in the retreat. This year we will have a retreat for all the “elect” on the Tuesday of Holy Week. This shouldn’t be a major problem since Holy Week (Semana Santa) is a major holiday. 

In our parish most local communities pray the Stations of the Cross in the streets of their villages on the Fridays of Lent. In addition, we have a parish wide Stations of the Cross on the Friday before Holy Week, traditionally the feast of Our Mother of Sorrows. We encourage our elect to take part in these as part of their preparation.

The Easter Vigil is quite a celebration here. We begin in a field with the Easter Fire and then go in procession with the Paschal Candle to the Church. 



Last year we used the auditorium to accommodate all the people who came. 


I’ve sung (or tried) to sing the Exultet, though I may not try this year, due to my health. We also use all the readings and sing all the psalm and canticle response. 

Baptism is not a simple pouring of a little bit of water. The elect are baptized in a bath of water! 

In many parts of the world, the catechumens are fully initiated in the Church in the Easter Vigil receiving the three sacraments of initiation – Baptism, Eucharist, and Confirmation. 

I am not sure why, but in our diocese the catechumens have not been confirmed. I guess the bishops want to confirm them, probably to connect them with the universal church. I can see why those under eighteen might wait until they can be confirmed with other young people of their communities, forming a community in the preparation for confirmation. But those over eighteen? I am trying to get our bishop to permit our pastor to confirm those who are eighteen or older. 

With all the readings and baptisms, the Easter Vigil celebration can last from 5 to 6 hours. 

We are not very good with the mystagogia – the continuing formation after Easter, trying to incorporate the newly baptized into the community. 

This year I’ve asked the catechists to bring all the newly baptized to the Pentecost Vigil, which, for us, is an all-night vigil. I need to think of other ways to involve the newly baptized in the life of the church, especially those who are adults, eighteen or older. In the meantime, I look forward to the upcoming weeks, praying for strength.

This Sunday, I’ll go to Vertientes for the Rite of Election for the catechumen who got lost (and arrived at the end of the Mass.) Does this sound like the parable of the lost sheep? Not my plan.

If I have the strength, I’ll get to two or three villages for Sunday morning Celebration of the word with Scrutinies and Communion. The big challenge is the retreat in Holy Week. I hope I can work on this with some catechists. 

But the big night will be the Easter Vigil. I hope I have the strength and stamina (and the wisdom to involved lots of catechists in the process.) I will probably not take part in the procession and try to take rest during the readings.

But I want to be there for the baptisms and the First Communion of the elect. It’s a highlight – because I have seen the grace of God in the eyes and faces of so many. Here are a few pictures from previous years.




I would be remiss if I didn't mention that we also have baptized persons preparing for matrimony who are not yet baptized. Besides receiving the pre-marriage formation, they receive a mini-catechesis on baptism and Eucharist. Either Padre German or I have baptized persons, sometimes in the mornng of their matrimony. 

In 2020, I baptized three persons preparing for their matrimony - in the middle of the pandemic!

There's another sacramental story here - five couples from one distant community planned to get married before the pandemic struck. They continued and were married together on August 24, 2020, in a room in the classroom of their aldea, since the church was not finished. Here's a photo of one of hte couples.


Wednesday, February 22, 2023


What do you do on Ash Wednesday when you have more than 45 places where people gather for worship in a parish?

Padre German, our pastor, has five Masses in four different locations. But that leaves out more than forty communities.

I was going to go to a distant village, but I thought it best not to go at this time, since my body’s defenses are low, due to last Thursday’s chemotherapy.

So almost all the villages sent a Delegate of the Word or someone else to the 10 am Mass in the main parish church. Ashes were blessed and distributed to those attending.
After Mass, little plastic cups of ashes were given to those who would distribute them at a Celebration of the Word in their communities. In some communities, where there is an extraordinary communion minister, they would have a Celebration of the Word with Communion.

I attended the 10:00 am Mass in the parish and served as deacon, in a limited way. I did preach but I decided not to distribute the ashes, nor communion, nor purify the vessels.

It was a blessing to be with the delegates and some others who came for Mass.

After Mass, I went back into the church to pray – and was awed by the beauty around us.

The Gate of Heaven is everywhere

Thomas Merton had an epiphany on the corner of 4th and Walnut in Louisville, Kentucky, about March 18, 1958.

What especially struck me was the head of the gnome at the base of the plaque. How very Mertonesque!

I visited there once, but didn't have my camera. 

Two good friends, who were he in Honduras in December, just passed there and sent me a photo. I love it. Who cannot laugh seeing the gnome at this sacred spot. 

But there's even more. A woman passed by asking help for forty cents to pay for her bus fare.

"The Gate of Heaven is everywhere."

Here's the text of Merton's encounter in Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, pp. 141-142
In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness. The whole illusion of a separate holy existence is a dream.... 
This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud.... It is a glorious destiny to be a member of the human race, though it is a race dedicated to many absurdities and one which makes many terrible mistakes: yet, with all that, God Himself gloried in becoming a member of the human race. A member of the human race! To think that such a commonplace realization should suddenly seem like news that one holds the winning ticket in a cosmic sweepstake.... 
There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.... There are no strangers! ... If only we could see each other [as we really are] all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed.... I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other.... 
At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God, which is never at our disposal, from which God disposes our lives, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our own mind or the brutalities of our own will. This little point of nothingness and of absolute poverty is the pure glory of God in us. It is so to speak His name written in us, as our poverty, as our indigence, as our dependence, as our sonship. It is like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven. It is in everybody, and if we could see it we would see these billions of points of light coming together in the face and blaze of a sun that would make all the darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely. 
I have no program for this seeing. But the gate of heaven is everywhere.

Monday, February 20, 2023

I was sick and you visited me

As I have mentioned before in this blog, visiting the sick has been one of the most profound aspects of my diaconal ministry. Being able to visit, to talk with the sick person and with the caretakes, and to be able to share the Eucharist are a great gift, a privilege.

At times I don’t know what to say and so I just use the prayers in a book I have.
I’ll make a little small talk before I begin, asking how they are, and will often given a short commentary on a scripture passage.

Being present is the gift.

But yesterday I was on the receiving end.

I asked a neighbor, who is a communion minister, to bring me communion. She came with her young grandson; we prayed and I received communion. 

It was clear that she felt a little uncomfortable since she is accustomed to receiving communion from me or to accompanying me when I bring communion to others.

But I suddenly realized the significance of this ministry.

When we go to the sick, we bring Jesus in Communion, but we also come as the Church, the Body of Christ. Christ in the Eucharist is inseparable from Christ in His Body, the People of God.

All too often I’ve felt that some Eucharistic practices are too individualistic – me and Jesus, Jesus coming to ME. 

We look at the Eucharist from outside – as a spectacle. We even look at the Eucharist as MY food, as a commodity. 

But receiving communion from the hands of a communion minister helped me see that communion is a communal practice, a communal encounter with Christ – in the Eucharist and the Church.

We don’t give ourselves Communion; we receive it from the community of faith. 

This inspires me to re-envision how I will visit the sick in the future. 

We, both ordinary and extraordinary ministers of Communion, bring Jesus but we also bring the Church, the Body of Christ.


NOTE: I just began reading Monika K. Hellwig's The Eucharist and the Hunger of the World. Second Edition, published in 1992. I am sure that the introduction opened me to this insight. She mentions how, even with the post-Vatican II changes, we feel as if we are coming to the Eucharist as a "spectacle." But, as she notes, 
To take part in a eucharistic celebration is always an act of allegiance, of self-identification and of commitment, however slight. 

Saturday, February 18, 2023

Thanks to Saint Thomas Church for help with education

The school year in Honduras starts in February with classes lasting until November.

For more than ten years St. Thomas has provided assistance to students in the parish of Dulce Nombre de María through funding partial scholarships for students enrolled in the programs of IHER – Honduran Institute of Education by Radio, commonly known as Maestro en Casa – Teachers at Home.

There are various levels of public education. Most rural villages have kindergartens and primary schools (to the sixth grade.) A few larger towns have Básico, seventh to ninth grade (similar to middle school). The major municipal centers and some other large towns often have the Honduran equivalent of high school, colegios. These have different programs based on different career track. Most all high school have a few career track options. 

The IHER program offers other opportunities for middle school and high school The student have work books and are expected to listen to programs on the radio and then fill out the workbooks. Saturdays and Sundays teachers give are classes in the four centers.

There are four centers of IHER within the parish: Dulce Nombre de María, El Prado de La Curz, and Bañaderos offer both high school and junior high. El Zapote Santa Rosa only offers junior high classes. 

This past year the IHER program in El Prado de la Cruz, worked to provide a career track in computation, but they needed to provide a computer lab. The faculty and students did several fundraising projects but also asked for assistance from St. Thomas Aquinas, The Honduras Committee designated $1100 for purchase of computers. Here are some photos the director of the center sent me.
This year there were more applicants for scholarships than last year. 211 – 125 high school; 86 middle school. As a result, your gift of 234,840 lempiras – about $9483.75 – was a great help for many poor families.

The scholarships cover part of the cost of the books. The students and their families will be paying for the other costs, including transportation. 

 Thank you for your generosity. 

An investment in the youth here is so important.

Here are a few photos of the graduation from 9th grade (junior high) in Dulce Nombre. 

Lastly, here's a letter of thanks from IHER El Prado:

Friday, February 17, 2023

Being Ill in Public

I had been a bit reluctant to make my prostate cancer known publicly – though the media.

I don’t want to call attention to myself when there are so many needs around me and so many people really suffering.

But sharing has been a blessed occasion. People who have had cancer have shared with me their experiences or the experiences of family members. A person who admits he rarely prays offered a prayer for me. As of today, more than 225 persons wrote a note on a Facebook post of mine asking for prayers and there were more than 420 who responded with a care, a like or a love. 

It has been humbling.

It also reminds of the net of connections and relations I have and the importance of these connections. As Pope Francis said to young people at a meeting in Skopje, North Macedonia in 2009 (Cited in Fratelli Tutti, 8):
“Here we have a splendid secret that shows us how to dream and to turn our life into a wonderful adventure. No one can face life in isolation… We need a community that supports and helps us, in which we can help one another to keep looking ahead. How important it is to dream together… By ourselves, we risk seeing mirages, things that are not there. Dreams, on the other hand, are built together.”
And I also remember the scene in Mark 2: 1-12, where Jesus heals a paralytic, assisted by four friends:
Then some came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Child, your sins are forgiven.”
Note that Jesus is touched by "their" faith, not the faith of the one who was ill. I tend to think that the man is healed because of the faith and prayers of his friends.

I don’t want to be the center of attention because I know that many others suffer in silence and without the support and resources I have. 

But …. 
If being ill in public can help some people recognize the presence of God in their lives, it is worth it. 
If my illness can open other to the illness of others – and open their hearts to accompany them, my being ill in public is not in vain. 
If my illness can help others recognize the resources they have in God and in their families and communities, then my words and example may help becoming a more caring community which respects and recognizes the gifts of everyone, even the poorest and humblest.
If my illness can move others to accompany the sick, to be at their side, to help them, my words move people to open their hearts (and their bank accounts) even more (especially for the ones who are really poor and in need.) 
If my illness can help others recognize our weakness, our fragility, then God may be using me to open others to His strength that is make complete in our weakness.

The words of Pope Francis' message for this year’s day of the sick have strengthened me:
" is precisely through the experience of vulnerability and illness that we can learn to walk together according to the style of God, which is closeness, compassion, and tenderness."
May God awaken in me and in all of us a deep tenderness and compassion, giving us the courage to accompany and touch the poor and suffering.

I will continue updates on what I’m experiencing in the hope that it may encourage those who are sick to live with peace and even joy in the midst of their suffering and to prod those who are well to accompany the poor – with funds, if they have them, but even more with their tender presence at the side of those who are ailing.

Be there – where God is.

Graphic by Cerezo Barredo

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Recovering the real Padre Apla’s, Blessed Stanley Rother

These past few days, a martyr from the US is in the news. Blessed Stanley Rother – Padre Apla´s for the indigenous people of Santiago Atitlán, Guatemala, was killed in the rectory of the church, July 28, 1981. A native of Oklahoma, he was for thirteen years a missionary in a parish in rural Guatemala.

The church of Santiago Atitlan, photo taken in 2018

Interior, photo taken in the 1990s

This week a shrine in his name will be dedicated in Oklahoma. The shrine, which will also be a parish for the area, cost about forty million dollars.

I have a devotion to Blessed Stanley and have been inspired by his life and ministry since I read several articles in the 1980s and then Henri Nouwen’s Love in a Fearful Land, first published in 1985. 

I visited Santiago Atitlan a few times in the 1990s.

My devotion to him was deepened reading María Ruiz Scaperlanda’s The Shepherd Who Didn't Run: Father Stanley Rother, Martyr from Oklahoma, published in 2015. 

 More recently, in January 2018, my pastor and I made a pilgrimage to Santiago Atitlán. We prayed in the church and in the room where he was martyred.

Our pastor concelebrated Mass in the church, and I had the privilege of serving as deacon at the Mass, reading the Gospel from the site where Blessed Padre Apla’a preached.

When we first entered teh church that afternoon, the Eucharist was exposed on the main altar. But I noticed that under the altar is a vial containing the blood of Padre Aplas'.

While we in Santiago Atitlán, we had time to speak with a few people and got a vision of a priest who truly served with the people, who had “the smell of the sheep” about him. I’m sure his upbringing in rural Oklahoma made him at home with the campesinos in the parish.

He also had a deep sense of the dignity of the campesinos. One of his quotes that continues to move me: “To shake the hand of an Indian is a political act.”

The body of Padre Apla´s was returned to Oklahoma, but, at the request of the people of the parish, his heart was entombed in the church.

When I heard this story and stopped at the site of his heart, I could not help but remember the words of Jesus: “Where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.” 

Our pastor, Padre German Navarro, also has a great devotion to Padre Apla’s and often mentions him by name in the Eucharistic Prayer.

But a forty- or fifty-million-dollar shrine? 

I have a number of questions. 

Is this shrine a case of US triumphalism? Or will this be an opportunity to awaken the US church to the church of the martyrs in Latin America and to the commitment of the church to accompany the poor in their struggles for life and justice?

Is this shrine a case of promotion of an other-worldly vision of holiness? Pope Francis speaks of an incarnate holiness. 

Note the letter that Padre Apla's wrote the Christmas before he was martyred. This is no disincarnate holiness. 
 “A nice compliment was given to me recently when a supposed leader in the Church and town was complaining that ‘Father is defending the people.’ He wants me deported for my sin.
“This is one of the reasons I have for staying in the face of physical harm. The shepherd cannot run at the first sign of danger. Pray for us that we may be a sign of the love of Christ for our people, that our presence among them will fortify them to endure these sufferings in preparation for the coming of the Kingdom.”
Is this shrine a case of a de-politization of martyrdom? 

How many martyrs in Latin America were killed by dictatorial regimes, many of them supported by the US government? How many will learn of the repression in Guatemala during the 1970s and 1980s and 1990s that resulted in thousands of church people killed.

Padre Apla’s is one of scores who were killed in his parish. Near the room where he was martyred there are several metal frames with scores of crosses of those who were killed in Santiago Attilán. 

Where I visited in the early 1990s, there were crosses by his shrine of those killed and wounded in a December 2, 1990 massacre by the military of campesinos who had come out to protest for their rights. 

I have come across the names of two lay church workers in Santiago Atitlán who were martyred: 

 - Diego Quic Apuchan, Mayan Indian catechist, was disappeared and killed, Santiago Atitlán, Guatemala, January 3, 1981. He had earlier written this to Padre Apla´s:
“I have never stolen, have never hurt anyone, have never eaten someone else’s food. Why, then, do they want to hurt me and kill me?” 

-Juan Sisay, painter, president of Catholic Action, was martyred in his home, Santiago Atitlán, Guatemala, April 21, 1989.

It is also important to realize that Padre Apla’s is only one of 15 martyrs in Guatemala who have been beatified. Will their names and faces be visible at the shrine? I hope so. 
  •  Brother James Miller, A US Christian Brother
  • Father Tulio Marruzo, ofm, an Italian Franciscan missionary
  • Lay Franciscan Luis Obdulio Arroyo Navarro.
  • The Martyrs of Quiche: 
  • Juan Barrera Méndez, Juanito, 12 year old catechist in Zacualpa
  • Rosalío Benito Ixchop, leader of Acción Católica in Chinique
  • Reyes Us Hernández, catequist in Uspantán
  • Domingo del Barrio Batz, sacristan and catechist in Ilom
  • Chajul Nicolás Castor, catechist and extraordianry minister of Communion in Uspantán
  • Tomás Ramírex Caba, mmember of Acción Católica in Chajul
  • Miguel Tiu Imul, catechist in Sacapulas
  • and three Spanish priest of the missionaries of the Sacred Heart: Padre José María Gran Cirera msc, Padre Faustino Villanueva msc, and Padre Juan Alonso msc.

 And then there are those church leaders, martyrs who have not been beatified:
  • Bishop Juan Gerardi
  • Father Bill Woods, MM
  • Brother Moises Cisneros Rodríguez, Marist
  • Sister Victoria de la Roca
  • Fr. Conrado de la Cruz, CICM, Philippines
  • Servant of God Fr. Hermógenes López
  • Rick Julio Medrano, Franciscan
  • Fr. Carlos Pérez Alonso, S.J.,
  • Fr. Augusto Rafael Ramírez Monasterio, OFM,
  • Fr. Alfonso Stessel, CICM
In addition there were thousands of lay church workers- catechists, celebrators of the word who were killed, including two Spanish lay missionaries. 

In addition, a number of evangelical pastors and church workers -including one US Mennonite missionary, John Troyer.

Will the shrine recognize these martyrs of the faith, martyrs of justice? Will they make any reference to the work of the commission of martyred Bishop Juan Gerardi, Recovery of Historical Memory Project. Will the bookstore stock “Guatemala: Never Again! by the Recovery of Historical Memory Project (REMHI) Human Rights Office, Archdiocese of Guatemala, published in English by Orbis Books?

But at what cost do we evangelize?

I don’t know all the details of the costs of the shrine. It may be a way to evangelize. But will it be an evangelization rooted in the vision of a Church incarnated in the world of the poor, which dares to shake the hands of the poor without drawing back because they don’t speak English or don’t have official papers. (One must remember how in the 1980s Guatemalans fleeing from the violence had almost no chance to obtain political asylum in the US, even if they had proof of persecution.) 

I don’t; have the answers, even though my heart is full of questions. 

I want to close this reflection with a quote from the Guatemalan Bishops on August 6, 1981, a few weeks after the martyrdom of Padre Apla´s.
“The Church is suffering persecution as an historical verification of its fidelity in fulfilling its mission that Christ confided it — to save humanity from sin and from all its consequences, to announce redemption, and to denounce with vigor all that opposes its full realization. 
“The faith causes us to understand that the Church in Guatemala is living an hour of grace and of certain hope. Persecution has always been a clear sign of faithfulness to Christ and to his gospel. The blood of our martyrs will be a seed of new and numerous Christians and the proof comforts us who are bearing our part of the suffering ‘which was lacking in the suffering of Christ’ for the redemption of the world."
Will the US church become a martyrial church, witnessing to the God of life, the God of justice, the God of peace? 

May the example of Blessed Padre Apla´s and the thousands of martyrs of the faith from Latin American move us to live the radical message of the Gospel, that calls us to lay down our lives for our sisters and brothers as we seek to live the Reign of God that Jesus preached and lived. 

Blessed Padre Apla’s, pray for us. 

On a very personal note, I have prayed to God, under the intercession of Padre Apla’s, as I face treatment of my prostate cancer.

Friday, February 10, 2023

The World Day of the Sick

Today is the World Day of Prayer for the Sick, initiated by Pope Saint John Paul II in 1992. 

This year’s message from Pope Francis is particularly touching, perhaps because I have prostate cancer and will begin treatment next week, God willing. 

But this message is above all a profound statement on illness and what the sick need. 

Visiting the sick and the aged has become one of the most meaningful parts of my diaconal ministry. I, like many, have not always been so open to visiting the sick and being with them. But I remember as a child going with my mother to visit her sister Ruth who was dying of cancer in a facility run by the Little Sister of the Poor. I also remember visiting my paternal grandmother is a home for the elderly in an old mansion in Philadelphia, where her bed was one of four or five in the same room. I remember visiting my mother when she was suffering with cancer and was in her hospital room when she died. I especially remember the last years of my dad’s life as he suffered several strokes and was finally bed-bound. I fed him, washed him, and cared for him – something not easy, but an experience I shall never forget.

But I also remember something that helped me make my decision to care for my father at homea dn influences my ministry even today.

I was in El Salvador in 1992 for a seven month-sabbatical, helping in the parish of Suchitoto, with five US sisters and a Salvadoran pastor.

During Lent, we went to various communities for a Lenten mission. I went one week to Agua Caliente and visited the houses. I entered one house and, amid the comings and goings of the children and all the family, there was an elderly woman in a bed. I still remember being awed that the people were caring for her at home. They may not have had much, but they were present to this elderly woman.

One of the points of Pope Francis’ message this year for the World Day of the Sick is the importance of accompanying and being with the ill, walking together with them.
Illness is part of our human condition. Yet, if illness is experienced in isolation and abandonment, unaccompanied by care and compassion, it can become inhumane. When we go on a journey with others, it is not unusual for someone to feel sick, to have to stop because of fatigue or of some mishap along the way. It is precisely in such moments that we see how we are walking together: whether we are truly companions on the journey, or merely individuals on the same path, looking after our own interests and leaving others to “make do”. For this reason … I invite all of us to reflect on the fact that it is especially through the experience of vulnerability and illness that we can learn to walk together according to the style of God, which is closeness, compassion, and tenderness.
I have learned the importance of just being there, walking with the sick and the elderly. I may not know what to say and I definitely don’t have the medical savvy to help them get better, but I can be there.
At times I can bring something - as this time when I brought a wheelchair donated by Honduras AMIGAS. But often I come with empty hands - except for the Eucharist, which means I have my hands full!

I usually bring Communion and so we have a very short prayer – with a Gospel reading, prayers for the sick person, the Lord’s prayer – and, if there’s someone there who can help, a song after the person has received communion. The Lord is walking with us, and we are called to walk with other, to accompany them.

If there is someone who has been taking care of the person, I normally talk with them and ask them how they are, recognizing how hard it must be to take care of someone who is ill. Sometimes, I’ll share that I know a bit of this since I took care of my dad.

But I really want to let the caregiver know that God is with them and that, in one sense, they are the hands of Christ caring for their loved one.

In this way, we can help people recognize their goodness and their dignity in the face of pain and suffering and we can open a space for hope and grace. Isn’t that we are called to do?

As Pope Francis goes on to say in his message:
It is crucial, … even in the midst of illness, that the whole Church measure herself against the Gospel example of the Good Samaritan, in order that she may become a true “field hospital”, for her mission is manifested in acts of care, particularly in the historical circumstances of our time. We are all fragile and vulnerable, and need that compassion which knows how to pause, approach, heal, and raise up.
Saint Lawrence, deacon, friend of the poor 

Medical care here or in the US

As some of you may know, I have prostate cancer and will soon be undergoing chemotherapy.

Before anyone asks, I'll be getting the treatments here in Honduras.

Several times people I know as well as the doctors have asked me about going to the US for treatment. Usually, the question was breached by asking me if I have medical insurance in the US. I answer that I don’t have medical insurance in the US since I am in the US at most a few weeks a year. 

I don’t expect to just fly to the US and get medical care. I am seeking medical care here since this is my home.

In a sense, this is a way to share with my neighbors, though I do have many privileges and advantages that they don’t have.

First of all, I do have the economic resources to have high quality treatment here – I get Social Security payments and a tiny pension (from teaching at Iowa State University); I also have a decent amount set aside in an IRA (Individual Retirement Account). In addition, several persons have offered financial assistance. 

 But I recall that most of my neighbors would not be able to get this type of care in a private clinic and would have to depend on the public hospitals or do some serious fundraising. How many times I have seen people collecting money, even stopping cars on the roads, to try to help someone with major medical expenses.

But to just get up and fly off for medical care doesn’t seem right. I want to be here among the people I know and love.

One relative on learning of my illness sent me an urgent message, telling me to come home. But this is my home. I didn’t respond to her in this way, respecting her real concern for me. But it’s what I think and feel. 

And I am at peace with this decision. Of course, I may change my mind in the middle of the chemotherapies. But now I am at peace and want to stay here – where my heart is.

I hope and pray that this experience may open me deeper to the needs of mys sisters and brothers here.

Monday, February 06, 2023

Visiting the sick and being the one who is ill

Visiting the sick is one of the ministries that I’ve grown to love here in the parish of Dulce Nombre. 

I would often go to a community on a Sunday morning for a Celebration of the Word with Communion; after the celebration, I would go to visit the sick and the elderly. I tried to visit communities where there was no communion minister.

I have also accompanied the communion ministers in their monthly meetings. 

February 11 is the World Day of the Sick, promoted by the popes, on the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, whose shrine is a center for healing. 

The month before the pandemic, we had a special activity for the World Day of the Sick in San Agustín. A large group of communion ministers got together and visited the sick there and in a neighboring village, Descombros.

At that time, there was only one communion minister and she visited the many sick, but it was hard for her to attend so many people. At that time, I would come several times and visit the sick.

This was a special occasion. We met for prayer in the church. Several people from San Agustín served as guides and each communion minister visited two or three people. We got together afterwards for a reflection and a lunch together. It was a good experience.
This year, the communion ministers will visit the sick, the elderly, and those confined to their homes on February 11 and 12. I won’t be able to accompany them because I have two pre-marriage interviews on Saturday morning. I’ve had five so far since January 1. These couples want to receive the sacrament of matrimony before Lent! 

Last year, we also visited the sick in San Agustín as well as in other nearby communities.

In the last months of 2022, I didn’t make many visits, partly because of a serious chest cold that took months to get over – even with visits to two doctors.

This year, the day of the sick has special relevance for me, since I have been diagnosed with prostate cancer and hope to begin treatment shortly. 

The words of Pope Francis touch my heart. Pope Francis begins noting the importance of accompanying the sick: 
 Illness is part of our human condition. Yet, if illness is experienced in isolation and abandonment, unaccompanied by care and compassion, it can become inhumane. When we go on a journey with others, it is not unusual for someone to feel sick, to have to stop because of fatigue or of some mishap along the way. It is precisely in such moments that we see how we are walking together: whether we are truly companions on the journey, or merely individuals on the same path, looking after our own interests and leaving others to “make do”. 
 How many of the sick and the elderly live in isolation, with little care by their family and friends.

But I have seen so many of the sick accompanied and cared for by family members. I recall the older woman cared for by her young grandson, the young man who fell and hurt his back who was cared for by his companion, the young man who cared for his future wife after she had a difficult birth, the family that cared for their ill grandfather, and so many more. I have felt so connected with them since I cared for my dad in the last years of his life. I have sometimes shared this with the caregivers, commending them for their care and reminding them that they are the hands of Christ caring for their sick or elderly relative.

I was reluctant to share news of my cancer. But after sharing with a few people, I have been overwhelmed with prayers, offers of support, real solidarity. Some survivors of prostate cancer have told me of their experience.

It’s overwhelming and gives me great consolation and, in some mysterious way, it has given me renewed strength to live my diaconal vocation.

But it is important to face my vulnerability. In his message, Pope Francis wrote:
…it is especially through the experience of vulnerability and illness that we can learn to walk together according to the style of God, which is closeness, compassion, and tenderness.
In the last year or so, I have become more conscious of my vulnerability and weakness; I am, after all, 75 years old.

Now with this cancer, I am experiencing illness, though I have resources that most others here don’t. 

Thanks be to God, this has opened up depths of compassion that I didn’t realize that I had. When I drove to San Pedro Sula last week to meet with the urologist and the oncologist, I had a deep sense of connection and compassion to all the people I saw – especially the poor walking, working, and living at the side of the road. I think of the experience of Thomas Merton at Fourth and Walnut in Louisville, Kentucky, on March 18, 1958, as related in Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, pages 141-142.
In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness. The whole illusion of a separate holy existence is a dream....
We are part of each other. We are all brothers and sisters, as Pope Francis wrote in his last encyclical Fratelli Tutti. Our illness and vulnerability can open us to the sick and vulnerable around us – remembering that Jesus too shares our vulnerability.

Pope Francis in South Sudan

I don’t often write about world events that don’t directly affect me and the people I work with, but I have to write a few words about the Pope’s visit to South Sudan which has moved me deeply. 

It was truly an ecumenical pilgrimage with Church of England Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and with the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland Moderator Iain Greenshields. This gesture of ecumenism is so needed in our world.  

But what struck me even more personally was the site of the Mass, the mausoleum of John Garang, the “father of South Sudan.”

When I was a campus minister at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Ames, Iowa, which was also the Catholic Student Center of Iowa State University, I was impressed by the number of students and families from South Sudan who were members of our parish. There are still many in Ames.
John Garang got a Ph.D. in Economics at Iowa State University in 1981, before I began ministry at St. Thomas.

I pray that the visit of the pope and the other religious leaders further inspires the courageous people of South Sudan in their pursuit of peace with justice. As Pope Francis said in his homily,
"Jesus knows your anguish and the hope you bear in your hearts, the joys and struggles that mark your lives, the darkness that assails you and the faith that, like a song in the night, you raise to heaven. Jesus knows you and loves you. If we remain in him, we must never fear, because for us too, every cross will turn into a resurrection, every sadness into hope, and every lament into dancing."


Here is the full text of the Pope’s homily.