Friday, October 17, 2014

The faces of an emergency

This morning it’s raining lightly in Santa Rosa.

The torrential rains on Tuesday night wreaked havoc on Honduras. As I noted in a previous post, Padre German and I experienced some of it in the village of Las Caleras, a village in the parish of Dulce Nombre. (The village is almost completely evangelical.)

Wednesday, before I left for Santa Rosa, I checked back in Las Caleras and visited the devastation near the turn off to Dolores.

At the side of the road I talked with a man who was standing there, watching some of the work being done to restore the road. He motioned to the coffee field behind him. The landslide had destroyed 1,000 coffee bushes which were full of berries which would have been picked in a few months.

Yesterday I went out to check on the house in Plan Grande. I got a call from Caritas asking me to investigate the needs of people, since the national office of Caritas has some mattresses and kitchen kits in a warehouse in Tegucigalpa.

So I stopped in Candelaria on my way back. I ended up visiting four sites where there was damage from the landslides caused by the torrential rain on Tuesday night.

The hill behind one house had fallen and a house at the bottom of the hill, though standing, had been evacuated. The family had relocated to the house of a friend. But they had only been able to retrieve four mattresses for the eleven family members.

I also visited the house at the side of the road that we had seen on Tuesday night where the wall had fallen in. A group was working on the hill, hoping to prevent future problems.

As I was about to leave I encountered Luis, a 79 year old man who lived with his 11 year old son. Yes. That’s what he told me. He also told me that he was partly blind and deaf. I did have to speak loudly and slowly to be heard, but he got around fairly well.

He had lost his house to a landslide. I went there and found a stick and mud house (called bahareque).

He had no place to go and was camping out in a house which is being repaired.

Then I went to Las Caleras, the site of our Tuesday night “adventure.”

The river was back to its original course but there was still a large puddle of mud in the road.

With the help of three young girls as guides, I visited several houses that had sustained serious damage. Clothes and mattresses were wet and mud-covered. A wall had fallen down in one house.

The last house I visited was a tin shack. I first talked with a few of the children there but finally the fifty-seven year old mother came by. Berta told me that 12 people lived there. I managed to get the names and ages of nine of the children (who were probably both children and grandchildren). What struck me was that all of them slept on the floor. They had no mattresses.

It was hard to see all this. But it was important for me to be reminded of the faces of the suffering.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Rain, rain, go away

The dry season here was very long. It usually ends in May or June, but this year the rains didn’t begin in earnest until September. And it’s been raining incredibly hard on and off since then.

Yesterday I went with Padre German to two distant communities – Agua Buena  Concepción and Cerro Negro. We got a late start since there was a deanery  meeting in the morning. Mass at Agua Buena began at about 4:30 pm, but I did a presentation to the people starting at 4:00 pm on base communities and the triple ministry. During our time there, it rained so hard that I could hardly hear myself. 

When Mass was over we went to Cerro Negro and arrived there late; Mass began at 7:00 pm. Padre had me do a presentation after the Gospel. As I was finishing, the torrents came and we could do nothing for about 15 minutes. The noise was that loud. Padre sat in silence.

Finally Mass went on; we had dinner at a house nearby and left for Dulce Nombre – usually about 45 minutes from Cerro Negro.

Leaving Candelaria we saw a landslide on the right side of the road and some men standing there. We got out of the truck and went to see if we could pass. We could, but there had been a landslide on the left side of the road that took out the wall of a house.

We continued on. In Caleras we saw another landslide on the right side of the road, near a house.

Caleras is one of the poorest villages in the parish; it is also the village that is almost completely evangelical.

At the bottom of the hill in Caleras, near the evangelical church. where there is a crossroads, the road and small bridge were covered with water. Some guys told us we could pass and guided us – but we got stuck in the sand and the river that replaced the small stream.

Guys came out of the nearby houses and tried to push us out. We finally gave up. The twelve to fifteen young guys, with lots of testosterone, left.

Padre called and asked Marcia to see if there was some way to get a truck to pull us out. We sat back and waited.

However, the water was rising. We abandoned a car and went up to the porch of a poor house nearby – to seek some shelter with the pig and two dogs there.

The people in the house invited us in. They even offered us their only bed! Evangelical Hondurans offering a Guatemalan priest and a US missionary their beds. The generosity of the poor is amazing. 

After about half an hour we saw the lights of a car coming down the hill. It was the mayor with several policemen and a local reporter.

The mayor went and looked around the village, one of the poorest in the area. The water was almost knee deep in some places. We passed a house where the front wall had fallen.

But there was a lot of hidden damage. A young guy told me that about 6:30 pm the waters began rising rapidly and by 7:30 pm were inside many houses and the small evangelical church – which lost its instruments.

The water in one house had reached about two feet high – and that house was about 6 inches above the level of the road.

Note the water line.
The mayor’s truck finally pulled Padre’s car, which – thanks be to God – started.

We followed the mayor’s truck.

The police had told us that they had to cut some trees that had fallen in the road and blocked passage. We barely passed through one passage and saw some serious landslides.

The situation is still pretty precarious and I’m probably stuck in Dulce Nombre for another say. Padre lent me a pair of pants since my jeans were soaked (especially after I fell in the water!)

But the lives of the people are seriously affected. Some communities are incommunicado. Others have suffered major flooding. It will take some time for recovery.

This comes just a day after a major earthquake hit the region. I didn’t feel anything here but there was major damage to the road that goes to the Salvadoran border, near the village of El Portillo which sits on the continental divide.

Why has all this happened?

That’s another post but I’d suggest that some of the causes include climate change/global warming, poor practices of land management, cutting of coffee plants on hillsides, and cutting roads through hills and leaving cliffs without retention walls. This is not really a natural disaster - but one with human causes.

What’s the next step?

Monday, October 06, 2014

Holy Poverty

“Is there anyone here who has the dream of being poor?”

These are the words that began Padre German’s homily on Sunday in El Zapote de Santa Rosa.

The community was celebrating its patron saint, Francis of Assisi, on Sunday, since Padre German had gone to at least two other villages on October 4, the feast of St. Francis.

El Zapote de Santa Rosa Church

Padre German noted that Saint Francis did seek to be poor. He saw poverty as unfastening oneself from things. The Spanish word he used is “desprendimiento” which is sometimes translated as “detachment.” But I think, in the context of St. Francis, it might better be thought of as unfastening oneself.

We fear poverty, Padre German went on, for many reasons. We fear that no one will notice us or take us into account. We fear that we will die of hunger.

In the chapel of the Franciscan Sisters in Gracias 
I think I’d add that we want security, we want to have things our way and so we fear the insecurity of poverty. And so we seek to keep things – and getting more things to keep. An example Padre German gave was keeping clothes that we do not need or have outgrown or even keeping infant walkers even while the kids are 16 years old!

But Francis sought a Holy Poverty.

What was that?

First of all, I think it must be contrasted to what I’d call “perverse poverty,” the poverty which oppresses people, which keeps them down. It’s the poverty I see all around me, the poverty brought on by injustice, inequality, envy, and violence.

I think it must not be reduced to a spiritual poverty, where we only are detached in our minds from things. Nor should it be reduced to a poverty of solidarity.

For Francis, poverty was real. He didn’t go around with a backpack full of supplies. He insisted on working for his food and, when that wasn’t possible, begging.

He insisted on going out to the byways of the world, where people lived, and also to those marginal places, with lepers and other outcasts.

His poverty was real.

What does that mean for people like me?

It means not only solidarity, but also letting go and being concerned only about the necessary.

And what is the necessary here in western Honduras?

Being present to the people.

Being with them as they deal with poverty and violence.

Being with them as they begin little projects to make life better for them and their families.

Being with them and helping the world to see them in their joys and sorrows, in their successes and failures, in their struggles and pains.

What do I need to do this?


Presence with the people.


Over the altar in El Zapote, the people had placed three words that struck me as profound:

Francisco, hombre libre.
 Francis, a free man.

Francis was free to leave beyond all, including his social contacts, to live with his brothers in poverty, sharing the Good News with the poor.

Can I learn to be free like Francis?

Friday, October 03, 2014

More Confirmation photos

In Vega Redonda, October 3

En El Zapote de Santa Rosa, 3 de octubre

Thursday, October 02, 2014

A few confirmation pictures

In Dulce Nombre de Copan, September 30

 En San Agustín, el 1 de octubre

En Plan Grande, 1 de octubre

In San Isidro La Cueva,  October 2

En Quebraditas, 2 de octubre