Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Workshops, tomatos, and accepting gifts

This week I have two workshops with catechists. This is always a challenge and usually a delight.

Tuesday, I decided to start the meeting with a different style of prayer. First, I had everyone introduce themselves, telling where they are from. Then, I asked them to go around the circle and pray for the person at their right. I started.

It worked well and they really liked it. They had never done a prayer like that before!  I encouraged them to use it with the children and youth they work with.

Then we did a shortened lectio divina on the Lord’s Prayer. I read it slowly. I encouraged them to focus on the word or phrase that touched them and, if they wanted, to repeat it slowly in silence (and then come back to it during the day.) After about ten minutes I asked them to go around the circle and share the word or phrase.

It was touching.

Today, I had nothing to do in any of the villages and I had to wait for two people to come – only one showed. But it was a productive day - with a beautiful that I almost missed.  

But I spent the morning washing clothes since it was warm and sunny. I also made spaghetti sauce.

Yesterday, Santos from the neighboring village gave me a large bag of tomatoes. I know he was cultivating tomatoes and told him I’d like to buy a few. So what does he do? He gives me about 35 really nice tomatoes. 

Last night I made a plate of tomatoes, mozzarella cheese (made in Honduras), imported olives and olive oil, basil from the pot on my terrace, and a slice of whole wheat bread, made by the Central American/Mexican company Bimbo. Yes, Bimbo is the name of the company!

Today it was spaghetti sauce. That’s tomorrow’s meal after I get back from the catechists‘ workshop in a neighboring village.

Today has been good, though there have been two little frustrations, including the internet! But a gorgeous sunset made up for all that.

Gratitude and patience are the two virtues I need to nurture this Lent.

Gratitude is rather easy since life here is good, the warm weather is beginning, and the views are incredible.

And there’s also the generosity of the people.

Santos would not let me give him any money for the tomatoes.

A few days ago I asked Isaías, a twenty-year old neighbor, if he had any dulce de panela. Since his father’s death last year he’s been doing the sugar cane processing for the family’s sugar cane fields. He sends the sugar to Santa Rosa to be sold.

The other night he and a friend stopped by with the dulce. I asked him how much. He refused to take anything. This is to the first time he has refused money. He helped me with some things around the house and he refused the money I wanted to give him.

It is hard to really accept the generosity of the poor – but a grateful response is really essential to develop a spirituality of service and accompaniment.

I am to here to give – I am here to be with the people. That means receiving and giving, sharing and accepting without thinking of paying back.

That’s often a hard lesson – but critical.



A friend from Ames, Jane Misara, on reading the post, wrote on Facebook: "... it makes a person feel rich when they can share what they have."

I never thought to it that way but I think she is right. Even more, in the moment of sharing they show their "richness".

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The young are elected

I almost lost it this morning at Mass in Dulce Nombre. 

This is the first Sunday of Lent and the parish was celebrating the rite of acceptance of the catechumens who will be baptized at the Easter Vigil. 

About 96 young people from 21 towns and villages came – some in busses, some packed in pick ups, some walking. 

They have been in a formation process since last August, run by catechists in their villages. The quality of the formation is varied and the motivations for these mostly young people (over 14 years of age) are probably mixed. But I found it moving as they came forward and placed a card with their name on it in baskets, before the altar. I found myself close to tears. I had met some of them in November when they entered the catechumenate and I work with their catechists. 

One of the moist amazing tales is of the eight young people from Torera, a village that had no religious formation ever until this year. Now each Sunday a group comes from a nearby village for a Celebration of the Word and the formation of the catechumens. Real mission territory. I’ve been there twice – with the people from Plan Grande which is one of the communities that sends its “missionaries” to evangelize this almost abandoned village.

There are other villages. Granadillal arrived late. The bus they were on broke down and they had to seek other transportation – but they made it at nearly the last moment.

Padre German offering the names of the elect
After the rite, the catechumens – now called the elect – left the church to spend a short time together with me and other catechists.

As I did last year, I reflected on how Jesus had been tempted. We are all tempted. That is not sinful. But we need God’s help lest we “fall into temptation,” and the Spanish translation of the Lord’s Prayer puts it.

I had them write or draw a temptation and then they put the papers on the floor in the shape of the Cross to help them realize how Christ crucified and risen helps us resist and overcome temptation.

It was surprising, again, to realize how many of these young people cannot write.

Days like today give me hope and help me continue to long to serve these people even more.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Lent and the last month

Lent has begun here in Honduras – to overcast skies and some rain today.

In the parish, Ash Wednesday was different this year. Padre German had a Mass at 9:30 am (or so) in Dulce Nombre and had asked all the villages to send the person who would lead the Celebration of the Word in their village. After Mass they took ashes back to their villages.

I was supposed to take ashes and communion to two of the most remote villages. On the way out, in Candelaria, I heard a strange noise in the car and the dashboard lights came on. The one that most alarmed me was the light indicating that the battery was not re-charging. I did not want to get stuck in Debajiados or San Marcos Pavas with a dead battery.

I went to a mechanic in Dulce Nombre  who diagnosed it as the alternator – not the T-belt, as I had feared. But he couldn’t repair it and suggested I take the alternator to Santa Rosa – 30 minutes away. I went and had the alternator reconditioned. It cost a pretty penny.

Interestingly Rueben, the Dulce Nombre mechanic, was wearing a Nebraska beat Iowa t-shirt! (I hope it was the University of Iowa!)

However, I could not get to the villages and returned to Plan Grande at about 5:45 pm. I had a light dinner in the darkness since the lights were out (due to a truck taking down a light pole in Santa Rosa at 8 am).

Gloria had invited me to their celebration and when I got there asked me to preside at the celebration and give the reflection. The congregation was small due, I think, to the lack of light. People sometimes fear to leave their homes at night.

The lights finally came on this morning at 10:50 am.

The few weeks before Ash Wednesday have been rather full.

I accompanied Padre German to a number of communities where there were, in total, about 100 baptisms.

I helped facilitate two workshops for leaders of base communities from two zones of the parish and two workshops on liturgy from two other zones.

I accompanied the Eucharistic ministers in their monthly meeting.

But I’ve been spending a lot of time working on materials.

We have materials for baptism of infants, of kids between 7 and 13, and of catechumens (14 and older) as well as materials for confirmation. Now I’m working on materials for first communion – a year long program. I have about half of the themes finished and will distribute to the catechists at their training sessions in the coming two weeks.

But what has been really fun working on is the material for base communities. An idea of the diocesan social ministry was to have one saint of charity for each month, as a way to celebrate the Year of Charity in the diocese.

The materials they had prepared were very poorly prepared – mostly copy/paste. Padre German asked me to prepare stuff for our parish (and its 150 or so base communities).

I mostly used the Spanish translation of his incredible book All Saints.  The translation is really poor but it still helped me having to write all the material in Spanish – and making thousands of errors.

As usual, my approach is distinctive – with scriptural readings and questions for discussions in order to help the base communities relate the scripture and the saints to their daily lives.

Here are the saints for the rest of the months of this year:

March – Blessed Archbishop Oscar Romero (of El Salvador)
April – Saint Brother Pedro of Guatemala
May – Saint Isidore the Farmer and his wife, Santa Maria
June – Saint Anthony of Padua
July – Saint Isabel of Portugal
August – Saint Rose of Lima (Peru)
September – Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta
October – Saint Francis of Assisi
November – Saint Martin de Porres (Peru)
December – Our Lady of Guadalupe and Saint Juan Diego

Other works are still in process. It’s so good to be here, living in the midst of the parish.

Next Sunday we'll have about 100 catechumens participating in the rite of election in the parish. Another example of the good work of our catechists.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A glimpse of daily life

Today I spent all day in Plan Grande, working on various projects – and trying to get warm. But I stopped out in mid-morning to get some air and to see what was happening in the village.

I had heard a nearby mill that pressed sugar cane to extract the juice. I went to see if Isaías was processing sugar cane. He was there, working over the container that is use to boil the sugar cane juice to produce the raw sugar that he’ll sell later this week. We talked a bit and I warmed myself by the boiling cane juice.

I went back later and took this picture of the house where I live.

A few weeks ago I was in Dulce Nombre and stopped at the house of Isaías’ sister. His brother-in-law was working with some other men in his yard making horseshoes, one of Dulce Nombre’s major products.

I also see people involved in the coffee harvest. Up the road the mayor's sons are often processing the coffee beside their house. These days I’m also encountering a lot of people going or coming from the coffee harvest. Sometimes it’s a small group but at times there are a hundred or so people (including kids) crammed into a truck.

One of the joys of now living in the countryside is seeing the daily life of the people and accompanying them.

I think they also find it interesting to see this crazy gringo.

Today while making a salad a few guys who were waiting for pre-baptismal talks in the church meeting hall next door watched as I cut up the vegetables.

At times this can be challenging, especially when kids make a game of peering into windows on all sides of the house. Sunday night I was a little upset and was a little harsh with two kids, asking them not to be always peering into the house. About an hour later they arrived with eight plantains. I don’t know if it was a peace offering or what, but that’s part of living here.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

A death in Plan Grande

Last night I woke up at 4 am and heard some people talking nearby. I had no idea what was happening and so went back to sleep. I had planned on sleeping in.

I got up at about 6:30 am and noticed a group of men gathered at the corner near the school. I saw Juan, a neighbor who lives below my house, and asked him what had happened. He told me to come.

I went and found out that his mother had died last night and that they had an all night vigil in the main room of his house – as is the custom here.

Gloria had not seen lights on in my house and had decided not to call me, thinking I was tired. I was – but that wouldn’t have stopped me from stopping by for at least an hour. I told her to contact me whenever there is a death.

I prayed a bit at the coffin and spoke briefly with some family members.

Padre German came out for Mass about noon.

The Mass was in the old church, which is now used for meetings. The new church is being repainted (for the February 3 feast day) and so they couldn’t use it.

The church was packed.

Mass was moving. Padre German gave a very pointed homily. One point he stressed, probably noting the profound grief of some family members, was the importance of asking for help. He mentioned that Doña Victoria won’t get to the cemetery by herself; four men will carry her coffin.

There was much more that he shared, including words of hope based on our need to rely on the Lord.

But one of the most moving moments happened during the Greeting of Peace.

The widower is a bent-over man in his eighties; I don’t think he hears very well; I also thought that he was very withdrawn.

But he left his place and began to greet others. Then he stood by the casket.

Here the caskets usually have a window where one can see the face of the departed.

He stood there and gazed at his beloved.

As Padre was about to begin the rites at the coffin, he invited the widower forward and noted the beauty of the old man’s gesture.

I was near tears – such deep love.

The Mass ended and many went, walking or in pick ups to the funeral. I decided not to go – partly because I’ve got a little cold, partly because I need some personal space.

But as I walked by the new church toward my house in the rain, I noticed the small area of light in the distance.

Creation provided a sign of hope – reflecting the love of an old man for his wife.