Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Almost moved in

The year is winding down.

I am spending my last hours in the diocesan Caritas office, helping with evaluations and signing checks.

But I am mostly transporting things to the new house in Plan Grande.

Yesterday I went out in the afternoon with a load. I wanted to take advantage of the sunny weather.

But the roads in the countryside were still a mess, including slippery muddy areas and potholes which were about a foot deep (and muddy). Thank God (and some engineer) for four wheel drive. The municipalities were trying to fill in some of the holes with crushed rock. Who knows how long before they have to do it again.

I encountered more trucks than usual on the road, since it’s coffee harvesting season and many trucks are transporting coffee. One large truck was stopped with its load of coffee sacks precariously held onto the flat bed with rope. I passed with great trepidation.

The house is almost completely finished and I am moving things there, a pickup load a day. Later this week I’ll hire a few guys from Plan Grande to help me transport some bigger items.

I hope to be living there by Friday or Saturday. That way I’ll be able to get to Sunday Mass in the village (which they have once a month) and begin planning more for next year.

I will spend Christmas with the Dubuque Franciscan sisters in Gracias, Lempira – continuing a tradition I began in 2007.

The day after Christmas I will go to the meeting of the small coffee producers’ cooperative in El Zapote de Santa Rosa.

But I’ll probably spend much of my time preparing materials for next year – especially for catechists and the base communities of young people.

In the meantime, I'll be setting up the house - awaiting visitors.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Negligence corrected

I’ve been negligent for the past two weeks.  But then it has been Advent and I’m waiting.

The coffee season has begun in earnest. That means there’s not a lot of pastoral work for me. Many people in the Dulce Nombre parish are out harvesting coffee – and getting a fairly decent pay for the coffee picked. But unless someone is a master picker, most gain less than $10 a day.

It’s been cold and rainy and so that makes it even worse for them. But it’s almost the only source of cash for the people in this area.

The rain has also made the roads muddy and, at times, treacherous. Yesterday I went with Padre German and a visitor to El Bálsamo – a really distant village I first visited in June 2007, a few weeks after getting here. It was my first time back.

We could reach the village in Father’s pickup and so we dropped the car in a nearby village and walked the 4 kilometers to El Bálsamo – through deep mud! It was a good visit, even though my shoes and pants were covered with mud. It was also good exercise.

We did have a two day evaluation and planning meeting for the parish on December 5 and 6.

The achievements of the year are rather amazing:

This year there were about 80 received into the church in the catechumenate, hundreds of baptisms of infants and children, and more than 500 confirmations.

More than 100 catechists took part in workshops, as well as more than 100 delegates of the Word (who lead Sunday celebrations in their villages). There were also training sessions for leaders of base communities. Assistance from St. Thomas helped meet the costs of these workshops.

More than 176 young people received partial scholarships for the Maestro en Casa alternative education program for study beyond grammar school.

There are now more than 100 preparing for baptism at the Eater Vigil plus more than 500 kids between 7 and 13 preparing for baptism.

A special gift enabled Padre German Navarro the possibility of make some improvements in the parish infrastructure.

A Dulce Nombre parishioner donated 1.68 acres of coffee land to the parish; a gift from St. Thomas enabled the parish to buy an adjoining other 1.68 acres. In about two years the yield from these fields will help the parish become a little self-sustaining.

The coming year will continue to be full.

There will be four training sessions for catechists, a two day training session for delegates of the word (who lead the Sunday celebrations of the Word in their villages), a two day workshop for those in liturgical ministry, base community leaders will have workshops of Catholic Social Teaching and Social ministry, new Communion ministers will be selected and go through a training process, base communities of youths will be formed and their leaders trained.

And Padre German will continue to visit the 50 some villages and towns about every two months – in rain, mud, dust, mud, heat, mud, and floods.

With the assistance of St. Thomas Aquinas in Ames, for the third year there will be scholarships for students in the alternative education program called Maestro en Casa. There is also the chance that a small coop of small coffee farmers will be able to send high quality coffee to Ames and a few other places. More on that later.

I will continue to be involved in the parish and in formation and other projects. Thanks be to God (and my retirement savings) I will be living in the countryside in the village of Plan Grande in a house which I had constructed.

The house is larger than I thought – but, since it will go to the church when I die or leave (whichever comes first), it should be an asset to the parish.

I’m also offering it to some friends here (as well as friends from abroad) as a place of retreat. There are two guest rooms which I hope to see filled at last once a month.

The move to the countryside will put me in the middle of the parish and so better able to serve. It will also cut down driving time from Santa Rosa (a half hour each way) and cut out rent.

It is a new phase for my ministry and though I have a few regrets – I wont’ be able to get to Weekend’s Pizza so easily – I feel that it is another step on the road to better serve God and the poor here.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Advent signs of God's presence

Today is the first Sunday of Advent and so the first candle of the Advent wreath is lit in churches and homes throughout the world.

In the church in Dulce Nombre Padre German invited 101 year-old Nicolasa, the oldest parishioner in the town of Dulce Nombre, to light the candle. He mentioned that there is a 107 year old woman in one of the parish’s villages.

 The lighting of the Advent wreath was only a small part of today’s two hour Mass.

The major event was the reception of 103 101 mostly young people into the catechumenate.

Most of these young people have been preparing since August as part of the Christian Initiation of Adults. Never baptized as children, they themselves have decided to seek baptism. If they go through the process, they will be baptized and receive their first communion at the Easter Vigil next year and will be confirmed next September or October.

I have witnessed the rite of entry into the catechumenate several times in the US. This is only the second time we’ve celebrated it in the Dulce Nombre parish.

The rite begins at the church door where they are welcomed into the church.

They then proceed to the front of the church and are signed with the cross 

on the forehead, the ears, the eyes, the mouth, the chest, the back, the hands, and the feet.

signing of the eyes

signing of the mouth

signing of the hands

The ritual I ran across in Spanish didn’t have the signing of the feet – but I added it, remembering what was done at St. Thomas Aquinas.

Padre German asked the sponsors to kneel before their godchildren and sign their feet in this way. He emphasized that this is a sign of our call to service – to kneel before others.

I was deeply moved – as were several sponsors who told me how much this meant to them and how it reminded them of the call to service.

After the homily, the sponsors were asked to give a bible to their godchildren.

Then Padre German invited the sponsors to present them with a cross.

After this, the new catechumens left to reflect together with several catechists and me.

What a sign of God’s presence!

In his homily Padre German reminded us of another sign of God’s work.

He asked the catechumens from La Torrera to stand. Eight of them stood up.

He explained how the village had never had a priest visit until this year. At times they would go to San Agustín, which is not close.

But parishioners from the six villages of that sector of the parish began to “mission” in La Torrera. They came, had a celebration of the Word, and did some religious education. As a result some infants have been baptized and now eight young people are journeying toward their baptism.

This is a marvelous sign of what the Church is – a mission to those at the margins, inviting them to share in the life that Christ offers through the Church, in the sacraments.

I look forward to the coming year – as these young people journey to the Easter Vigil and as many other find their role in the Church as disciples and missionaries of the God who became flesh in Jesus among the poor.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Christ the King procession and Mass

It was a bit cold and rainy yesterday and today promises to be the same. A cold front, they call it.

This is normal for November, December, and early January. Yet there are often bright, sunny, and even hot days interspersed.

Last Sunday was warm and sunny – which was good for us as we celebrated the feast of Christ the King in the parish of Dulce Nombre with a procession from the outskirts of Dulce Nombre de Copán to Dolores – probably about three kilometers, partly uphill.

My guess is that over 2,000 people came from almost all the villages of the parish to celebrate this all-parish Mass. A few came with statues on decorated pickups.

The pickup with the parish statue of the Sacred Heart broke down and so the statue was carried up hill for more than a kilometer.

Mass was celebrated outside the church in Dolores, with most of the people standing or sitting in the town park.

The communion ministers came and were given a special insignia to wear when they take communion to the sick.

It was a good day to be with the people.

There was only one thing that I found a bit disconcerting. An older artist in Dolores had made an image of Christ the King that was placed above the stage where the altar was.

Take a look.

Jesus is a gringo.

Someone asked me about the image and I respectfully told him that Jesus was not a gringo. He was probably more like them – black hair, brown eyes, dark skinned.

A few months ago I had mentioned the same thing to a young artist in Dulce Nombre about an image he painted in the church. I also showed him a variety of images of Jesus. He recently finished repainting the image of Jesus – ‘más trigueño,” he told me: “more dark-skinned.”

A Christ poor and like the people here is the Christ I envision – a King who came to serve.