Monday, April 14, 2014

The Passion amid the palms

Yesterday I read a blogger wonder why the Passion is read on Palm Sunday.

I know there must be liturgical reasons, but I think it’s because we need to be reminded of the reality of the passion, especially in the lives of persons.

The Palm Sunday processions here, on the streets of cities, towns, and villages, are often great manifestations of Catholicism, which – I fear – may sometimes verge on triumphalism.

Christ is acclaimed as King. But sometimes he is made to look more like the kings of this world who use violence to enforce their will and their decrees.

Sunday in Dulce Nombre we had a procession through the streets – with palms and songs.

The blessing started in a field about a kilometer from the church.


Then we marched, amid songs to the church, many of them proclaiming Christ as King.

At Mass the Passion was read and Padre German gave a short homily (only about 15 minutes).

“When a man or a woman suffer, Christ is still suffering his Passion,” he said. Where there is bloodshed, where people are made fun of, when the just are beaten down, there we find Calvary. The passion of the people is the passion of Christ.

This reminded me of a quote from Thomas Merton in A Vow of Conversation:
We have to see history as a book that is sealed and opened only by the Passion of Christ. But we prefer to read it from the viewpoint of the Beast. We look at history in terms of hubris and power — in terms of the beast and his values. Christ continues to suffer his passion in the poor, the defenseless, and his Passion destroys the Beast. Those who love power are destroyed together with what they love. Meanwhile, Christ is in agony until the end of time.
When we concentrate only on the Hosannas, we miss the suffering around us. We can look to a “god” who really is not the God who loves the poor.

But when we recognize God in the humble one, seated on a donkey, a burrito in Spanish, we can recognize God in the poor and respond in love.


More photos from Palm Sunday in Dulce Nombre can be found here.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Out of control

To calm any concerns, I am not out of control, nor do I feel in danger. I am as committed to being here as I ever have – and perhaps more so. I am seriously looking forward to moving out to the countryside so that I can work more in the parish of Dulce Nombre.

But the “authorities” here are out of control. As a result the people, especially the poor, suffer.

Yesterday I wrote on the blog of my experiences with police and soldiers, here

This morning I told a priest friend of mine about my encounter with the armed police. He told me that last night, returning about 6:30 pm from Mass in a village a car pulled over in front of him blocking the road and three guys jumped out with guns pointed at the car.

They were police. And even though the car had red and blue flashing lights on the top of the cabin, they were not illuminated. Who would have known they were police, especially in the dark?

A policeman told him to get out of the car. He told them that he was the priest of the parish and they let him go.

That is not the way to promote confidence in the police or give people a sense of security. It provokes fear, since one doesn’t know if they are police or robbers, or police who will rob you. This is no way to provide for greater security for the people of Honduras. It is another way to inculcate fear – in the common people, not in the criminals.

But that’s now the only way the country is out of control.

Someone told me that someone in Dulce Nombre denounced car thieves to the Fiscalía – the prosecutors office. The men were arrested and put in jail. But they were released shortly – after money exchanged hands, perhaps 50,000 lempira ($2,500). But what’s worse is that the name of the person who made the denunciation was given to the thieves who were released.

What a great way to undermine any hope for denunciation of crimes in the future. Who will have the courage to denounce a crime when the authorities will give the criminals your name?

All this is happening as Holy Week begins. As Padre German said at Mass this morning, the Passion of Christ is continuing in the suffering of the people here - and in many parts of the world: "While a man or woman is suffering, Christ is still suffering His Passion."

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Stopped by police and soldiers

For Holy Week the Honduran government is putting more soldiers and police on the streets. A show of “force” that they say will make things safer.

I am not convinced. And my experiences today make me doubt this even further.

I go out to the parish of Dulce Nombre at least three times each week. At the turn off to Gracias there is almost always a police checkpoint . In the last year and a half it has been manned by both police and military – often about 4 policemen (occasionally one woman) and 6 or more soldiers. Now there seem to be two police and six to eight soldiers.

I get stopped about once every six times I pass. Usually they just ask for my license and car registration. Occasionally when they see me, a gringo, they wave me on. A few call me padre, thinking I’m a priest.

Today was quite different. I was pulled over at the Gracias turnoff checkpoint. and had to show my documents.

Then when I turned into the road to Dulce Nombre I was pulled over again by the military there. One claimed I was going too fast. I thought he was going to give me a ticket (but, as a soldier, I don’t think he can). He had me get out of the car and he and another soldier looked into the front and back seat. I then was asked if I had a weapon. “Only a bible,” I said, probably to his confusion.  Then he let me go on.

I felt that he was rather rude. I also wondered whether he was subtly hoping for a bribe.

After a meeting with the council of zone 3 of the parish in El Zapote de Santa Rosa, I headed back to Santa Rosa, partly because there was a strange sound in the motor.

Between El Zapote and Plan Grande, there is a road on the ridge of the hills – with exquisite sites. But it’s very isolated, with no houses anywhere nearby.

Near where I was stopped by the police

I saw a car coming and noted the police markings. As I approached the police car moved to the middle of the road and stopped. (The road is so narrow that you have to get over to the far right to have two cars pass.) 

The police car stopped and several police came out – one with his rifle aimed toward the window of the car. I remained very calm, calmer than I thought possible. One policeman came and asked where I was coming from. Finally I was allowed to go forward.

As I stopped, even before the police came toward my pick-up, I felt a bit uneasy. Just a few weeks ago a priest in the south of Lempira was beat up by police after they fired on his vehicle.

And so I, like many Hondurans, have little confidence in the police. In some places, they are involved in crime and in drug trafficking. I also seldom see them really involved in activities that protect the people.

All this is after major investment in the purification of the police forces in the last year or so and in the light of the current president’s plan to obtain security by using more military in police functions.

There is, though, an interesting end to today’s encounters.

As I approached the Dulce Nombre turn off, leaving the area, I was pulled over again. This time a different soldier came to the car and asked where I was going and then asked for my documents. As I reached for them, he told me to go on. Then he said, “Gracias por ser amable.” – “Thanks for being friendly.”

As I drove on, I wondered how often he had encountered persons who were very angry and rude to him. 

Several things come to mind as I reflect on today’s experiences.

I, with my white skin, don’t experience the hassle that many Hondurans experience at the hands of the authorities.
In the US we white men usually see the police as our friends and protectors. Not so here. Sadly, because of the system, that is not the experience of most poor Hondurans.

The Honduran government is trying to show force instead of working on the real changes needed to provide more security for the people. The police and soldiers are poorly trained and are sent to places where their actions may be misunderstood and where they may experience the disdain of the people.

Finally, on a personal note, I was, somehow, able to maintain calm, even when I saw a rifle pointed at me. I also thank God that I was able to treat them with respect (despite what I might be thinking.) 

God is good.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Walking the Way of the Cross in Dulce Nombre

The Stations of the Cross are a Catholic devotion, accompanying Jesus from his condemnation by Pilate to his burial in the tomb. A few years ago I walked the original Way of the Cross in Jerusalem, but each year I usually accompany some communities with the Stations in the streets of their villages.

This year the Dulce Nombre parish celebrated the Way of the Cross in the street of Dulce Nombre de Copán. Several hundred people from all over the parish gathered for the four hour procession, followed by Mass.

The cross of alcohol abuse
This year has been a hard year for the parish. The economic situation is poor, especially due to the roya that affected much of the coffee crop. The security situation has worsened with a large number of murders (usually targeted) in the parish. There has been one kidnapping recently. There is a lot of concern about alcohol and drugs. A number of young people have left to try to get to the US to better the lives of their families and several have been deported back to Honduras. Padre German is trying to help the parish reorganize in order to have strong faith formation and functioning base communities – and it has not been easy. Some people have been a bit upset (since their power was threatened.)

Therefore it was good to see so many people to come to pray the Stations.

For the stations we edited a text describing the station, and then added a scripture quotation and a quote from martyred Salvadoran Archbishop Monseñor Oscar Arnulfo Romero. Then we had three petitions, which were based on the reality of the parish.

Padre German had also asked people to bring crosses with the photos or names of people who had been murdered in the parish. The village of Montaña Adentro brought four crosses, three with photos. There were two crosses from Zone 3 of the parish with about 10 names.

At the twelfth station, Jesus dies on the cross, we left a time for people to mention those murdered. After the names on the crosses were read, we asked others to add names. There must have been about eight to ten more names of murdered, at least one from a few years ago.

I found myself greeting a lot of people, but I especially spent time hugging or standing near people from Montaña Adentro, including the wife and sons of one person killed (whom I knew) and the mother and brother of a seventeen year old who had been killed. All I could do at one time was to put my arm around one of the young men as his eyes filled with tears. This was a small way to accompany them in their sorrow.

Padre German was clear in his remarks at each station in his condemnation of violence and what causes the violence. He spoke very strongly about domestic violence.

But he also spoke of the importance to maintain the risen Lord as a source of hope in the midst of all this sorrow and tribulation.

The Mass was very simple, celebrated outside on the steps.

Children from Bañaderas with the Black Christ of Esquipulas
Children from the village of Bañaderas brought a crucifix that had been donated for the church. It is the image of the Black Christ of Esquipulas. In a society that is racist and classist, it moves me to see that image.

The families from Montaña Adentro brought the four crosses commemorating their dead and placed them in front of the altar.

It was a moving and prayerful morning – and I am so glad I could be there with the people.

I’ll be with another community on Good Friday morning for their celebration of the Way of the Cross. We’ll again use the stations we prayed today – since Padre German has asked the villages to use the stations in their Good Friday prayer.

The text of the Via Crucis in Spanish is available here.

More photos of the Via Crucis can be found here

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Stations of the Cross in Dulce Nombre

This Friday the Dulce Nombre parish will celebrate the Stations of the Cross in the streets of Dulce Nombre de Copán.

Until 2012, there were diocesan stations of the cross on the Friday before Holy Week, which used to be celebrated as the feast of our Mother of Sorrows.

Madre Dolorosa - Santa Rosa de Copán
Padre German asked me to prepare the text, using quotes from the martyred Salvadoran archbishop Monseñor Oscar Romero as well as a text one of the Oblatas al Divino Amor had passed on to him. He also asked me to write petitions related to the concerns of the parish.

I finished it - at least in first draft - this morning.

Here's where you can find the text - in Spanish: click here. It's a large document in PDF, with drawings by Cerezo Barredo.