Each year more than 50,000 people from the US visit Honduras on "Mission Trips." Most often these have a humanitarian dimension - bringing health care, building homes and schools, and more. I have some questions about them but that is for another post.
Some of these humanitarian groups have a very strong mission dimension, bringing Christianity to Honduras (where there are already many Catholics). There are also some groups that come exclusively to, as they might say it, "to spread the Gospel" or "save souls.
This afternoon in a grocery store in Santa Rosa de Copán there were three athletic looking young men. One was obviously from the US. We talked very briefly in the checkout line. He was in town for an evangelistic rally, with other athletes, as he said. We shared where we were from.
He asked me briefly what I do and I mentioned I was a lay volunteer with the local Catholic Church and did some formation work with people in the countryside.
Then he asked me if I knew I was going to heaven. My response, I hope so.
He didn’t say much more.
I felt offended. He does not know me. He does not know the people here and I’m almost sure he doesn’t speak Spanish.
But he had the presumption to ask me a question framed in his view of salvation.
What are he and his counterparts going to say and do with the Hondurans they encounter in their crusade?
Does he know that many of these people in our diocese put us US Christians to shame with their knowledge of scripture? I’m talking of Catholics who can cite the Bible, chapter and verse!
Does he know that these poor Catholics devote hours to their faith in Sunday Celebrations of the Word, in weekly meetings of their church base communities, and often also in Thursday Holy Hours before the Eucharist?
Does he know that they will walk hours for a special Mass or celebration or for a training session to help spread the faith?
Does he know that many have a strong sense of mission, visiting and inviting their neighbors to participate in their base community meetings?
Does he know that these very poor people give time and money to their church and to their communities?
Perhaps I am responding so strongly because I just got back from two meetings with coordinators of base communities to help them improve their meetings. Padre Efraín wanted me to help them understand the methodology of the booklet on Catholic Social Teaching they are using. But I used it more to help them improve their skills with facilitating the meetings.
It was much better than I expected, partly because some have been leading these groups for years and have a sense of the importance of letting all members of the meeting have a chance to share.
Again, these campesinos gave me courage and deepened my faith – by their witness of the Reign of God.
Of course, they are not perfect. But they are really signs of God’s love .
With them I think I get glimpses of what heaven is. And so my answer to the young man should have been:
“I am blessed by God to already see signs of heaven here – especially among the poor.”