Monthly Archives: July 2019

Massacre in Platanares, Suchitoto, El Salvador, 1980

It was about 11 am on July 25, 1980. They were meeting in the unfinished church in Caserío Los Leones, Platanares, Suchitoto, El Salvador –  a seminarian, Othmaro Cáceres, and thirteen young men.


The chapel in Los Leones, where Othmaro Cáceres and thirteen young men were killed.

Othmaro was to be ordained in a few months for the neighboring diocese of San Vicente.  He was from Platanares and often would return from his studies in Mexico. His brother noted how he would help with the labors, like any other campesino, milking cows and working with a cuma in the fields. The young people in the area looked up to him.


Photo of Othmaro Cáceres inthe hands of a family member.

The young people had taken a break in their meeting and were in the church, sharing candy, but Othmaro was outside. They were talking about their lives as well as about the construction of the new church building. They may have also been talking about plans for Othmaro’s ordination.

Othmaro had just left the chapel when Ventura’s troops arrived, coming from two sides – the road and the fields. He heard shots and hid in the grass. When he thought the troops were gone, he entered a nearby house. But they had not yet gone and caught him there. “You’re the one we’re looking for,” they said and accused him of being a guerrilla leader. He asked them to wait a bit and went down on his knees. He asked God for forgiveness and was then shot. They then attacked his body with machetes. He died of several shots in the chest; afterwards his head was destroyed by blows of a machete.

The other young people were also killed.

This massacre is one of many that happened in El Salvador in the 1970s, 1980s, until the end of the civil war in 1992. Many like Othmaro Cáceres were people of faith, martyred for their commitment to God and the people. Others were like many of the youth killed with him. Some were very involved with the church. A few may have been allied with the opposition forces but most were probably sympathetic to the opposition. Some of them were probably active in their communities, perhaps building underground shelters for friends and family to provide some shelter when the government bombed the area or initiated military incursions into the region.

In the midst of this, they had come together with a friend in walls of a structure they were building to be a House of God in their community.

Victims of war and oppression by a government that had the backing of the US government. But their faith, their resilience can give us strength – as the forces of evil still roam this world.


Procession to the site of the massacre for a memorial Mass,about 2001.


The Good Central American Samaritan

A sermon for the north for the fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C
Luke 10; 25-37

More than fifteen years ago, St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Ames was planning to expand its offices and worship space. In the gathering space there was an empty two story wall. The committee decided to seek a local artist who was a parishioner to create a “Story Wall” – combing images of scripture and sacraments with the life of the parish.

Jo Myers-Walker took up the project, using clay images that were mounted on the wall. She sought input from many people and involved many parishioners in the project, some of whom make the clay that she fashioned into images.

One day I stopped by her studio and we talked about one image – the Good Samaritan.

Jo was going to portray me as the good Samaritan, knowing of my work with the poor and especially with the poor of El Salvador. No, I said. The Good Samaritan is the Central American.


All too often we fail to realize that the Good Samaritan was the outsider, the impure outsider. The pure priest and levite pass by – perhaps to preserve their ritual purity. But the Samaritan saw the man who fell among the robbers. He stopped and, moved with compassion, touched his wounds, and took him to a place of rest.

The Samaritans were looked down on by the Jewish leaders. They followed the Torah but didn’t worship in Jerusalem and had other customs. So, when Jesus made the Samaritan the example of what loving one’s neighbor means, he was shaking up the world of his followers.

The outsider heals the wounded – even if the wounded is the insider.

In my experience, the outcasts, the foreigners, the immigrants, have healed me and continue to help making me whole and holy. They make me realize that I need them. I cannot live and flourish without them, without their help that saves and cures me.

That is very clear for me here in Honduras. The poor almost always offer you something to eat. They have helped me repair my car when it’s broken down. They have even opened me to new understanding of scripture.

There are rumors that this weekend ICE will be making massive raids on immigrants, largely Central Americans, preparing to deport them.

And Catholics will be hearing the Gospel of the Good Samaritan at Mass. Will you make the connection?

I will not deliver this homily anywhere, but I wanted to share my reflections with the wider world.

Forgiveness and forestry – St. John Gualbert

On a hill in Florence there is the beautiful Romanesque church of San Miniato. He was, according to the legends, Saint Minias was a royal Armenian in the Roman army. He converted to Christianity and became a hermit near Florence. Denounced to the authorities, he refused to abandon his faith. After tortures he was beheaded, about 250 AD. Like Saint Denis of Paris, he is said to have picked up his head and carried it to the site of his tomb.


San Minato, Florence


Interior of San Miniato


But the monastery is also important in the life of another saint of Florence, St. John Gualbert. He lived a frivolous life until an event one Good Friday.


Altarpiece of Saint John Gualbert, in Santa Croce Church Florence

His only brother Ugo had been killed shortly before. Entering Florence with some armed men, he ran across his brother’s murderer. The man opened his arms in the form of a cross and asked for mercy, reminding John that it was Good Friday. John let the man go.

He then went up to the church of San Miniato. Praying before the crucifix he saw Christ bowing his head as the murderer had done. He cut off his hair and soon joined the Benedictine monastery.

This example of breaking the cycle of revenge was very important for his culture, as it is for Honduras. This then is a good day to pray for an end to violence of revenge.

(A side note: revenge is such a problem here because there is no effective judicial system and so there is little follow-up to violent crime. The criminals get off – sometimes with a bribe, but often due to people’s fear of making public charges.)

John entered the order but after accusing the abbot and bishop of corruption, most notably simony, and desiring a more vigorous monastic life, he left. He eventual founded a branch of Benedictines, known as Vallambrosians, after the name of the place where he established his monastery

At Vallambrosa, he had his monks plant trees. He is the patron saint of parks, park rangers, and foresters. Maybe we should look to him as the patron saint of reforestation.

(Another side note: According to one report, the Vallambrosans left manual work to the lay brothers, a practice which I feel is an error and a deviation from the wisdom of St. Benedict who called his monks to “Pray and Work” – “Ora et labore.”)

He died on July 12, 1073; he was about 80 years old.

May he intercede for Honduras and for all those places in our world where revenge and deforestation are serious.


Apse mosaic, San Miniato

Photos taken by John Donaghy, February 8, 2013








Popular religiosity – the devotion of the people

Processions, novenas, Christmas cribs, patron saint day celebrations, Stations of the Cross in the streets, posadas, rosaries, and more – not quite the experience of the twenty-first century church in the United States. But here in Central America and in many parts of the world, faith is celebrated not only with the Eucharist and the sacraments, but with the devotional practices of the people in their villages.

In our parish, Fr. German Navarro, does make an effort to have Mass in each of the fifty or so churches every two months. But he also is a grand promoter of popular piety.

Here are photos of some of the practices in our parish.


The parish has a parish-wide celebration of the Stations of the Cross in Dulce Nombre, the seat of the parish. The celebration is on the Friday before Palm Sunday which had been the traditional feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. In the last few years we have had a number of different social themes for the stations. The people come with signs to illustrate the theme. The people in Dulce Nombre erect altars and often make alfombras, carpets of colored saw dust.




A kindergarten prepared one of the altars.



Holy Week

Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday there is a procession before the Mass. One year they found a donkey.




Holy Thursday

In at least one church, in Concepción,they make a sawdust carpet in the church before the Mass or Celebration of the Word.


Good Friday

In almost every village there are Stations of the Cross in the morning and then the liturgical Service of the Passion and the Veneration of the Cross in the afternoon.

At least twice I’ve been in Debajiados for either the Stations of the Service of the Passion.

During the Stations, I have seen some kids making small cross of two sticks.



The devotion expressed by people during the Veneration of the Cross moves me deeply – especially in places of intense poverty.


Corpus Christi

Corpus Christi, the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, is celebrated two weeks after Pentecost.

In the past few years the Forty Hours devotion has preceded the Mass or Celebration of the Word with Communion, where there is a priest, deacon, or extraordinary minister of Communion. The devotion began in Europe; the forty hours represent the time that Jesus was in the tomb between his burial and resurrection.

The people decorate the altar and expose the Host in a monstrance. People come and pray during the forty hours.


Altar of exposition in Plan Grande

At the end of the forty hours, there is usually a procession followed by Mass or a Celebration of the Word with Communion. The procession often is at least an hour long.


Between Oromilaca and Dolores  a few years ago – almost two hours


Oromilaca, 2019

The people prepare altars for the procession where they stop and pray – often with a theme. Last year it was the Care of Creation; this year it was Youth.


San Antonio El Alto, 2019

Patron Saint Feast Days

Every town and village has a patron saint. It is usually celebrated with a novena – nine day of prayer, followed by a Mass on the feast day. In many places the feast day celebration begins with firecrackers and hymns at 4 or 5 am. After Mass, many places serve tamales.

Dulce Nombre de María – September 12

The big feast here is The Holy Name of Mary on September 12. The villages which have Mary as a patron bring their statues, mounted on the back of pick-ups, for the procession – which proceeds with hymns, prayers (especially the Rosary), and fireworks, before proceeding to the main church for Mass.



San Antonio de Padua – June 13

Saint Anthony of Padua is one of the most important saints for our parish. There are ten churches named in his honor. I know; this year the pastor was gone for the feast and so I had nine Celebrations of the Word with Communion over three days. I missed one place since they had not contacted me.


Procession in San Antonio El Alto


San Antonio Dolores


Distributing St. Anthony’s bread and coffee after the celebration in San Antonio Dolores

Saint Isidore the Farmer – May 

San Isidro Labrador is celebrating in several villages, since he is the patron of farmers. He is often invoked praying for rain – which has been very scarce this year.


Three years ago, in Yaruconte, Mass was celebrated, very appropriately in a farm building.


Saint Joseph the Worker – May 1

La Colonia San José Obrero celebrates with a procession and a Mass. This year I was able to find them a small statue of Saint Joseph the Worker that they carried in the procession. They also had a small music group leading the song during the procession.



Saint Francis of Assisi – October 4

Saint Francis is also a popular saint with at least three communities under his protection.

The day of his feast day or the night before there are processions.


Procession in Delicias, Concepción


Delicias, 2017, with an environmental theme.


El Zapote Santa Rosa, planting trees, 2015


El Zapote 2015 – with my stick violin


The posadas are a tradition in much of Central America. During the ten days before Christmas – or, as in our parish, for the whole month of December, people go in procession with images of Mary and Joseph, seeking shelter, as the Holy Family did in Bethlehem years ago. In a few places two people are dressed up as Mary and Joseph.

The people knock at a door and there is a hymn that alternates between the people outside and those within. It ends with people coming inside, praying sharing something to eat and drink.


Plan Grande 2015


Plan Grande 2015


Concepción, December 24, 2016

Christmas cribs – nacimientos

Making a Christmas crib is not just buying something at the store; there are nacimientos in the churches. In the main church the image of the baby Jesus is enshrined there – with incense – at the Midnight Mass.


In the Church of Dulce Nombre 2018


In the church of Concepción, 2016

But sometimes people make elaborate shrines in their homes, including these two from Quebraditas taken several years ago.


Quebraditas 2013


Quebraditas 2013 – note Barbie and Winnie the Pooh

There are lots more examples of popular religiosity. But this should give you a taste – and an overview, just in our parish of Dulce Nombre.