Category Archives: Honduras

Going where we do not expect

Come over to Macedonia and support us.
Acts 16: 9

 I never expected to spend almost seven years in Honduras – and probably live here until God calls me elsewhere.

A 2006 service trip with students to New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina opened up something in me.

I applied for an opening in El Salvador, a country which I had visited every year since 1985. I was interviewed and the Des Moines-based committee wanted me to go to be interviewed by the Salvadoran staff.

But soon after the New Orleans trip I had written to a friend, Dubuque Franciscan sister Nancy Meyerhofer, if I might be of help there. She told me that when I came on a planned visit in May I should speak to the bishop.

The Saturday before I was to see the bishop was the Saturday of the fifth week of Easter, with today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles.

Paul seemed to be trying to figure out where he should go to preach the Gospel. But the Spirit prevented him from going to some places in Asia Minor (now western Turkey). The places weren’t bad places to go, but God had something else in mind. At night, Paul had a vision of a man from Macedonia who told him to come to Macedonia to help.

In some ways my days in Honduras in May 2006 were like Paul’s vision: “Come to Honduras to support us.”

Sometimes God calls us where we hadn’t planned to go. And so I am in Honduras.

“Why Honduras,” some have asked me, “and not El Salvador where you have connections and emotional ties?”

Only God really knows but for me Honduras is poorer and has less solidarity than El Salvador.

And so I am here. Thanks be to God.



The Book of Lamentations was for many years central to Vigils of the Liturgy of Hours for Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. The sadness of the prophet Jeremiah over the destruction of Jerusalem were connected with the Passion and Death of Jesus.

There are many beautiful, haunting musical renditions of the Lamentations, which I will be listening to during the next few days.

This year Holy Week feels more like a time of lamentation than I’ve felt in many years. Some of this is personal, but much is related to the reality the poor face here in Honduras.

So, this morning, reading Jeremiah in the Vigils reading from Benedictine Daily Prayer I was moved by these words of Jeremiah 8: 21-22 (NRSV translation):

For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt.
I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me.
Is there no balm in Gilead?
Is there no physician there?
Why then has the health of my poor people
not been restored?

Jeremiah is writing in the context of the destruction of Jerusalem that arose as a result of the sinfulness of the people, but still his deep grief speaks to me in a situation where, all too often, the poor and innocent suffer.

But I don’t feel overcome in the face of the pain. Despite the grief, I find a deep peace within me.

More than anything else, I feel the challenge of the first line of today’s reading from the third Servant Song of Isaiah 50:4 (NAB translation):

The Lord God has given me a well-trained tongue,
that I might know how to speak to the weary
a word that will rouse them.

I pray that I may be a presence with the people the next three days that will help them experience the hope of the Risen Lord, in the midst of our grief.


Light to those in darkness

I read today’s reading from Isaiah with a heavy heart.

People here in Honduras are suffering. The economy is poor; the coffee harvest is poor and the prices are low; taxes have been raised; the cost of the basic food basket is rising; violence continues and the new president thinks that a military police is the solution; there are fears of a devaluation of the currency; and more.

The people are walking in darkness.

But Isaiah promises that

The yoke that was weighing them down,
the heavy bar across their shoulders,
the rod of the oppressor –
these you have broken…

The yoke of poverty, the bar of inequality, the rod of repressive economic and political policies burden our people here.

And it’s worse than I thought.

This week I was talking with the pastor of the parish where I work. Many people, he said, many be losing their homes or their lands because of their debts.

People take out loans at the beginning of the year in the hope that the harvests – especially the coffee harvest – will yield enough to pay them back, But this year with many fields of the poor devastated by the roya fungus and with prices lower than they have been in several years, cash is hard to come by, even if one hires oneself out for the coffee harvest of the large landowners.

But the promise if Isaiah is that these burdens have been broken.

The words of Gustavo Gutiérrez speak to me:

“I do theology as one who comes from a context of deep poverty, and thus for me, the first question of theology is how do we say to the poor: God loves you?”

How do we tell them of the Good News of God’s love?

Jesus, after the darkness of the imprisonment of John the Baptist, goes out “proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom [of Heaven], and curing all kinds of sickness and disease among the people.” (Matthew 4: 23)

How can we be signs of the Kingdom, bringing healing and hope?

That is my challenge for the year.


The quote from Gustavo Gutiérrez is taken from In the Company of the Poor: Conversations with Dr. Paul Farmer and Fr. Gustavo Gutiérrez, a book I strongly recommend.



Peace in Syria and throughout the world


Just before the 1991 Gulf War Pope John Paul II offered this prayer:

O God, great and merciful,
Lord of peace and life, God of all,
You, whose designs are for peace and not for affliction,
condemn wars and devastate the pride of the violent.
You sent your son Jesus to proclaim peace to those near and far,
to reunite people of all races and descent in a single family.
Hear the unanimous cry of your children,
the sorrowful entreaty of all humanity:
Never again war, adventure without return;
Never again war, spiral of struggle and violence;
Never this war in the Persian Gulf,
threat to your creatures in the sky, on earth and in the sea.
In communion with Mary, the Mother of Jesus,
we continue to implore you:
Speak to the hearts of those in charge of the destiny of peoples;
Stop the logic of retaliation and revenge;
Suggest with your Spirit new solutions,
generous and honorable gestures,
spaces for dialogue and patient waiting,
which are more fruitful than rushed deadlines of war.
Grant to our times days of peace.
No war ever again.

We could change only a few words and pray it today, in the face of threatened attacks by the US on Syria.

No to war! No to attacks on civilians by any party! No to US bombs on the Syrian people!

Yes to peace! Yes to nonviolent solutions! Yes to active compassion for the victims of war!

I’ll be praying and trying to fast from solids as I go out to the countryside to be with two meetings of sectors of the parish. I’ll be asking them to pray with the rest of the world for peace in Syria – but also for peace in Honduras, where violence also abounds.


The Cross and Father Guadalupe Carney

Take up the cross, Jesus says in today’s Gospel (Mark 8: 27-35).

Jesus had just told the apostles that he would suffer and be killed. Peter objected. Jesus is harsh in his reply, “Get behind me, Satan.”

But reading Gustavo Gutiérrez’s commentary (in Sharing the Word through the Liturgical Year) provides a way to see that this is not really that harsh – though it is not easy.

“Satan” means “the one who hinders.” To “get behind” can mean to follow, to be a disciple. So Jesus may be telling people – and us – to stop hindering God’s ways (which involves the cross) and follow him as a true disciple.

This is not easy – since we often look for an easy Christianity. We are afraid of the cost of discipleship.

It will mean suffering, because it means giving ourselves to God and in service to others. We will fail, at times. But as Gutiérrez notes,

The Lord will forgive our faults along the way, but he continues to call us to total fidelity which must be translated into solidarity with others, especially with the poor and forgotten.

About this date in 1983, Father James “Guadalupe” Carney, who had been a Jesuit missionary in northern Honduras, was killed by being thrown out of a helicopter by Honduran troops.

He had been stripped of his Honduran citizenship for his outspoken criticism of the injustice he saw among the campesinos where he worked in the departments of Colón and Yoro. (Sad to say this zone is still a place where injustice reigns.)

He went to Nicaragua and stayed there for several years. He connected up with a small Honduran guerrilla group and accompanied them as chaplain when they entered Honduras. They were captured and killed. Though I have problems with his connections with a violent group, I can see his point that government soldiers have chaplains and so should those who oppose the government.

But it is not his connection with the armed opposition that inspires me. Rather, his years of living with and serving the poor are an inspiration, a way of taking up the cross and following Christ.

As he once wrote:

To love Christ really is to try to live as He lived. If I love the poor as Christ did, I, too, freely choose  to become one with them, live with them, share their lives, besides trying to use my talents to help and teach them… He freely chose to become one of the masses of poor people of the world, of the eighty percent of the world who ‘have not,’ rejecting the comfortable life of the twenty percent who ‘have’ (even though he loved them too). And he tore into the system and those that held the masses in the bondage of ignorance and poverty….And he was killed for it. To be killed for my following of Christ would be my greatest joy too….

The joy comes not from suffering or being killed, I believe, but from following Christ with the poor. May we all find ways to do this – and rejoice in God’s love and solidarity with the poor, recognizing that faith without works is dead, as James writes in today’s second reading (James 2: 14-18)


Five years of mission

On June 13, 2007, I arrived in Santa Rosa de Copán, Honduras, to begin my ministry with the diocese. Five years later, I can say that it was one of the best things that ever happened to me in my life.

It “happened” to me.

I did not plan to be here in Honduras, but God has a way of calling us out of our complacency and challenging us.

I was content with my ministry at St. Thomas Aquinas Church and Catholic Student Center in Ames, Iowa. I loved working with students in campus ministry and with the whole parish in the social justice ministry. I had some connection with the poor and even with the third world poor, through yearly visits to El Salvador.

But a 2006 spring break trip to New Orleans with St. Thomas folks shook all that up.

We were cleaning out houses damaged by hurricane Katrina.

At one house we met the owner, Sondra, an African-American woman in her early sixties. She had raised her children and grandchildren in the house which had been under more than three feet of water for weeks. Everything was devastated by mold. As we brought all her possessions out to the curb to be hauled away, she stood there – serene, tranquil, sustained by her faith.

Later I reflected that as we emptied out her house, something was emptied out in me and I was opened to the possibility of a real change.

I returned from New Orleans and began looking into the possibilities of offering myself to the diocese of Santa Rosa, where a good friend – Sister Nancy Meyerhofer – was working.

A visit in May 2006 with the bishop, Monseñor Luis Alfonso Santos, opened up the possibilities and  within a  year I arrived here.

Since arriving what I’ve been doing keeps changing, but what really gives me life is my work with people in the countryside – visiting their villages, helping in the formation programs for the pastoral workers, praying and celebrating with them.

It has been a gift to me  and has given me great joy. I feel this is where God wants me.

I am often asked by people here how long I’ll be here. My response is “hasta que Dios quiera” which is my translation of “until God calls me somewhere else.”

And so I continue here – with joy, with a renewed sense of commitment, with hopes of being “good news to the poor.”

I came with the sense of being called to be of service to those most in need. May this vision sustain me and my I become even more a servant of the poor.

The Body of Christ

Today the Catholic world celebrates the feast of Corpus Christi, the Body and Blood of Christ.

The feast originated in the thirteenth century but expresses the faith of the Church in the presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

Here in Honduras there will be processions in the streets, as an expression of their deep devotion to the Eucharist. I’m going out to the village of Dolores where people will be walking in from neighboring villages for Mass and procession.

It is important, though, to remember that the presence of Christ in the Eucharist is not the only place we encounter Christ.

In The Word Encountered, Fr. John Kavanaugh, S.J., quotes C. S. Lewis, “Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.”

Last year I was in El Zapote de Santa Rosa for Mass and procession, a chance to encounter some of the holiest objects – the Eucharist and the poor – as you can see in this photo.

May Christ touch us today, in the Eucharist and in the people we meet, especially the poor.




Discerning the call to Honduras

In May 2006 I visited Honduras. In March a spring break work trip with parishioners in the parish where I was working took us to New Orleans. There I was moved to consider whether I should move on to something different, something more.

El Salvador was one possibility and I applied for a position there. But letters I had been reading from a friend in Honduras led me to consider the possibility of offering my services there.

I wrote Sister Nancy about my thoughts and she urged me to come, visit her,  and talk with the bishop. I agreed.

After a visit with friends in El Salvador and a visit to the site of the possible position there, I crossed into Honduras.

I shared a few days with Nancy before visiting with the bishop who welcomed me to come but advised me that the diocese had no money for me.

But on the Saturday before seeing the bishop I went with Nancy to a rural village in the parish of Gracias, Lempira, where she serves.

The lectionary readings that day are those used today.

The first reading is Acts 16: 1-10. Paul and Timothy cannot go to one place, because the Spirit did not allow them One night Paul has a vision, a dream, where a Macedonian comes and tells him: “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”

I could not help but think that the message was for me, “Come over to Honduras and help us.”

That reading from Acts helped me to decide to come here. Prayer, discernment with my spiritual director and with friends, as well as the support I received from people at St. Thomas, also helped me to make the decision.

Still, people ask me why Honduras and not El Salvador, which I knew and had visited and where I had worked a few times.

The call of God from the people of Honduras is clearly one reason. The acceptance of Bishop Santos is another. Sister Nancy’s witness also helped me discern.

But the more specific reasons for my presence here is that Honduras is poorer than El Salvador, and is probably the second poorest country in the Americas. Also, there was less solidarity with the church and the people here than with El Salvador.

But central is the call I heard that day, “Come over to Honduras and help us.”

I came and do not regret the call – almost five years now in Honduras.


Christian humanism and Jacques Maritain

Jacques Maritain, husband, philosopher, died on April 28, 1973. A major philosopher in the twentieth century revival of the philosophy and theology of Thomas Aquinas, he was involved in drafting the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

He is seen as a major proponent of Christian Humanism which inspired the Christian Democratic movements and parties in Europe and Latin America (often proposed as an alternative to Marxism). There are still many who claim to advocate a Christian Humanism, including the current president of Honduras, Pepe Lobo. However, they would be advised to head these words of Jacques Maritain, quoted in his friend Thomas Merton’s Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander:

“They keep in their minds the settings of religion for the sake of appearances or outward show. . . but they deny the Gospel and despise the poor, pass through the tragedy of their time only with resentment against anything that endangers their interests and fear for their own prestige and possessions, contemplate without flinching every kind of injustice if it does not threaten their own way of life. Only concerned with  power and success, they are either anxious to have means of external coercion enforce what they term the ‘moral order’ or else they turn with the wind and are ready to comply with any requirement of the so-called historical necessity. They await the deceivers. They are famished for deception because first they themselves are trying to deceive God.”

Honduras’s Virgin of Suyapa

On February 3, Honduras celebrates the feast of the Virgin of Suyapa, the patroness of the country.

The story is told of the finding of this tiny statue by the campesino Alejandro Colindres in 1747 in a field outside of Tegucigalpa. Since then miracles have occurred and devotion has arisen around the statue.

What I find most appealing about this feast is that the image is so small: 6 centimeters or 2.3 inches.

Mary, the humble servant of the Lord, is able to do great things because of her smallness, her poverty.

This is made especially clear in the canticle of Mary, the Magnificat, which we find in Luke’s Gospel 1: 46-55. Mary cries out: “He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and lifted up the lowly.”

Sadly, here in Honduras the powers that be often use the Virgin of Suyapa as a way to reassert their power, with special Masses for the military and political leaders.

But the simple altars in campesino houses belie this and offer the hope for a new Honduras, where, in the words of Mary, “the hungry are filled with good things and the rich are sent away empty.”

May the Virgin of Suyapa intercede with her Son for a Honduras where peace and justice prevail.


The story can be found here on Wikipedia.