Saturday, June 30, 2012

What a Month

The Wisconsin River

The Pier at St. Petersburg
   An absolute whirlwind of a month has gone by--in my life and in the world. I began June at home in St. Petersburg and am ending the month at my suymmer parish in Eagle River, Wisconsin. In between I have been in ten states and one foreign country--Honduras.  Most of you have read the pictures, videos and comments that I have posted here.  It was an experience that I will never forget and in fact I will be returning there with the same group next year at the same time--God, Honduran politics and some other factors permitting.  In most years it would be safe to say that this trip would clearly be the highlight of the year, but not in this year of 2012.   Why? Because in a few weeks I will be heading to Medford, MA to preside at the wedding of my niece Michell 80e and her husband to be, Kevin Donahue. That wonderful event will get full coverage on this blog after the July 21 wedding.  That will far and way be the event of my year.

   That is my life in tghe last month.  In the wider world we have had the seating of a new president in Egypt.  The Arab spring has lead to free elections there, which is great, but of course there are concerns regarding the directions things will take.  There is also the ongoing tension throughout the Middle East, especially Syria and Iran.  Just the other day was the Supreme Court ruling on the health care bill. This article is not meant to be an analysis of that but I will register in and hope that the extremists on both sides can put their heads together to correct the flaws of the bill and move forward.  To scuttle it would leave us in a mess.

  Then there is the world of mother nature.  Colorado has been racked by the worst wildfires in their history and my own state of Florida was flooded by tropical storm Debby.  My brother friars in St. Petersburg are OK but there was flooding all around them. Here in Wisconsin it is 80 delightful degrees today, but much of the central US is sweltering at over 100 degrees.

  In the Church--wow!  A high ranking Philadelphia priest has been convicted of covering up for sexual abusing priests.  This is so sad, but when O when will we learn?  We have made great strides in protecting childrem, but more has yet to be done.  Our religious sisters are suffering because of the Vatican clamp down on the LCWR.  Fortunately they have had an outpouring of support and continue to do wonderful things such as the nuns' bus tour that is speaking up for social justice.

   What a month was June, 2012.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Reflections on Honduras

People awaiting their turn at the clinic in Los Leones
  I'm sitting in my room in Eagle river, Wisconsin where the temperature is struggling to reach 70 degrees and thinking back to last Sunday when I left the sweltering tropical climate of Honduras. Most of you, my blog readers, were kept abreast of my trip there. If you did not catch my daily and twice daily posts just scroll down on this page and you will see them.

   It is hard to put into words what  I experienced during this absolutely wonderful 9 day journey. I use the word wonderful to describe the experience but that does not mean that everything i saw was wonderful.  Our group traveled from Little Rock, Arkansas to San Pedro Sula, Honduras via Houston. Upon arrival in San Pedro a 6 hour bus ride awaited us.  As much as I craved sleep after the plane ride I was not able to rest.  As we rode along I took notice of the lush tropical vegetation and the beautiful mountains.  I also noticed many people walking or riding bicycles along the side of the road. Most of the houses I saw were simple homes made of cinder block and covered with tin roofs.  There will little roadside makeshift stores, but also the occasional American style fast food store.  These sights along the bus route gave me a glimpse into the contrasts that I would experience throughout our time there.

Blessing the New Church in Maranones

Clinic at Maranones
Our group of nearly one hundred missionaries arrived over a two day period. As I talked to them in the airport and on the plane and bus I realized what a dedicated group they were--doctors, dentists, nurses, construction workers, teachers, translators and teenage volunteers. They were all offering their time and talent but clearly doing so because it was a mission.  There was a team of doctors, nurses and pharmacists who went to the hospital in Trujillo to perform surgery and run a clinic there. There was a team as well as an eye clinic in a local school There were medical, dental, eye  and evangelization teams in 3 other locations as well, occupying  local schools and centers to do their work.

   There were also local Honduran people who served as missionaries. I was very impressed with the collaboration between the American group and the locals.  It was not a "Here come the Americans, get out of the way" experience by any means.  On every level--medical, school and Church local people were involved including Fr. Felipe with whom I worked and from whom I learned a great deal. I also met up with some terrific Franciscan sisters who worked in catechesis in the local schools and who ran an orphanage where one could see that the children were truly loved.  We had Mass with them one day there.

  I found the people there quite open and receptive and very appreciative of what was being done for them.  I found them to be a people who worked hard, struggled and had a great deal of faith.

  One cannot visit Honduras or any other so-called third world country and not be struck by the poverty there. I have read in several places that 20% of the world's population uses up 80% of its resources.  Honduras is obviously in the group of 80% that uses 20% of the resources.  I share this not to lay a guilt trip on any one or to assess blame.  There is plenty of blame to be cast on many different sources not only outside of, but inside Honduras and other countries as well.  I bring up this aspect of things because I think that all of us from the wealthier nations need to be aware of this. Remember that the sin of the rich man in the parable of Lazarus in the Gospel was not an unwillingness to share with the poor, but rather being so absorbed in his own life that he didn't even know that the poor man was there.  As more of us grow in that awareness perhaps over time things will change.

  The wonderful mission of Christ the King parish in Little Rock, Arkansas, carried out in June every year, with a smaller mission in March, is a great example of the kind of work that needs to be done in many places.  It is a hopeful and encouraging expression of Church as well.  We read so much these days about what's going wrong in the Church.  This mission is clearly part of what is right about the Church.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

A Wonderful Exhortation to Priests

   As most of my blog readers know I just returned from a wonderful mission trip to Honduras under the auspices of Christ the King Parish in Little Rock, Arkansas. In a few days I will offer a reflection on that trip.  For now I want to offer a special gem that came my way while in Little Rock. I arrived there a few days early and happened to pick up the June 9, 2012 edition of the Arkansas Catholic, the weekly newspaper of the Little Rock diocese.  I was happily surprised to see a quote from the homily delivered by Bishop Anthony Taylor at the May 26 ordination of 3 new priests there.  I think that every priest and bishop should pin these words to his bathroom mirror and reflect upon them every day.
   The article in which the bishop was quoted was written by Malea Hargett, Editor  of the paper.

She writes:

 In his homily, Bishop Taylor said the priests might be leading a flock, but Catholic laypeople are by no means "stupid" like sheep.
"God has blessed them with many gifts of intellect, many talents that you and I do not have," he said. "And he has also blessed them with sincere commitment to Jesus and his Church. They are our co-workers in the vineyard. So as you begin your priestly ministry, I urge you to revere the people you serve ... indeed, you will serve them best by empowering people to contribute their gifts, placing yourself at their service -- not the other way around. The Church in Arkansas needs priests who lead by example, who revere the spiritual and ministerial gifts of those Jesus sends us to serve.
"Our Church should be characterized by collegiality, not coercion; by intelligent discourse, not edicts imposed from on high; of ideas and values, not just legal rules. Ninety-nine percent of the time your ministry will require you to lead but not compel; to inspire and not shame; to encourage the sheep instead of rebuking them -- and hopefully that rare 1 percent of the time when rebuking is needed might never arise, if they know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you love them and revere them."

I couldn't say it any better.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Week in Review II-Pictures

I have included here some pictures taken by Emmet Guillory, our Evangelization team leader.  I will let most of them speak for themselves with just an occasional comment or description.  These first ones are from Sunday at Los Leones and Maranones, especially at the dental clinic.

 This next group is from the clinic at Santa Fe, the encuentro, our nice fish lunch and some scenes from home visits there


The last group is from our visits to 2 schools with the youth group and the visit to Los Leones and the encuentro there.

The Week in Review--Videos

  These are a few brief video clips that show what we've been up tp this week.

Here I am praying over a baby and mother in the pediatric ward at the Trujillo hospital.

In Santa Fe, home to many of the Garifuna people, we visited 12 homes. Here a woman receives communion on her visit.

At left Sr.Fatima's youth group leads some singing.

Below a banner is presented by a local school to the Christ the King Mission


Above: Fr. Felipe blesses the new Church in Maranones accompanied by Fr. John

Heading Home--planting the mustard seed.

  It's Saturday morning and our work is done at the various sites that we serve. Today is dedicated to packing up. The afternoon is free and we will celebrate Sunday Mass here at the hotel at 5 PM.  We leave the hotel on a bus at midnight and head into San Pedro Sula for our flight home in the morning.  We'll be back in Little Rock late on Sunday afternoon--a long trip ahead to be sure.

   It is going to take some time for me to process the many experiences that I have had here. My emotions range from joy to sadness, from elation to frustration, but above all I am filled with gratitude for this opportunity, gratitude to the many wonderful missionaries, and gratitude to the people of Honduras whose faith, willingness to endure hardship and tremendous spirit of community have touched me deeply.

   Tomorrow's Gospel text includes the well known parable of the mustard seed, the little seed that when it blossoms does so much good.  I like to think that our mission group of doctors, nurses, dentists, optometrists, pharmacists, construction workers and electricians as well as teen age and college student members have planted many mustard seeds.  We don't know how they will spring up and grow, but they most surely will.  That is how the reign of God comes forth.  The people of Honduras have also planted mustard seeds in us whoch I am sure will blossom forth in many ways as we return hone to the US.

   Below is a picture of a young girl that we visited in Los Leones yesterday.  She has cerebral palsy and cannot speak well.  She had a beautiful smile on her face.  After the doctors and nurses attended to her I gave her the Sacrament of Annointing.  I blessed her family and hone as well. Before I annointed her i asked in Spanish, "Conoces a Jesus?"  "Do you know Jesus?"  With a smile on her face she pointed to a crucifix on the wall in her home and then to heaven.  She surely planted a mustard seed in us.

She planted the mustard seeds

Friday, June 15, 2012

Down the Homestretch with the Mission

 We're beginning our last workday in Honduras and it has been one incredible week.  At left is a little video clip with me talking to the kids on Wednesday, part of the plays I referred to in the last post. Yesterday I went back to Maranones for an encuentro.  That went very well.  The big moment however was the dedication of the new church there. An anonymous donor from Little Rock contributed the money for it.  The people in Maranones worked hard to have it set up and the construction team from our mission group put it up in record time. There are still some details to finish but it was ready for the encuentro and for the Mass of dedication.

Electrical work in new church
I must say that I was truly humbled and felt privileged to be the first one to celebrate Mass there.  Fr. Felipe did the actual dedication and I presided at the Mass and preached.  The Church was filled with local people and with missionaries. There was a sign over the altar that said "Bienvenidos  hermanos de Arkansas."  "Welcome r brothers and sisters from Arkansas."   You can see that in one of the pictures below.

New Church, not quite finished

People waiting at the clinic

Below--the construction in progress with local help, even the kids. The floor was laid on the day before the encuentro and Mass.  The people there chose the name of Church of the Visitation in honor of Mary, the first to evangelize.


 At left the Evangelization Team is introduced before the encuentro

At left the welcome sign above the altar.

                                                                 At right, a nice full Church

Below you see Fr. Felipe sprinkling Holy water on building and its living stones, the people, Fr.John presiding at Mass and later blessing the encuentro participants.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Glory of Youth

  Another wonderful day here in Honduras.  Our Evangelization team as well as some of the teenage missionaries joined up with Sister Fatima, a Franciscan sister, and her local youth group with special visits to two schools.   The purpose of the visit was to present what were called chastity plays.  I wondered to myself why this focus. How would it be presented? What age level? The answer was grades 5 and 6.  Here in Honduras the average age for pregnancy is 14.   That means that a great deal is going on before 14, thus grades 5 and 6. Children here receive complete and specific sex education in the second grade with no values or morals attached. The result is disastrous.

  Sister Fatima and her youth group were wonderful. The message was presented through songs and skits. There wasn't a great deal of fear driven moralizing but rather a positive message of the goodness of the body and the imprtance of using the body as God intended as well as a message of respect for self and others.  We were well received and had timne to interact with the kids who practiced their English with us and insisted on writing on our T-shirts. There are some pictures below.

  Later in the day all of us had a free afternoon and went to a local beach resort fro some fun and a fish dinner.   We ended with Mass at an orphanage call "The Finca del Nino" The Place was run by Franciscan sisters and the children seemed well cared for and happy.

Completed Art Work back of my T-shirt

The kids descend on us with their markers
With Emmet Guillory, Evangelization Team Leader


The Encuentros Begin

Sunset at Beach at Hotel

 The meat and potatoes part of this mission for the Evangelization team are the "encuentros" or "encounters" where we meat with the lay leaders of communities for a day of formation and renewal.  Here in Honduras there is an incredible shortage of priests and most people do not have Mass on Sunday, nor do they have a resident priest.  They rely on lay leaders called "delegados" who represent the community and who lead communion services. There are also catechists who aare in charge of faith formation.

  Yesterday we went to Santa Fe, a small town inhabited mostly by the Garifuna people of whome I spoke in an earlier blog post.  Along with Fr. Felipe who works hard to serve several communities we had a wonderful session discussing the role of pastoral leaders.  I have to say that the dedication of the men and women who participated was a challenge to me in my own pastoral leadership.  We had a Mass at which many of the people in the town as well as some of  the doctors and nurses from our team who are working in the clinic there participated.   After a wonderful lunch prepared by the local people at which kingfish was served Emmot Guillory  and I with the local delegado to visit 12 sick people in their homes.  The homes were poor and simple but the faith was grand and rich.  They were so appreciative for the opportunity to receive communion and be annointed.  Walking around the town in the hot Honduran sun left us tired and at the end of the supply of water that we were carrying, but it also left us deeply grateful and satisfied for the opportunity we had to serve these wonderful people.

  The spiritual mission here is linked to the medical one and we finished the day at the clinic here to get re-energized but also to mingle with the patients and to lend support to our wonderful doctors and nurses.

  By the way pictures will be few.  I went into the pool at the hotel with my Iphone in  my bathing suit pocket. One of the men on the construction team works for a company in Little Rock that repairs cell phones that have been damaged   in that way, so there is hope.  Some of the team members are promising to send me pictures so there may be some.  The one at the top of this page is of the beach here and show the place where we have Rosary on the beach each night before dinner.  

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Kingdom of Heaven is at Hand is at hand

Preparing to Annoint awaiting surgery patients

In the pediatric ward

In the Gospel passage from Matthew for today's Feast of St. Barnabas Jesus tells us "As you go, make this proclamation: 'The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.' Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, drive out demons.(Mt 10:7-8)  That being the case the Kingdom is at hand here in Honduras because the wonderful doctors, dentist, eye doctors, nurses, etc here are curing the sick and bringing the dead to life as well as casting out the demons of fear and ignorance.  The Kingdom is alive in the people here, but also in those of us who are here to serve. Once again I let pictures (above and below) tell the story. By the way if you click on a picture it will enlarge.

Patients waiting at the hospital

Children at play in school yard
The mission here includes the local hospital and clinics in various locations. You saw a dental clinic yesterday. Today we also visited an eye clinic, a hearing evaluation clinic and a local school that some missionaries are working with. You will notice too that the teen volunteers help out at the different sites as well.

 A little girl(left)is having her hearing checked.

At right a Franciscan sister talking with children at the school
 People waiting at the eye clinic and (below) a sample of the many eyeglasses that have been donated

 Some of our teenage volunteers. They are all great kids
 Dr. Dan Hennessey doing an eye exam

Here is a proud and grateful Honduran

Moving Out and Moving Ahead Cautiosly