Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Mountain Mission in Guajiquiro

We were literally above the clouds (and sometimes in them).
Immediately following the week of formation about 24 of the youth participants comprising four small teams headed to the indigenous mountain region of Guajiquiro, home of the Lenca tribe, about a two hour drive from Comayagua. Each of the teams was assigned to a specific base where they conducted daily activities for children and youth, and from which other nearby villages were visited. Each day of the week-long mission I visited a different base. In the morning we would go to an outlying village for Confessions and Mass, and in the afternoon return to the base for additional Confessions and another Mass, followed by an evening Holy Hour.

Mass at San Marcos.
The four bases were located in Palo Blanco, Guajiquirito, Pasguare and Guajiquiro Centro. The outlying villages we visited were San Marcos, San Bartolo and Sauce. By far the most grueling trek was descending into the village of Guajiquirito, and then traversing the very difficult path to San Bartolo, which involved another steep descent. El Sauce was the highest elevation we visited, very cool and almost always shrouded in clouds; we were told they sometimes have frost and ice. But these communities, like all the others we visited were overwhelmingly grateful for the presence of the missionaries and responded very enthusiastically to the opportunity for Confession and participating at Mass. Some of them were very remote and isolated, accessible only on foot (or by horse/mule/donkey) and had no electric power. The week concluded with a day-long Eucharistic retreat in which about 150 Lenca youth participated in Guajiquiro Centro, the municipal seat of the region.

Adobe house on a hill in Palo Blanco.

Evening Mass in Palo Blanco -
note the fragrant fresh pine needles on the dirt floor.

A view of the cliffs between Guajiquirito and San Bartolo.

Confessions in San Bartolo.

Dedicating Baby Marcos (close up below) in San Bartolo.

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It was a steep uphill climb out of San Bartolo.

But in gratitude, Don Julio (Baby Marcos' father) lent me his horse Morazan
so I could get back to Guajiquirito in time for an anointing before Confessions  and Mass.

Evening Mass in Guajiquirito.

Closing day Eucharistic youth retreat in Guajiqurio Centro for 150 participants.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Youth Formation at Casa Guadalupe & Activities at the Granja

Approximately 55 youth from various parts of Honduras and a few from Nicaragua participated in a week of intensive Christian formation at Casa Guadalupe (the friars' neighborhood/mission center in Comayagua) sponsored by Missioners of Christ. The schedule of the week included classes on different aspects of Catholic faith and life, workshops on the spiritual life and evangelization and times for personal and worship. I celebrated Mass most mornings for the participants and led the Holy Hours in the afternoon, as well as teaching two classes on the life and teaching of Blessed Pope John Paul II and leading evening discussions on apologetics during supper.

Some of the youth who participated in the week of formation.
Most afternoons during the week I went to the Granja ("the Farm" - a nearby Catholic boys orphanage) with a few young men participants to lead some recreational and formational activites for the boys. However, on Thursday a group of about 18 participants for a full afternoon program.

We began with a Eucharistic Holy Hour in the provisional chapel, during which I also heard confessions while the youth lead prayers and music,  concluding with Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.

The remainder of the afternoon was comprised of fun-filled team activities. Carol Restaine, a consecrated lay woman Missioner of Christ, is a genius at coming up with ideas for young people to do. The boys were divided into four teams with members of varying ages, and each team was given a digital camera to use. There was then a series of tasks each team had to complete and capture with a photo graph. The teams received points based on how quickly they finished the task and returned to the base, as well as on which team produced the best result. The tasks included taking a photo with one of the animals and one of the workers at the Granja. Another involved spelling a word on the grass involving all the team members. Yet another involved taking a photo in which every team member could be seen, but showing as little as possible of each member. Everyone had a blast, and of course prizes and snacks followed at the end of the day.

One of the teams with a cat and one of the Granja personnel.

Spelling "Fe" ("Faith") on the grass.

A photo showing everyone on the team, but as little as possible.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Un Giro por Guatemala (A Pass through Guatemala)

Towing a stalled vehicle driven by Maynor over the mountain pass (below) that leads to Comayagua.

After the initial weekend in Honduras, assisting in the integration of new members of the Missioners of Christ community in Comayagua, we had planned to depart on Monday, November 21 for Guatemala. However a few unexpected (but not so uncommon) interruptions (like a car breaking down and needing to be towed). Delayed our departure until Tuesday.

Fr. Victor Alvizurez, pastor of San Augustín Parish, Jalapa.
Our first stop in Guatemala was the town of San Augustín, in the Diocese of Jalapa. Fr. Victor Alvizurez is pastor there of a parish, the size of a small diocese, with an exceptional commitment to mission. He  has more than 1,000 parishioners in the 8 sectors of his parish in different stages of missionary formation. We met with Fr. Victor to try to learn about and understand better what is taking place in his parish, as well as to explore possible future opportunities of collaboration, especially involving youth and lay missionaries from Honduras.

San José el Viejo Language School, Antigua, Guatemala.
From San Augustín, we continued on to Guatemala City, where we were graciously received and provided with accommodations by Fr. Michael Lenihan, OFM (formerly pastor of Santos Mártires Parish in Comayagua, Honduras), guardian of the friary at Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Colonia Reformita. From there, on Wednesday, we made a one day excursion to Antigua to coordinate with the San José el Viejo language school, where many of the friars and lay missionaries go to study Spanish when they first arrive, and visit the host families that house them. Our brief stop in Antigua afforded the opportunity to visit the tomb of Santo Hermano Pedro, who was canonized by Blessed John Paul II in Guatemala City in 2002, in the Church of St. Francis, as well as to view some of the many colonial ruins for which Antigua is known.

Iglesia San Francisco, Antigua, Guatemala - where Santo Hermano Pedro de Betancourt is buried.

In the background, one of the two volcanos visible from Antigua.

One of the many ruins of churches in Antigua

A view of Guatemala city from one of the surrounding mountains.
Before leaving Guatemala City, we also had the chance to visit our good friends, Rodolfo and Reina Turcios Ruiz (and their daughter Ana Julia), who recently located there. Rodolfo and Reina are Hondurans who have both lived many years in the US. I had the privilege of celebrating their wedding in Comayagua several years ago. Rodolfo is a civil engineer working on international water management construction projects. Reina is a doctor specializing in epidemiology, working for the US Centers for Disease Control. Her new position in Central America will enable her to assist public health workers in several countries to identify and reduce risk factors related to infectious diseases. We hope to be able to exchange information that will be helpful both for our  missionary efforts and her health related efforts.

Rodolfo Ruiz, Anna Julia Ruiz, Dr. Reina Turcios-Ruiz, Fr. Herald, Roger Blanco and Carol Restaine in Guatemala City.
Our final stop on our "giro" through Guatemala was the border town of Esquipulas, very near to both Honduras and El  Salvador. A large basilica (run by the Benedictines) in  Esquipulas houses the famous Santo Cristo Negro - a large black crucifix. The crucifix was commissioned by the newly baptized local indigenous people in the 16th century. The sculptor in Antigua was paid by crops cultivated by the Mayans. Perhaps because of the dark color of the skin of the corpus, and because it was a work they themselves had commissioned and paid for by the work of their hands and sweat of their brow, as well as because of the exceptional beauty of the crucifix, an almost instantaneous recognition and bond was established with the indigenous tribes. Hundreds and often thousands of Central Americans visit the shrine daily, sometimes waiting in line for hours to spend a few moments near the crucifix. Blessed John Paul II visited the sanctuary in 1996. I was deeply moved by the piety and faith of the pilgrims I saw there.

Santo Cristo Negro (the Holy Black Christ) in Esquipulas, Guatemala.

Roger Blanco outside the Basilica of Esquipulas, Guatemala.
Our principal reason for stopping in Esquipulas, though, was to visit Fr. Bernardino Quiñones, OFM at the Convento Belén on the outskirts of the town.  Fr. Bernardino made contact with us about a year ago through a friend of the friars and expressed a desire to meet us and discuss possibilities of  some kind of collaboration. Fr. Bernardino has carried  out extensive evangelization among the local people in the vicinity of Esquipulas, and produced  a  large amount of devotional and apologetic resources.

Convento Belén, Esquipulas, Guatemala.

After this rather "whirlwind" tour through Guatemala, we landed back in Comayagua for a week of formation with youth (blog post to follow).

Sanctuary of the chapel at Convento Belén (above and below).

Fr. Bernardino has a deep love for the liturgy and religious art of Eastern Christianity, and is himself an accomplished iconographer. He combines the canons and classic forms of traditional iconography with color schemes taken from the artwork of the indigenous Mayans, creating  a stunning result. One of the most fascinating qualities of the icons is the texture produced by overlaying colors in a semi-transparent way, sometimes combined with a slight bas relief effect. Additional icons by Fr. Bernardino can be found on pages 6, 7 and 8 of the "Galería¨at

Icons in the chapel at Convento Belén; the Nativity (above),
and the Entry into Jerusalem and the Transfiguration (below).

Statue of the Virgin Mary clothed in the Franciscan habit.

Fr. Herald and Carol with Fr. Bernardino Quiñones, OFM, curator of Convento  Belén.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Franciscan Mission Outreach "Emissary" Activity Update for December 2011

Emissary - Dec 2011

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Ya en Honduras (Now in Honduras)

Praying the Rosary with Missioners of Christ.
On Friday, November 18, I flew into Tegucigalpa, and was met at the airport by two Honduran members of the Missioners of Christ community in Comayagua. Actually the two young women who met me are both currently college students who stay during the week at Missioners' university residence in Tegucigalpa, where we went for lunch and later met Carol Restaine and Roger Blanco. After picking us some supplies (always part of a trip to Teguz) we headed to Comayagua. When I return to Honduras after being away for a while I am always overwhelmed by the amazing natural beauty of the mountains, sky and vegetation - lush and green now at the end of the rainy season.

St. Seraphin Friary and Casa Guadalupe.
One of my principal purposes in coming to Honduras is to assist Missioners of Christ as they integrate new members into their long-term community in Honduras and begin a new "season" of activities, as well  as to be part of a team that will be preparing Honduran high school and university students (whose vacation begins next week) for a week of evangelization in mountain villages, during which I will also accompany them.

Provisional Chapel at the Granja, with statue  of Jesus
donated by Mary Our Queen Parish, Norcross, Georgia.
One of my great joys in returning to Honduras is the opportunity of visiting and spending time with the residents and staff of Jesus of Nazareth Farm (Granja Jesús de Nazaret), who are like family to me. Maynor and Bryan (Honduran Missioners of Christ) accompanied me to the Granja on Sunday morning for Mass. I was very inspired to see the way in which a classroom became a provisional chapel, complete with a statue  of the Resurrected Christ - a donation from the parish of Mary Our Queen Parish in Norcross, Georgia.  It was particularly appropriate on the Solemnity of Christ the King, which we celebrated at Mass. It is the fervent hope and deep desire of everyone at the Granja that one day there will be a permanent chapel on the property that enshrines the Eucharistic Presence of Christ the King.

Young man reading at Mass (he did a great job).
 As always the Mass was well prepared, with clean linens and fresh flowers, and the two young men who proclaimed the Scripture readings did an excellent job. Similarly, all the boys who received Holy Communion did so very devoutly.

An attentive congregation.

Fr. Herald and Bryan (a Honduran Missioner of Christ).

A young boy fascinated by the articles used for Mass
- a future vocation?
Right after Mass Chema and Ada Alcerro helped to distribute small Ethiopian crosses I picked up during my recent trip to Africa to everyone who came to Mass. The crosses have a distinctly Ethiopian design and I saw many people wearing them in Addis Ababa. It's a special joy for me to share, even in a small way, my missionary experiences with these boys and young men, and to help them feel part of a Church that spans countries and centuries.

A Down's Syndrome boy wearing one of the Ethiopian crosses
distributed to everyone at the orphanage.
Group photo after Mass.
 To round off the day, we showed the most recent Narnia film to the younger boys (some of the young men came, too). Next Sunday after Mass we'll take the older boys on an outing.

Watching Narnia.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Gode, Kelafo and Godere, Ethiopia

The Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Gode.
On Thursday, November 3, Fr. Haggerty and I flew southeast from Addis Ababa through Dire Dawa and Jijiga to the small city of Gode, which has a mostly Somali and Muslim population. There Fr. Christopher Hartley (a priest from Spain who formerly served in New York) is in the process of building a large complex along the river that will include a school and other forms of outreach to the local community.

Fr. Don, Medvin and Ethiopian children in Gode.
Camels along the road between Gode and Kelafo, and Kelafo and Godere (above and below).

After being picked up at the airport we drove about 75 km through the desert (I’ve discovered that roads are approximate in Ethiopia) to the much smaller town of Kelafo. There Fr. Hartley and four Missionaries of Charity, in collaboration with the Somali NGO WASDI and the Czech NGO PIN (People in Need), have begun relief efforts for the 15,000 – 20,000 Somali refugees who have settled in the tiny village of Godere, so close to the border that Somalia is visible in the distance.

Essential relief supplies for the refugees provided by the Missionaries of Charity.
On Friday, November 4, all of us drove another 75 km to Godere to visit the camp and evaluate the progress on the houses where the MC Sisters and Fr. Hartley will be living while ministering to the refugee population. It is an extremely harsh and desolate location. Water has to be trucked in daily from about 6 km away; the heat is tremendous and there are no trees for shade.

The house of the Missionaries of Charity in the Godere refugee camp.
What is most heart-wrenching, though, are the stories of the refugees who have fled the deteriorating situation in their homeland, walked many miles on foot through the harsh desert, only to face a difficult and uncertain future in a foreign country. The situation in Godere is much more primitive and raw than what I saw in Dadaab. In the face of such intense suffering and desperation, I was deeply moved by and grateful for the presence of the Church in the persons of Fr. Hartley and the Missionaries of Charity. Please pray for them and those for whom they are laboring to make the love of Christ tangible through their service and the material assistance they are offering.

Refugee Family.
When fighting overtook her village, this woman became separated from her family;
she does not know where they are, or whether they are dead or alive.
When his last cow died from the drought, this young husband and father
finally fled Somalia with his wife and three young children.