Dear Family and Friends,
Greetings from Honduras! I hope this finds you well and in good cheer!
Today I have been in Honduras for four weeks, so I thought I’d drop you a line to let you know what’s happening. I’m delighted to report that all is well, and I’m quite surprised that I have adjusted so quickly. I’m finding it easier to speak in Spanish, and more importantly, I’m able to understand more what is spoken. For the last four weeks, I have not had phone or Internet contact much, so that’s why you haven’t heard much from me. So, this is sort of a Christmas-letter in July!
I live in the pueblo of Reitoca that is located in the southern part of the Department (like a state) of Francisco Morazán. That is why you see F.M. in between Reitoca and Honduras.
I live with two priests, both of whom are delightfully laid-back and friendly. Fr. Renán, the vicar, is at his parents’ home in the Department of La Paz recovering from Dengue Fever. Fr. Gustavo, the pastor, was ill last week, but he’s fine now. He goes into the capital – Tegucigalpa – usually on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday to work at the Archdiocesan offices. I’m not sure he’ll go today, because protestors have blocked off all the roads to Tegucigalpa to protest the high taxes on gasoline and diesel.
Once you make friends with the dust and bugs, the biggest challenge is the heat. Yesterday, for example, it was 97 F – and this is “winter” here! Fortunately, I have air conditioning in my room.
The rectory is hacienda-style, with our rooms going out into an open courtyard. The land on which the rectory sits goes up a mountainside and covers, some estimate, about 20 acres. Cardinal Rodríguez, the archbishop of the Archdiocese of Tegucigalpa, has graciously said I could use the land to build whatever I’d like – such as a retreat center and hours for myself. I’m looking forward to Laura Vinson’s visit to help me make a site plan for the property as she has knowledge about such things that I lack.
I especially enjoy mornings, sitting in the kitchen with a cup of Mexican coffee, praying and reading, and listening the roosters crow and cows mooing.
We don’t get radio signals in Reitoca as we are too far removed from the towers. There is television, however, though I don’t watch it.
Electricity mostly works, but every once in a while, it simply goes off without any rime or reason. As I understand it, Reitoca is at the very end of a large energy grid.
Our parish is called San Francisco de Asís. You can drive hours and still be in the parish it is so large. A “parish” is more like a diocese, and ours has over 80 churches – each with a different name. There are no paved roads in between the churches, and the roads are all very rough mountain roads. One has to be careful not to hit any burrows, horses, cows, chicken, ducks, or people.
Around every bend in the road is a new and magnificent mountain or valley vista. Unfortunately, there are a few big problems right now. First, though this is winter, the so-called rainy season, there is no rain. The people are afraid the corn, beans, and other crops will die if rain doesn’t come soon. Second, there is a terrible insect called gorgojo, which is destroying all the pine trees. Vast swaths of pine forests are dead because of this insect, which, by the way, is all over Honduras.
The little churches are overflowing with people when we come to celebrate Mass. Many people walk for hours to come to Mass. On Thursday evenings, specially trained men and women called Delegados de la Palabra celebrate a Liturgy of the Word in their little churches. They are the official Catholic Christian representatives in their communities.
The music in the little churches is quite an adventure. In some of the churches, the music is not half-bad. In others, it is pretty bad. There is one place where there is an old man – bless his heart – who has a guitar but doesn’t have a clue how to play it. He just strums it – no chords, no notes. He could just as easily be strumming a book. Meanwhile, the people sing joyfully – all apparently marching to the beat of a different drummer so to speak. Sara, I always think of you when I hear the music, and think of the wonders you could bring to the people.
I also wonder, when I go to these little places and see young people dressed in their Sunday best, reading the Scripture from the ambo, what it must be like to find their way to the United States and arrive at a magnificent place like the Basilica Shrine of St. Mary in Wilmington. Such a place is light years away from their ultra humble origins!
Catechists are also in the little churches, and they teach the people the Faith.
Our parish has some young men studying to be priests. One of them is on vacation from school and is helping out in our parish. His name is Darwin Medina-Maldonado, a 5th-year student who has 3 more years of study.
I’m delighted to say that I’m not driving. Two brothers, Miguel and Isaías, take me from place to place when I celebrate Masses by myself. Other times, I simply go with Fr. Gustavo or Fr. Renán if I’m celebrating with them. Once my new truck comes, I’ll have my own circuit of places to visit.
One of the things I have learned is that one needs to be prepared for any eventuality. This Sunday, for example, I could not celebrate Mass in a place called El Hatillo because I didn’t have any wine!
Clínica Santa María
Clínica Santa María is going along just fine. Because the clinic’s pharmacy was getting so big, the Honduran government said that we needed a separate, freestanding pharmacy. The new pharmacy will be located in the St. Mary house, and the construction for the pharmacy location is almost completed.
The new pharmacist is Dr. Cinthia Valera. She will also help us open a pharmacy in Curarén. Hopefully, the new pharmacy in Curarén will raise enough funds to pay all the salaries of employees of Clínica Santa María (CSM). Then, money generated by SaludHondu can be used for equipment, tires, pickup trucks, and the like.
I’m very happy to report that the staff members of CSM are very eager to learn, and they place a high value on education.
I have begun giving English classes for Yesenia (nurse) and Dr. Valencia (microbiologist). Dr. Aarón is taking off August and September to study for exams. He hopes to get a neurology residency in Honduras, and there are only 2 such positions open in that field. Dr. Marco Tulio will fill in for Aarón to proved medical care in the clinic.
Dr. Marco Tulio is also studying, and he hopes to be able to become a resident in the United States.
All of the major communities have ferias (festivals) honoring their patron saints. So, a large part of the life of a priest is celebrating festivals. On August 10th, for example, the pueblo of Alubarén is celebrating a festival for San Lorenzo (St. Lawrence), their patron saint. The feria usually goes for about a week. During this time, the priest has to do special Masses for all of the community churches surrounding whatever town is celebrating its festival. Fr. Gustavo has made a list for me of churches where I’ll celebrate. The church of San Lorenzo is the oldest church of the parish being around 405-years old. Currently, it is being renovated inside and outside, thanks in part to the people of the Basilica Shrine of St. Mary.
The Archdiocese of Tegucigalpa, like the Diocese of Raleigh, is divided into deaneries. The deanery that our parish is in is called San Francisco de Asís Deanery. It is composed of four parishes: Lepaterique, Ojojona, Sabana Grande, and Reitoca. Reitoca is the largest and poorest of the parishes of the deanery. Remember, a parish has many churches, so our deanery probably includes over 200 churches.
I attended my first deanery meeting this past Saturday (July 21st), in Lepaterique (which took me forever to learn to say). This town has San Santiago (St. James) as its patron saint, so it was gearing up to celebrate its grand feria this week, as St. James’ feast day is July 25th.
We had our deanery meeting in the Carmel of the Discalced Carmelite Fathers, a very beautiful place on a hill with beautiful mountain views on all sides. Unfortunately, the gorgojo insects destroyed all their pine trees, so the hillside that was once so beautiful, was now nothing but pine tree stumps. Interestingly, Lepaterique is very chilly all the time – the exact opposite of Reitoca. In the middle of the day it was maybe high 60s or maybe even 70 F.
The Archdiocese of Tegucigalpa publishes a weekly newspaper called Fides. Although the priests seem to take it for granted, for me it is a great blessing and something I devour because everything is new and exciting for me as a newcomer.
This past week, the auxiliary bishop – Juan José Pineda –resigned his position amid many accusations of abuse of money and seminarians.
In the major seminary, four faculty members have been dismissed for a variety of reasons. This has led to an expanded vacation for the seminarians.
The Archdiocese has a television station that offers many classes in phsical and social sciences, English, Spanish, fine arts, technology, and other areas. I’m interested in discovering more about this station.
The Church in Central America
Currently, there are major problems in Nicaragua. The Church leaders have been physically attacked, as have journalists. Groups supporting the government have physically attacked Church leaders and journalists for standing up for the rights of the poor. The bishops of Central American countries are unified in decrying the violence.
Wrapping it up.
Well, that’s about it for my first 4-week report on life in Honduras. I hope you found it enjoyable. By the way, my phone number in Honduras is: (504)-8889-7352. [I think you have to dial the country code first, which is 011.] If you do not have the What’s App, get it. All phone calls and texts are free. However, both parties have to have What’s App for it to work!
I look forward to visitors in the future, especially when I get a little retreat center going! God bless you. I’ll keep you in my prayers and hope you do the same for me!
- Fr. Bob