In the name of our Bellarmine community, Jane, I send you on this journey you undertake, and pray that your heart will be light, that your travels will be safe and your presence be a sign of Jesus’ love and God’s generosity. May you walk humbly with God and encourage the people you meet. May God’s light shine in your heart and guide your way each day.
This blessing, given to me by Richard Bollman, S.J., at Bellarmine Chapel the Sunday before I left for troubled Honduras proved to be the harbinger of a poignant week.
Bringing everything from puppets to art prints to The Penguin Book of Spanish Verse along with me—in addition to almost $1,000 from generous family members and friends—I arrived a Tegucigalpa’s airport. I quickly recognized Diana Reyes, the 11-year-old girl whom I have sponsored since the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch, holding a vividly decorated sign, “Gracias por venir a neustro pais y compartir conmingo esta alegria.” (Thank you for coming to our country and may we share much joy.)
During the event-filled week, I did indeed share much joy with Diana and those committed to bettering the life of Hondurans. I witnessed the many tangible evidences of the church’s post-Vatican II preferential option for the poor in Latin America—evidences visible in churches, schools, community centers, cooperatives, food distribution centers and a hospital for AIDS victims.
Diana’s school, Santa Clara, rises as a bright sentinel beside the shanties of the squatter’s colony it serves. It owes its existence to the vision of a young Spanish diocesan priest Fr. Patricio Larossa. As 40 percent of Hondurans are illiterate, Santa Clara offers hope.
The municipality donated land for the school. Donations from Spain built seven small classrooms. Christian Foundation for Children and Aging matches sponsors with the 900 students ranging from preschoolers to sixth graders. The students receive their education, shoes, uniforms, medical and dental care and a daily hot meal through sponsorship. Only the teachers have textbooks. The children attend classes in two shifts along with the quiet time in the library for two hours a week. Their tan and brown uniforms are made by a women’s cooperative. Fr. Patricio, who is frequently harassed by the army in this de facto military state, always manages to sing after he solves each difficulty. He hopes to add 17 more classrooms housing a junior and senior high school.
The simple, happy children proved to be both friendly and loving, always wanting to kiss and hug. They quickly sang for me in each classroom I visited. The sixth graders enjoyed the lottery we held to give away the donated school bags, which the winners proudly placed on their backs. One little boy in the pickup truck taking me home shyly asked me if I had an extra box of crayons. Fortunately, I did.
On Saturday, I shared the enthusiasm surging through the crowd in the Basilica of Our Lady of Suyapa as Archbishop Rodriguez Maradiaga celebrated his elevation to the cardinalate. The people greeted this first Honduran cardinal with the chant, “Habemos Cardenal” (We have a Cardinal), as they waved small blue and white Honduran flags. In his homily, the Cardinal asked the young people not to be involved in corruption. A display of fireworks outside the Basilica dramatically concluded the celebration.
All too soon, it became time to bid goodbye to my Honduran friends with everyone blessing everyone else in typical Spanish style at the airport. I flew from Tegucigalpa with myriad fleeting impressions: a volunteer from the Canary Islands baking a cake for everyone; children trying to survive by selling mango slices on the street; an AIDS patient holding her new baby who was wearing a pair of hand-knit booties, perhaps the only beauty the mother ever knew; pious worshippers in a side chapel of the Cathedral praying before a globe with Central America facing them; a French couple’s improving lives in a rural community center; students at Santa Clara proudly giving me completed pages from their notebooks; Fr. Patricio’s joking to people on the sidewalk, “Familia muy grande” (a very large family), as he passed in his pickup truck with 10 boys in the back; and Diana’s asking me to return for her First Holy Communion.
With these diverse vignettes in my mind, I can only recall the faith-filled words of Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador:
The Church in Latin America has much to say about humanity. It looks at the sad picture portrayed at the Puebla conference: faces of landless peasants, mistreated and killed by forces of power; faces of laborers arbitrarily dismissed and without a living wage for their families; faces of the elderly; faces of outcasts; faces of slum dwellers; faces of poor children who from infancy begin to feel the cruel sting of social injustice. For them, it seems, there is no future—no school, no high school, no university. By what right have we cataloged persons as first-class persons or second-class persons? In the theology of human nature, there is only one class: children of God.