Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Door to Door Catholics

Every month, our "Evangelization Group" picks one of our 36 communities and goes door to door. We visit all the Catholics, the fall away Catholics, the fall away Protestants, and those who are unaffiliated. Those who are established in a Protestant Church, we respectfully let them be.

The whole idea is to give a personal invitation to our people to come to know Christ and His Church. Being from the U.S., this method rubs me the wrong way. We come from a culture where it is considered rude to talk religion to strangers. We would consider it a violation of my personal space if you came to my house and pushed your religion on me.

We decided to have training with our Evangelizers so that they could properly defend our faith, while being kind and respectful of the beliefs of others. We trained them not to be upset if people do not receive you into their homes. We also teach them how to read their comfort level and not be pushy. Meet them wherever they might be. Do not expect people to pray like we do. Simply share your prayer.

I am shocked how quickly people open their doors to us. I'm also shocked on how much the established Protestants appreciate that we simply wave to them and wish them peace without forcing a conversation where we try to prove each other wrong. We have come a long way in our relationship. I would not say it is Ecumenical yet, but it is no longer hostile like it used to be.

My Evangelizers are very good at defending the faith. Many people have heard those little catch phrases that people use in an attempt to debunk the Catholic Church. They say things like, "Why do you worship Mary?" or "I don't need a priest to confess my sins." or "Why don't the Catholics study the Bible?" I am embarrassed at the number of Catholics who cannot respond to these mildest of critiques. At the same time, I am edified by my Evangelizers who seem to reach to the heart of the matter and really help people, not just know more, but know Christ. It is awesome to see.

It turns out that the reason so many in Latin America have left the Catholic Church is because no one visited them. They felt abandoned in parishes as big as mine where I physically can't get to their community except once a month. They had little opportunity to be trained in the faith and the Mass, because of its infrequency, it seems like it is optional. Some people have irregular marriage situations and know they cannot go to Communion. They are very serious about never offending Christ through the Eucharist. At the same time, they cannot convince their boyfriend (and sometimes girlfriend) to get married. Money is an excuse, not a reason.

There is great hope. So many have come back to the Faith and the Mass. Youth groups are forming. Many are becoming educators of others. The Charismatic Movement has been a great help. All of our charity has helped calm some of those resentments that non-Catholics once had. Still, we need to work on the personal level, and not just programs.

Many Clevelanders have gifted me with holy cards, metals, rosaries, and other things. I give them away as presents to the people we meet. The primary decoration of my people's homes are these holy pictures and objects. They LOVE your gifts.

The grade schools have invited me to put on a one-man drama of some bible stories (they'd never let me do that in an American public school). Most of the non-Catholic children are not baptized and have virtually no place in their Churches and very little religious education. They love the plays. I have more kids coming to my Masses than adults. They actually bring their friends to church and are so well behaved. They are constantly helping me. God bless them.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Snake Bite

San Pedro is our poorest community. There is no road to get there, so I have to walk an hour and a half down a cow path. Getting back out of the valley takes an hour longer. Grueling. Most people have no electricity and live off the produce of the land. Someone once asked me how much the average person would make a year in San Pedro. The question itself shows how different our worlds are. They simply do not calculate wealth or identity in terms of money. It is all about how many cows, chickens, bags of beans and corn. They even have rabbit farms.

One little boy was bitten by a snake. The snakes here are poisonous, not to add to the many levels of discomfort. I have seen a number of snakes but I have never had a close call. This little boy, however, was afraid to tell his mom. I think it was denial. He knew how serious it was and did not want to believe it happened. Luckily his sister told on him. This is an occasion when tattling is aloud.

The mother acted quickly. With no telephone, no car, no clinic, let alone a hospital, she grabbed her two children and carried them up the mountain to Teotepeque. I bet she made better time than I would have made. When she got here, she went to the church. Thanks to the good people of St. Albert the Great, we have been able to fund an ambulance project. She found Remberto, our ambulance driver, and he quickly drove them two hours to the Capital where the hospital is located.

The little boy is recovering. For many weeks, he has been swollen, but the medicine probably saved his life. They cannot afford any of the treatments or medicine, but the government has been helping. The health care is cheap, but that usually means everyone gets a lower standard of health care and the very poor still can't afford it. We pitch in with the donations we have available.

Try to imagine if you were bitten by a snake. How long would it take you to get help? If you answered less than four hours, then be grateful. There are so many aspects of El Salvador that makes me appreciate all that our forefather have done to build up the basic infrastructure of the United States. Roads, phones, hospitals, medicines, vehicles, jobs. Give thanks to a parents, grandparents and their grandparents. It wasn't easy to create, but the sweat a tears of our ancestors means that we are that much more secure. May God help us give stability to the lives of my parishioners as well.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Festival de Maiz

This was the fifth Corn Festival for Chiltiupan and the second for Teotepeque. The Port of La Libertad, where Fr. Paul Schindler is stationed, also had their Corn Festival. All of them were on the same day because that is when the corn is ripe for eating right off the cob.

It rained, but there were still lots of people. All of the food, the corn, the tamales, the atol, the elotes locos, and everything else you can make from corn was donated by the farmers of our parishes. In Chiltiupan and Teotepeque, it was then given to the people for free. People even donated sugar, milk, cheese, firewood, and everything else we needed for the party. We had dancers and music and skits. Teotepeque had games for the kids. Of course, we had a fantastic Mass in the Port, Teotepeque, and Chilitupan. As a result we couldn't go and visit each other's festivals, so we settled with sharing memories afterward.

The church in Chiltiupan, where I was celebrating Mass, was filled with cornstalks. I'd tease the kids by acting so surprised, "A corn field inside the church." The kids all laughed because, it was unusual. Many of the children and youth dressed up in traditional Indian farmer outfits. Some of the kids even dressed up as corn on the cob. We processed from the two ends of Chiltiupan and the two processions joined each other at the church. Very symbolic.

My friends, the Pocasangres, came from the capital, San Salvador. It was great to show off Chiltiupan to them and share the generosity of my people. Unfortunately I didn't get to spend too much time with them. I was running around dealing with problems. In the end, it was a great time for all.

Friday, August 20, 2010


There is a woman named Delfina. She is a diabetic and lives in extreme poverty. Her husband has poor health as well and they have a hard time scraping together enough to eat.

Even though she is not Catholic, Fr. Mark has been helping her for the last year or so. When we go to the capital, we periodically purchase some insulin for her. Thanks to our donors, we have been able to continue to supply her with her medicine. I have watched her over the past year gain some healthy weight and looks much stronger. It is amazing to me to think of how much money we Americans spend a year trying to lose weight, yet here is a woman who doesn't have enough money just to fill out her cheek bones.

I love the fact that we help Delfina even though she is not from our parish. She lives here in town, but she is Evangelical. We do not help her because she is Catholic; we help her because we are Catholic. I remember Bishop Lenon saying that once and it has always stuck with me.

There used to be about four people a week coming by the rectory looking for a bag of food. Unfortunately, the word got out and now there are more like 24 people. It is a problem since we quickly spent all the money that was designated for hunger outreach. We have separate money for the medical needs, which are plentiful, but it is difficult to get people on the healthy road when they do not have enough to eat.

When I began VIDA Charities, the vitamin project to the school children, the idea was to help get rid of malnutrition. I am happy to say, many areas have seen a dramatic decrease in malnutrition over the past 10 years. From VIDA Charities sprung a ProLife group (ProVida) who helps get vitamins to pregnant women and the elderly. Still, there are some, like Delfina, who struggle with hunger. We do what we can.

Sometimes things seem too dire and overwhelming. How can we preach the Word of God when people have empty stomachs? Still, Jesus told us the poor will always be with us. Just because they are still poor does not give us the right to despair. If anything, this is our opportunity to shine and show God that we understand His message.

We cannot give to those who can pay us back and expect a reward in heaven. So, to all of you who have been so very generous over the many years of the Cleveland missions, may God reward you abundantly. My poor people are still poor and cannot pay you back, but that is when the spiritual benefits are the greatest. Believe me when I say we are grateful and we are praying for you. You literally extended the lives of many of my people. May God extend your lives to eternity in paradise.

Monday, August 16, 2010

A visit to my friend Franklyn

I recently visited my friend Franklyn. He is a six-year old boy. I have written about him in earlier blogs. When I arrived at his house, his grandmother, who cares for him, we very grateful to see me. I was with Deacon John Travis who was visiting the missions for two weeks. We brought here some medicine for her arthritis.

As soon as he saw me, Franklyn ran out the back door. I was a little heart-broken. I thought we were friends. His grandma let me pass through the house out the back door to see where Franklyn had gone. The home is a dirt floor. Every chair and table has been pieced together like a Frankenstein puzzle. The walls are just metal and the sunlight can be seen peeking in through various holes in the roof. Nothing looks really clean. Even the pictures on the walls are just pages from magazines.

I had to duck through the entrance of the back door and watch my step. The ground was uneven. I looked up to see where Franklyn had gone, but he hadn't gone far. He was way up high in a tree picking some kind of fruit. I said, "Franklyn, come down my friend. Don't get hurt. I want to visit with you." He said, "Wait, I'm almost ready." When he finally came down, he was carrying two bags of those mysterious fruits. He gave me one and then gave the other to Deacon Travis. What a good boy.

I asked how he was doing in school. He brought me his book bag, which is ripped already. Grandma had stitched it together again. Franklyn proceeded to pull out of the bag all his notebooks. He showed me every single page in every single notebook. When it appeared he had not done his homework, I would say, "Now Franklyn, you do your homework. Your teacher expects you to do your work." On other pages, he received a ten out of ten grade. I would cheer and point it out to Deacon Travis, "Look at this! He can write the letter 'B'." Franklyn was so proud. He has learned his letters, numbers, and colors.

Last year, when I had first arrived in the missions, Franklyn was a bit savage. He didn't know how to read or write his own name. He didn't know how to play with others. He never would say "please" or "thank you." On the other hand, he was always asking for an extra sandwich for his grandma. I knew he was a good boy. With the help of donors from Cleveland, I got him into school. I am so proud of his progress.

I mentioned to his grandma about a boarding school, if her health prevents her from taking well enough care of Franklyn. Franklyn didn't like the idea. He wants to see his grandma every day, he told me. I asked her to pray about it. I'm not sure she is fit or capable of raising a little boy, but they love each other. I'll keep checking in on them.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Don Juan's Generosity

Sorry it has been a while since I blogged. The internet and power in general has been on and off.

There are several men who come around the parish looking for a hand out. Most of them are dealing with a drinking problem. One man lives on the property simply because he is blind, mostly deaf, and has some mental issues. We give him a place to sleep and some food. He comes and goes as he pleases.

Because of his mental condition, I often catch him shadow boxing, fighting the demons in his head. Most people are afraid of him. His name is Don Juan. He has whole parts of the Bible memorized. Sometimes he asks me to read to him. It is amazing to see him converse with God during his highs and lows. The man in the picture is not Don Juan, but he looks something like him.

To be honest, it can be burdensome when you are rushing out the door to the next village or project only to be stopped by Don Juan. He is very sensitive and will only allow the priests to care for him, though he is not Catholic. Of course, that doesn't stop us from helping. I help him, not because he is Catholic, but because I am. We basically have to stop everything and get him some sliced hot dogs, a hard boiled egg, a tortilla, water and coffee. He always asks for an orange, if we have one. To be honest, Fr. Mark is much better with him than I am.

An older man came to the door. He was drunk. It absolutely breaks my heart to see this man stumbling and slurring his speech. This is the time of his life when he should be honored. Instead, the addiction has taken over. He asked me for some food. I told him very clearly, "You cannot come here when you are drunk. I would be happy to share a little something with you when you feel better. Do not come here drunk. There are children and teenagers. You are giving a bad example. I will help you when you sober up."

He acted as if he didn't hear me or that the words didn't make sense. He simply kept repeating, "Una tortilla, Padre." I was getting annoyed. Then, surprising me to no end, Don Juan gave the man a piece of his hot dog. I was stupefied. Here is a desperately poor man reaching out to give to another man, simply because he has something to give. It was a moment of great humility for me. Having something to share is an expression of dignity. Unfortunately, the drunk man just threw it on the ground. He didn't know what it was because most people don't eat hot dogs here. On the bright side, being blind, Don Juan didn't see what he did with the hot dog, and with a smile on his face, gave him another piece.

My heart softened. As sweetly as I could, I asked the drunk man to come back when he was feeling better. As the man left, I blessed Don Juan. From his poverty, he sacrificed for another.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Children having Children-and the women who care for them

In my parish boundary, we have three different orders of Catholic nuns working with our parish: the Ursalines from Cleveland, Sr. Rose Elizabeth Terrell; the Dominicans de la Asunicinita, Hermanas Lucia, Gloria, Mary, y Gloria; and the Franciscan Sisters, Hermanas Maribel y Guadalupe.

The Franciscan sisters invited me to their mother house in Santa Tecla. It is a big city with lots of work to be done. The sisters take care of a retired priest, work on the pastoral staff of parishes in Mission territory (like us), have a clinic, a store, and more. The order is small, only 14 women, most are young novices.

About six blocks away from the Mother House, the sisters have a shelter for children who have children. They can have up to 14 teenage girls who are pregnant or are raising their infant children. All of the girls were innocent victims, almost always at the hands of their own family.

When the girls arrive at the shelter, some as young as ten years old, they are scared of everyone. They don't let you come near them. They don't speak. They just try to blend in to the background and not be noticed.

The dear Franciscan sisters and novices are so gentle and kind. Their patience seems so easy and graceful. I felt like I was in the presence of Saints. Even though I am "healthy," every one of the sisters treated me with the same kind of gentleness and love. It brings me to tears.

The young moms slowly come out of their shells as they learn how to trust Christ. They have classes to help their education and to learn how to be good mothers. The sisters feed them and shelter them. They take them to the hospital to give birth. They bring them home and show them how to nurse their little ones. They teach them basic domestic skills and put structure in their lives. On the wall is written common phrase everyone must use each day: "Excuse me" "Please," "With your permission," "Thank you," "Can I help?"

The babies are all about the same age: between two and three now. They have been living in this healthy environment all their lives. All the moms readily pick up any child that needs a hug. Two of the three year-olds amazed me with their memory. They named every sister and novice in the house and remembered my name and Fr. Mark, even an hour later, yelling out, "Adios Padre Miguel! Salud!"

The young moms were like little sisters. They were not afraid of me. In fact, they love their priest, Fr. Hector, and the dear sisters who dedicate their lives to helping them. They seemed happy and grateful. They even hugged the nuns in a way that meant more than just a casual greetings. It was like seeing a friend who saved your life. It is through these wonderful women these girls found Christ, stability, and hope.

The girls can stay in the shelter until they are 18 years old. The little ones can stay as long as the mother is still there. If they so desire, the sisters will help place the children in an adoption home. Most choose to keep their children. I admire them. It isn't easy being 18 with a five year old.

After my visit, all I want to do is more of God's work. I am so inspired! I am only one man and there is so much work to be done. How I wish I could do it all, to love God's people in every way. In the end, this is not God's plan, and God knows best. He chooses to limit me so that I may share the burden with others and they may share the joy of serving our Lord.