Brief History of the Mission
The CFR Honduras Mission began on Pentecost Sunday of the Jubilee Year 2000. The establishment of the mission was preceded by a short-term visit to Honduras by five Friars in 1999 to study Spanish and help in a small way with the rebuilding of the country after the devastation of Hurricane Mitch. At that time the Friars met the then-Bishop of Comayagua, Monseñor Gerald Scarpone, OFM, a veteran American missionary. Bishop Scarpone invited us to consider establishing a house in his diocese.
Bishop Scarpone gave the Friars a residence in a tough neighborhood on the outskirts of town. It had originally served as the diocesan minor (high school) seminary and a Sunday chapel for the residents of the area. Most recently it had been occupied by Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity, who had just moved on to a new convent constructed for them by the Bishop on the grounds of a home for the elderly. The Friars cleaned and arranged the friary, breaking through a wall into an unused space between the seminary property and the local parish church, which they utilized to begin to raise chickens, rabbits and pigs. The Friars decided to continue the apostolate begun by the Missionaries of Charity of visiting and providing monthly food provisions to very poor local families, and took over the spiritual direction of a parish youth group. Plans were laid with Caritas of Comayagua for a housing project for 66 families in the mountain village of Los Planes del Horno, which would last for two years. Informal ministry began with the children of the neighborhood.
In 2001renovations began on the friary that would last for two years. Monthly trips of a priest and a brother to support and guide the work in Los Planes were made. The Friars also celebrated a monthly Mass in English in Tegucigalpa for Catholic diplomatic families, some of whom would journey to Comayagua to help us pack food for distribution to the poor and bring provisions for the Friars. At that time we also made regular visits to the Catholic student group at Zamorano, a Pan-American agricultural university located near the capital. At the request of the Bishop, monthly mini-missions were conducted in neighborhood chapels in a sector on the other side of town that was destined to become a parish. They were met with an enthusiastic response. During that time additional lots of land were acquired in the name of the Diocese in the empty field beside the Friary for the future construction of Casa Guadalupe, and – later on – down the road for the eventual construction of the St. Benedict Joseph Medical Center. The first surgical mission conducted in conjunction with Light of the World Charities took place in August at the public hospital in La Paz. In December of 2001 the Friars directed the first Pan de Vida retreat in commemoration of the 500 th anniversary of the First Mass on the continental Americas that had taken place on the north coast of Honduras. More than a dozen Pan de Vida retreats have been conducted in Honduras and Nicaragua.
The Missioners of Christ established their presence with the arrival of Carol Restaine, who began to work with the girls in the neighborhood and organize Pan de Vida retreats and other evangelization activities, as well as assist with food-distribution and medical missions. In late 2002 construction began on the St. Benedict Joseph Medical Center; it was blessed, dedicated and opened its doors for service in May of 2004. Construction began on Casa Guadalupe in May of 2003, and one section was opened to welcome medical mission patients and visitors in July 2005; the facility was officially opened in December of 2006.
CFR Life in Honduras
The life of the friars in Honduras parallels the life of the Friars in the US, but adjusted to integrate into a Central American context. The setting of the friary is moral rural and rustic. Comayagua is a small-town diocese where almost everybody in the Church knows almost everybody else by name. We get up earlier and go to bed earlier, in tune with the rhythm of the life of our neighbors. Care of the rabbits and chickens is added to our daily chores. There are fewer phone calls and more knocks on the door. Our vehicles are pickups and we stick pretty close to home, rarely traveling beyond the borders of the country, which is about the size of the state of Tenessee. The events at which we preach are smaller in size and local in nature. We do a lot of local Mass and Confession helpouts. We pray and celebrate Mass in Spanish, and our diet includes a lot of rice and beans and tortillas, and perhaps not as much meat.
Our neighborhood streets are all unpaved and are either dusty or muddy, depending on the season, and are gouged by ruts and pocked with holes and accompanied by open drains. Most people travel by foot or bicycle, and if it’s far by bus or taxi (it costs a dollar to take the taxi into town). Ox carts pass by frequently, as do tractor-trailers on the way to a local mechanic shop. Occasionally a pickup with a loudspeaker will be heard, advertising its fares. Houses of adobe and bajereque (constructed with planks or boughs nailed alternately inside and outside of corner posts, filled in with rocks and covered with mud and lime) are mixed in with those of cement block and brick, interspersed with empty lots and fields. Roofs are of clay tile, sheet metal or corrugated fiberboard. Floors are of dirt or cement, a few have tile. Glass windows are rare. Many homes still have outhouses; sewage lines have only just arrived. Most, but not all homes have city water; fewer have electricity with drooping lines stretching from a telephone pole. Children are everywhere; contraception still feels unnatural (as indeed it is) to Hondurans. When the water is high they swim in the polluted stream nearby, where many women still wash their laundry (to hang it up afterwards on barbed-wire, which serves as a clothesline and clothespins at the same time). Sadly most of these children live with their single mothers, or with grandparents. A group of boys or young men with a soccer ball is a standard feature, as are naked toddlers (due to the expense of diapers). Almost every family has a relative in the States; sometimes you can tell by how nice the house is. Most families have lost a loved one to a violent or premature death. There are pulperias (small corner stores) on every block, and sometimes two or three. Churros (chips) cost a lempira a bag and are a favorite treat for children. Many things sold only by the box in the US can be bought individually there (like aspirin or bullion cubes). There is much vegetation (green in the rainy season, brown in the dry) but not many trees except for bananas and mangos (people cook with firewood). Goats, pigs, donkeys and chickens wander freely through the neighborhood feeding on what they can. Latino music is often heard playing in the distance, punctuated by the firecrackers that Hondurans love to set off. Many evenings screams and loud music can be heard from the strong, outward-turned speakers of storefront evangelical churches that dot the neighborhood. On Sundays the ranchero hymns and Padre Nuestro (sung to the melody of Simon and Garfunkel’s Sound of Silence) float from the parish church next door into the friary. There’s a chorus of roosters crowing every morning before the sun rises on one side of the valley, and a chorus of dogs barking in the evening after it sets on the other, often accompanied by the tolling of our chapel bell for Matins or Compline.
Because Honduras is such a poor and underdeveloped country, we are often confronted with severe poverty and extreme suffering. We deal regularly with basic matters of life and death, including anointings, wakes, funerals and burials. But the challenge is the opportunity, and here in this beautiful but broken country we meet Christ daily in the poor, discover His Kingdom all around us and witness the Gospel coming to life before our very eyes.
Franciscan Friars of the Renewal