Franciscan Friars of the Renewal
The Fastest Way to Transform a Society
by Fr. John Anthony Boughton, CFR
Over the past few years of walking the dirt streets of the barrio in which we live, here in Honduras, one can see changes taking place. When we first arrived, many of the houses were made of sticks with mud and rocks filled in between. This style of construction is called bajareque.Other homes are made of adobe, a couple of steps above the bajareque in quality.These consist of sun dried mud bricks just as you would often see the South West of the US.Both types, ideally, are usually finished off with a smooth layer of plaster or stucco.But to maintain these takes much work. Most are cracked and crumbling with a lack of care.The other daily needs, such as fire wood to cook, hauling water, and washing clothes by hand, push off house repair until often it is too late.The roofs on these houses vary depending on how much money people were able to scrape together.Some are made of tin over wood slats.These catch all the heat and radiate it inside, and when it rains hard, it sounds like the whir of some fast machine.The more preferable roofs are of tile which insulate from the heat and are quieter, but these are expensive. There are still many types of both kinds of houses in our neighborhood, but the face of the barrio is changing.
As people receive money sent from relatives living in the US, cinderblock and concrete homes are becoming more normative. This type of income is the single largest in the country of Honduras, over and above any industry from within.. As has always been the case in countries where banks can fail easily, most people put any expendable cash into the construction of their home or in the purchase other things. A savings account is almost unheard of for the majority of the population. So, one sees many unfinished new houses, with people often “camping out” inside as they await a time when they can move the work to the next step. Yes, the face of our neighborhood is changing. It is beginning to look more prosperous, relatively speaking, though the houses are usually still small, with multiple generations living in one big room just as in the mud and wood homes. I often wonder, what will really change this society and its cycle of poverty?
Walking down the street behind our Friary one sees mostly the newer cinderblock homes. One of these houses in particular, however, stands out from all the rest, not for its exterior but for what it is from within. It is called Casa Milagro, (Miracle House). The house grew out of our consistent contact with the young people in our barrio. Time and time again we would get to know some of the dreadful living situations and histories of these very bright children. In projecting just a little toward the future, most often it appeared that they would be doomed to falling back into the same cycles of ill-education, broken family structure and poverty that have plagued this country for centuries. Even if one attains a cinder block home, it doesn’t mean the living situations within is any different than one with a mud floor. Some statisticians here say that sexual abuse strike 4 out of 5 young girls before they are of age. Even if it is half of that, it is still outrageous. At one point we became aware of several very serious situations in the lives of a few girls in our neighborhood. We realized we would be accountable to God if we did nothing. So with the help of a trained social worker, and a strongly Catholic woman who had been working as a house mom at an orphanage down the road for 14 years, we decided to rent a multi-room cinder block house to try and change the odds in the futures of a few girls in the neighborhood.
The goal of Casa Milagro, first and foremost, is to form these at risk girls in a family environment built on the solid rock of Jesus Christ. They are formed in prayer and work, and they receive an education. If they persevere then they may be given the opportunity to receive a University education. The hope is that they are able to become professional women who can choose whatever vocation God calls them to in life. Sadly, most women don’t get that chance here. Casa Milagro is a home that fills a gap in the society for girls who are too old to enter any of the orphanages around the country and yet too young to be on their own. Each of the girls had no recourse other than to live on the streets, or in physically and psychologically dangerous situations at the homes in which they were raised. The house quickly grew from 3 girls to 6 girls, and it has the capacity for eight. We have no doubts that it will be filled. It is a place of hope for the future.
The house mom is tasked with running the place. She sets the prayer schedule. They eat meals together for a set minimum time. Family meal time is invaluable in forming community, and shaping individuals. The girls share responsibilities around the house. They go to school together and to Mass. They are encouraged to dress modestly. They are required to participate in the faith formation programs run by our lay missioner friends, ‘The Missioners of Christ’. They also have to give a few hours a week of service work. Currently they are all serving at the home for handicapped children and are happily learning sign language. The girls are required to meet regularly with the guidance counselor and a psychologist to help them deal with some of their past and to set them on a good footing for the future. Each of the girls takes the opportunity at Casa Milagro very seriously. They know that they have been given a chance that most will never get. They also know that they can leave at any time freely. I must say, it really is marvelous to see these young ladies brighten up as they begin to have the hope of a real future, often for the first time.
From the outside, this little house doesn’t look much different than the other finished cinder block homes on the street. But what is happening within is very different. A few young lives are being transformed and given a chance to grow in healthy soil. They are coming to know the Lord, being given human formation and getting through school. Looking at the lives of the poor in Honduras, in the States, or anywhere, it is easy to think that throwing money at the situation will change things. Certainly there is a need to cover basic necessities such as putting a roof over someone’s head. But the quickest way to change lives and the society is conversion to Christ, human formation built on Him and education. Please pray for the young ladies at Casa Milagro, and for the beautiful people here in Honduras.
Addendum: A year ago, I published an article
To my children Oscar R. Myriam Patricia, Marta Eugenia y Hector Fernando, to my husband Oscar Diaz to my grandchildren, (Elsa, Alex, Aaron, Julia, Alex, Matt, Paul, Katie, Danny, Patty and Oscarito,) to my dearest daughters-in-law and to all the people that have touched my life and made me such a wealthy woman; To my wonderful dearest friends and their families, and my beloved cousins-my sisters, and each of their children. All of you are my dearest, dearest family.
The purpose of a will is to designate people who are to receive the property own(ed) by the person who has died. It is time for me to decide what I want to leave you. I have little material worth but to each of you, my dearest family, and godchildren and friends I leave gifts of infinite more value. I had to pay a high price for some of these gifts so keep them with care. I bequeath the following to each of you.
First, I want you to have a sense of curiosity and a love of knowledge. The world around us is so rich. Read, learn, and stretch your mind. Never stop asking “why?”
I leave you the ability to put love into action. Make an effort to comfort the suffering to bring a sense of purpose and worth to old ones (the elderly,) to help mend those who are broken. The purpose of life is to leave your blessings on the lives of the people who share your world. Wed your hands and your heart and spend a lifetime renewing this wedding vow.
I want each of you to have hunger for truth and goodness and justice. Be enraged by evil. Shout a loud, “No!” in the face of racism, bigotry, and prejudice. Do not just passively pray “Thy Kingdom come.” Get out there and build the Kingdom. Someone wiser than me once observed, “The only thing necessary for evil to win is for good people to be silent and do nothing.” Please I ask you to be strong, honorable, be honest, and be good. Do not just curse the darkness of evil- light the candle.
I ask each of you to have a discerning heart. Listen closely and you will learn to discern the pain behind someone’s cursing or crying or anger or sarcasm. Love, truly love those who have nothing and give them your heart, fight for them, and help them through their darkness.
I ask you to acquire the ability to belong to the people you love. Love relationships are like gardens. They enrich your life with beauty; they nurture and feed you, and give you life. However, like gardens, love relationships require much work; weeding and mulching and watering and care. If you want to be enchanted in your 40’s by the friends and spouse you met in your 20’s you must be certain that your garden gets the right kind of nourishment along the way.
True humility, truly humble people value themselves. Each one of you is a gift from God therefore you are truly glorious, yes you can always be more; more loving, more gentle, more honest, and more giving. But always remember you are indeed truly wonderful just as you are right now. Be sorry for your failings but at the same time give thanks for the goodness that you have now. Give thanks for the blessings you receive, every day thank God, talk to him! Treasure your growth rather than focusing on your mistakes or inadequacies. Rejoice in the miracle of you as I have.
I leave with you the knowledge that loving is its “own reward.” Do not say “I love you” just to hear “I love you too” back. Say, “I love you” to someone that has offended you, or that has not cared about you, but make it come from the depth of your heart. At the end of the day, it does not matter. What matters is only that you love. Do not just say it as an expression of your needs, and certainly not to expect a reciprocal statement. Concentrate on being a lover not on being loved. My dearest family, please become great lovers and I promise you that you will be loved.
I want you to know that the time may come when you may feel guilty thinking perhaps that you should have told me that you loved me more often. Maybe you think that you might have hurt me when we have argued. Please reject that silly guilt I know that you love me and you have no idea of the pleasure each one of you have brought me, the laughter and joy. I love you I will never forget you!!!
Marta Julia C. de Díaz