24 Mar 2017

"I will rise again in the Salvadoran people'- Remembering Blessed Oscar Romero

Cross post from Pilgrims Progress:

Throughout history, the voice of the prophet is one of the vehicles through which God speaks to the community and to the world. Today, we commemorate one of these prophets. On this day, 37 years ago, evil men in El Salvador tried to silence the voice of a prophet. I claim this date as being special to my life story because it was the month and the year that I was to grace the world, the due date given to my mother. However God had another plan and I arrived a little earlier on January 24th. It continues to be a day where I remember Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero.
Knowing himself to be on the government’s “hit list,” Romero went to the hills to prepare himself for his final confrontation with evil. He telephoned his farewell message to Exclesior, Mexico’s premier newspaper, insisting that like the Good Shepherd, a pastor must give his life for those he loves. Romero was shot while celebrating an anniversary Mass of a  friend’s mother at the local convent. The assassin escaped in the hubbub and has never been found. 250,000 thronged the Cathedral Square for his funeral but sadly even that was not without bloodshed. A bomb exploded. Panic-stricken people stampeded. Forty died. In the next two years 35,000 Salvadorans perished. Fifteen per cent of the population was driven into exile. Two thousand simply “disappeared.” 

My personal admiration for Romero goes back to a discernment weekend which was held in our community in Dublin back in 1997. I remember it vividly because that weekend we watched the movie ‘Romero’. The story of this heroic pastor was life changing. At a certain point of his journey, Romero is shown literally at a crossroads. We see him fall to his knees and he utters a simple prayer: “I can’t, You must, I’m Yours, lead me!” It was the prayer from a heart that didn’t know what to do in the face of such injustice, death and despair. He was the pastor and the sheep continued to be slaughtered and torn from his grasp. I found myself in tears because I realised that that simple prayer echoed the sentiments of my own heart. I had been rebelling against the Lord for such a long time in responding to the call to religious life and I was tired. Romero’s prayer had become my prayer. If I was to embark upon the journey of trying consecrated life, it had to be upon fully surrendering to the guidance of the Shepherd. This simple prayer has been my lifeline on many occasions, a call back to reality and to see that I need to be guided and that I can’t do this on my own. It is a prayer which I whisper often each day when words fail me in prayer or don’t seem to carry me as they usually do.

Today in Italy, the Church marks the “Day for Prayer for Missionary Martyrs”. The United Nations have proclaimed this day “International Day for the Right to the Truth Concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims”.

Last Monday Pope Francis received the Prelates of El Salvador, who are in Rome for their 'ad Limina Apostolorum' visit. They took the opportunity to request that, God, willing, the canonisation ceremony for Blessed Romero take place in El Salvador. What a great event that will be and what a witness for the Salvadoran people that the voice of justice, the voice of the prophet will not be silenced! As Monsenor Romero himself said: "I will rise up in the Salvadoran people". 

On the threshold of the Solemnity of the Annunciation, a quote from Blessed Romero can guide us so as to proclaim a 'Yes' to God's will, like that of Mary's: "Faith consists in accepting God without asking him to account for things according to our standard. Faith consists in reacting before God as Mary did: I don’t understand it, Lord , but let it be done in me according to your word. These are the words of our Mother Mary: let it be done in me according to your word. It is one word: Yes! A life programme! Surrender all! Fiat! Amen! Let it be done.  Believe it or not, the word YES is the most powerful prayer you can make. It is our ‘Amen’. How many times a day do we say ‘Amen’? This is saying that, “I believe God that you probably know what’s best for my life . . . for my life more than I do, and I’m willing to trust you with my life. And I’m willing to go along with what I understand to be your plans for my life."

A more detailed blog post I wrote before about Romero can be found here


Previous posts from SS102fm 
Vatican Radio - Oscar Romero anniversary celebrated in his centenary year

22 Mar 2017

The Tomb of Christ Reopened in Jerusalem

This morning, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theophilos III, presided over the reopening of the shrine over the tomb of Christ within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, after many months of restoration work. (The shrine is known as the Aedicule, from the Latin “aediculum - a small building,” and is contained within a large rotunda which forms the back half of the church.)

New Liturgical Movement notes that The Jerusalem Patriarchate has a fairly active Youtube channel, with the video below; go to after about 30 minutes of milling around, when there is some nice music, and representatives of the various communities that use the church speak, including the superior of the Holy Land Franciscans.

19 Mar 2017

Spiritual Rehydration - The Woman at the well

Cross posted from Pilgrims Progress:
Sometimes we need precisely that moment where we catch a glimpse of our own reflection and realise that the face that looks back at us is sad, tired and confused and needs to be hydrated from the wellspring of life, the encounter with Living Water, Jesus Christ. After the encounter with Jesus at the well, the Samaritan woman becomes a well-woman. Then, the reflection which she sees is that of a beloved child of God, beloved of the Father.

It took a while for her to get to that place where she could feel that. Yet, without realising it, she is like the empty water jug which she carries. It is ready to be filled. She is a container to be filled with the living water which gushes forth from the wellsprings of life. First she hesitates, she focuses on the law. Jesus focuses on grace. Jews weren't supposed to speak to Samaritans. More so, men weren't permitted to address women without their husbands present. And "You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman," she reminded him. "How can you ask me for a drink?" (John 4:9).

If we're honest with ourselves, we're not very different. It can take us a lifetime to believe that anyone would want to seek us out, talk with us, hear our story, acknowledge our hunger and thirst for something more. We can find excuses, focus on stereotypes, customs or prejudices. Jesus focuses on love, compassion and mercy. We are often dehydrated without even realising.

"If you knew the gift of God … " (John 4:10). Do I know the gift of God? Do you know the gift of God? What do we thirst for? Many people thirst for meaning in life. Do we strive for popularity and acceptance? Are you longing to belong? We’re often reminded of what we lack when we search for our self-worth in others. A thirst for love and intimacy is often behind that search. Trying to satisfy our thirst can be difficult. Striving for perfection in relationships can be a constant struggle. That unquenchable thirst seems like it will always be a part of us. But it doesn’t have to be. The gift of God, his Son Jesus Christ, is being offered to us every day, every moment. But first of all, we need to accept the truth about ourselves. Jesus gently but firmly tells the woman at the well about her life, encouraging her towards change. It is not to judge or to castigate but to move her towards that fullness of life promised later in John's Gospel (Jn 10-10). She is free to choose.

There are so many articles and websites out there about the benefits of proper  hydration and drinking more water is one of the safest, healthiest ways to detox the body. For many of you reading this, if you're thirsty, you just turn on the tap and fill up a glass of water and drink it. Simples. There is no reason to be dehydrated but yet often we are. I confess, I'm not always the best for drinking water but one of  my Lenten resolutions has been to be more attentive to this. It reflects the spiritual thirst too which I carry and the commitment to aligning my life more to Christ by hydrating with the Word of God and the Sacraments, healthy relationships and as well as detoxing sin and unhealthy habits.

Jesus is thirsty....we see him expressing this very human need. We will hear him vocalise this need even more poignantly on the cross as he cried out: "I thirst". This Sunday as we look at our own emotional and spiritual thirst, let us be mindful of our brothers and sisters throughout the world who lack clean and running water and for whom thirst is a daily reality.

The Samaritan Woman at the Well

Every time I read the Samaritan woman's story, something new catches my attention.   Not only is this dialogue between Jesus and the Samaritan woman the longest theological debate that Jesus had with anyone, it is also a story where Jesus is challenged by a woman.  In Jesus' time it was believed that a woman's role was in the private sphere, where she was to look after the home and the rearing of the children.  However the Samaritan woman does not follow the accepted norms of her day.  If she had then there would never have been a theological discussion and she would never have become a disciple by spreading the word of God to those in the city.  If she had followed the cultural norms when Jesus had asked for a drink, she would have gone home and Jesus would never have revealed himself as the Messiah to her.     

It is an incredible story to think that it took her only a few hours to challenge Jesus, understand Jesus and accept that he was the Messiah.  The apostles had been with Jesus for a few years but they did not understand who he was.  She challenged Jesus by asking if he is 'greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it'.  She then begins to understand by saying  'I perceive that you are a prophet'.  And when the woman said 'I know that Messiah is coming; when he comes, he will show us all things, Jesus answers 'I who speak to you am he' she accepts that Jesus is the Messiah.  She gained a rich insight into who Jesus was by asking questions.  She was eager to learn.

Jesus said to her when they first meet 'Give me a drink'.  After Jesus spoke to her about water and eternal life, she said to Jesus 'Give me this water.'  She copies what he has said to her.  This shows her gradual understanding and acceptance of what Jesus is saying to her.  The Samaritan woman's story is a powerful story because it places her in the centre of the story with Jesus.  When the apostles return with food, Jesus tries to explain to them about food and eternal life but they did not understand him.  They did not say give me this food, unlike the Samaritan woman who asked for the water and by doing so engaged in a theological discussion with Jesus which resulted in her knowing that Jesus is the Messiah, not his apostles. 

I always marvel at why Jesus chose this Samaritan woman to reveal himself as the Messiah to.  Culturally and religiously speaking it would have been much easier and more appropriate to have revealed himself to his Jewish male apostles.  However Jesus did not do this.  Instead he chose a Samaritan woman, who was alone at the well without any other women and the man she was living with was not her husband.  Yet Jesus does not dwell on these facts as many male theologians have done so throughout the ages.  Instead he sees a woman who challenges, understands and accepts that he is the Messiah.  She brings people to listen to what Jesus has to say and they ask him to stay for two days.  This shows that he is a true disciple of Jesus, bringing people to hear the word of God.    

Just as the Samaritan woman left her water jar behind in order to become a disciple of Jesus, it is time for us to follow in her footsteps, leave our water jars behind and become disciples of Jesus.

E Sexton.

18 Mar 2017

19th March 2017 - Beginning to explore the Ministry of Public Prayer

On this weeks programme, John and Shane are joined by Noirin Lynch from Limerick Diocesan Pastoral Centre who joins us to discuss the steps being taken to explore, develop and support the Ministry of Public Prayer in the diocese of Limerick following on from the request expressed during Synod 2016.

We have a short reflection on this weeks Sunday gospel as well as our regular liturgical odds & ends and notices during the programme.

You can listen to this weeks programme podcast HERE.

Extended Notices

On this weeks programme we covered a lot of forthcoming events. To find out more about what was mentioned please check out the weekly newsletter from the Limerick Diocesan Pastoral Centre for further information or contact the LDPC at 061 400133

Beginning to explore the Ministry of Public Prayer

During Synod 2016, one of the questions which arose was what happens as a praying community when we want to gather prayer but due to circumstances no priest is available to take their role as presider of the praying community could we build up lay people to assist in leading at times of prayer.

On this weeks programme Noirin Lynch joins us to discuss how as a diocese we are beginning to explore and think about the Ministry of Public Prayer - the idea of the leadership of public prayer where as praying communities we have a few people in the parish who can help us to lead, to start us off in public prayer where the need may arise. 

The exploration of the Ministry of Public Prayer is looking at the balance between maintaining our sense of community where we gather together but also preserving the understanding of special-ness of the Sunday Eucharistic gathering of the community.

During the discussion we explore the idea of what is the difference between public prayer (e.g. rosary, taize prayer, pilgrimages, chaplets etc which can be quite diverse, based on different spirituality's and ways of prayer) and the Liturgy (the core public official rituals of the Church as a faith community).

As a diocese we want to be in a situation where if the need arises that each parish has a few people who are comfortable to be able to lead public prayer and also 
Lay led liturgies - Liturgy of the Word (maybe with a Communion service) and/or Liturgy of the Hours (Divine Office)

The journey of exploration of this renewed type of ministry is first off recognising that in many ways it is already happening already with people who lead rosaries or assist with prayers during Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament etc and also resourcing and encouraging members of communities in this role. It is also about creating the backup plan for situations where maybe a priest isn't available at short notice and Liturgies are required. 

Part of the exploration is also about recognising the loss and grief of people will have because we may not be able to attend to daily Mass as often in the future - a loss and grief from love of the Mass. In a sense the journey of exploration is asking how we talk about how can we pray in the morning if we can't have Mass? Lets look at the options and how we as a praying community will still gather to pray.

As part of the process, every parish is to have one lay led liturgy on 25th April 2017.

The interview with Noirin can be listened to excerpted from the main programme HERE.

Gospel - John 4:5-42  - The Samaritan Woman at the Well

Jesus came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of land that Jacob had given to his son Joseph.Jacob's well was there.Jesus, tired from his journey, sat down there at the well.It was about noon.
A woman of Samaria came to draw water.Jesus said to her,"Give me a drink."His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.The Samaritan woman said to him, "How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?"—For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.—Jesus answered and said to her,"If you knew the gift of Godand who is saying to you, 'Give me a drink, 'you would have asked him and he would have given you living water."The woman said to him, "Sir, you do not even have a bucket and the cistern is deep; where then can you get this living water?Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us this cistern and drank from it himself with his children and his flocks?"Jesus answered and said to her, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in hima spring of water welling up to eternal life."The woman said to him,"Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.
"I can see that you are a prophet.Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain; but you people say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem."Jesus said to her,"Believe me, woman, the hour is comingwhen you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.You people worship what you do not understand; we worship what we understand, because salvation is from the Jews.But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth; and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him.God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth."The woman said to him,"I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Christ; when he comes, he will tell us everything."Jesus said to her,"I am he, the one who is speaking with you."
Many of the Samaritans of that town began to believe in him.When the Samaritans came to him,they invited him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days.Many more began to believe in him because of his word, and they said to the woman, "We no longer believe because of your word;for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world."
Reflections on this weeks gospel:

Word on Fire
Centre for Liturgy
English Dominicans
Sunday Reflections

Liturgical odds & ends

Liturgy of the Hours - Psalter week 3; 3rd week of Lent

Saints of the Hours

March 20th - St Joseph (Solemnity)
March 21st - St Enda of Aran
March 22nd - St Nicholas Owen
March 23rd - St Turibius de Mogrovejo
March 24th - St MacCartan also Bl Oscar Romero
March 25th - The Annunciation of the Lord (Solemnity)

Some web browsing............

Feeling like your life is pointless and you’re adrift? - Read what John Henry Newman said about that. God didn't make you for nothing.

Treating saints like superheroes is a dangerous game.

The Irish tradition of ‘vernacular theology’ - Irish folktales can help make sense of complex questions, writes Prof. Salvador Ryan

New Zealand also bans sale of alcohol on Good Friday - “Ireland’s relationship with alcohol, particularly in the context of mental health, depression and suicide, has to be examined.”

What does it actually mean for a priest to be 'laicized'?

Meet the American Monks Who Might Re-Evangelize Ireland - A U.S. Benedictine community has planted roots in the Emerald Isle, becoming the first new monastery in the Diocese of Meath since the Reformation.

Christ in the Desert - Are you lonely? Mourning? Desperate? Afraid? Christ has come to meet you in this desert...

How the words of a stranger eased my grief over my son’s death

New evidence emerging that disproves image of Pius XII as “Hitler’s Pope”

It’s all so blindingly obvious

Faithful Await Vatican Verdict on Medjugorje

Confession must be a pastoral priority, Pope Francis says 

What Pope Francis did when guards tried to stop these Chinese pilgrims

SXSW 2017: Why is the Vatican at a tech conference?

Nuncio Archbishop Brown to leave Dublin post 

Rules of thumb for processing the latest papal bombshell 

Here’s a thought: If it’s fake or implausible, don’t share it

First martyr born in the United States to be beatified in September

Don't expect married priests from Pope Francis, Cardinal Vincent Nichols declares
NCR - Now is the time for married priests

De-Christianization in the West is a real threat. But Putinism isn’t the answer.

NCR Podcast: Austen Ivereigh on Pope Francis

The Catholic Herald's round up of commentary on the fourth anniversary of Pope Francis election -  John AllenHelen AlvaréAFPFr Rocco D’AmbrosioWilliam Doino JrAndrea GagliarducciDavid GibsonRuth GledhillAusten IvereighChristopher LambWyatt MasseyJoshua McElweeRobert MickensJoanna MoorheadNational Catholic ReporterAntoinette PalumboCardinal Pietro ParolinFr Thomas ReeseGianni ValenteMichael Sean Winters and Cardinal Donald Wuerl mark the fourth anniversary of Francis’s election.

Can Catholics dissent from Pope Francis’ teaching on the family? Wrong question.

“Two Lives, One Love” - contribution of the Irish Bishops Conference to the Citizens Assembly
Fake News around pretend "Strike" for Repeal is the norm for mainstream media.
"Eight Amendment was a lifeline to me and Hollie" 
When a baby’s diagnosis is grim, there is a path of hope

Who gave the Church the power to police society? 
Tuam sisters’ silence due to terms of commission 
Facts of Irish infants’ burial remain uncertain, despite outrage - A commission's report, however, fuels a different campaign.
The dark truth about modern Ireland its media don't talk about...
While we are busy apologising for the past we are creating tomorrow’s scandals - The conditions that created the Tuam mother and baby home scandal continue today in the form of unaccountable authorities, misplaced values and warped priorities

Bishop Eamon Casey – a leader who helped millions 
Bishop Casey funeral attended by 1,600

16 Mar 2017

17th March 2017 - Hail Glorious St Patrick! - Apostle and Saint of Ireland

March 17th is the celebration of St Patrick's Day which is the national Irish holiday. It is an occasion when we commemorate firstly the memory of the man who brought the Christian Faith to the Emerald Isle in 432AD and also a celebration of what is good and great about us as a people and a country in culture, song, language and other fields of life. 

St Patrick
Irish College Chapel Rome
It is also a day when we remember in a special way our emigrants - our beloved diaspora - who for many and varied reasons but generally economic ones have had to leave "the land of our birth". 

St Patrick's Day gains in significance while you are away overseas, a day of sadness for being far from kith and kin, but also of joy and pride in being from a little isle on the verge of the mighty Atlantic which, has in its own small way, has contributed to the betterment of society and our world in general through art, music, song, literature, science, peacekeeping under the UN flag, our many NGO's and volunteers, and of course the contribution of our missionaries to the development in many parts of the world in education, health care and the promotion of human rights in the course of spreading the gospel and witnessing to their faith.

We remember all of our diaspora fondly and as we pause in prayer or raise a glass in honour of St Patrick, from our hearts, we wish them all a very Happy St Patrick's Day from the Emerald Isle!

But like so many Christian feasts, St Patrick’s Day has been somewhat hijacked. St Patrick has about as much to do with a pint of Guinness as St Valentine has to do with a box of chocolates and a romantic meal for two. But what does this saint, so strong in missionary zeal and about whom we know very little, have to do with our modern day celebrations? 

The answer comes from the Confessio itself.

In the very opening paragraphs of the autobiography, St Patrick offers a meditation on the gift of faith and the praise that we owe in return to God for such a gift. Perhaps this is St Patrick’s greatest relevance, particularly in a culture that seems increasingly hostile to declarations of faith. He refuses to stay quiet; his evangelising zeal comes from knowing that he must speak to others of Christ:

“That is why I cannot be silent – nor would it be good to do so – about such great blessings and such a gift that the Lord so kindly bestowed in the land of my captivity. This is how we can repay such blessings, when our lives change and we come to know God, to praise and bear witness to his great wonders before every nation under heaven.”   

Enjoy the celebrations of St Patrick’s Day, but remember Christ’s call to conversion in your life; a call to conversion and change that St Patrick felt so strongly that he left behind everything he had and followed Jesus so that he might bring the gospel to others.

Archbishop Eamon Martin’s message for Saint Patrick’s Day 2017

OSV - The real St. Patrick More fascinating than his legends

CNS - Irish archbishop: St. Patrick was an ‘undocumented migrant’ 

CH - Russian Orthodox Church adds St Patrick to its calendar

St Patrick's Day 2017: Meet the sober Dubliners celebrating Ireland's patron saint without a Guinness

From the SS102fm archives! 
Fr Michael Liston introduces St. Patrick as someone who suffered a lot in his youth, but in the middle of all his suffering, he became conscious of God's presence and love.  Fr. Micheal encouraged us to set aside the external celebrations of St. Patrick's day to look at the model of St. Patrick as someone who had discovered the mysterious presence of God in his life.  We are invited to reflect on the reality that God is here with us as He was for Patrick.  God is fond of us. God has time for us. St. Patrick is also a great model of how we should respond to God's grace in our lives.  Patrick recognised his own limitations and the abundance of God's grace working in his life.  Fr. Micheal invited us to confess, as Patrick did, that with all our limitations, it is God who has done this good work in our lives.  Patrick gives glory to God, because the glory is God's.  God has a sheer ghrá (affection/love) for us and we are called through prayer and humility to imitate Patrick by responding to God's grace and love with a spirit of self-giving and gratitude.  This is the true spirit of Patrick. 
You can listen to the podcast of Fr Michael HERE.

At the inauguration of Uachtárain na h-Éireann (President of Ireland) Michael D. Higgins one of the pieces of music performed by Rita Connolly was the "The Deer's Cry" which is St Patrick's Breastplate arranged by Shaun Davy:

A Prayer for Immigrants
Blessed are You, Lord Jesus Christ.
You crossed every border between Divinity
and humanity to make your home with us.
Help us to welcome you in newcomers, migrants
and refugees.
Blessed are You, God of all nations.
You bless our land richly with goods of creation
and with people made in your image.
Help us to be good stewards and peacemakers,
who live as your children.
Blessed are You, Holy Spirit.
You work in the hearts of all
to bring about harmony and goodwill.
Strengthen us to welcome those from other lands,
cultures, religions,
that we may live in human solidarity and in hope.
God of all people,
grant us vision to see your presence in our midst,
especially in our immigrant sisters and brothers.
Give us courage to open the door to our neighbors
and grace to build a society of justice.

Source: Pax Christi

12 Mar 2017

World Meeting of Families 2018 Promotional video

Seeing the impact of Lent donations in Zimbabwe - Trócaire

Cross posted from Trócaire's own website

In November 2016, a Bishops Delegation travelled to Zimbabwe to see Trócaire's work firsthand. 

[From a west Limerick point of view our own Bishop Brendan was one of the bishops who went to see the impact as well as Bishop Phonsie Cullinan formerly of Rathkeale parish in west Limerick 😃]
Four bishops, accompanied by Trócaire staff, visited Trócaire projects and saw the impact of Irish public's generous Lenten donations.
L to R: Bishop Noel Treanor of Down & Connor Diocese, Bishop Alphonsus Cullinan of Bishop of Waterford and Lismore Diocese, Bishop Brendán Leahy of Limerick Diocese and Bishop Denis Nulty of Kildare and Leighlin Diocese, Éamonn Meehan, Trócaire Executive Director, in Zimbabwe, November 2016
Source - Trócaire
The group visited projects ranging from water schemes which provide clean water sources for families to drink and to grow food, to projects supporting people living with HIV, to legal support for familes fighting injustices.


You can read about it here and watch a short video reflection from Bishop Noel Treanor.

Where water can be life and death - A visit to Trócaire's programme in Honduras - Rosemary O'Connor

I was privileged to participate in a field visit to Honduras last November with Trócaire.  The first thing I would say is that the situation in Honduras makes pretty grim reading.   The poverty in which the majority of Honduran people live becomes evident very quickly when you travel through the country.  64% of Honduran people live below the poverty line and 45% on less than €2 per day.  Corruption is rife throughout the country.  Human rights, resource rights and land rights are violated on a regular basis.   

Yet despite all these challenges there are signs of hope and of positive change. I was really struck by the warmth and hospitality of the people and their willingness to share what they had with us.

The water is coming….

Maria José (age 6) and her Mother Miriam Marivel Campos Perez
The Cuyamel community in the North of Honduras is the focus of this year’s Trócaire Lenten Campaign.  Honduras is the most vulnerable country in the world to climate change.  I saw first-hand the devastating effect that rising sea levels and extreme weather has wreaked on a community of 84 families (approximately 500 people).  Miriam Marivel Campos Perez and her 6 year old daughter Maria José feature on this year’s Trócaire box.  Miriam and Maria live on the Cuyamel sandbar.  The area where they live is very beautiful – wouldn’t anyone love to live on the beach? 

The problem for Miriam, Maria and their neighbours is that the sea is encroaching further and further into their community.  There used to be an 800 metre beach between the community and the sea.  This is now reduced down to 35 metres.  Between September and February is the rainy season in Cuyamel.  At least once a week people have water coming into their houses.  They wear flip flops all the time because the ground is so wet and muddy. 

At least twice a year the area is flooded and the community has to evacuate in fear of their lives.  The evacuation usually happens at night; one single mother of six small children described the terror of the water coming in and trying to get her children to safety.  The road gets flooded so the only route out is via boat on a narrow canal.  The community has access to only two boats with the capacity to evacuate 25 people at a time.   Trócaire has supported the community with training and resources to establish a disaster committee to coordination evacuations and emergency responses.  They have also supported the dredging of the canal which had been blocked with mud and debris from previous storms and floods.

Elvia (age 65) and her husband Candido (age 70)
Candido and Elvia also live on the Cuyamel sandbar.  When we visited them they had suffered some damage to their house during a storm towards the end of October 2016.  Candido and Elvia have lived on the sandbar all their lives; they have raised their family there and were hoping to enjoy their retirement there.

Eliva and Candido’s home after a storm on the 8th of January 2017
On the 8th of January 2017 another storm came, the water came, the community evacuated and sadly Elvia and Candido’s home was taken by the sea.  This retired couple are left with no home.

This is the reality of climate change for the people of Cuyamel; their homes and their livelihoods are being swept away leaving them vulnerable and dependent on support from agencies like Trócaire.  The irony is that a country like Honduras contributes the least to climate change yet they are the ones that suffer the most.  When we visited Cuyamel one of the community leaders asked us to convey this message:
“Thanks to God that you have come here; can you pass on the message to the international community – we need help”.  
This Lent if you contribute to Trócaire you will be helping people like Candido and Elvia to re-establish their lives, you will be helping Miriam to ensure her daughter Maria gets a good education and you will be helping the people of Cuyamel to survive the detrimental effects of climate change.

Turning the Tide on Gender Based Violence

One of the statistics given to us in Honduras remains ingrained in my mind; that is that 9 out of 10 women in Honduras have suffered some form of physical violence; physical violence will almost always inevitably also include sexual violence[1].  Gender based violence is a very serious issue in Honduras, and unfortunately many other countries.  We asked the question as to what is the cause of violence on such a scale.  Its roots are cited as being cultural; a ‘macho’ culture that has managed to perpetuate itself over many generations without being challenged; alcohol, drugs, poverty and oppression were also mentioned. 

Eduardo, Rose, Merlyn and Elvina, La Cuesta Community
I was deeply moved by the Honduran women; their great faith, their courage, their resilience, their desire for a different future for their children.  MerIyn and Elvina (in the photograph) are both survivors of gender based violence. Merlyn shared some of her own story; how her teenage daughter’s attempt to take her own life drove her to take action and get her family out of a violent environment.  Merlyn has trained as a community leader.  Eduardo (also in the photo) is hoping to train as a youth leader.  Merlyn and Elvina and many other women are turning their lives around with the support of Trócaire and its partners - Ayo in La Cuesta and AMDV in the South. 

I  was greatly inspired by the work that Trócaire is doing, working with local community partners providing leadership training, legal support and empowering local women to find their voice and stand up for what is just.  Collectively they are slowly, slowly turning the tide on gender based violence.  Women are being empowered; young girls and boys are being educated to recognise that the norms and culture they have been operating in needs to be challenged.  I believe we have a lot to learn from the women of Honduras.

“What greater grief than the loss of one’s native land” Euripedes

Welcome banner prepared by the local community in Zacate Grande

We visited the Zacate Grande Peninsula in the South of Honduras.  It is a stunning area; these beautiful houses that you see below have been built by Honduras’s elite – there are approximately 15 families in Honduras that have the power and influence to control the economy and the media. 

The reality is however that they have effectively stolen the land that the houses are built on from the local people; families who have lived there for multiple generations.  Through corrupt means they have acquired the rights to the land and evicted the families, subjecting them to legal challenges; a number of people have been imprisoned for trespassing on their own land.  By contrast the photo below gives you a sense of how the local people have to live.  

Zacate Grande Peninsula
Trócaire is working with ADEPZA to provide legal support in challenging the land rights and also the human rights of the local people using the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The President of the community association Nelly Canales expressed gratitude for the support from Trócaire by saying 
"thanks for always being on our side in the fight of the people".

Eco-Farming & Diversification

The final project we visited was also in the South of Honduras supported by Trócaire through AMDV.  

Women farmers in Namasigue
We met this group of women in the photo who have been trained in eco-farming methods.  They were so proud of their work and their achievements.  They have been working on diversifying their crops growing chillies, cucumber, beans, corn and pumpkin – we got to sample some of their produce. 

Trócaire has supported them with training and an irrigation system.  It was lovely to end our visit on such a positive and hopeful note.

There are a number of strengths of Trócaire’s approach – firstly the fact that Trócaire is seeking to address the root cause of the challenges in Honduras; whether it be in the area of climate change, land rights, resources rights or human rights including women’s right to live a life free of violence.  My sense is that this is the only way to address the issues in the long term.  It would be easy to fall into the trap of focusing on alleviating symptoms and achieve short term ‘quick wins’ however the real issues would still not be addressed.

I was very taken with Trócaire’s policy of working with and through local partners.  It doesn’t parachute in support from outside.  Local partners have the benefit of understanding the nuances of the local context and culture and facilitate connecting with the communities.  This really helps with the process of building up capacity within communities; identifying and training local leaders who can in turn train more leaders.

Finally I believe the approach of aiming for long term change is ultimately the best that Trócaire can do for Honduras.  By building capacity and empowering the people themselves Trócaire will leave a sustainable legacy that will have longevity beyond any aid programme.  Investing in the people facilitates them to be masters of their own destiny.

Young children in Namasigue
I will be keeping the people of Honduras in my heart for a long time to come; there are so many parallels between their struggle and our own history.  They are strong and courageous people.  When you see Miriam and Maria on your Trócaire box this year I hope you get a sense of the people behind the picture.  Every penny you put in that box will help to make a difference in their lives and lives of others like them.

Rosemary O'Connor

[1] According to figures from COSC and the CSO 9% or 1 in 11 Irish women have experienced domestic violence.