Honduras: “Communities that used to kill each other now pray together”

Life is not easy for Christians in Honduras, who must deal with criminal gangs, poverty, and a shortage of vocations. Veronica Katz, project coordinator for Central America at the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), recently visited the country and says that the fruits of pastoral work and the commitment of the country’s Catholic community are a source of hope.

Verónica Katz visiting the sisters of the congregation of Little Sisters Apostles of Redemption
Verónica Katz visiting the sisters of the congregation of Little Sisters Apostles of Redemption

What was the situation that you found in Honduras during your trip?

Honduras is the second poorest country in Latin America, with 75 percent of the population living in poverty, with high levels of inequality. The country is facing a serious energy crisis, with constant blackouts to ration electricity. Furthermore, extreme climate conditions have led to seasons of drought, or, on other occasions, torrential rain and massive floods, which are terrible for agriculture. Nonetheless, there is an even greater threat, which is the violence of the “maras”.

Who are the “maras”?

They are Central American gangs that operate in the drug market, and they are very violent. Honduras is a transit route for drug trafficking to the European Union and other countries. The Honduran maras control practically all of it. Families have trouble keeping businesses afloat, because of the “war tax”, a fee that the maras impose on citizens, and which is often impossible to pay.

And how does the Honduran Church fare in this climate of violence?

During our visit to the capital, our hosts explained that in some zones it is very difficult to carry out pastoral work, especially with all the conflicts between the maras, since the different gangs fight over territory. We visited a parish in a part of the city controlled by these gangs, which makes the Church’s work extremely complicated. The bishops’ conference has issued a call for peace and asked the government to take measures to quell the insecurity in the country. All this makes the Catholic Church’s pastoral work even more important than ever.

Honduras, Project trip November 2023. Church in renovation in the diocese of Gracias.
Honduras, Project trip November 2023. Church in renovation in the diocese of Gracias.

What other challenges does the Church face in its pastoral work?

The lack of priests is a real problem. In Honduras priests serve four times more people than, for example, in France. What is more, education levels are low, transportation outside of the cities is difficult, and there is hardly any formation in the parishes. The faithful are very poor and there is a great lack of catechetical material. They want formation material, but they don’t have the means to purchase it.

On the other hand, the government makes it very difficult for foreign religious to obtain visas. They have to fulfil all sorts of requirements and present many documents, which makes it difficult to enter and to remain in the country.

What were the highlights of your trip?

There was something that I found very moving. A priest told me that when he arrived at his parish there was a vicious conflict between two communities. He said that, thanks to constant prayer, God intervened and now these two groups have reconciled. This is difficult to fathom: communities that used to kill each other now pray together.

The Hondurans are very open to the divine, and this is good, because they sincerely search for God, but it also makes them open to anybody willing to pass on spirituality, making them easy prey for sects, which have spread throughout the country. There is also a high degree of superstition in Honduras.

Why is there a growth of these sects in Honduras?

Hondurans are a people of great faith. They need God. However, as I mentioned, there are not enough Catholic priests to fulfil everybody’s spiritual needs. The few priests there are already have a very heavy workload. Honduras has the highest percentage of Protestants of any country in Latin America. There has been a remarkable increase in the number of Evangelical churches, and Protestants currently outnumber Catholics. What is more, many of these Protestant sects are funded by groups in the United States. The result is that the number of pastors is increasing, and they go to the areas that are under-served by Catholic priests. Those who are Catholic basically out of habit, rather than conviction, end up being drawn to those sects. The Catholic Church has been making a big effort to educate its faithful to better resist this invasion of other Christian denominations and sects.

Restoration of the Temples of the Villages of Tule and Terrero.
Restoration of the Temples of the Villages of Tule and Terrero.

What is the degree of commitment of the faithful, despite all these challenges?

Most Catholics are deeply committed to their parishes and participate actively, taking part in social activities. I was surprised at how people who work tirelessly since dawn in their coffee or cornfields, or taking care of livestock, then spend all afternoon in their parishes. Their calendars are full of religious activities, that completely fill up their spare time. We found communities that were full of life, and very well organised. Instead of living an individual faith, they live their faith together, as a community, which is very beautiful. There are motivated priests, committed laity and structured pastoral care. When you have this combination, you really begin to see positive results and pastoral fruits.

You visited a lot of ACN’s projects in Honduras. What kind of projects does ACN support there?

Over the past five years, ACN has funded 65 projects in Honduras, worth almost one million euros. Almost a third are related to construction and refurbishment of parishes, rural chapels and parish halls. We have also supported the formation of pastoral agents and seminarians, besides providing subsistence aid for religious, support for catechetical material and media, and the purchasing of vehicles for missions.

 

By Lucía Ballester.

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