Holy Thursday in Ordinary Time: Honduras
By Jean Stokan, Institute Justice Team
Many of us have had the graced opportunity to be with someone just before they died. It’s a time when emotions of profound love, sorrow and gratitude swirl at levels deep. If someone is critically ill, we may witness or be part of a medical intervention trying to do everything possible to prevent our loved one from dying unnecessarily.
Last week, accompanying a Honduran Jesuit priest, Ismael Moreno Coto SJ, in Washington, D.C., I felt like I was at the Last Supper, breaking bread with a man whose life was in balance. Fr. Moreno is director of the Jesuit-affiliated Radio Progreso as well as of the Center for Reflection, Investigation and Communication (ERIC). Since the June 2009 coup d’etat in Honduras, he, along with other members of Radio Progreso and ERIC, have received numerous death threats related to their work of uncovering human rights violations by the wealthy and powerful against defenseless social sectors.
Earlier this year, the UN named Honduras the most violent country in the world. Some are even more at risk for having spoken out on injustice.
While he didn’t bring his personal story into his formal presentation, he shared more in a number of visits with Congressional offices, illustrating how deep the corruption of the Honduran security forces is. He also mentioned that in staff meetings at Radio Progreso, the team members half-jokingly say, “Which one of us will be killed next?” He added that international solidarity and vigilance is the only thing that can help prevent this rhetorical question from becoming a concrete reality. Yet, for too many, Good Friday has already come.
Beyond the political violence and targeting of journalists, human rights defenders and community leaders in Honduras, violence from organized crime and narco-trafficking has skyrocketed.
As Mercy, we know from our own Honduran sisters that no investigation has been done since the blood sister of our Sister Sandra was abducted over two years ago—leaving three children orphaned.
Two of our Honduran associates also had come to Washington, DC last October to present on various cases of violence against women to the Inter-American Human Rights Commission. And weekly, our Institute Justice Team receives email reports with a steady diet of the human rights violations that are tearing that country apart.
The U.S. government is pouring money into Honduras — as well as Mexico, Guatemala and Colombia — as part of a “war on drugs,” but this remilitarization of the Central America region is instead only fueling the fire. Given the deeply entrenched structures of corruption and impunity within the Honduran security forces, public ministry and judicial system, as reported in Fr. Moreno’s testimony, U.S. funds serve to strengthen this institutional corruption and perpetuate impunity.
Our Mercy advocacy work is focused on pressing the Obama Administration and Congressional offices to stop fueling the fire of violence. Over the next several months there will be debates in the House of Representatives, as some want to remove provisions that would condition U.S. aid to the region on progress in human rights. It seems that, once again, economic interests could trump human rights. If you are not already on the Institute Justice Team’s “nonviolence” advocacy list and want to be notified of action you can take, please follow this link.
The recent mass killing in Colorado, as well as gun violence every day in our inner city neighborhoods, further makes real how our world is awash in weapons—and desperation.
Just as when we’re seeking help for a critically ill loved one, the question is how to couple our prayer with the most effective action we can think of to stop unnecessary death and suffering. In whatever corner of the world we are ministering, we are all “at the table” together with God’s people, some of whom are counting on us to do everything we can so that they may live another day.
Fr. Moreno returned to Honduras and I keep wondering what will happen to him. When you’ve looked into the eyes, have broken bread with, or in some way touched a people “condemned to death,” the bonds grow deeper and the sense of accountability sharper.” The picture I keep in my office of our Honduran associate Nelly (from her time with us at the SOA vigil) reminds me of that sense of accountability. I also keep a picture of Norma, Sister Sandra’s beloved sister who disappeared as a sign of defiance–that she will not disappear from our prayers and from our work to end impunity. How could I not do this, having once held her 3-month-old baby in my arms?
Yet it’s not all about sadness and pain. Drawing close to such stories and to Jesus figures, a power comes out from them. Hope and courage feel thick. A mysterious sparkle radiates from the eyes of those who live so passionately for justice that they would give up their lives for the love of others. Lives so filled with meaning inspire me to no end.
Touching their cloak, I pray that power infuses us all.