by Kathleen R. Neely, OSU

After receiving the invitation to the Interfaith Root Causes Pilgrimage to Honduras, March 18–25, 2019, I felt called to participate. The Leadership of my community—the Ursuline Sisters of Louisville, fortunately affirmed my request. I became one of 75 delegates to walk for a week in solidarity with our sisters and brothers of this beautiful, but challenged, Central American country.

The pilgrimage was organized by Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity of Oakland, California, and included representatives from: Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR); Sisters of Mercy of the U.S. and South America; SHARE El Salvador of Berkeley, California; Central American Resource Center (CARECEN); Jesuit Conference of Canada and the U.S., and others.

At customs, we were told to state the reason for our visit: “We are faith leaders invited by Father Ismael “Melo” Moreno, S.J. to learn about the root causes of migration.”

The coordinator of our delegation, Rev. Deborah Lee, executive director of Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity, gave us questions to answer upon our return home: “How am I changed? What have I learned? How will this experience live on through me? What have I learned about the way I live that will have to change? What did we see that I did not know? How was my world turned upside down or broken open?” Before I began to respond to these questions, my sister, Martha, simply asked me, “How was your trip to Honduras?” As I answered my sister, Rev. Lee’s questions were also answered, I believe.

We were given much information to share, most of which can be found on the organizers’ websites. Sister Doris Regan, OP, wrote an excellent article about the experience in Global Sisters Report titled “Faith Leaders trek to Honduras.”

The following words are a humble attempt to share something of this experience with the readers of our blog.

We were divided into three groups. My group, San Pedro Sula, visited a settlement of 250 families. This community offered us what little seating they had as their children played around us, laughing and running—truly children in their own world.

This group of families is very well organized. The women are their leaders. They take the risk of speaking out to claim what is just for their families. One mother brought her son to us, who has hemophilia. She has to be careful that he does not cut himself because she has no way to buy medicine.

This community built their homes eight years ago above a garbage heap on land that had been abandoned for 40 years. They cleaned up the space and settled upon it because they had no other place to go. A man, while on the campaign trail for mayor, promised that they would have titles to this land. He became mayor but has given no titles. He presently favors the company who owns the high-rise building beside them; the company wants the land in order to expand their business. The community asked us if we could write a letter to the mayor supporting their request for titles. We wrote, signed and sent the letter.

These people work eleven hours a day for very little pay at jobs in agriculture, working in the field on other people’s land; as security guards for offices; in micro businesses; as domestic workers, or seamstresses in the “maquilas,” or sweat shops.

The words of one of the women stays with me: “No one here wants to leave. If we leave, we die.” Ten people have already been killed fighting for this land. “We don’t want to go on a caravan. Now we live with tension.” A man seated, unable to stand, added, “We have always lived according to the law, but now we answer only to the law of God, our God of life who wants us to live.”  Later in the day we heard the words of the national anthem of Honduras: “Hondurans will die, but we will die with honor.” Those words spoke so loudly to me.

We also visited a center for families called “Paso a Paso,” which translated means step by step.  We were met with the smiling faces of the women and children, and a beautiful tree in the center of their patio—their “Arbol de la Vida,” or tree of life—that they planted from a small branch many years ago. Hanging from its limbs were five colorful banners expressing the five pillars of their work: education, non-violence, caring for self and others, respecting nature and feminism. These five goals are based on the objectives of Pablo Ferrer, a Brazilian educator.

With these goals in mind, the families work toward healing trauma, overcoming anxiety and growing spiritually to thrive in their lives. They proudly showed us the lovely crafts made in their shop, which make beautiful gifts to share. They make much of their art, bags and coin purses from recyclable materials. The mothers even repair clothes in their workshop. All learn to cook and are closely monitored. A phrase I heard that impressed me greatly is that they teach resilience, so necessary in all of our lives! The directress said very casually, “The children go to school each day, then come here to be safe.”

There is another experience that I would like to share. On the bus, Padre Melo asked if we wouldn’t mind stopping to be with a group outside the Taiwan Embassy in Tegucigalpa. A young man from Honduras was asking for asylum there. His family and friends were gathered outside the embassy. We spoke individually to persons in the group simply to show our solidarity and support, and to promise our prayers. I spoke with a woman who thanked us wholeheartedly for sharing five minutes of our time! Presently, I do not know the outcome of his situation.

Recently, as I was participating in the Stations of the Cross in the parish where I live and work, I was reminded of walking with the people as we prayed the Stations of the Cross in the streets of Honduras. Up to seven or eight individuals took turns carrying the large wooden cross through the streets. The idea was easily understood that we all must help each other with the burdens and crosses that we are asked to carry. Each of us needs to ask ourselves, “In what ways are WE responsible for what is happening in our own country and in the countries of our sisters and brothers?” For we are surely ALL ONE GLOBAL FAMILY on this very small planet called Earth.

What ARE the root causes of the migrant caravans? The answer is a combination of things: economic factors; organized crime; the drug trade; misuse of economic aid from the USA to the Honduran military each year which is used to repress the people; and large companies, such as United Fruit and Dole, which gain much profit and pay little to their employees.

There is so much more I could say; I have a book of notes to share. For now, I simply wish to quote Pope Frances: “Let’s build bridges and not walls.”