Over the past few years, I have been to Little Rock, Ark., several times to preach missions in both English and Spanish. My main contact there was my cousin, Dan Hennessey, who is a deacon and also an optometrist. This past November, he e-mailed me and asked if I would consider being the priest on the annual mission trip of Christ the King parish to Honduras. I accepted immediately.
The mission is not a sister parish project, something with which many parishes are involved. It is an outreach to a whole diocese, the Diocese of Trujillo, located on the Carribean coast of Honduras. Christ the King has been doing this for about 15 years now and, while most of the participants are from that parish, there were people from other parts of the United States as well.
Two Impressive Elements
On this trip, which began June 8 and concluded June 17, there were doctors, dentists, nurses, teachers, construction volunteers and a teenage team as well. There were likewise missionaries from Honduras who joined us while we were there. Two things that impressed me most about this effort, even before I arrived in Honduras, were first of all the collaborative approach. The Honduran people were respected on every level — medical, local clergy and Church leaders and Honduran lay volunteers. This was not a “Get out of the way, the Americans are here” kind of situation. Along with that, the second thing that caught my attention was that it was a lay led mission. My role was not to lead the whole group. There is a wonderful woman named Sandee Haslauer from the parish who coordinated the whole effort.
My task was to be the priest/chaplain for these wonderful lay missionaries and to participate with the evangelization team in the outreach to the people there in Honduras. My duties included having Mass in English most mornings at 6 a.m. for the missionaries, then heading out for various tasks.
One day, I went to the hospital in Trujillo to visit patients there and to celebrate anointing of the sick for those who were scheduled for surgery. Another day included a visit to a local orphanage run by Franciscan sisters. We had a wonderful Mass in Spanish there, with great participation by the young residents.
Encuentro for Lay Leaders
There were clinics set up in three different towns. Every day began with prayer led by one of the lay missionaries or me. The spiritual and medical components were well integrated.
When I went to each town, I joined with Fr. Felipe, the local priest, in what were called encuentros that were formation sessions for the delegados, the lay leaders from various towns and villages. I felt a real sense of collaboration between them and Fr. Felipe. He treated them like fellow pastoral ministers and respected their input. As these sessions were going on, the doctors, nurses and dentists at the clinic did their work. These days ended with Mass for the whole town. In one of the towns, Marañones, we blessed the new church built with the help of the Christ the King parishioners and the locals.
One of the special highlights of the week was Mass in the cathedral for the Garifuna people. These are black people with a unique history. Their forebearers were on a slave ship headed for Haiti. Their ship wrecked before their arrival. They ended up on an Island fought over by the French and British. They finally left and settled on the Caribbean coast of several Central American countries. They have preserved their own language and culture, expressed in the Mass along with Spanish.
It was a wonderful experience and I have been invited back next year. You can see and read more about this trip on my blog — frjohnsblog.blogspot.com.
— Fr. John, a native of Massachusetts, lives in St. Petersburg, Fla.