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...On a Trip to Central and South America...


Thanks for a wonderful day last Saturday (3/11/06). I really enjoyed being with you. A couple of additional items. I should have
mentioned that a good way to take 5 or 10 minutes for prayer each day is to go to each day. It is an
internet site that helps each of us pray the scriptures of the day. Very well done and easy to use.

Secondly, I will attach my most recent letter about my work in Central and South America with a couple of pictures. You may want to post them on your website.

And lastly, I have a new book (Doorways to Holiness) which the men might enjoy. You can buy it at a reduced price from Amazon

Thanks again for being such an open group of faithfilled men.

Fr. Jack

On Friday evening last (2/24), after a very intense trip to Central and South America, I returned to the U.S. renewed and
grateful both for what we have here at home and for the goodness and faith of so many poor people that I met.

       This trip started badly. The snows that paralyzed the Northeast on February 12 and 13 led to the cancellation of my American Airline flight through Miami into San Salvador. The only alternative offered me, if I did not want to wait three days, was an evening flight through Los Angeles, and overnight to Salvador. Itís never fun to fly through the night, but at least it got me to Salvador and, after a three hour drive with Larry Webber, ofm Cap., to Honduras. A two hour nap refreshed me enough to follow Larry back to the car for a visit with our brothers Ray Richard and John Clermont in San Marcos, Honduras. After a lovely supper we went to bed since the next day we had a 71/2 hour drive planned into the mountains of Central Honduras and the state of Opalaca. Our novices were there having an "experience" of living among the indigenous. Thank God Central Honduras was beautiful because the roads were not. The last segment of our trip, only a mile long, took almost two hours to walk.  

Straight up through mud and rutted roads. The friars had arranged for a horse to meet and carry me up the mountain, but after falling off twice as a I tried to mount, walking seemed like a far saner choice.

I had never met the indigenous people of Honduras, but like so many other groups of poor people, they impressed me with their hospitality and faith. Small (average height 4'8"), their hearts were big. Almost as soon as we sat down, people were walking into the friary, a small house with dirt floors and no electricity, bringing gifts of tortilla and eggs.

Their visitors had to eat even it meant they would do without! One woman literally crawled to bring us her gifts. Without legs after a childhood accident, she lives about 50yds from the friary by herself. Still she manages to pull herself along with her hands, especially if she is bringing someone else a gift or going to church.

That evening we prayed the Eucharist and the novices shared their reflections about their insertion experience. Pious, like novices everywhere, nevertheless their focus was not on what they had received or the struggles of living with so little, but on the goodness of the people they had met. How right they were.

The following morning, while the novices did an extended evaluation of their experience, I went to the local Church/gathering hall to celebrate the Eucharist. About 150 indigenous people came, entering the space quietly, greeting all the others individually, then sitting in gentle silence waiting for Mass to start. Finally, Larry Webber invited everyone to stand and sing the entrance hymn. For the homily, rather than comment on the readings, Larry asked those present to tell me what it is like and what it means to be indigenous in Honduras. Two hours later, I was left breathless (and a little tired) by the faith and power of their witness.

One woman told me that she and about 30 women walked barefoot for 8 days, not once but three times, to Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras, to visit the President and ask him for their basic human rights. She assured me that what strengthened them was the justice of their cause and the rosary which they prayed constantly, especially when they had to face the military who tried to keep them out of the capital city.

"When we held up our rosaries," the old woman told me, "the military put down their guns. We were not afraid with Mary on our side." Story after story helped me understand that they are happy people, but needy, and seek not to invade the cities, but to live in the mountains as long as they have clean water, enough food, and education and health care for their children.

Returning to Salvador the next day, I left for Bolivia via Miami! Go figure. The best way south is to go north. A wonderful visit with my niece Beth and her friend Terry preceded the worst trip of my life. After flying all night from Miami to La Paz, Bolivia, I deplaned only to learn that my morning flight to Cochabamba had been cancelled. That meant 12 hours in the La Paz airport, at 13,500 feet. I couldnít breathe, had an overwhelming headache, needed oxygen three separate times, drank enough Coca tea for 10 people, felt claustrophobic, and finally arrived in Cochabamba at 8 pm that night, after leaving Salvador the previous morning at 11 am. During this ordeal I tried to pray, especially for those of you are sick, but could only say to God: IF I live, I will never complain again about the weather. God laughed.

Cochabamba was wonderful. Bright, sunny, warm and inviting, I spent four days with Lake Herman, a friar studying Spanish at the Maryknoll language school and living with the Franciscan friars. Lake is doing wonderfully, not only learning Spanish but adjusting to life in a place where English is spoken only rarely. I also had the delight of visiting with nine former students of mine at Maryknoll. With three families and two young men, all of whom I admire greatly for giving at least three years of their lives to service of the poor, Lake and I went to a local pizza place run by immigrants from Italy. Great food, and by our standards, inexpensive. This visit was altogether too short, but it was time to take another 17 hour trip to get back to Boston.

Finally, someone remind me next time, that I am not 40 anymore. Though I so enjoy the privilege of traveling and visiting with friends and communities of faith in the third world, I gotta stop stuffing so much into a few days. Still, thanks to all for your support of the Capuchins and me in particular. Without your financial help and prayers none of this would be possible.

Happy Lent. I hope to see you all soon.
Love and prayers,

by Fr. Jack Rat Rathschmidt

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