When Hurricane Felix hit Honduras
by Sisters Joanne Bierl, Rosalinda Gonzales and Renée Duignan
The night that Hurricane Felix was hitting Nicaragua, we had a meeting of one of our Health Committees in a nearby community here in the north of Honduras. It was raining heavily and everyone was worried.
Felix had developed quickly over the deep warm waters of the southern Caribbean. The news was reporting that sixty-five people were dead or missing from coastal villages near the Nicaragua-Honduras border. Coastal communities were at great risk. We wondered how we would be affected here in the highlands as Felix moved northwards.
Solidarity – the feeling of being together – helped us all deal with the fear and uncertainty.
Two of our members arrived home to find their roofs gone and many of their possessions destroyed by the rain. They are now picking up the pieces of their lives with such a spirit of faith – not a sign of self-pity, but simply an acceptance of what is and gratitude that it was not worse.
The following day was eerie. Life continued for all, but there was a feeling of expectancy.
Whenever Health Committees meet,
Joanne went to an AIDS hospice to work as she usually does on a Wednesday morning. This hospice is part of a network called ‘Pastoral Buen Samaritano’ (Good Samaritan Ministry), which brings together all the people in our diocese who are working in the area of HIV/AIDS.
It took two hours to get to the Hospice because of the flooding and the strain on the bus system. The morning was spent cleaning up after the flooding of the entire Hospice. All the patients had to be moved to a nearby school which agreed to take them for a few days while we all dealt with Felix. Some of the patients were so ill it was hard to move them. Others tried to help and entered into this adventure with good humour.
Here in Honduras people care for each other. Many volunteers came to the Hospice from the local community to help, in spite of the worry about their own houses. There existed in that moment a great generosity of spirit.
Meanwhile Renée and Rosalinda and two members of our team went to the prison in San Pedro Sula. The wonderful folks working in the prison ministry are also a part of ‘Pastoral Buen Samaritano’. We had been invited by the people in charge of the prison ministry to help with some alternative methods of relieving stress because many of the inmates resort to drugs.
The little group stood around in a Circle of Prayer with sixteen prisoners and began with Psalm 139, read by an Afro-American from Colombia. All took some time to reflect on the Word they had just heard.
Renée said her thoughts took her around the circle. The reader is here for murder; the man on her left for drug dealing; the one on her right for robberies; a number in the group for organized crime, and so on. She realized these people were here at the Circle of Prayer because they wanted to change. She was aware that she was labeling them and wondered what Jesus would call them! What would he call us? There is a great leveling in prayer.
Rosalinda led the group in a session of Tai Chi, explaining the origin and the steps. Our team did a guided meditation to the movements. This was followed by the total participation of the group and everyone entered in and took great delight in the ‘dance’ of Tai Chi. We look forward to continue to work with the group.
Maria, matriarch of a large family, lives high in the mountains. They are often cut off for months. When accessible, we visit the area and Maria provides hospitality for us in her small mud kitchen.
We enjoy her home-made tortillas
It was our first visit to the prison, which has over 2,000 inmates. Many were busy cleaning up after the floods left from the torrential rains caused by Hurricane Felix the night before.
Leaving the room after the session, we passed workshops, a cafeteria, various small shops and a bakery – all run by the inmates. Life was going on as usual within these prison walls! We were aware that we left a small oasis of peace in the midst of the stark reality of an ugly crowded area that resembled the streets of a city slum.
Two areas of the prison are completely sealed off where two gangs known as the 18’s and Salvatruchas are held under tight security. These gangs form a huge network throughout Central America and the USA. On a weekly basis, many gang members are deported from the USA back here to Honduras and end up in this prison. The violence, level of crime, and control of communities exercised by these gangs is a huge problem here in Honduras.
MMMs first came to Honduras in the wake of Hurricane Mitch, which struck this land with great devastation nearly ten years ago. As this day ended, we could see that Hurricane Felix was less horrific. It left its mark nonetheless and caused a lot of pain and anguish in a country that is already dealing with so much that is difficult.
Ministering among these people, we feel privileged to be a small part of their daily life experience, whether in their local shanty town communities, in an AIDS hospice, or in the prison, which symbolizes so much of what is sad and desperate in Honduran life. Our picture below shows the beach near La, on the north coast, which was in the area most affected by the hurricane. Here both the natural beauty and the destructive force of nature can mingle so painfully.