Out of the immensity of violence, death, exclusion and fear emerge signs of peace and civic engagement. The signs are small, but do exist. Imperceptibly, they strengthen the liberating faith of the poor like the hummingbird which, with slender beak and indefatigable wings, zips about depositing life drop by drop.
In the most conflict-ridden zone of San Pedro Sula, one of the most violent cities on the planet, there are several dozen women, who have either seen their sons killed brutally or have coughed up the “war tax” to buy their sons’ survival. They are organized in a program called “Madres-Maestras” (Mothers-Mentors).
They are poor women. Many can’t read or write. They organize in order to transform their surroundings into a place of peace, of play for their children and of artistic apprenticeship. They have no guarantee that their children will come home after school. They don’t know if the gangs will compel their sons to enter their ranks. Nonetheless, they have decided to fight against the adversity.
For these mentors-mothers life is hard. But they have learned to overcome the violence. After the suffering inflicted by the death of their children, they have learned to sing while learning, and have managed to identify the central social problem, even more persistent than the violence: corruption. A corruption that manifests itself at all levels, beginning with the complicity of families in criminal extortion, extending outward to schools and neighbourhood organizations, infiltrating municipal corporations and infecting state institutions. It also pervades the churches.
Consuela is a religious sister, who works as an advisor to the program. Her work helps her re-read the Gospel. For her, these masterful mothers, like Mary of Nazareth, blaze trails so that their children can grow in “years, wisdom and grace,” awaiting the day when “the powerful are cast down from their thrones and the lowly are lifted up.”
Consuelo testifies: “My work is to walk alongside them, and they help me enter into an experience of the Church from below. They bear an enormous load, and I try to help reduce the weight. I feel that they also shoulder the burden of my own weight and wounds. Together we are healing ourselves.”
“Paso a Paso”
“Paso a Paso” (Step by Step) is another program, run by lay base communities in the sector of Rivera Hernández, the bloodiest in San Pedro Sula. Inspired by Archbishop Oscar Romero, it daily welcomes 300 girls and boys, cared for by committees of mothers who, side by side with their children, share readings and handicrafts. Every year they take to the streets in a “pilgrimage for life.” The program takes place around a beautiful neighbourhood tree, “the tree of life,” which symbolizes their harmony with Mother Nature.
The gangs create havoc and do great harm, but they respect the life and activities of the mothers and of the volunteers and children of “Paso a Paso.” These are experiences of peace and civic engagement from the bottom. Thus begins the light of a civic movement that shines out from the margins of the system. Like a mustard seed; like the dancing beak of the hummingbird.
This article first appeared in the 2017 Spring & Summer issue of Mission News. Fr Ismael “Melo” Moreno Coto SJ is director of Radio Progreso and ERIC (Reflection, Research and Communication Team) in Honduras.