Guest commentary by Lora Burge
Representing PC(USA) World Mission and Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, I recently spent a week in Honduras as part of an emergency delegation of ecumenical faith leaders. We went to be present during the national strike leading up to the January 26th presidential inauguration and, more specifically, to accompany Fr. Ismael Moreno and human rights organizations in the city of El Progreso. Fr. Moreno, known and “Padre Melo,” and a number of others within the organizations have received death threats, been watched and persecuted in other ways by security forces for their social justice work.
The current Honduran political crisis has been developing since June of 2009 when there was a military coup that removed then president Manuel Zelaya. The country has experienced weakened democratic processes, increasing human rights violations and ongoing militarization in the intervening years. This past November saw a presidential election that was both fraudulent and unconstitutional. The Honduran constitution prohibits serving consecutive presidential terms, yet incumbent Juan Orlando Hernandez stacked the constitutional court with magistrates who favored his request and allowed him to run for a second term in November 2017 leading to an election that saw much fraud and irregularities. There have been widespread protests in the country since the elections, which are often met with state-sponsored repression and violence.
What to do when people are being beaten in the streets? How are faith communities and religious leaders to respond to political crises? These are questions many are asking in Honduras. Padre Melo, community leaders and other partners in human rights organizations are clear: Stand with and for the Honduran people. What does that look like?
On the day before the election, we participated in a Via Crucis, or an abbreviated Stations of the Cross walk. Equal parts religious practice and political protest, we joined with local church members and city residents. Walkers took turns sharing the work of carrying the cross along the route. In recent days, it is the Hondurans that are walking the road of suffering, carrying heavy crosses and looking fearfully at the possibility of death. Pinned to the cross were many words: Oppression, violence, assassinations, disappearances, death threats. Heavy is the burden in these streets.
Different churches and groups were in charge of leading the gathered in prayers, songs and reflection at the different stations. Again, in a blending of lament and speaking truth to power, the walk stopped to pray and reflect outside of places that symbolize or participate in the corruption, repression and political crises currently happening there. We prayed outside a police station, a weapons armory and a justice department building.
Members of the delegation I traveled with led the final station, which reflected on Christ’s resurrection. We were praying and singing outside of the courts and a justice department building. It’s hard to consider resurrection here. This institution almost always fails these people — the impunity rate for criminal activity is 95 percent in Honduras. The victims are further victimized. We set down the large cross and rested the smaller ones memorializing recent victims around a statue.
There we prayed:
God of holy resistance,
Give us the strength to demand justice.
Give us the courage to chance the world.
We want to be a resurrection people.
As Christ walked along this road,
Guide us in his steps towards resurrection.
We dream together of the day when all of your sons and daughters
Will live in peace with justice and without any fear.
We pray all of this in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Before finishing the stations, a white balloon was released for each of the 33 people who have died in the repression and political crisis since the election last November. This was a very touching moment. Numerous people in the crowd had lost a family member or friend. We stood silently, watching them rise to the heavens and away from the suffering and violence that ended their loved ones’ lives.
By the end of the week, it was time for us to leave. The dictator-president had been inaugurated and the violent repression continues. The solidarity work must continue. Resurrection has not yet come for the people of Honduras.
LORA BURGE is the coordinator of Presbyterian Peace Fellowship’s Colombia Accompaniment Program, a pediatric hospital chaplain in Chicago, and a Minister of Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).