By David Sedeño
The Texas Catholic
As Hurricane Laura was barreling through the Gulf of Mexico in mid-August, Bishop Luis Felipe Solé Fa of the Diocese of Trujillo in Honduras not only was praying for people in its path, but also for thousands in his eastern Caribbean Sea coastal diocese who are still suffering from a powerful hurricane 22 years ago and the possibility that another could hit them again soon with even more dire effects.
Hurricane Laura—which hit the Louisiana coast as a powerful Category 4 on Aug. 27—and its wake is blamed for 16 deaths, thousands of power outages and millions of dollars in property damage.
Bishop Solé knows about the effects of such devastation. His diocese and much of Honduras continues to try to dig itself out from Hurricane Mitch, which hit Honduras and other parts of Central America in late October 1998, claiming thousands of lives and destroying infrastructure and countless communities, homes and businesses.
Over the past two decades, non-governmental organizations and missionaries from around the world have gone to Honduras to help its people and infrastructure, but government graft and corruption and drug and gang violence continue to plague the tiny country.
Now, with the COVID-19 pandemic bearing its full force on Honduras, Bishop Solé hopes that those in the Diocese of Dallas and beyond can assist his people through funding that will get needed food and medical supplies where it is most needed and bypassing governmental agencies that he says do not have the infrastructure or credibility to assist those in need.
“The government, the millions that has come from other places, we don’t know what they have done with it. There is no transparency,” he said in a telephone interview. “Now with the virus, there apparently has been all these millions of dollars to help workers with PPE and beds and instruments to treat those who are critically ill because of COVID, but where is the money?”
Also, getting supplies to communities is problematic because intrastate travel is very limited and any vehicles transporting food or medicine must have armed guards in transit and at warehouses because of rampant armed robberies and theft.
Compounding all of this is that three reliable Catholic organizations — Caritas Internationalis, Catholic Relief Services and Catholic Charities — are not operating because of restrictions and safety.
“For us, we need to get the help to the people who need it,” said Bishop Solé, who himself has been away from his own diocese for several weeks because he was in another part of the country when travel restrictions were imposed. “It will not be for me to decide, but it will be for the people in the parishes and the communities to determine who is in need and who gets the assistance that they truly deserve.
“It may just be that we are able to buy people rice and beans and that may seem like minimal help, but that is something they do not have right now,” he said.
The relationship between the Diocese of Dallas and the Diocese of Trujillo goes back more than two decades, just after Hurricane Mitch devastated the region.
In successive years, the diocese has sponsored mission trips for students in Catholic high schools, young adults and professional medical personnel.
While there, they have taken part in helping parishes or communities with their infrastructure or other needs. For high school students that meant digging trenches for latrines; hauling and setting cinder blocks for walls; moving food supplies between warehouses; or painting rooms or wrought iron fences, among other jobs.
More importantly, and despite language barriers, they helped build community through interaction with adults as well as children their own age and younger ones, especially young girls who held on tightly to the American girls as long as they could. Goodbyes were tough on everybody.
In the end, for some, they left the tennis shoes that they wore during the week in a pile. They would be washed and later worn by those in the community. The missionaries left a little bit more of themselves there, too. They returned home with empathy for those they encountered and befriended along with a deeper appreciation of their own lives and the understanding of the life and conditions in Honduras and why many seek to embark on the long journey to a better life in the United States.
Because of the drug-related violence plaguing Honduras and U.S. State Department warnings of traveling to the region, the Dallas diocese had not sponsored a trip to Honduras since 2012, until earlier this year.
It was when about two dozen medical professionals and volunteers returned to the Diocese of Trujillo in the community of Bonito Oriental in early March for four days of basic medical care, just prior to the pandemic announcement that shut down not only travel between numerous countries, but intrastate travel within Honduras.
People came in with various ailments relating to high blood pressure, asthma, and diabetes, along with some dislocated joints, broken bones, measles, among others. Other local dentists handled dental care, including cleaning, and in extreme cases, extracting teeth because of poor nutrition, excessive sugar and lack of awareness of dental hygiene.
With the pandemic, it may be years before any missionaries return again.
Deacon Charlie Stump, director of the Pastoral Services for the Dallas diocese, has been directing and chaperoning travel to Honduras since Hurricane Mitch in an effort to help the people, build bridges and their community in an effort to stop migration so that Hondurans could make a living, stay home with their loved ones and not risk travel to the United States.
“Even before the pandemic, this was a country in poverty,” Deacon Stump said. “Poverty already was there. The poor were just surviving day by day. Here, we go to the refrigerator and we have food in it.
“There, they may go to whatever refrigerator they may have and there is nothing there. They started many steps further back than we did,” he said. “You take a country that already is in poverty and if another hurricane were to hit, it would be something so traumatic that a very bad situation snowballs to something worse.”
The Development Office in the Diocese of Dallas has set up two ways to assist those in the Diocese of Trujillo. Please text Honduras to 214-761-5913. You may also send a check, payable to the Diocese of Dallas, c/o Office of Development, 3725 Blackburn St., Dallas, TX 75219, with “Honduras” in the memo line.
“I am embarrassed to ask the people in the Diocese of Dallas for help because they have been very generous with us,” Bishop Solé said, “but with many microbusinesses that many families depend on for their life and others who have lost their jobs and unable to do anything this is like a Godsend to the people here.”