Q: Honduras is a vibrant country brimming with clear turquoise waters, jungles, beaches, breathtaking mountains and fascinating ancient ruins of the Mayas. Is there a unique characteristic of the people of Honduras?
Cardinal Maradiaga: We are a simple people. We were not many and during the 8th century, the majority of our people migrated from Copan to Guatemala then to Yucatan in Mexico. The reason for the migration is unknown. Some say it was due to a civil war, others say that is was due to an epidemic, perhaps is was due to El Niño which exhausted the resources and the land and agriculture failed. When the Spaniards came in 1502, the population was approximately 200,000 people. When I finished my high school, a long time ago, in 1959 we were 1.5 million. I remember the figures because it was a question in my exam. Now we are eight million because the civil war ended, health care has improved and life expectancy has increased.
Q: The country has so much natural wealth, how is it that there is still such great poverty?
Cardinal Maradiaga: This has to do with historical and political reasons. Honduras’ source of wealth is in mining; mining during the colonial times, which lasted for three centuries, was the only industry for the whole country and as such was exploited. After independence most of the mines disappeared and we entered a century of civil wars which kept the population in extreme poverty. In the beginning of the 20th century a new industry was introduced American entrepreneurs: large scale banana plantations. This initiated some development. Honduras had its first paved road in 1954.
Q: Honduras was labelled as a banana republic – but not only as a consequence of the industry?
Cardinal Maradiaga: Yes, in fact we are now an ex-banana republic as most of these plantations have been moved to other countries because of labour unions and strikes. But to the larger sense of the term, there was a perception that politicians could be paid and bought in order to maintain the status quo - for example in the interest of big companies or corporations. This is no longer the case in Honduras.
Q: So there is no more corruption in politics?
Cardinal Maradiaga: There is still corruption as in most nations in Latin America, which approach politics as an industry. Politicians engage in this practice, amassing a fortune during their term in government and after their stint they no longer have to work for the rest of their lives. This is the big mistake.
Q: Is this what you denounce?
Cardinal Maradiaga: It is necessary to denounce a system that is wrong and one which causes more poverty.
Q: The Catholic Church in Honduras is called a “Moral Instance”. What does this mean?
Cardinal Maradiaga: In many occasions where we find ourselves in a no way out situation, we have to find a way out. This is the moral instance. The moral instance is reminding the people that we are children of the same God. We are created equal. We have to respect one another and the dignity of the person. When these elements exist then there is a possibility of a dialogue. I am convinced that dialogue is a great gift that the Church can offer to society.
Q: Dialogue with whom?
Cardinal Maradiaga: Dialogue with political parties and labour unions. I remember mediating in a number of instances. Once I was made Chief of Police as a member of a special commission to establish a civil police force. It is a vocation that the Church has assumed to create peace in the world.
Q: What is the voice of the Church in Honduras? Is it loud and severe?
Cardinal Maradiaga: It depends. Sometimes it has to be severe. Usually we try plant understanding and self-respect for everybody. I follow St. Francis de Sales’ maxim: You trap more flies with a spoonful honey than with a barrel of vinegar. This is true.
Q: What is the spoonful of honey?
Cardinal Maradiaga: When you are talking about the person of Christ - not just an idea, a part of history, or an artefact in a museum - but a living Christ that is among us, that intercedes for us and that we need a personal encounter with him.
Q: How do you do this when - if I am correct – the education of the faith in Honduras is not a given value?
Cardinal Maradiaga: If we read the Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini, we have to implement the Lectio Devina - the prayerful reading of the Scripture - in order to have the presence of Christ who is the Master and we the disciples listening to him like Maria, the sister of Martha who was at the feet of Christ listening. We need to implement this attitude towards the Word of God, on a daily basis, among the faithful.
Q: How do you help your priests with this?
Cardinal Maradiaga: Not only the priests but also the lay people. We started a very interesting program with the Biblical Societies of America called Lectio Notes that allows you to access the Lectio Divina on the internet. We started with a group of 80 animators from eight countries in Latin America. The kids access the Lectio Notes online and discuss this in small groups. There is even a case of a very poor parish in the northern part of Nicaragua, where the parish has no access to the internet. The kids use a cellular phone and with instant messaging, they access and share the Lectio Divina. After two years, we had an evaluation and you should listen to those kids: young men and women were explaining the Word of God to three Cardinals, eight bishops and maybe 20 priests. They were masters. I calculate that perhaps there are 380,000 young men and women in Latin America accessing the Lectio Divina every weekend.
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The interview was conducted by Marie Pauline Meyer for the weekly radio and television program “Where God Weeps,” made in cooperation with Aid to the Suffering Church/Aid to the Church in Need.
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