Cardinal Oscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga, archbishop of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, spoke with Marie-Pauline Meyer about this situation in an interview with Where God Weeps, in cooperation with Aid to the Church in Need.
Q: Although many Hondurans have relatives in Nicaragua, Spain, Mexico, El Salvador and Canada, the majority of Hondurans living abroad are in the United States. Are you in touch with them?
Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga: Yes, this is a very painful part of our history. The young - and 42% of our population is below the age of 15 - have no opportunities here. They watch US programs on TV and feel that there is a “promised land.” They try to go, and become exploited, or are injured, while on the journey there. There is a daily flight from the US for many of these young people who are caught and are deported for illegally entering the US. This is a tragedy. These are not criminals. They go there to help their families. Oftentimes they are exploited by the gangs in Mexico. This is a new industry; young people are captured and the gangs demand ransom from their families in Honduras - poor people that have nothing and a lot of them die. This is a tragedy. I believe that there should be new laws for controlled immigration to allow people to find work.
Q: You mean that the US should change these laws?
Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga: The US bishops have been asking for this in Congress, but the politics is complicated and I believe that we need to continue in this direction and convince the US administration that it is possible to have a controlled immigration to help this people.
Q: What then is the answer of the Catholic Church in Honduras? What can you do for these young people and their families?
Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga: First, we try to discourage this form of migration because it is not a solution. The Catholic Church is not just the hierarchy. We have to enlighten the laity to invest in the country instead of keeping their money in the US or Europe. We encourage them to invest in the country to create jobs.
Q: What kind of investments are you suggesting?
Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga: With as little as $300.00 you can encourage a family to start a small shop in selling goods. This gives hope. After hurricanes, people lose their land because the floodwaters wash away the soil leaving only sand. These people finally end up losing the land to the banks as a payment for their bank loans. I secured donations and I purchased those debts. It gave hope to these families.
Q: Though you understand the situation of these young people and their desire to leave?
Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga: Yes, I do and I have visited many, many prisons on the US border with Mexico. I met many Hondurans. I have prayed with them and I have brought messages back to their families in Honduras.
Q: Is there is a positive note to Latinos going to the US?
Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga: Of course. You know that the Catholic Church is growing in the US and this is due to the presence of Latinos who bring their faith. I know of two priests who are helping with the pastoral care of the Hispanics in some dioceses in the US. I have to tell you, for many of them the only moment when they have real joy is when they can come together for the Holy Mass in Spanish with a pastor that preaches in a language they understand and that cultivates their hope in order to have a stronger faith.
Q: Do they also hope to go back to Honduras?
Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga: Yes, many of them go back because they work hard and they save some money to eventually build a house in Honduras. I know of a small village that had awful houses and after 10 years all these houses are now in very good condition. All these are families of migrants in the US who have sent remittances and with that they now have a real home and can live with dignity.
Q: In Honduras the presence of Christianity is strong - do you still have to evangelize?
Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga: Of course. Pope Paul VI stated clearly in the apostolic exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi that the reason for the existence of the Church is to evangelize. We are especially committed after Pope John Paul II urged for a new evangelization in Latin America. This was repeated in the 21st century when Pope John Paul II gave us Duc in Altum (“Put out into the deep”); we are committed to a continental mission.
Q: What kind of evangelization do you undertake in Honduras?
Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga: Every kind of evangelization, especially in all forms of mass media. Despite our poverty, we have a TV channel, we started a Catholic university, we have started with the renovation of our parishes and placed great emphasis on the development of a pastoral program for the youth.
Do you see the fruits?
Yes. Honduras was one of the nations in Latin America with very few priests. Before the 1979 Puebla Conference there were only 192 priests in Honduras. Now we have more than 400. When I was appointed auxiliary bishop in 1978 we had 13 seminarians -- now we have nearly 200. So, you see the fruits but we cannot sit on our laurels. It is necessary to continue in order to develop the kingdom of God.
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This interview was conducted by Marie-Pauline Meyer for “Where God Weeps," a weekly TV & radio show produced by Catholic Radio & Television Network in conjunction with the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.