Accompanying Padre Melo – May, 2010

The Quixote Center is coordinating accompaniment for Padre Melo in the aftermath of a series of death threats last month.  Lucy Edwards and Pam Shepherd of Ashland, OR are the team on the ground right now.  Lucy is sending daily reports which you can read here:

May 18, 2010 We arrived this morning and were greeted at the airport by Don Jose who was holding a sign with my name on it. I have always wanted to be met at the airport like that! (lu grins)  He had one for Pam, too.

We went right over to ERIC (Equipo de reflection, investigation y comunication) where student-lay leaders were having their monthly reunion to discuss social theology. It was really rich. I did my best to translate some notes for Pam. The were reflecting on prompt questions that centered around the resurrection. How do we understand the resurrection in this planetary world? Melo is funny and kind and smart and incredibly prophetic. Just the kind of guy who might get into trouble! And he was reflecting on trouble and pain and disaster.

"It is the faith of the resurrection that sustains us amidst the disasters of the world… Faith in the resurrection belongs to the victims, not the victor… To have faith is to have absolute confidence in the power and providence of God. It is not material, not buy-able, our wealth cannot serve our faith in the resurrection."

"Real faith is to have faith where there are victims. Faith is costly. But the disaster is not the last word. Life, the project of living faith, has the last word. So, everything is a gift. It is all a gift. And with this trust and with this gift I can give freely to others. Faith is not lived apart; it is lived in practice. Having faith in the God of Life is to have faith in humanity, where there will be victims.¨

They also reflected on material things, cars and houses, wealth and security. A student, Javier reflected, "People can have lots of things, but it cannot be a substitute for faith. And faith in the resurrection, well that is an extreme form of faith."

We have interesting activities for the days ahead. We will do our best to share about them afterward, but not say much about them beforehand.

We are over at Radio Progreso right now, writing and checking e-mail. It’s only 2:30 pm on our first day,  WOW

May 19, 2010  I cannot think of a more joyful way to celebrate my birthday! We awoke at 4:30 and were at Radio Progreso by 5:10 am. Padre Melo and Sandra (from ERIC center) read the lectionary and reflect on the reality on the airwaves for a half hour.

But first Padre Melo asks listeners whose birthday is today… and I remember– it is mine. Sweet, Las Mananitas (the Central American birthday song) on the Radio Progreso, for me.

So, a bit of context. Remember yesterday we were steeped in the resurrection–because of the monthly study and reflection meeting aat the ERIC center? So, (as you may know) Honduras had a coup d’etat last June 2009. The military came and took President Zelaya and deported him (in his pajamas) from his own country and a lot of Hondurans didn’t like that. (You think?) Obviously there’s a lot of back story and details… some of it rather intriguing, but that’s for another time.
Since the coup, there have been countless demonstrations for democracy and for respect of human rights. Some powerful people haven’t like THAT. So, unknown entities likely linked to or part of the security forces in Honduras have been carrying out political assassinations, especially against journalists. Six were assassinated in March, and the threats and killings continue.
Padre Melo is director of ERIC and Radio Progreso, two entities deeply involved in journalistic investigation, publishing and broadcast (newspaper, web news, radio news). The news team at Radio Progreso consists of young, bright, funny, joy-filled, fearless, committed young people. You know the kind. And they adore Padre Melo. And frankly, he is adorable… and deep in that way that makes your soul ache. This evening we met his mother. She is sharp as can be, and 90 and has been blind for a decade. We spent an hour with her and I want to move in.
In April (last month) Padre Melo began receiving credible death threats, was being followed, and experienced a number of troubling incidents. Other members of the team were also threatened, and on two occasions (if I have this right) the station was shut down by the military, as they are want to do during military coups. Melo went to the states and to Europe on a pre-planned trip and returned to the country late last week. While in Europe, a trusted source revealed that his name is on a death list here. The same death list where several people have already been killed.
So the purpose of our visit, under the auspices of the Quixote Center, and supported by our church, Ashland Congregational United Church of Christ, (Oregon) is to accompany Padre Melo. It is a gift. I am traveling with my minister, Pam Shepherd. We start the day at 5 am and I will get bed after 10 pm tonight, and we just go everywhere with him. There was some indication today that we were followed, but we kept going around the block a few times, and the car left. He says troubling events have quieted down since our arrival.
It is in this context that this Jesuit priest talks about faith and love and risk and hope. 
So, that’s today’s report. Oh, they had a cake for two of the reporters whose birthdays are today and tomorrow, and they included me in the celebration

May 20, 2010 The judges strike began 4 days ago in Tegucigalpa. It is a hunger strike against impunity, and it looks like others will be joining in.  Things are moving and shaking in this country, and Pam and I are learning more about it in the midst of our primary task, which is accompaniment.

The interesting thing about accompaniment is you don’t know much until you know it. I know what we did the past four days, and I know the alarm is set for 4:30 am, but other that the radio program in the morning, I don’t know what we’re doing tomorrow.

Padre Melo is really busy. Every day we have accompanied him to the early morning program with Sandra. Pablo is in the control room (in Spanish the "cabin") engineering, participating and handling the many calls. Sandra hosted this morning, as we were on the road to the Aguan Valley and the town of Tocoa. We knew we were headed to the Aguan, but didn’t know it was Tocoa until we set off this morning. We didn’t know we’d be back tonight for sure, so we packed a change of clothes. We made it back, had dinner and showers, and the alarm is set…
Melo tries to not travel at night because it carries greater risk. He works all day, sometimes we get a break for lunch and he works until dusk. Today we traveled 4 hours to Tocoa where Melo and other leaders spoke at a meeting to analyze the national reality. He posed and reflected on four questions. Why the coup? How did it succeed? What is the role of the resistance to the coup? Where do we go from here? Then we had a lunch meeting, and drove 4 hours home, with a quick stop in this paradise of a backyard at Melo’s friend’s house where we ate fresh coconuts off the tree.
The people here love Melo. He is so warm with them, so patient, and loves to joke. It is hard to believe he is in such danger, because he is so fun to be around and he cares so deeply about people.
One of the six journalists killed in March was a radio journalist from Tocoa. He was shot coming home from a restaurant. His companion also died. Today we saw his news editor, who attended the Analysis meeting and interviewed Melo and covered the event. I found myself taking pictures of this journalist from Tocoa, hoping he will be safe. Also, we traveled with Jose Peraza, assignment editor and reporter from Radio Progreso. 
Someone is killing journalists, and Pam and I are falling in love with these journalists. Yesterday we spent some time with Leticia. Her son Alejandro, 17, had come by the station to visit. Last month, Leticia was followed from the station by someone on a motorcycle, and received death threats by phone. Her late night live show is now pre-recorded.
May 25, 2010  Many of the people we met in the past two days are putting their lives on the line for what they believe– for human rights, for accountability and against impunity. They are speaking out when to do so can cost your life. And a small group of judges is fasting on the steps of the National Congress in the capital, Tegucigalpa. Several people working in Honduras’s Justice system were fired for opposing the coup d’etat, or for speaking out about the killings of journalists, etc. And at a certain point, two judges realized they couldn’t just stand by.

The photos (linked to Facebook) give an idea of the set up. The fasters have tents where they spend the night. Their families are there at least some of the time, and supporters. The evening gathering was joyful and energized. Melo joined folks in the tent, and at one point a little girl came in selling crackers and Chicklets. It created a funny moment when one of the fasters had to gently explain that that they didn’t want any snacks. Pam quickly stepped up and bought some gum. There were two young children, a boy and girl out after dark selling gum and crackers, working so hard.

We had a very late dinner with Tom (Quixote Center), Laura (Center for Constitutional Rights), Pam and me (Ashland UCC), Victor and Melo (ERIC, Radio Progreso) and Berta Oliva, director of COFADEH, committee of the disappeared and detained in Honduras. We met her a couple of times in the 1980s. She is still at it. Then in the early morning we were back at the plaza so Melo could do his morning radio program from there.