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Struggle, solidarity and hope: Human rights in Honduras

by Sister Stephanie Spandl and Associate Heather Thomas Flores

The recent juxtaposition of Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day invites us to see clearly that the call to repentance - to return to God - is at its core, a call to return to the fullness of Love.

Associate Heather Thomas Flores, Sisters M. Augusteen Peters, Reina Rojas, Stephanie Spandl and Emelina Maradiaga in El Progreso, Honduras

Love brings great joy and requires great sacrifice, as we experience so deeply in Christ’s gift of self. As disciples and friends of Christ, we too are called to a generous giving of ourselves and deep receiving from others, particularly those who are suffering poverty, injustice, or marginalization of any kind. This invitation to generous love, the mutual giving and receiving in relationship with others in Christ, provides rich context for sharing our invitation to solidarity with the people of Honduras as part of the September 2023 SHARE Foundation (El Salvador) human rights delegation: Struggle, Solidarity & Hope.

The eagerness with which we joined the delegation stemmed in part from the conviction that the communities visited would draw us to a more profound understanding of the seven goals of Pope Francis’ second encyclical Laudato Si’, which invites us into right relationship with one another and all creation. The delegation’s purpose and goals also aligned with the School Sisters of Notre Dame (SSND) Gospel Nonviolence and Just Peace Corporate Stance in which we “recognize that peace requires justice and justice requires peacemaking.”

The rock said,

Our stay at the SSND retreat center in El Progreso provided the home base for our group to travel to Tocoa and the remote mountain villages of Guapinol and San Pedro Sector in the Bajo Aguán Valley. During our travels, we met with activists, peacemakers, advocates and educators from within the community and surrounding areas. Listening to their stories, sharing meals and visiting their sacred places allowed us to truly connect with the community. Through their struggle we stood in solidarity with them; recognizing their humanity, agency and the dignity with which they fight for the basic human rights of access to clean water and their ancestral land. These rights continue to be infringed upon or denied outright by agribusiness and palm oil monoculture, hydroelectric dam projects and mining companies.

As a delegation, we learned about the multifaceted concerns around water in these small mountain communities. The climate crisis has a global effect on all of us, but how it touches our lives varies depending on our geographic location and socio-economic standing. In Honduras, we could easily recognize the negative impacts of mining practices, which destroy mountainside rainforests and redirect rivers to maintain output and production. We observed the interconnectedness with all creation and stand in solidarity with those of Honduras and other communities facing the same fate. We acknowledge their efforts to maintain their traditional ways and live in harmony with creation.

The mountains in Bajo Aguán, Honduras.

We met and listened to the story of the Dominguez family. In 2023, brothers Aly and Oquelí Dominguez, were murdered because of their activism. The surviving brother, mother and widows were there to greet us and welcome us to their temporary home in a remote location, as they were in hiding following the threats to their security. The bravery and perseverance of these family members is truly breathtaking. Their struggle to decide whether to stay and fight at the risk of their lives, or to seek asylum in the U.S. or elsewhere to save their lives is heartbreaking.

We were so impacted by the stories, testimonies and the faith the water defenders and protectors had in themselves and God. The persistent and tireless efforts put forth by the families who have dedicated their lives to this work are awe-inspiring.

Waterfall of Guapinol River in Bajo Aguán, Honduras

The current martyrdom of water and land defenders echoes the sacrifices of past martyrs in the region, including Fr. Guadalupe (James) Carney, SJ, who was killed 40 years ago because of his advocacy for and work organizing with these same communities. We had the privilege of participating in a march, memorial mass and celebration honoring his memory and that of all those who have lost their lives in this struggle.

In addition to the activities of the delegation, another graced part of our experience was the opportunity to be in solidarity with our own SSND sisters in Honduras and experience something of their lives and reality as part of our SSND whole. Each in her own way – through women’s groups, environmental and social justice activism, our SSND Educational Institute, a home for abused/abandoned/orphaned children, pastoral outreach and the accompaniment of Indigenous communities – walks in solidarity with the people and continues our mission of empowerment, peace, justice and the struggle for unity.

The entire week in Honduras was one of inspiration and community. We are grateful for the Council’s support of our participation and of our SSND commitment to collaborate with others to promote peace and uphold and strengthen the rights and the dignity of every person and all of creation. We are committed to ongoing advocacy and education of ourselves and others and invite you to join us in action in whatever ways you can. We also encourage you to consider participating in a future SHARE delegation. You do not need to speak Spanish. All you need is an open heart, a willingness to learn, a desire to walk in solidarity and a passion for justice.

For further reading, we recommend the NCR article: 'We cannot exist if we lose the water': In Honduras, a community resists a mine polluting the Río Guapinol | National Catholic Reporter.


“Let us wake up, humanity!
We are out of time.
Mother Earth demands we protect her.”

- Berta Cásares


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