La Reina, Protección, Santa Bárbara, Honduras
For Hondurans, the spread of COVID-19 is a great worry due to the mismanagement of public health and access to it. Staying home, the population sought refuge from contagion, but the catrachos were surprised by two hurricanes in times of the pandemic.
Hurricane ETA and Hurricane IOTA destroyed the northern and western part of the country. Entire families lost their lives; many were left without homes and lost everything. In addition, being sheltered exposed them to the danger of contagion from Covid-19. Still, they dream of remaking their lives and having their own homes.
One of the most affected departments is Santa Bárbara, La Tierra del Junco, land of coffee and beautiful people, was destroyed in its entirety. Families were buried, coffee farms and agriculture were lost and commerce was strongly impacted.
Not everything is misfortune. In the midst of all this tragedy, there are always angels that rise up to help. Let me introduce you to Father Leopoldo Serrano, priest of Sula, Macuelizo, Santa Bárbara, near La Reina, in Santa Bárbara Protection.
The community of La Reina, Protección, Santa Bárbara, was buried in its entirety. More than 200 houses were swallowed by mud and stones. The inhabitants looked for a place to go, and without hesitation, Father Leopoldo Serrano opened the doors of his church to them.
One of the residents reported that the hill collapsed and damaged at least 300 homes.
“We were left with nothing. We have no clothes, no food, nothing. Everything was buried in the place,” he lamented.
“Thank God we managed to save our lives, which is the most important thing. But now we have been left at the mercy of the Lord,” he said. He also noted that all crops had been lost, and survivors had asked the authorities for support as countless of people had been left on the street, they related to Father Serrano.
Witnessing the suffering of his congregation, Father Serrano, hosted masses in the places of destruction. He sent an SOS to the authorities to help rebuild the homes for these families.
Sunday to Sunday, he held mass in La Reina, which was under rubbles. The food and clothing aid reached the victims who are housed in his church. Even so, there was no sign of plans to rebuild the homes.
Father Serrano reported that one of the men who was sheltered had taken his life due to the hopelessness of losing his home.
“I regret the overcrowding in which these people find themselves. There is despair among them and they are unable to see hope,” Serrano reflected.
“They need the land to be able to work, and the worst thing is that there is no answer regarding where to find a land that can support them. This problem will go on for a long time and we don’t know how long their suffering will endure,” he commented to the local media.
Father Serrano, more than a person of faith, is a leader of action. It took no more than a month for an anonymous donor to come to Father Serrano’s church and donate 40 blocks of land for the victims of La Reina. The masses on the collapsing sites, the calls of SOS broadcasted through the networks, the support of the media and the love for his people made the great miracle possible.
Father Leopoldo Serrano is in the process of formalizing the transfer of the land to the residents of La Reina in Protección, Santa Bárbara. The new community will be named, San Francisco de Asis, and the main street will be called, La Reina de los Angeles. The community will have schools, a health center and a church.
“Some of the lots of the donated property which consists of several blocks, will be assigned to the poorest families so they can work the land. The distribution of the land will be done in an organized manner because we know who the victims are,” said Serrano.
Technicians from the National Agrarian Institute (INA) have arrived to the donated area to officialize the subdivision of the land. Father Serrano continues to work on behalf of his congregation in La Reina.
Everyone says that the miracle was unleashed when Father Serrano built the altar in the ruins of the community.
“I made the altar with little pieces of wood. The boys went to cut some branches and I placed a large taro leaf as a tablecloth, which is a root that is eaten and is a very rich in texture. These were the items that could be found, and with them, I improvised an altar,” he described.
Still moved by the simplicity of the ceremony, he narrated that “the table was made with some sticks. We decorated the altar with some palms of pacayas, which are vegetables that are in the mountains and that, although bitter, the people eat them. That was the ornament. ”
“I carried all my holy items, because I always have them in my car. The chalice with the wine I poured into some small portable plastic jars that I always carry, along with the missal and the ciborium, where the hosts go. I brought a few bits of hosts,” he told the local media from the parish of San Roque, from to the Diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán.
He recalled the moving ceremony: “There was a rock where we placed the altar in the mud and I could not move because I was standing on this rock in the mud, under which the road had disappeared. I could not move,” he explained. The ceremony was held “in the mud that had buried houses and roads,” he stressed.
“I hoped that my arrival alleviated their fears,” Father Serrano said. “That was my intention, to give them comfort in such a difficult time. I felt useful. I felt that I was a shepherd relieving the pain of those wounded by nature. Amidst the sadness, this was a beautiful day. In the car I brought cookies and I shared them with everyone. It was one day of celebration.”
When Father Serrano arrived in Buena Vista, he was not in good health.
Who is Father Serrano? Can you tell us about your history?
Look Milton, from the age of 16 I began to work in the word of God in Guarita, Lempira. We began to serve the refugees of El Salvador. I liked how the parish priest we had at the time, a North American priest, called, Father Beto Gallagher, gave himself to the victims and the way that Monsignor Romero worked in El Salvador.
I started this work at the age of 16. Then I joined the Congregation of the Franciscano Capuchinos Priests in Ocotepeque. I studied in Nicaragua, shared experiences with the indigenous Misquitos in Nicaragua; studied philosophy and theology in Costa Rica, and became ordained as a deacon in La Mosquitia. We translated the rituals into Miskito language, and my ordination as a deacon was held in Miskito. For one month I worked as a priest in La Mosquitia, then I began to work with Youth in Ocotepeque. At that time the gangs had entered Honduras. We managed to make a fence so that the gangs would not enter our community. We worked in retreat, and played soccer every day. We founded a League in San Marcos. I also worked in La Pastoral Familia and was sent me to New York, where I led marriage encounter meetings. I also worked with Latino families.
In 2009, I returned to Honduras to work with Bishop Monsignor Luis Santos in Sula, Macuelizo, Santa Bárbara. We have been in the San Roque parish for more than 10 years. I have always worked with young people and couples. I have also supported soccer. I love soccer.
I have also founded a congregation and we call ourselves, “Hermanos San Franciscanos de la Misericordia.” Our ministry is to serve the outcasts of society, the discarded people, the alcoholics, drunks and drug addicts. We have a center here near La Reina. They started coming down to us in Valle Verde and we began to treat them.
I am a priest. I am a sinner. I am not perfect. I am not a saint. I have only done what I have had to do. My mission is to serve those in need. I am flawed and I make mistakes, but I have offered my life to God to serve the poor. In this case the victims, who are forgotten by governments, by the rich, those who are lost, and wandering about. It saddens me that they are homeless, desperate.
A year and a half ago they operated on my heart. They removed my aorta valve. I have a mechanism, which is what works in my heart, but my heart is not well. I am tired, my legs hurt. I have a chest wound. I have my sternum tied with wires. I take medicine for hypertension. I am afraid of being infected by the coronavirus, but due to the emergency I have to go out to attend to these people.
Turcios graduated from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Honduras. He is a News Presenter on Paradise TV, in Santa Bárbara, Honduras. He enjoys telling stories of overcoming, solidarity and perseverance of the “tierra adentro” peoples of rural communities, their way of life and how they work after their dreams. Turcios is also featured in Honduras’ daily news and #Mundo. He is a former public relations officer for UN Women in Honduras, promoting campaigns in support of women in politics.