You remember me?

The love that comes towards you with all these young girls has been a surprise to me at the age of forty nine.
Nearly all of them remember me, which shocks me.

By Padre Spencer

There are some things we never forget.  Wendolin's voice has been with me a long time now.  The last day I was here two years ago, feeling useless, wondering what I'd been doing here, barely remembering any Spanish, Wendolin had sat on a  curb by my apartment and looked at me, looked up at the stars and then looked back at me and said: "Don't forget us."  Banana leaves fluttered across the wall.  Boys peered over the wall and threw rocks.  Maybe she said it to every gringo that went through this place on a Spanish intensive, but somehow it lodged in my heart.  I, somehow, could not ignore it.

Yesterday when I arrived in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, it was a beautiful winter day.  The airport was packed with families greeting their relatives from America.  Relatives I imagine that had left their beloved country to find work or a better future, sending their money back to these people who were waiting for them.  There must have been five hundred people.  As we drove into town I saw blue mountains, one behind the other, deepen in their blues next to the sky: blue on blue on blue.  Banana leaves fluttered like the pages of books.

I have come to teach the girls a poetry class with watercolors, the girls telling me their stories through image and word, for one day, I hope, the world to hear.  There is such hope in this place: the girls go from abandoned and abused to studying dentistry and engineering.  The founder, Dr. Diana Frade, is doing here what Dr. Paul Farmer did for those suffering with AIDS in Haiti; she's changing the fate of Honduras one educated girl at a time.  And she's been doing it for twenty five years.  My efforts here are for the world to know what she has wrought.

The photograph above is a still from the movie crew as I first sat down in the courtyard last night.  The love that comes towards you with all these young girls has been a surprise to me at the age of forty nine.  Nearly all of them remember me, which shocks me.  And I can't help but think it's not only the joy of recognition, but what seems to impress them most is when people come back to them.  I'd felt so awkward most of the time I'd been here before.  I'd never thought a call to the priesthood would come in the form of seventy orphaned girls.  Never.  It seemed  unlikely.  I'd not thought of myself as a missionary.  Frankly, if anything, these girls are my missionaries.

I wasn't sure how I would feel coming back to this place.  I hadn't been in two years, and then it was just two months.  This time, nearly a year.  In my absence, the press has been busy telling the world that Honduras is dangerous and not to come here.  But I must tell you, from the moment I stepped on to the plane I felt the warmth and kindness I well-remembered of Honduras.  The steward on the plane said, "Thank you for coming Father.  Where are you going?"  I said: "To Our Little Roses."  He said, "Bless you."  The lady next to me bought me a sandwich and said how much she loved her country.  She was a janitor for a Baptist church in Texas.  I asked her what she loved about her country.  She said she loved the people and she loved the customs.  We talked about the Connecticut shooting of all those small children in Newtown, Connecticut, and she said a thing like that would not happen in her country.  I asked why.  She said because Honduranians loved each other too much.  She said when she heard about the shooting she cried and cried.  Beside her slept her three year old daughter, who was the cutest little gordita I'd ever seen.  She said it again, "Thank you for coming to us."

I met so many girls last night.  I couldn't keep all their names straight.  They teased me mercilessly, making me recite all their names rapidly.   Taking a break from playing soccer under the concha (I was the goalie and these girls can really pack a punch with that ball), I sat down on the stands and Wendolin sat next to me.  She said, "You remember me?"

- Padre Spencer