One year after the earthquake in Ecuador: Don’t forget us!

Thank you for the help and the prayers! – Interview with Father Walter Coronel, head of the rebuilding projects in the Archdiocese of Portoviejo

“We celebrate most of our Holy Masses in tents or on the streets.”

Mónica Zorita

One year has passed since Ecuador’s world collapsed. According to official reports*, 661 people died. The earthquake destroyed the lives of thousands – they lost their homes and their work. Many of them continue to live on the streets, in bamboo shelters or prefabricated containers in which, theoretically, they were only supposed to stay for a few weeks. “About 1,500 to 2,000 people are suffering from these circumstances,” Father Walter Coronel, who oversees the rebuilding projects in the Archdiocese of Portoviejo, explained during a visit to the international headquarters of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). “Most of them live in very poor rural areas, where conditions were already difficult before the earthquake. Now things are even worse. It is absolutely impossible for them to manage without outside help.”

The magnitude 7.9 earthquake changed the lives of many people on 16 April 2016. The country is trying to recover. However, this is not an easy task. Many people live with relatives, others have started grocery stores to provide for the population, many others have found new jobs – they are now working in the building sector. Over the course of the last year, some of the buildings could be rebuilt with the help of various donations from all over world. “We express our deepest appreciation to all for the money they have sent us, for the emergency relief and for their prayers,” Walter Coronel assured Aid to the Church in Need. However, he is still anxious about the current situation: “A lot still needs to be done. Please do not forget us. We need more help.” The Ecuadorian priest reported that 52 churches in the Archdiocese of Portoviejo in Manabí Province were affected by the earthquake; most of them were completely destroyed. Only 25 are being rebuilt. “There isn’t enough money for the other churches.”

In a letter to the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need, Archbishop Lorenzo Voltolini of the Archdiocese of Portoviejo explained that rebuilding the pastoral facilities and rooms for divine services also creates jobs. “We not only want to rebuild with concrete and bricks, but also help our believers return to their normal lives through work,” he wrote in the letter.

“We must not remain without a church”

Father Walter reported that many people are approaching priests on the street, saying, “We must not remain without a church.” “Many of them may not even have a roof over their heads, but they want to have their church. In Ecuador, churches are our social identity, our outward expression,” he stated firmly.

“At the moment, Holy Mass is being held on the street; if we are lucky, in tents. Services often have to be interrupted due to heavy rains or because of the winds typical for this region on the Ecuadorian coast. Several weeks ago, there was heavy flooding in the areas that had been hit by the earthquake,” he continued.

Father Walter has taken stock after a very difficult year. Even though he is happy and thankful for the generous support they have received, the people are “deeply despondent.” “This is very painful.” The efforts of the Ecuadorian church are focused on giving the people confidence, standing by them, trying to ensure that “their faith does not falter.” To achieve this, the church is helping to rebuild and, as mentioned above, creating jobs in the process.

Support from Aid to the Church in Need

According to Marco Mencaglia, head of projects for the Ecuadorian section of Aid to the Church in Need, the pontifical foundation is currently carrying out various co-funded projects to rebuild parish structures in Ecuador such as the María Auxiliadora (Our Lady Help of Christians) church in Pedernales and the Our Lady of Carmen church in Jama, or building the parish centre Santa Rosa de Lima in Canoa and the multi-purpose rooms of the San Agustín parish in Calceta. Several weeks after the massive earthquake, he was able to assess the most severely hit regions first hand. The southern part of the Apostolic Vicariate of Esmeraldas, where Aid to the Church in Need is helping to rebuild the parish centre San José in Chamanga, also sustained damages.

Father Walter Coronel expressed his thanks to the international foundation “for its closeness, its charity and for the fact that it makes benefactors aware of these concrete efforts: the rebuilding of churches and other buildings dedicated to pastoral care and evangelisation. It is very difficult to receive support for this from other places.”

Of the more than 40 projects carried out by Aid to the Church in Need in Ecuador in 2016, eight were projects focused on providing emergency relief and rebuilding after the earthquake. Aid to the Church in Need has granted aid totalling about one million euros to the local church in the South American country. Of this, 626,000 € were allocated to providing aid after the earthquake that destroyed the country. For 2017, Aid to the Church in Need is looking for funding to support two further projects: the Church of the Holy Family in Manta, the most important commercial centre in an archdiocese of more than 200,000 inhabitants, as well as the María Auxiliadora (Our Lady Help of Christians) church in Quiroga.

* According to a report of the Ecuadorian Secretariat for Risk Management

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