Ecuador 2Earthquake in Ecuador

No hands and no means to rebuild

In the small Ecuadorian village of Canoa hardly any houses are left standing following the earthquake on 16 April. This quiet fishing village with its wonderful seascape, colourful houses and small population now looks like a battlefield. Three Franciscan Sisters from Canoa are the only representatives of the Church in the region. The earthquake destroyed their church. “We have no hands, no means to rebuild the country,” said Father Walter Coronel, “we ask for help so that we may stand tall again.” Aid to the Church in Need heard their distress and visited the places most severely affected by the earthquake in order to plan various aid projects.


The “Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Mary Help of Christians” live here and have been a pillar of strength for life in the village as the only Church representatives in a radius of several kilometres. The priest only comes to the village on Sundays to celebrate Mass, meaning the sisters must provide pastoral care for the people. They do it all from celebrating weddings and baptisms to the other sacraments.

The pontifical pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need visited Canoa to plan various aid reconstruction projects with them which follow-up the emergency aid provided a few days after the earthquake. “The help from Aid to the Church in Need is and will remain absolutely essential for the country,” emphasized Marco Mencaglia, ACN project manager for Ecuador, after his visit to the region’s most severely affected by the quake.


The scene met by the Franciscan Sisters

Both the church and the parish hall have been completely destroyed. Cracks of more than 10 centimeters wide line the walls. Some bricks on the verge of falling are held in by power lines. The churches’ windows and glass panes fell out within seconds like sheets of paper.  This was the scene met by the Franciscan Sisters and which led them in desperation to ask Aid to the Church in Need for help.

“The church is a reference point in Canoa. Its loss is highly significant, much more so than the loss of any other building. The Sisters’ work in Canoa is of great importance,” said Marco Mencaglia who had the opportunity to experience how the Sisters work on the spot. “If the Sisters leave – God will leave,” is what the villagers firmly believe.

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The Canadian office of Aid to the Church in Need is welcoming donations to support reconstruction efforts.  Moreover, national director Marie-Claude Lalonde confirms the Sisters aims: “I visited Egypt and Cuba among other places a few years ago, and in both instances I was able to observe how the presence of members of the Consecrated Life of the Church was an essential presence to a small community.  Not only do they represent an important pastoral and spiritual presence among the people, but they very often are the only social service for people to turn to for help when the population experiences a problem related to poverty or a family,“ explains Mrs Lalonde.


The earth shook for 50 seconds leaving almost 700 dead

“The people have lost their day-to-day lives. There are no workplaces left. The children can’t go to school any more. The lucky ones will be able to resume their lessons in a few months,” explained Mencaglia. The school of the Oblate Sisters of St. Francis of Sales in Rocafuerte attended by 1,500 children has been severely affected. “It will be a long time before it returns to its former state.”

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Even so, life carries on. The people have to reinvent themselves. Those who formerly had a food store now sell from a stand on the street. The shopping areas are among the most affected, but: “There’s no time to sit and think. We have to become active again and go to work,” they stress.

The dangerous areas around many places have been fenced in because of the danger of collapsing buildings. The buildings are being investigated one by one. The architects decide whether they have to be demolished or not. The owners have now been accommodated in provisional quarters. If they are lucky they get prior warning so that they can rescue personal items. “They left their homes empty-handed,” said Mencaglia.

The earthquake lasted 50 seconds and was 7.8 on the Richter scale. According to the latest report by Caritas Ecuador there were 660 fatalities, 31 missing persons, 30,223 people in emergency accommodation, 1,125 destroyed buildings and 560 damaged schools.

“We are overwhelmed by, and grateful for, the help given by the pontifical pastoral charity ACN. We have been able to buy water, food and clothing for the people now living on the street,” they said. They also expressed the wish that people should not forget them.

Father Walter Coronel mentioned that Gregory the Great is the patron saint of Portoviejo. In the cathedral there is a statue of him and it collapsed during the earthquake. The hands shattered. “And that’s how we are: We have no hands, no means to rebuild the country. We ask for help so that we may stand tall again.”


By M. Z. de la Morena, press@acn-intl.org

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada

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