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One year after earthquake in Ecuador: 'Don't forget us!
"In Ecuador, churches are our social identity, our outward expression."
By Mónica Zorita
NEW YORK—Almost one year has passed since a devastating earthquake struck Ecuador on April 16, 2016; more than 660 died and many thousands lost their homes and livelihoods. Grave suffering persists, as countless people remain homeless or have been living in bamboo huts and pre-fabricated containers that were only supposed be a very temporary solution.
“About 1,500 to 2,000 people are suffering from these circumstances,” said Father Walter Coronel, who oversees the rebuilding projects for the Archdiocese of Portoviejo, which was hard hit. “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 priest told international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).
Full recovery will take a long-time, even as aid has been pouring in for the past year. Father Walter remains anxious about the current situation: “A lot still needs to be done. Please do not forget us. We need more help,” he said. He explained that 52 churches in the Archdiocese of Portoviejo in Manabí Province were affected by the 7.8 magnitude earthquake—“most of them were completely destroyed. Only 25 are being rebuilt. There isn’t enough money for the other churches.” On the bright side, the reconstruction and repair of churches and church-related facilities are creating employment opportunities.
Father Coronel reported that many people are approaching priests on the street, telling them: “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,” the priest said, add that: “in Ecuador, churches are our social identity, our outward expression.”
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.
ACN is currently carrying out various co-funded projects to rebuild parish structures in Ecuador. Father Coronel confirmed that such aid is crucial for enabling the Church to continue its work of evangelization and providing pastoral care. He said that “it is very difficult to receive support for this purpose from other sources.” Last year, ACN spent some $1.2M in projects in Ecuador, more than half of which was spent on reconstruction efforts in the wake of the earthquake.
Earthquake damage in Ecuador; ACN photo