Pope’s journey to ECUADOR, BOLIVIaaND PARAGUAY                      2July 2015

Königstein (2July 2015) —From 5to 13 Julythe Holy Father will make an eight-day visit to Ecuador, Boliviaand Paraguay. Following the World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro in 2013 this will be the Argentinian Pope’s second trip to Latin America. He has chosen as his destination the poorest countries on his home continent. In the three countries Pope Francis will celebrate five holymasses with millions of the faithful. In a video message the Holy Father says: “I want to be a witness of this joy of the Gospel and bring to you the tenderness and caress of God, our Father, especially to your children most in need, to the elderly, the sick, the imprisoned, the poor, to those who are victims of this throwaway culture. The love of the merciful Father allows us beyond measure to discover the face of his Son Jesus in each brother, in each sister of ours.”

Ecuador, the first country on the Pope’s itinerary, is the smallest of the three countries. About one fifth of Ecuadorians (a population of nearly three million) live and work abroad, especially in the United States of America, Spain and Italy. Alongside the economic effects, this also results in family and social problems. Children grow up with their grandparents because their parents are working outside the country, and women live apart from their husbands. On top of this there are a large number of migrants who move from the rural areas into the suburbs of the large towns. Many of these migrants live – in Ecuador as well as in Bolivia and Paraguay – under miserable conditions in huts and barracks, often without running water or electricity. Confined living conditions, promiscuity, violence and alcohol dominate everyday life in the slums of the suburbs. Many young women live alone with their children there. The Catholic Church tries to approach them through targeted pastoral work and is supported in this in various projects run by the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need.

The relationship between Church and State in Ecuador is not an easy one. Three years ago, for instance, all religious images were removed from a number of regional hospitals on instruction from the health ministry. This prompted a storm of indignation on the part of patients and hospital staff since prayers were often said for the health of patients in front of these images. This was described in the report “Religious Freedom in the World” published by Aid to the Church in Need in 2014. According to the report a number of priests working in hospitals were dismissed in 2013 – by order of the Ecuadorian Institute for Social Security.

 An important sign for the priests, members of holy orders and seminarians in Bolivia, the second country on the Pope’s itinerary, will be the meeting with the Holy Father. There is great joy that Pope Francis is taking time to meet them and strengthen those who live a genuine “option for the poor” on a daily basis. The nuns involved, for example, could include the three sisters of St. Vincent de’Paolifrom Oruro in the west of Bolivia. They are Brides of Christ, and have not become a “charitable NGO (non-governmental organisation”, a danger which Pope Francis has repeatedly warned against. Supported by Aid to the Church in Need, they work at an altitude of more than 3000 metres in a mountain village in the diocese of Oruro on the border to Chile, where they take care of two thousand destitute people, mainly young women with children. The three sisters set an example for the many sisters’ orders in Bolivia who relieve the burden on the small number of priests. The Aid to the Church in Need section head responsible for Bolivia, Marco Mencaglia, has no doubt: “Without them the local Church could not keep many parishes.”Aid to the Church in Need has promised 100,000 euros to the sisters for the construction of a house for migrants.

The third country the Pope will visit is Paraguay, where 90 per cent of the approximately seven million inhabitants are baptised Catholics. Pope Francis has a special relationship withParaguay. From his time as Bishop of Buenos Aires he knows the distress of the millions of migrants who inhabit the suburbs of the Argentinian capital – mostly illegally -, including half a million Paraguayans. During his time as Bishop he often visited them and strongly championed pastoral work for the migrants.

“The priests are looked up to in this country: When the ‘Pa’i’ says something, then that’s what goes,”Ullrich Kny, Aid to the Church in Need section head responsible for Paraguay, reports,  The number of people of those called to the priesthood is constant. In the whole of Paraguay there are at present about 300 candidates to this office. Even so there is a lack of priests because the parishes are very large, 20 to 50 sub parishes are normal. These base communities are normally led by laypersons.

Hydropower, the soya exports and smuggling dominate Paraguay’s economy. But the country and its wealth are in the hands of a few. According to a study by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, every second inhabitant of Paraguay lives in poverty, and one third even in extreme poverty. The Catholic Church is trying to counter this poverty – among other things through its educational facilities. In the archdiocese of Asunción Aid to the Church in Need was asked to help in setting up a faculty for pastoral theology.Here it is intended also to train Catholic teachers, the lay movements and those employed in individual pastoral areas.

In 2014 Aid to the Church in Need supported the work of the Catholic Church in the three countries the Pope is visiting to the tune of 1.15 million euros in total. More than 300 priests in Ecuador, Bolivia und Paraguay have taken over the mass intentions of the benefactors of Aid to the Church in Need over the past few years and were supported in this with mass stipends. In BoliviaAid to the Churchin Need supports the training of catechists and seminarians, funds construction projects and provides subsistence aid to sisters. In Ecuador Aid to the Church in Need supports mainly projects on the periphery for migrants – concentratingon Guayaquil – and in the apostolic vicariates in Amazonia.

Antonia von Alten.

photo-1 photo-20 PHOTO-50 PHOTO-6