The three Fransciscan nuns from Canoa are the only representatives of the Church in the region. The earthquake destroyed their church
Aid to the Church in Need visited the places most severely affected by the earthquake in order to plan various aid projects
In the small Ecuadorian village of Canoa hardly any houses were left standing by the earthqake on 16 April. This quiet fishing village with its wonderful seascape, colourful houses and small population now looks like a battlefield. It is here that the “Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Mary Help of Christians” live. They are a pillar of strength for life in the village since they are the only Church representatives in a radius of several kilometres. The priest only comes to the village on Sundays to celebrate Holy Mass. That means that it’s the sisters who provide pastoral care for the inhabitants. They celebrate weddings, baptisms and other sacraments.
The pontifical pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need visited Canoa to plan various aid projects of reconstruction. These are intended as a follow-up to the emergency aid provided a few days after the earthquake. Marco Mencaglia, ACN project manager for Ecuador, said after his visit to the regions most severely affected, “The help from Aid to the Church in Need is and will remain absolutely essential for the country.”
There are cracks of more than 10 centimetres in width in the walls. Some bricks have not yet fallen because they are held by the power lines. The windows and glass panes of the church fell out within seconds like sheets of paper. This is the scene that the Franciscan nuns face in Canoa. They desperately ask for help. Both the church and the parish hall have been completely destroyed. “In Canoa the church is a reference point. Its loss is highly significant, much more so than the loss of any other building. The work of the sisters in Canoa is of great importance,” Marco Mencaglia said, He has had the opportunity to experience the work of the nuns on the spot. “If the sisters leave, God will leave,” the villagers firmly believe.
The earth shook for 50 seconds leaving almost 700 dead
Manta, Pedernales, Jama, Portoviejo… Where do you start to rebuild a village or a town where nothing is left? “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.” Mencaglia explained. The school of the Oblate Sisters of St. Francis of Sales in Rocafuerte, which is attended by 1,500 children, has been severely affected. “It will be a long time before it returns to its former state.”
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 ground zero areas of 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 and they listen to and monitor from afar how their homes are being pulled down. If they are lucky they get prior warning so that they can rescue personal items. “They left their homes empty-handed and they still have nothing.”
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 pesons, 30,223 people in emergency accommodation, 1,125 destroyed buildings and 560 damaged schools. The Ecuadorian people has expressed its gratitude to Aid to the Church in Need for the aid it provided. “On the street I am asked what people in Europe are being told about them,” Marco Mencaglia said.
This event will leave its mark in Ecuador’s history. Aid to the Church in Need was able to see for itself when it accompanied Archbishop Voltolini of Portoviejo and Father Walter Coronel from the same diocese. “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 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.”