The Cry of Riobamba

January/February 2001

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In August, 1998, Riobamba, Ecuador, where Scarboro missionaries have been present since 1993, was the site of a meeting commemorating the 10th anniversary of the death of Bishop Leonidas Proaño. Those gathered issued the following declaration: (Reprinted from Ladoc, and presented below in abbreviated form.)

“We want to assume as ours the great causes that formed the soul and actions of Bishop Proaño:

    • the option for the poor, who represent more than 70% of the people of Latin America and are excluded by the new economic order
    • the struggles and contributions of Indigenous peoples...
    • the community as an expression of ‘communion and participation’ in the Church and society
    • solidarity among peoples and the Churches...

We would like that this be a way of life and a way of helping to live, in our respective Churches and countries, the true and permanent Jubilee preached by Jesus of Nazareth...The biblical Jubilee in our social and religious contexts should mean: personal and structural conversion of our Churches and societies; living the faith in a coherent and inculturated way; living in fraternity with peace, justice and dignity; satisfying the demands for land, health care, housing, education, communication and employment..."

Leonidas Proaño
Excerpted from “Resurrection of a people”, by Christopher David, featured in The Tablet.

...Leonidas Proaño died in 1988, deeply loved and mourned by the Indigenous people of Ecuador. He had become bishop of the Diocese of Riobamba in the Province of Chimborazo in 1954. Two-thirds of its 400,000 people are Quichua-speaking Indigenous, descendants of the Puruhae tribe, conquered by the Incas in the 15th century and by the Spaniards in the 16th century.

Bishop Proaño saw their suffering. He wept when the children presented themselves for Confirmation, undernourished and so dirty that there was no inch of skin to make the sign of the cross on their foreheads. His answer was to give up his episcopal palace in Riobamba to live among them. He spent the next 31 years establishing centres for Christian education and learning, struggling for the rights of the Indigenous against their landowners. He handed over to them the large estates held at that time by the Church and managed to persuade the Jesuits and Dominicans to do the same...

Bishop Proaño had a dream. He described himself as a liberator of the Gospel, “so that those who were blind might see, those who had lost the Word through oppression and had become dumb might speak, and those who felt paralyzed because of their mistreatment for centuries might walk and organize themselves as a people.” Even during his lifetime this dream was beginning to come true. With no priests from among the people and few foreign missionaries, he began the education and training of a laity that would respect and make use of Quichua culture, that would take into account Indigenous myths and rituals, their oral traditions, their sense of community and their reverence for Mother Earth...

The mantle of Bishop Proaño has fallen today on Bishop Victor Corral. He, too, has made himself a champion of the Indigenous people and continues the struggle to evangelize with all the sympathy and understanding of his predecessor...

Ecuador: Country profile

Area: 283,560 sq. km.
Population: 12.6 million
Capital: Quito
President: Gustavo Noboa Bejarano
Language: Spanish (official); Indigenous languages (especially Quichua)
Ethnic groups: 51% Mestizo (mixed Indigenous & Spanish); 40% Indigenous; 8% Black; 1% White (Spanish/European)
Literacy: 90.1%;
Infant mortality: 34 per 1,000 births
Religion: 95% Roman Catholic (4 archdioceses; 11 dioceses)

Diocese of Riobamba, Ecuador

Located in the Archdiocese of Quito, the Diocese of Riobamba is pastored by Bishop Victor Corral who has a concern for the poor and the Indigenous, following the direction set by his predecessor Monsignor Leonidas Proaño. It was at the invitation of Bishop Corral that Scarboro Missions began a mission presence here in 1993.
The Diocese of Riobamba covers the entire Province of Chimborazo, an area of 7,000 square kilometres ranging in height from 300 metres at its lowest point, to villages 4,200 metres above sea level. There are around 400,000 people in the diocese—67% Indigenous (descendants of the Puruhae tribe). Riobamba is the poorest diocese in Ecuador, and the Indigenous are the poorest of the poor. In the rural communities, the literacy rate is 65%, and the infant mortality rate is 100 per 1,000 births.

Economic Indicators

Per capita income:

    • in the United States: $US32,000/year
    • in Latin America: $US2,500/year
    • in Ecuador: $US1,300/year
    • of Riobamba’s Puruhae people: $US750/year

70% of Ecuador’s population earn less than the monthly cost of a food basket: $230 (the amount of money needed to feed a family of four)

90% of wealth is concentrated in 10% of the population

Independent economists estimate that 80% of Ecuador’s workforce is either underemployed or unemployed.

Total exports in 1999: $US4.5 billion (50% in oil, bananas and shrimp)

External debt: $US14 billion, equal to 157% of Ecuador’s GNP (total value of goods and services produced within the country each year). Of the government’s annual budget, 54% is needed just to cover debt interest

Internal debt: $US3.1 billion

Rate of inflation from January to September 2000: 110%

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