Divine Word Missionaries
Info & News
Moving in Every Sense
Philip Gibbs SVD
f you had to leave your home and were allowed to take only five items with you – what would you take? That is a question from a game about choosing priorities. Recently the game became a reality. I was visiting Bolivia with the intention of learning more about indigenous theologies and also to visit Fr Dennis Nyaura SVD, a missionary from Papua New Guinea. I was with Fr Dennis in Cochabamba when a telephone message came through that there was a landslide in the city of La Paz and that our SVD confreres there had been told they might have to evacuate their house in the barrio of Callapa for fear that landslide would engulf the whole area. That is shocking news in itself, but what added to my concern was the fact that my computer containing all my research work, along with important documents such as my passport were in that house. Jesus told his disciples to travel without a second tunic. I doubt if he had to consider the importance of passports for his disciples.
That Saturday night the Divine Word missionaries and Sister Servants of the Holy Spirit in the barrio of Callapa received phone calls from families in a nearby barrio asking for help. The families had received news of an immanent landslide and the municipal authorities were demanding that they leave immediately. Fr Savio Nedupillil tells how he and Brother Josimar Ferreira went to help. “We went to Kupini and found people in that neighborhood desperately trying to remove their valuables. The police were insisting that they leave quickly. Once we heard of the situation we too tried to convince them to leave. Human life is much more important than belongings. We were tying to console them, but at that stage we thought that our house much further down would be safe. The sisters also went to help. The sisters were having a meeting with their Congregational leader Sr. Maria Theresa and there were 15 sisters there at the time doubling the normal number in the house. Nevertheless they invited the evacuated families to come and sleep at the sister’s house.
Sister Odette tells of her shock when they opened the door on Sunday morning and saw huge cracks opening up around their house. “People warned us that it would get worse, so we took what we could carry and walked in the heavy rain to the relative safety of the other side of the river. We were shocked when the rear portion of our house crumpled and the police told us that it was too dangerous to salvage all our things as the house could totally collapse.”
Meanwhile, Brother Josimar and Fr Savio were at the nearby SVD house recovering what they could. Fr Piotr Nawrot SVD was trying to save his library. “I have a valuable library of books and a unique collection of indigenous music. As the cracks in the house started to get bigger I set up a tarpaulin outside under some trees and started trying to move my whole library of over a thousand volumes. It was a huge task, especially in the heavy rain. Two Sister Servants of the Holy Spirit came to help me – Sr Acha and Sr Carolina. The authorities would not allow them to enter their own house, so they kindly came to help me. It is a thought-provoking experience trying to decide what is most valuable. Here I was evacuating my library – the work of over 30 years research in Musicology. But then there was our chapel. I placed the blessed sacrament under the tarpaulin with my books and had to decide what else from our chapel should be saved. Here we were along with thousands of other people – like ants carrying what we could to safety as the cracks in the ground developed into crevasses.” On Sunday afternoon the cement bridge allowing people to cross the flooded river collapsed making the salvage task even more difficult.
It was a particularly sad time for the sisters because some sisters were involved in pastoral work in the communities and had got close to the people. Many live very simple lives surviving from one day to the next. That was one of the reasons why the sisters decided to live in the Callapa bario. Now the communities were being dispersed and the poor surviving in temporary shelters. Sr. Odette tells how, “on the road as we left I was moved by the way people would ask for an address or a telephone number so that they could keep in touch.”
Despite the sadness and the difficulties it has been an extraordinary time. So many people offered to help. Sr Odette says that she experienced God in the expressions of care and solidarity shown by so many people during the evacuation time. The desperate situation revealed the goodness of many people. Fr Nawrot tells how the local authorities did an excellent job mobilizing the police, armed forces, civil defense and municipal workers. “We gave our valuables into their hands and they carried them over a kilometer across the river to where we could bring transportation on the other side. Nothing we gave them went missing.” Even high-ranking officers such as a Colonel would shoulder heavy items and carry them to safety.
This is not the first time that there has been landslide in La Paz, a city of over a million people perched in canyons at 3,640 meters (11,900 ft). Nearby El Alto also with over a million people is even higher. Aircraft have to land at twice the normal speed there because of the thin air at such an altitude. This has been one of the biggest landslides ever, affecting over 1,500 homes and 5,000 people.
Archbishop Edmundo Abastaflor came on Friday along with the Nuncio and Bishop Oscar Aparicio to celebrate mass near the neighborhood. He spoke about how God through Jesus shares in our suffering. From our ruined SVD house we brought a statue of the Blessed Mother – the Virgin of Copacabana – patroness of Bolivia. We placed the statue in front of the makeshift altar at the gates of a mental health institution. Pointing to the statue the Archbishop noted how Mary had lost her house too and that she and her Son were with us at that time of suffering. Most people in Bolivia are Catholic. The fact that we did not take the statue of the Virgin of Copacabana away, but left her there overlooking the scene brought consolation to many people. Many cures and miracles have been attributed to the Virgin of Copacabana, perhaps the greatest, that of the faith of Francisco Yupanqui who carved the original statue over 400 years ago, and the faith of the millions of indigenous people who came after him. I am sure it is a miracle that no one was killed in this huge landslide that left 5,000 people homeless.
Now many people are camped with some of their possessions and are being cared for by church groups and the armed forces. The government is providing immediate help and has promised financial relief in the future.
Fr Wigner Cando SVD who came from Cochabamba to assist tells of his feelings of sadness, but also a strong sense of solidarity. There is a popular story in La Paz about a spirit woman in the guise of a very ugly person who came to Callapa several years ago asking for accommodation. People turned her away. So, as the story goes, she cursed them, saying that one-day they too would be begging for accommodation. The popular story stresses the importance of helping others in need. Jesus had a similar message when he said that if we give a cup of water in his name, we give it to him. Some people no doubt remember the story of the spirit woman, but I am sure that the care and concern for one another in these days has come from Christian faith and a sense of basic human concern. The word from many people about their experience is that of “solidarity”.
There are other countries where looting and chaos would take over in such a situation. This did not happen in La Paz. Despite the terrible loss in material terms people have demonstrated heroic solidarity. Through the experience I have been privileged to gather new insights into local theologies and have also had time to consider my sense of priorities. My SVD brothers saved my computer and my passport and I leave Bolivia deeply impressed with the way people have cared for and supported one another during this time of natural disaster.
Consecuencias del deslizamiento de Callapa
From: "Miguel Heinz"
Un cordial saludo desde “las alturas” de Santa Maria de los Ángeles. Ayer, después de la misa con el nuncio y Mons. Edmundo delante el hospital San Juan de Dios, hemos visitado la casa de Callapa y hemos “evacuado” al ultimo residente. La “chiquita” fue trasladada a Laja donde esta haciendo amistad con “Pacho”. En la tarde nos reunimos, el consejo regional con el ecónomo, (y en algún momento con la comunidad de Santa Maria de los Ángeles) para determinar algunos asuntos que les quiero comunicar por medio de esta carta:
Agradezco una vez más a Savio, Piotr, Josimar, a Yves y Wigner y los cohermanos del altiplano con sus equipos de “emergencia” que han hecho posible el rescate de tantas cosas en los últimos 5 días. Igual se ha apoyado a las hermanas que por fin han podido rescatar casi todo. Muchas familias – se habla de mas de 1500 – igual que nosotros han perdido casas, terrenos y cosas materiales. Pero gracias a Dios no hay ni muertos ni heridos. Es lo más importante. Seguiremos apoyando a los damnificados, especialmente a los más pobres y pidamos a Dios por las personas que se quedaron sin techo.
Fraternalmente en el Verbo Divino
Situación de la Paz - Callapa
Sender Miguel Heinz
Aquí de nuevo una señal de vida desde Callapa -La Paz. Hoy hemos sacado lo ultimo de la casa - también las siervas han podido llevar dos volquetas mas a Laja - consumatum est! No se podrá usar mas ni la casa nuestra y peor la de las hermanas siervas del Espíritu Santo. Les adjunto algunas fotos de ambas casas y de la calle que sube a la plaza de Callapa y que va a Cupini. La destrucción es total. Mañana el arzobispo de La Paz celebrara una eucaristía en el lugar. Agradezco a todos y todas las que han hecho un gran esfuerzo para recuperar tantas cosas materiales que hemos llevado a la parroquia de Santa María en El Alto. Mañana nos reuniremos el consejo regional para determinar algunos asuntos que surgen del desastre natural.
Desastre en la Paz
From: Provincial ESP
No sé a quienes les habrán llegado estas fotos y noticias (VAN EN EL ÚLTIMO ARCHIVO ADJUNTO) de Gonzalo Reverte, nuestro misionero laico en Bolivia o tengan otras informaciones sobre esta situación.
Creo que es bueno compartirlo y por eso lo envío.
Agradecido a Gonzalo y unido con Andrés Lorenzo, el Regional Miguel Heinz y con todos nuestros hermanos y amigos de Bolivia.
Adolfo del Valle svd