On behalf of the Central Diocese of the Episcopal Church of Ecuador and my indigenous brothers of the Andes, I greet you with brotherhood, peace, love, and blessings. The Aztec poet Chilan Balan described in the following passage what happened in our ABYA YALA as a result of the conquest: “They plucked our fruit, and burned our trunk, but they could not kill our roots.”
The Spaniards arrived first to our lands – they exploited us and murdered us – and with them arrived the Catholic missionaries, who imposed their religion upon us under the sign of the cross and the sword. They considered us soulless beings. Then the power of the Criollos (the mestizos) arrived with indigenous mothers and Spanish fathers. They ignored us and excluded us; they treated us like animals. At the end of the last century, and even into the 1960s, we saw published ads in the local newspapers of the Chimborazo province that stated that such and such hacienda was for sale “with 2,000 cattle, 5,000 sheep, and 3,000 Indians.” The Indian was considered a salable asset of the hacienda, and this was all done with the blessings of the Catholic Church.
Saint Paul indicates in Second Corinthians that “from God comes all consolation.” It is He who sustains us in the most difficult moments of our history. The indigenous communities of Chimborazo, which we have the privilege to serve, have experienced times of suffering.
We, the indigenous people, have resisted more than 500 years oppression, discrimination, and racism. We have been stripped of our lands and riches, condemned to poverty and marginalization, and we know what it is to be poor: to suffer hunger, misery, and unemployment. We know what it is not to have rights to medical care or education that would give us the opportunity to rise above poverty and demand our rights. I am a witness to all of this. Just five months ago, in one of the communities where we work, a three-month-old child called Manuel became ill. I was presiding at the wotship service, and the mother approached me and asked me if we would be able to help the baby, who had fever. We brought him to the hospital, but we did not arrive in time because the nearest hospital was two hours away. In our communities there are many illnesses such as flu, bubonic plague, and colds.
Despite this sad and painful reality, we have never lost our faith in Pachacamac, which is the name of the God creator in Quechua. Tayta Dios is, to us, our Father and Mother. Despite more than 500 years of conquest, they have tried to take away our culture, our language, and our identity. We have defended and preserved our culture, our language, and our knowledge. With wisdom and patience, our taytas and mamas resisted, and we continue to resist. And even more importantly, we have learned to change our laments into dances. We have taken off our grief and have dressed ourselves for celebration.
We express joy in our community festivals, and are pleased to see the children and young people who can study something our parents did not have the opportunity to do. All of this fills us with hope and triumph. We have maintained hope against all hope and we have learned to wait with faith, because with hope we have been saved. To change grief to celebration, to have hope and life, we have traveled a long and painful road, but we have experienced the strength and blessings of God and His son Jesus Christ. Also, thanks to the struggle and unity of our elders, yayas and mamas, the Catholic bishop Leonidas Proaño, and many martyrs and prophets, indigenous and non-indigenous.
In the 1970s and 1990s, through the great efforts of the indigenous community of Ecuador, the hacienda system was ended and the land was returned to the indigenous community with the agrarian reform law. The indigenous community of Ecuador was recognized within politics, organizations, and religion; but there are still many challenges in terms of combating poverty and racism, and ensuring access to education and health care.
Now I want to speak a little bit about the spirituality of our indigenous community, because we believe that a true mission capable of producing the fruits of the spirit must be a mission that imparts a deep respect for the diversity of cultures and world visions, and that is embodied in the community. We also believe that indigenous spirituality has a lot to teach the western cultures, in particular about the relationship between human beings and nature.
Our World Vision and Spirituality
The Pachamama (mother Earth) is for the indigenous people the center of all. It is very different from the western vision that tends to place man at the center. From mother nature comes all, and to her all returns. The Pachamama gives us life and safety, makes us person and community. Without land, one feels like nothing, carried by the wind; that is, without land on which to plant our feet, we are disconnected from our roots, from our identity. The earth is like our mother; when we sow and harvest, we celebrate. We do not understand the terrible system of uncontrolled exploitation of natural resources. They do not understand that the earth is our mother, it is a gift from God, it is the Allpamama, which we love and respect.
The spirituality of the indigenous people is always related to the agricultural and vital cycle; therefore, we share food and receive counsel from the elders. There are two products with great cultural significance: corn and potato.
Pachakamak is the one who takes cares and brightens the space and time, and maintains the harmony of the soil (Kay pacha) and subsoil (Uku pacha), which is the base that sustains all – a place of energy and a place to rest. Pachacamak is the superior being, God. He is sensed in the water, rain, sun, stars, in the moon, and in our fellow man. God is seen through our brother in need, in the poor, in one who asks for food, there is God hiding. We communicate with Him, we speak directly to Him, we know that He hears us and talks to us anywhere: in the hill, on the lake, in the field, in our temples and chapels. This is why we sing, praise, bless and glorify with joy and delight. And the most beautiful thing is that we praise god in our own language, Quechua, because god also understands Quechua.
Our Dream of the Indigenous Episcopal Church
We have experienced the consolation that comes from above because we recognize the live presence of God in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ, who loves us, and the sign of His presence is the community.
The indigenous church should be a living church, with an indigenous face and heart, animated and accompanied by lay persons, catechists, and community organizers, ministers, church choirs, deacons, and indigenous priests to support the restoration of the indigenous people, of their identity, their spirituality, their organizational and cultural structures – and a church open to the non-indigenous sectors of the Ecuadorian and Latin American people.
We currently have 20 communities (congregations); 10,000 brothers and sisters; 80 catechists; 52 ministers/lay leaders; 200 sisters in choirs; 15 brothers and sisters in the process of training for the deaconate and priesthood, pastoral teams, and directors of women; and two indigenous priests.
With God’s blessing, and the solidarity and partnership of the beloved Episcopal Church, we continue to work toward faith instead of fear, toward a more just and sympathetic world, and a safe place of love, peace and life because Christ came to give us life, and abundant life.
We will be the new safe place where we can proclaim the marvels of God and accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. Amen.