Ecuador: Bishop Eugenio Arellano: “I tried to give concrete answers to the needs of people”

After leading for twenty-six years the Apostolic Vicariate of Esmeraldas, on the north-western coast of Ecuador, Monsignor Eugenio Arellano offered his resignation having reached the age limit. His commitment to environmental protection and education will remain in the hearts of people. We met him.

Speaking of Esmeraldas, Bishop Arellano says: “There is a beautiful community humanism and spontaneous and wonderful solidarity in this place. The people of Esmeraldas have an innate positive attitude towards life. They feel grateful to God and those who are grateful to Him are also grateful to the others. A smile always illuminates their face. They smile even if they have many problems because they know that there is God who is good and who is with them, and this makes them feel strong and confident”.

Bishop Arellano, who turns 77 this month, has concluded a 26-year journey at the head of a Christian community, which has always had its bishop at its side in the days of the struggle for justice. During his long period of service in the vicariate, the bishop always supported the people of Esmeraldas, a forgotten people amongst Ecuadorians, and always asked out loud, also of the political authorities in power, to listen to the needs and demands of the needful people.

The Bishop says: “Esmeraldas is a poor city because its people have been denied opportunities and all the governments that have succeeded never wanted to face the oppressing poverty that negates the basic needs of people.”

And in this context of poverty, the Church has tried to give answers. Bishop Arellano continues: “In recent years the Church has tried to create for the poor the opportunities that life has denied them. We have been engaged in serious educational programs and have strongly requested governments to guarantee education for all, because education is the only way out of poverty.”

The commitment of Bishop Arellano has given several concrete results such as the implementation of artisan training projects and workshops like that of carpentry for young people and adults, or other projects such as the Chicos de la Calle, which provides Ecuadorian working children and teens with educational support and spiritual formation in an effort to improve their living conditions and break the cycle of poverty. Other projects whose goals were the integration into society of young former gang members and former alcoholics, have also been carried out.

“Our Catholic university is a reference point. The centre is not selective, the cost of enrolment is very low and, moreover, the university offers scholarships to support the poorest students,” says the Bishop.

But Monsignor Arellano, along with organizations of the north and the Social Pastoral, also fought for the defence of nature and against illegal mining and deforestation. “For years we have been denouncing deforestation, mining abuses and, even if at times I had the impression of preaching in the desert, I know that our contribution was important. The Constitution of Ecuador is fantastic. In fact, in 2008 Ecuador took the extraordinary step of enshrining the legal rights of nature in its national constitution. It was the first country to grant inalienable, substantive rights to nature. This is why we protest against mining abuses and pollution in the rivers of Ecuador. We just demand of the political leaders that the Constitution be respected.”

The Bishop recalls the several pastoral initiatives of the Church in Esmeraldas. “As a Church we have given strong support to the family. We have carried out initiatives to strengthen family ties throughout the 27 parishes of the vicariate, and through the youth pastoral we teach a sense of fidelity and commitment to young people.  And finally, through the pastoral care of charity, we assist the poor and the sick by providing them food and medicines; this is particularly important during serious situations such as the pandemic that we have experienced.”

Speaking of the missionaries and local religious, the Bishop says: “I experienced the transition from missionaries to local clergy. The missionaries are spiritually rich, mature, and well-prepared people, but sooner or later they leave while it would be much more helpful if priests came to Esmeraldas to stay and carry on the projects they have started. Despite many difficulties, this local Church is gradually consolidating, perhaps with some imperfections but with its own identity. There are about 90 religious from many congregations, ready to share their life with the local people.”

Speaking of his future, Msgr. Arellano says: “I’m not planning to return to Europe, I will join a Comboni community in Tumaco, Colombia.  I feel really sorry to leave Esmeraldas but it is time for a new bishop to lead this vicariate. However, Tumaco is close to the vicariate of Esmeraldas and has the same social peculiarities. Furthermore, the Bishop of Tumaco is willing to welcome me and assign me a project. We will see what happens.”