In 1955, the Comboni Missionaries arrived in Ecuador. Until then, they had worked mainly in Africa, and they were called in Latin America especially to work among the Afro-American. Father Raffaello Savoia and Bishop Enrico Bartolucci – who previously worked in Burundi – immediately started to live among black communities in Esmeralda. They realized there was no concerted pastoral work targeting them. They reflected on what to do, and especially they asked themselves if anything could be done to coordinate the pastoral work targeting the community of Afro-Americans in Ecuador, but also in other countries along the Pacific coast.
It was the beginning of a journey that led to calling pastoral workers among the black community to meet and discuss. The meeting became an international Encounter on pastoral work among Afro-Americans, involving people from all Latin American countries, but also the States.
In July, the EPA (Encuentro Pastoral Afro) met for its 12th meeting in Guayaquil, Ecuador. Guayaquil was one of the stops in the lengthy journey that brought African slaves to Lima, Peru. It is in Guayaquil that Saint Martin de Porres – a Dominican friar of Afro-European descent – lived for a time, curing the sick and helping the poor.
The 250 delegates that met in Guayaquil reflected on how the life and faith of the black community in Latin America can interact with Church and society. They were coming from Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Mexico, Argentina, Panama, Bolivia, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Paraguay, Chile, Uruguay, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala and Jamaica. The meeting stressed, once again, the need to give preferential attention to the poorest, and to favour the insertion of Afro-American, but also indigenous people, in the Church at all level. Groups discussed and shared about acculturated evangelization, missionary animation and sending missionaries to other communities.
The major themes of discussion focused also on how to coordinate the work among Afro-Americans in the countries they are present and how to tackle poverty, which is particularly felt among these peoples. Working among women, facing the presence and incidence of AIDS, the questions of drug dependencies and undocumented people were some of the areas explored by the delegates. The quality of their presence within society was also tackled. In most countries in the Americas, black people are disadvantaged. They seldom achieve important roles in the political and financial arenas.
Participants were happy to receive a personal message from Pope Benedict XVI who insisted on the need to “deepen the cultural values, the history and the traditions of Afro-Americans. This is important to allow the Church to present Jesus Christ as the authentic answer to the more profound questions of the human being, animated by the Holy Spirit, who came to fecundate all cultures. The Spirit acts purifying cultures and enabling to grow, and guiding them in the ways of the Gospel”.
The Encuentro had time to celebrate. The delegates animated a procession through Guayaquil celebrating Afro values and cultural traits , and ended at the cathedral to celebrate the Eucharist. This meeting is growing in importance and it is recognized by the Latin American Bishops’ Council (Celam) which also met in Guayaquil alongside the EPA to evaluate and reaffirm the continental pastoral plan to work among the Afro American.