The archipelago of about 50 volcanic islands is located in the Pacific Ocean 1000 km from the west coast of South America. They are an unspoiled paradise with flora and fauna unique in the world. It is no coincidence that Charles Darwin gave birth to his theory of evolution right there. Since 1959, the Galápagos Islands have been a national park and in 1986 they were declared a ‘World Heritage Site’ by UNESCO.
“Each island has its own beauty, like the flora and fauna that make it unique. Everything speaks to us of Creation, and for this reason we join the call of Pope Francis who invites us to safeguard our common home”, says Msgr. Patrizio Bonilla, Bishop and Apostolic Vicar of the Galapagos.
And he continues: “If we approach nature and the environment without this openness to amazement and wonder, if we no longer speak the language of brotherhood and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitudes will be those of the dominator and the consumer, the mere exploiter of natural resources, unable to put a limit on his immediate interests. Conversely, if we feel intimately united to everything that exists, sobriety and care will spring up spontaneously”.
Bishop Bonilla was born in the city of Rio Bamba, in Ecuador. He studied philosophy at the Pontifical Catholic University of Quito, then theological studies at the Studium Teologicum Ierosolimitanum in Jerusalem, and on 10 October 1993 made his solemn profession in the Franciscan Order. In 1996 he was ordained a priest in Jerusalem. He studied Canon Law at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. On 7 December 2013 in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno-San Cristòbal, he was consecrated bishop and began his episcopal ministry as apostolic vicar of the Galapagos.
The seat of the vicariate is Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, on the island of San Cristóbal, where the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary is located. The territory is divided into 11 parishes.
Reflecting on the ‘common home’ that is so dear to Pope Francis, the bishop says: “If we consider that the Galapagos Islands contain the largest number of plant and animal species on the planet, we will understand the concern of Pope Francis who invites us to develop a love for and awareness of this Home that we share. Pope Francis calls us to a necessary ecological conversion that leads us to live an integral ecology at the individual and social levels. For this, he calls us to reflect on the fact that living the vocation of protectors of God’s work is an essential part of a virtuous life. With this, we are committed to safeguarding the Galapagos Islands as a ‘maritime sanctuary’.
We ask the bishop what characterizes the pastoral care of his vicariate? What are the priorities and policies you are implementing? “When I took up my ministry, we began to observe the realities that deserved priority in our pastoral action. The fundamental axes of our work are in family pastoral care: we cannot exempt ourselves from supporting it because it is from how families are constituted that we build our society in its fundamental values; and then the pastoral care of young people and adolescents and children, who are the wealth and life of society.”
“ There is also the ordinary pastoral care of the parishes, to follow all those ecclesial groups that need accompaniment. Evangelization through the media is a privileged field of work. In our mission we have two radio stations, Santa Cruz FM (Puerto Ayora) and Voz de Galápagos FM (Puerto Baquerizo Moreno) and a television channel TV13 Galápagos, in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno.”
“Finally, the pastoral care of the sea and the protection of creation is one of the great fields of work of the vicariate, especially to strengthen the accompaniment of people who work at sea. To this is added the protection of the common home, respect for the conservation and veneration of nature”.
What are the current needs of the life of the parishes? “First of all, the authentic witness of the faith. The Church cannot be understood without the transmission of the Gospel. Without the encounter with Jesus, there is no evangelization. The task of the Church, and therefore of the Christian community, is nothing other than proclaiming the Gospel until Christ is recognized as the only Lord of human history. Faith is strengthened by giving it, as Saint John Paul II reminded us in the Redemptoris Missio.”
Mons Bonilla insists on a journey of ‘pastoral of the whole’. With the ‘overall pastoral care’ in the parish, we want to say that all forces are involved and committed to the task of the mission, considering the needs that arise from taking this pastoral choice seriously. Our parish priests and our communities have distinguished themselves in the search to fully live the theme: to love and to serve. In light of the programmatic bases described above, we say that the life of the parishes is quite fruitful; however, we still need to work on the formation of the faithful. For this, we have implemented Biblical, ecclesiological and Marian formation courses and thus update our priests and missionaries”.
The pandemic is still affecting us: how are you experiencing this difficult situation? “In this time of the pandemic, we have had an opportunity to highlight our feelings of solidarity and fraternity with those who have been attacked by the virus. Although the income and economy of the Galapagos are mainly tourism and fishing, these have been reduced. We keep in mind that everything comes from the continent, from Ecuador, and this aggravates our life because we do not have what is necessary. It has been a tough time for all of us, with no flights and shortages of some products. We were isolated from the world. However, providence and fraternity have helped us. Now our challenge is to reactivate the economy of the islands”.
Pope Francis asks the universal Church for a synodal push. How is the Vicariate of the Galapagos implementing this ecclesial thrust? “Pope Francis asks us to live as an outgoing Church, a Church that is a field hospital where everyone can experience fraternity and human solidarity as a distinctive feature of Christians who are committed to the Gospel. Speaking of synodality, my thoughts turn to a Church that wishes to resemble the first Christian communities, where she lived fraternally, without selfishness or envy. I am thinking of a Church that wants to embody the Word of God in life and witness it day after day in open dialogue and attentive listening. For this, to live the synodal impulse, we should live the experience of the pilgrims of Emmaus: let the Lord speak to us until our hearts burn and move us to live charity and mercy in communion, participation and mission”. (M.A.)