Last Saturday, shortly before 7 p.m., a 7.8 degree earthquake struck Ecuador. ZENIT was able to contact by telephone Monsignor Lorenzo Voltolini Esti, sent to Ecuador as a priest 37 years ago. The Archbishop of Portoviejo, who on his coat of arms has the motto ‘Ut Vitam Habeant,” explained to us the tragic situation that is being lived and the difficulty to take up a normal life. He also discussed the Church’s efforts to be on the front line and very close to the people, as well as the people’s religiosity, who are requesting the blessing of the deceased before any other type of help. The monsignor also said that the Pope’s words and prayers have been received with great joy.
ZENIT: What is the present situation in your archdiocese?
Archbishop Voltolini Esti: The situation is dramatic; the destruction is great; no one was prepared for such a great disaster, similar to the one suffered by Haiti, because, according to the experts, the earthquake was of 7.8 degrees on the Richter scale, but the force unleashed was much greater. The destruction is great and there are people who are still under the ruins. The confirmed dead are almost 600. The area most affected is the region of Manabi, whose capital is Portoviejo. The cost of the damage is yet to be estimated, but it is enormous.
ZENIT: Is the Church able to be on the front line with the people at this moment?
Archbishop Voltolini Esti: Most certainly, because everything we receive we give to the neediest. We are close to our people; we suffer with them. Of course what the government does is seen more because it is supported by the system’s publicity.
ZENIT: On two opportunities, the Pope said that he prays for you all and is close to you. How do you all feel this?
Archbishop Voltolini Esti: Yes, and from the first Sunday in the Regina Caeli, when the Pope announced what had happened in Ecuador. This comforts us very much and sustains us. The Pope’s words are received with joy. I have tried to spread them as much as possible, because radio and television are having difficulties in reaching the public, but the day after they appeared on the front page.
ZENIT: How is the disaster being addressed?
Archbishop Voltolini Esti: The government has done its part quite well, because the civil defense, civil protection, and army have mobilized and things are arriving. Meanwhile, many come to the Church. In the consortium or Paul VI collection center, we are receiving donations that we distribute in Portoviejo as well as in the port city of Manta and in Pedernales. The distribution is done through the parishes that have Caritas units that see that the aid goes to the neediest, because if there is no control, some receive three times as much and others nothing.
ZENIT: Have you felt the solidarity of the rest of the country and of neighboring nations?
Archbishop Voltolini Esti: Yes, many Bishops have called me saying that they are organizing their Caritas. Many are the organizations that are offering help. In the moment of need although on one hand charity and volunteer work are carried out, on the other hand there are movements of despair that do not help the situation, and the rebellion is felt, because sometimes the distribution is not fair.
ZENIT: How can this disaster be explained to the people?
Archbishop Voltolini Esti: There are frequent earthquakes here. Our people are very religious and the first thing they do, when there are earthquakes, is to pray to the Lord. What they asked us first of all was not for food but for a blessing. Now, instead, the moment has begun to return to normality and we are finding this difficult.