Rebuilding the house of worship for the people of Canoa
The La Parroquia San Andreschurch in Canoa, Ecuador, which was destroyed in a devastating earthquake in April 2016, finally reopened on 13th July 2019, with a grand opening ceremony that drew a crowd of around 700 people. Those present included the Apostolic Administrator, priests, nuns, government officials, representatives of overseas Chinese, Tzu Chi volunteers and local residents, who all witnessed a religious communion and the Buddhist spirit of selfless compassion.
There are living quarters for priests and nuns, activity classrooms, vocational training classrooms and classrooms for children’s Bible studies within the reconstructed church, a spiritual home for the locals. Many of the local residents were present at the church to witness the historical moment. The eager and enthusiastic crowd extended from the aisles on each side all the way outside the main door.
"Helping people to grow, to help one another and to have faith is the gift we have received from Tzu Chi. It is Tzu Chi that has brought us hope after the disaster and we deeply thank Tzu Chi for its efforts," said Apostolic Administrator Eduardo José Castillo Pino, in his speech.
San Vicente’s mayor, Rosanna Cevallos said, “I thank the Tzu Chi volunteers, who come from all around the world. Faith is indispensable in religion. Where there is religion, there is hope, and that is what gave the residents of Canoa the strength to rebuild their hometown.”
She added, “Although the resources are scarce, we are still able to succeed with our joint efforts. I pray that the love of Tzu Chi can spread to every corner of the world."
During the ceremony, a group of members from the US chapter of the Tzu Chi International Medical Association (TIMA) and Tzu Chi volunteers, each holding a lotus lamp in their hands, stepped into the hall in an orderly manner as the Tzu Chi song, “Clear Tranquil Minds” was played. They also presented a melodious sign language song of blessings and piety that displayed the humanistic culture of Tzu Chi to give blessings to the church.
Tzu Chi USA’s CEO, Han Huang, was greeted with a loud applause from the audience when he asked, "Do you like this church?"
“Tell your children what compassion and relief can do for everyone, because it will bring hope to every corner of the world,” said Huang.
He further said that the reconstruction of the church could not have been successfully completed without the support from the masses, and expressed his hope for everyone to continue the cycle of kindness.
Great Love transcends the boundary of religion
Although the former archbishop was not able to attend the ceremony, he sent a letter to thank Tzu Chi for helping the people. The letter, which was read aloud by Father Juan, said, “Tzu Chi is made of a group of people who hope to change the world through the power of compassion. The values preached by the Buddha are also what Christ had achieved. Therefore, we can say with certainty that it is great love that has helped the local residents rise from the trauma of the earthquake. The same love can also change and lead the world towards the path of harmony.”
A Catholic sister, Miriam, said that great love has brought hope and the opportunity to rebuild the church, and that it has not only rebuilt the physical building, but also people’s minds and souls. She thanked everyone for their efforts and contributions, which allowed the project to be successfully completed.
Another Catholic sister, Mercedes Ajila, also expressed gratitude to Tzu Chi’s founder, Dharma Master Cheng Yen, and shared that she was very honoured to witness the mutual help and support between Tzu Chi volunteers and the local residents over the past few years. She then asked the audience to applaud to thank everyone, especially the construction workers. She added, “We had experienced two earthquakes and are grateful for the assistance from all over the world. Today, Tzu Chi has blessed us with this church. We express our immense gratitude to the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation for its contributions of great love, which has turned despair into hope."
Then, some representatives of the townsfolk presented a plaque in commemoration of Tzu Chi’s contributions. It was placed outside the church as a testimony to selfless love. Ramon Rosado, who was born and raised in Canoa, lives in the town with his 30 family members. He had watched how the church was built from scratch and was deeply moved. He composed six songs for Tzu Chi and performed the songs with his band at the opening ceremony.
As the audience immersed in the moving songs, it was evident that they had emerged from their suffering to embrace joy.
Inspired to serve others after the earthquake
Tzu Chi volunteer Martin Kuo started becoming involved in the post-earthquake relief work in Ecuador from the disaster assessment in April 2016. He subsequently took up the role of the coordinator for the reconstruction project and encountered numerous setbacks in the process.
On this day, he was deeply touched by the local residents’ show of appreciation for Tzu Chi’s efforts and their respect for the Buddhist faith, which he had personally witnessed at the ceremony.
“I am grateful to be given the opportunity to represent the Buddhist faith to complete this project as a gift of love for the Catholics. I hope that the local volunteers will keep the spirit of Tzu Chi alive forever in Canoa!" said Kuo.
The local contractor for the church reconstruction project came to know Tzu Chi during the latter’s post-earthquake relief efforts in 2016, and was deeply touched by the NGO’s sincerity and love. He not only took over the reconstruction project in April 2018, but also decided to undergo volunteer training to join the ranks of Tzu Chi volunteers.
He said proudly, "Our mission is accomplished. Now, Tzu Chi can develop its Missions of Charity, Medicine, Education and Humanistic Culture locally."
Tzu Chi volunteer Jennifer moved from New York to Manta City, Ecuador, five years ago. In the aftermath of the earthquake in 2016, her good friend Zou Yu Ru, a Tzu Chi volunteer who lived in New York, specially asked for her assistance with Tzu Chi’s disaster relief operations. At that time, there were only three Tzu Chi volunteers handling the mountain of work in the quake-stricken country.
However, Jennifer was very willing to contribute her efforts and turned the hard work into joy in her heart. She even travelled to Taiwan in 2017 to seek refuge under Dharma Master Cheng Yen, and vowed to instill the spirit and practices of Tzu Chi among the local residents in Ecuador.
Julian Zamora, the chief engineer of the church reconstruction project, thought that the church was very beautiful even while it was being rebuilt, and he made a wish to hold his wedding in the newly constructed church. Thus, he secretly planned a marriage proposal to his girlfriend during the opening ceremony. In the midst of all the surprised voices and blessings, Julian and his future wife walked across a “rose bridge” built by Tzu Chi volunteers and pledged to marry each other, adding a joyous note to the event!
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“The grand opening ceremony for Canoa’s reconstructed church has truly been an occasion steeped in the truth that love has no boundaries. Get a glimpse into the celebrations for yourself in our latest video.” – Tzu Chi USA 360