Chontal, Imbabura

El Chontal is a community or village that is a part of the parish of Garcia Moreno in the province of Imbabura. There are about 250 people at the lower level that you can see in the picture. There is a mid-level village and further up the mountain there is another settlement. Altogether there are about 500 people.


It is located on the edge of a cloud-forest region on the western side of the province, a protected region known for tourism for biodiversity. The location is between the coast and sierra, and since it's in a valley, it usually reaches about 80 degrees F every day, though there is always a breeze as well. Not too far away, the mountains rise up very steeply, and in the evenings in the mountains, the fog comes in and overlays them with a beautiful blanket.


The area has breathtaking natural beauty, including waterfalls, mountains, and pure rivers for bathing. Farm life includes animals like cattle and poultry. It's not unusual to encounter someone leading their donkey down the mountain when you're on a path. Like all of Ecuador, there are two seasons: rainy and dry, and daily temperature ranges do not change too much throughout the year, at least for a Bostonian's sensitivity!


The work is agricultural and poor, with fruits being the main source of income. The people are hoping to be more involved in tourism as well. Because the area is a bit isolated (within the past 5 years bridges were built to bring in construction materials, and it's only been about 10 years since electricity arrived), often the youth will move away after their high school years, unless they want to continue with the same agricultural life as their parents and relatives. The people are very friendly, and many are related from the earlier settlers that started the settlement in the mid-20th century. The fiestas each year are a special event for the whole village.

I first came to El Chontal because I had helped to fund the construction of a church there, San Miguel del Chontal, through a donation to the Franciscan Missions and through a special grace from my mother following her death. At first I made the donation without considering following up. But when it became clear to me that this was a shared gift from my mother and me, and that her presence was there with the church, I sensed a real love in my heart for the people of Chontal and Ecuador.


This church was finished in 2010, and it was then that I came with the Franciscan Mission team to share in the first Mass and blessing of the church. I also decided that this was the beginning of a relationship that I intended to follow through with.


I returned several times afterwards to join with the parish priest Padre Julián Delgado and come to know the people. Even with my limited Spanish, Padre Julián gladly took me along in his ministry, and I got to visit many places nearby and come to know better the people and the way of life. This included visiting many villages and homes, many Masses, many fiestas, and sharing in ministry like catechesis or teaching English in schools. The church itself has been used for first communions, weddings, and many Masses and confessions.

El Chontal continues to be my first stopping point on crossing the bridge to Ecuador. It is always a high priority to visit, and I'm hoping in the future, after my time in Puerto Quito and beyond, that I'll be better prepared to spend more time there.

Puerto Quito, Pichincha

Puerto Quito, which has its own Wikipedia entry, is a cantón (like a county) located in the province (or state) of Pichincha. It has a town center with businesses and residences and government seats along with a large number of neighboring communities, or "recintos". There are about 88 of these recintos, in addition to about 7 sectors in the town center, to make about 95 communities. The town center has about 2000 people, and the villages altogether have about 17,000 people (making about 200 people in each village, each roughly equivalent to El Chontal). The people are mainly mestizo, having immigrated because of droughts from Manabi and Loja in the mid-to late-20th century, and there are a few afro communities.

Puerto Quito is in the Sierra but has coastal weather, especially because it is located in a valley in a forest region. There are two seasons, rainy and dry, and every day the temperature peaks out close to 85⁰F. The uniqueness of this climate makes it especially ideal for growing two types of agriculture products: African palm, which is used to make palm oil, and cacao, the base ingredient in chocolate. In Puerto Quito grows the highest quality chocolate base in the world. The unique climate is a major reason that the government, investors, and immigrants from other parts of Ecuador have stimulated a fast growth in this region over the past 30 years.

The vast majority of residents of Puerto Quito are laborers in farms that grow palm and cacao, with some owning their own and others living in the center and having businesses related to the commerce there. Tourism is also a growing aspect of the life here, as this region has great biodiversity and beautiful natural landscapes. You will see a wide variety of nature like hummingbirds, fish, and exotic insects (oh yeah, the exotic insects make themselves quite at home.) Like all of rural Ecuador, the way of life is much slower and simpler than in the States, though the average laborer would make about $4000 a year. Though you can actually feel this poverty as in all developing places, there is also an openness that is welcoming.

In the center, there are a several schools at different levels, including two high schools, one public and the other Catholic. There are fiestas and parades at various times throughout the year, and the schools always play an important part in them. In each of the villages, or recintos, there is a one-room school, a bathroom, and a small living quarter for a teacher to stay overnight. Together with a sports field for soccer or volleyball, this usually identifies the village center, and there may be a few other things there, too, like a shop selling convenience-store things. In the center of Puerto Quito, there are also a few government-run medical clinics, and a large hospital is currently being built. There is an indoor gymnasium and a little outdoor sports complex called a polideportiva. There's a Catholic church, and several other denominations are also present, including Evangelicals, Jehovah's witnesses, and Seventh-Day Adventists.

There are various visitors to Puerto Quito from Europe (especially Germany) and the US. Many are doing a gap-year after high school through a "global citizens" program, and there are volunteers from the Peace Corps in the area as well. Missionary priests and religious sisters are also here. I've come to Puerto Quito as a friend of theMissionary Society of St James the Apostle, or the St James Society. These priests have invited me into the life and ministry here. The pastor here for over 20 years, Fr Martin Kelly from Ireland has helped to build a church and Catholic elementary and high schools.

For a great introduction to Puerto Quito, check out this introductory video that the English Club at the Catholic high school made as part of a cultural exchange with a high school in Massachusetts:

The priests have also started a ministry to the disabled here, Amigos del Arca Ecuador, that includes not only therapies of different types, but also a form of communal living and working together in the vein of the L'Arche communities founded by Jean Vanier. The Franciscan Missionaries of St Joseph assist in Amigos del Arca, and the Oblates of St Francis de Sales operate the schools. It's in these aspects of the life here that I've spent most of my time here in Puerto Quito.

Well, are you ready to cross the bridge?

Volunteers & Supplies For Language Learning

In Puerto Quito, we have a language group in the parish and an English Club at the local Catholic high school Santiago Apostol. Have you every thought of participating in a language group, sharing your own and learning someone else's? That's what the parish group is about. It is especially rare for the people to have the opportunity to speak and practice directly with native English speakers. if you'd like to share some time, at a distance, let me know. Check the box here for Works of Mercy and include your thoughts in the comment box.

In both groups, at times we need supplies, and financial help would be great at times. Also, any advice or creative ideas you might have if you have experience in language learning is also appreciated. Check the box here for financial support and include your ideas in the comment box.


Hayden Summary

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Evangelization and Catechesis Supplies

In visiting homes and generally in sharing faith, there are a lot of instances where I wish I had a few simple things with me, things that are easy to get in the States but are not common here. For example, in one visit, one of the sisters brought a small foam football along. This one toy kept 3 kids occupied for almost 2 whole days, and made for a lot of fun and opportunities to enjoy our time together. So we can always seem to use things that help to create encounter and share faith and company together. In catechesis, there is no source for supplies, just a single book, so we have to look for ways to fund everything else.

  • For Evangelization: Bibles, rosaries, rosary pamphlets, miraculous medals, and other devotional items and books. Things specifically for children are useful too, like small toys and candies.
  • For Catechesis: Writing and drawing supplies, arts and crafts and books, videos and movies, computer software.
  • Another thing that I do is take pictures of people and print them out. Although some people take pictures, it's not nearly as common as in the States. And having a printed picture is even less common. By taking photos of people and printing them out, it sends the message that the person is worth photographing, and that they - and the memory of the event - are valuable. It costs 50 cents to print a photo, so it adds up after a while!

If you have any other ideas, I'd be glad to listen. If you'd like to be a part of these activities by donating, please check the financial support box here and comment in the comment box.


Outreach Visits

Outreach visits are visits to rural villages or visits in the local town, where we visit private homes. We may go to a number of homes simply to greet people and pray with them, to invite them to the local prayer services. We come with the attitude of listening, without pressure or proselytizing. Our visit is an attempt to know the people better, and hopefully an indication that the people are loved and important, and they are welcome to come to the weekly prayer service. We let them know that we are available to help them in any way that we can and be a bridge to the Church, the parish. We like to have some materials to share, whether religious articles or pieces of candy or something meaningful. We often visit the sick in their homes to bring the sacraments and pray with them. Going out to peoples' homes is a desire of ours that comes from the heart, and it is a privilege to be received into peoples' homes and hearts!

I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the crippled, and I will strengthen the weak. (Ex 34:16)

Catechesis and Faith-Sharing Groups

I share in the parish catechesis, leading a group of adults and helping with a group of children. The adults live in the town center and are parents of children preparing to receive their first Holy Communion. I help out in a remote village with catechesis of a group of children who are preparing for first Holy Communion. In each group, we use creative approaches and dynamics, with an emphasis on active participation, teamwork, and sharing. We base the catechesis on the personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and enjoy the gift of being received by the people and witnessing Jesus' active love toward each person! With the large, systematic catechesis program in the diocese here, there are currently not many small faith-sharing groups, but I'm hoping on having more opportunities to form groups where people can open the Bible and listen personally to the Word of God related to their lives and share with one another. It is a real desire of many people, and the greatest thing that can be taught is not things about God and the Church and whatnot, but how to listen to God oneself! So please pray for this to come about at some point!

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return until they water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it. (Is 55:10-11)

People With Disabilities

An important part of my time here in Puerto Quito is in ministry to the disabled. Until about 7 years ago, there was no attention or services for the disabled in this area of Ecuador. But then there arrived a new paraplegic Vice-President of the country, Lenín Moreno Garces, who began to raise awareness and take action in support of the disabled. A few years later, Msgr Finbarr O'Leary of the Missionary Society of St James the Apostle began a new project for the disabled that was established as Fundación Amigos del Arca Ecuador (here on Facebook in Spanish). Based on the spirituality of Jean Vanier and the model of the L'Arche organization that he founded, Amigos del Arca strives to offer a sense of integrated belonging and community for the disabled, through a variety of living arrangements, work, and therapies. The disabled here really are the poorest of the poor, and communities like Amigos del Arca offer an opportunity for them to be loved and made aware of the special dignity that they have! My time here with the disabled in Puerto Quito has been dedicated primarily to the spiritual and social aspect of Amigos del Arca, helping to provide every Friday a half-day of dynamic prayer, Gospel reflection on the life of the community and of families with disabled children, and fun social interaction for members of the organization and their families, creating a spiritually-based, family-like environment. My own sister Lisa, who lived and blessed our family for over 27 years until 1994, was severely disabled, so the disabled hold a special place in my heart!

Every child, every person needs to know that they are a source of joy; every child, every person, needs to be celebrated. Only when all of our weaknesses are accepted as part of our humanity can our negative, broken self-images be transformed. (Jean Vanier, Becoming Human)