Talamanca: Vincentian Mission among the Indigenous

Rolando Gutiérrez Zúñiga, CM, Vice-Province of Costa Rica describes a ministry with indigenous peoples.

The Bribris and the Cabecar play an important role in the ecclesiastical history of Latin America. The Spaniards were unable to colonize these two indigenous peoples. They remained isolated for centuries while guarding the beautiful mountains of the Cordillera de Talamanca, the most important Central American region without an army.

From 20-25 March, Marvin Robles, CM, and Rolando Gutiérrez, CM, accompanied the Bishop of the Diocese of Limón, Monsignor Javier Román, in his visit to the communities of Alto Telire, the furthest from the indigenous mission. They had to walk five days on the mountain with journeys of up to 13 hours through mud, up slopes, in rain, and over raging rivers. Four laymen and four religious were also part of the mission.

The images we share allow us to see a reality where misery and life mingle among the hundreds of children, taught on earthen floors in classrooms that have a few wooden tree trunks for walls. They sleep where they manage at night, almost always among dogs, hens, and pigs; without toys and with very few notebooks. There the Little Company is still present, trying to bring hope and encourage development, at the same speed that one can walk those difficult mountains.

Father Marvin Robles, current parish priest of the mission in Talamanca, states “the challenge here is too simple and at the same time too complicated. It is a question of how to be near them over such long distances. I believe that my greatest challenge is to be close to them,” explains the missionary.

The mission in the mountains of Talamanca has been the achievement of the Congregation of the Mission with a permanent presence of the Church in these lands since 1962, when Bernhard Koch, CM, and later Bernardo Drüg, CM (God bless him), managed to settle among the natives. They entered through the passage that the second bishop of Costa Rica, Monsignor Bernardo Augusto Thiel, CM, had opened between the mountains to bring baptism to indigenous peoples in the late 19th century.

The “Fathers Bernardo” team is today a heroic chapter in the history of the Church in Costa Rica, not only for its evangelizing mission, but for the authentic human and social development that these men promoted in a village where everything bears their name: elementary and secondary schools, health centers, roads, aqueducts, transport, etc. Other missionaries such as William Benavides, CM, current Vice-Visitor; Fabio Flores, CM; and Brother Álvaro Herra, CM, have given much of their lives to this Vincentian mission too.