Missions and social works. The Province’s missions in the 20th century

Sarapiqui (Costa Rica)

The mission of Sarapiquí received its name from the river which is close by. Of tropical climate, the heat and the rain produce exuberant vegetation. From the 1970´s, coffee was replaced by bananas that from the beginning were in the hands of multinational companies from the United States. Sarapiquí still conserves vast areas of forest, and the communication routes and means of transport arrived late and have not assured communication with networks mainly for the necessities of the plantations.

In1976 the Province of Saint Nicholas had great missionary passions. The provincial chapter of that year offered the opportunity so that this passion would be converted into official recommendations. They saw the convenience of accepting a new missionary territory. The province made this take concrete form in Sarapiquí.

For the Bishop of Alajuela, Enrique Bolaños, Sarapiquí needed more attention. At a request from the Bishop, on the 22nd of July 1976 the vicar provincial of Mexico, José María Lorenzo, studied the territory and the possibility of implanting communities in the region. On the 3rd of January 1977 the Bishop of Alajuela and the delegate for the Province of Saint Nicholas of Tolentino, Ángel San Casimiro, signed a contract to send six Recollects to Serapiquí. There would be nine in the moment of its greatest splendour.

In a difference to the other missions of the Order, Sarapiquí was not its own juridical entity, but rather four dissimilar parishes, which only the geography and belonging to the diocese of Alajuela gave them unity. Puerto Viejo and Rio Frío formed the tenth administrative division of the province of Heredia. Venecia and San Miguel were divided into three parishes: Venecia, San Miguel and Río Frío.

San Miguel was the main parish. From there the missionaries attended a vast zone and suffered from the administrative divisions. With this separation they were left with an extension of less than 113 kms2 and 5,000 inhabitants, of which 800 lived in the centre and the others in sixteen villages dispersed in the countryside.

Venecia was the most socially advanced parish, the commercial capital of the region with 12,000 inhabitants, of which 2,500 lived in the centre of the region and the others in eighteen well-off communities.

Quite quickly they felt the need to establish themselves in Puerto Viejo, the political and administrative centre of Sarapiquí. It is the most extensive parish, with the greater necessity for infrastructure, as well as being the parish which has undergone the most changes. In its 1,574km2 live 15,000 inhabitants.

When the United States established itself in Río Frío (1969) another parish was created with 15,000 inhabitants spread out through its 566km2. Before the arrival of the Americans the whole region was forest where only a fared dared to enter. In a short time various thousands of hectares were converted into plantations. Thousands of people found work in the zone; money had arrived, but not happiness or economic security. En Sarapiquí little of the profits stayed there.

A new motorway put Río Frío only an hour from the main capital. For years the connection between Sarapiquí and the centre of the country was very uncomfortable by way of a road made in 1950. The motorway broke the secular isolation of the zone. Today many Costa Ricans go to Sarapiquí to rest and enjoy the exuberant nature.

The lack of communication is greatest within the region itself, above all in Puerto Viejo. The roads are made of stone and are badly looked after. The communities of the rivers of San Juan and Sarapiquí have no other way of access other than the river. Also, there exist interior colonies which can only be arrived at by horse.

The social situation was the great difficulty for the missionaries: family disintegration; abuse, exploitation, and the lack of women’s rights; alcoholism; poverty and the dependence upon the great fortunes or multinationals in production schemes; the abandonment of the elderly; disordered immigration; the invasion of lands and the property lords; the problems caused by a large floating population with only temporary jobs.

The region of Sarapquí came to integrate itself within the Diocese of Ciudad Quesada, created on the 25th of July 1995 and whose first Bishop was an Augustinian Recollect, Ángel San Casimiro. This has meant that it would no longer be considered as a mission, although many of the circumstances related to the social state and the development of the zone has not varied over time. In any case, the same church organization has improved; also they have helped in the communication and the economic diversification of the zone.

The Province of Saint Nicholas of Tolentino maintains two communities in the new diocese: Puerto Viejo and Río Frío.


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Augustinian Recollects Province of St. Nicholas of Tolentine.

Paseo de la Habana, 167. 28036 - Madrid, Spain. Telephone: 913 453 460. CIF(fiscal registration number): R-2800087-E. Entered in the Register of Religious Organizations, of the Ministry of Justice, number 1398-a-SE/B. Develepod by Shunet for OAR Augustinian Recollects Province of St. Nicholas of Tolentine. © 2018 - 2019.