Bocas del Toro celebrates the 40º anniversary of the ordination of the “Bishop of the natives”.
Although Spanish by birth, Jose Agustin Ganuza is a Panameñan by heart. His life is unavoidably linked to a place: Bocas del Toro. He was a bishop there for 36 years. Now, when he is already retired and at the point of celebrating his 81 years, he received a token of appreciation through the initiative of his successor, Anibal Saldaña, in acknowledgement of his outstanding labor with the native population.
There are several reasons to justly remember today Msgr. Jose Agustin Ganuza Garcia, a retired bishop of the Prelature of Bocas del Toro, in Panama. There are various coincidences, among which the 60th years of his solemn profession and his 40 years as bishop.
Although he had his first religious profession as Augustinian Recollect in 1947, he ratified his lifetime commitment on the 27th of September 1952. Almost 20 years after, as today, on the 27th of May 1972, he was ordained Prelate Bishop of Bocas del Toro, succeeding another Augustinian Recollect Msgr. Martin Legarra.
Homage for his pastoral for the natives
As required, upon reaching the age of 75 Ganuza presented his resignation to the Holy Father who, a little less than four year ago, on the 1st of May 2008, named his successor in the person of another Augustinian Recollect, Anibal Saldaña Santamaria. And it has been Msgr. Saldaña who initiated the idea of giving honor to his antecessor for the 36 years of shepherding the Church of Bocas del Toro; and especially for his labor among the natives.
He took the opportunity for this purpose on the celebration of the 50th anniversary of Conapi (Coordinadora Nacional de Pastoral Indígena). This organism, which joins together the representatives of the groups of natives of Panama, was organized in 1987 as a reaction, among others, to a project of an open mining endangering the ecological balance in the Ngäbe-Buglé district, at the northern part of the country.
The master lines of the compromise were clear: to support the struggle of these peoples for their land; to help the organizations of the natives; to defend the natural resources; to promote the creation of the native Church; to denounce concrete cases of exploitation and oppression…
The book that recalls it
On the Conapi and its 25 years, upon the initiative of Msgr. Saldaña, a booklet has just been published, written by a Jesuit Jorge Sarsaneda del Cid who has worked intensely among the natives, both in Panama as well as in Guatemala.
A question asked by Sarsaneda in the book – what has Bishop Ganuza to do with the National Coordination of the Pastoral for the Natives and his 25 years. And in the same line he answers: Well, very simple, that without him this rich pasturing through service and accompaniment would not have been possible. Presumably the missionaries and catechists have been the fundamental part of this pasturing, but he was the motor for more than thirty years.
On the forthcoming feast of Saint Augustine (28th of August), Msgr. Jose Agustin Ganuza will be 81 years old. Although Spanish by birth, he is a Panameñan by heart and goes on residing in Panama, in the capital. During many years, on solemn occasions, he has put on the “chaquira” or muceta made of bead works which represents the authority among the natives. That, of moral authority, is the image which he left among the old diocesan faithful.
JUNE 2009 · PANAMA. Bocas del Toro: poverty, dispersion, and indigenous defense