Among the members of civil society Pope Francis met with in Quito was an Italian who helped build a banking system to aid the poor in rising from poverty, anticipating in practice what Pope Francis’ encyclical ‘Laudato Si’ stressed this year. A Salesian, Giuseppe Tonello, better known as Bepi Tonello, went to Ecuador in 1970, following the request of his superiors to go on mission in that land. He arrived at Salinas in 1971, in his words, “the poorest village of the poorest region of the country. The infant mortality rate was very high, and just a few adult people were able to write and read.” Responding to Bl. Paul VI’s social encyclical “Populorum Progressio” — which asked for the creation of a fund to assist the poorest — Bepi Tonello and a group of other missionaries gave birth to the Fondo Ecuatoriano Populorum Progressio, known as the Fepp. The fund started with a deposit of 2,000 dollars, delivered to the poorest to let them buy tools or land so that they could work. Now, the Fepp boasts some 115 million dollars. In 1998, the Ecuadorian banking system was on the verge of collapse due to a deep economic crisis. To face the crisis, the Fepp gave rise to the Cooperativa de Ahorro y Credito Desarrolo de los Pueblos — Codesarollo. Codesarollo is a Christian-inspired financial institute which supports the local and integral development of the marginalized people in Ecuador. Support to marginalized people is given through quality banking products and services, in order to strengthen cooperatives. In 2002, Codesarollo started a cooperation with the Italian Bank for Cooperative Credit. According to the Italian bank data, more than 12,000 women got some 45 million dollars in loans, thus supporting the building of more than 2,000 new houses and the renovation of 1,800 houses. In the end, 220 branches of the Bank for Cooperative Credit were involved in the initiative, with a 50 million dollar ceiling put at disposal of banCodesarollo, of which more than 20,000 families of ‘campesinos’ took advantage. The loans also facilitated the purchase of 5,400 hectares of land, for a total value estimated of 12 million dollars. Fepp supported the initiative with 5 million dollars for soft loans, which helped to build rural banks in villages, to purchase Codesarollo stocks and to reinforce enterprise as part of the social group Ecuadorian Fund Populorum Progressio. All of these initiatives had the ultimate goal of promoting social inclusion, supporting environmental sustainability, and fostering economic participation and solidarity. These notions are also part of Pope Francis’ recent encyclical ‘Laudato Si,’ which stressed that “new forms of cooperation and community organization can be encouraged in order to defend the interests of small producers and preserve local ecosystems from destruction. Truly, much can be done!” According to a Vatican source, the Secretariat of State asked for notes about the Codesarollo history and experience, with the intention of mentioning it in some of the papal speeches. While no specific mention to the Codesarollo experience has been made, the very presence of Bepi Tonello among the members of the Ecuadorian civil society is an acknowledgement of his work throughout the years.
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