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Archbishop of Canterbury ponders migration and climate change in sweltering El Salvador

12 June 2024

Visit to ‘inhospitable terrain’ of Darien Gap not possible

Neil Turner/Lambeth Palace

Archbishop Welby plants a tree in El Salvador

Archbishop Welby plants a tree in El Salvador

THE Archbishop of Canterbury’s tour of Central America concluded this week with tree-planting in tropical temperatures in El Salvador, and an aborted helicopter ride in Panama.

Earlier in the trip, Archbishop Welby had worshipped with indigenous Anglican communities in Guatemala, and visited the house of St Óscar Romero in San Salvador (News, 7 June).

On his final day in El Salvador, Archbishop Welby preached and presided at a service in El Maizal, and planted the first tree in the Anglican Communion Forest in Central America.

The Anglican Communion Forest was launched at the Lambeth Conference in 2022, and the first tree was planted by Archbishop Welby in the garden of Lambeth Palace (News, 5 August 2022).

In a post on Instagram, Archbishop Welby said that he “wouldn’t normally recommend gardening in tropical temperatures while wearing about five layers of clerical robes, but planting this particular tree in El Maizal, El Salvador, was worth the heat and the discomfort”.

He wrote: “Physically feeling the soil in our hands and the sweat on our backs brought home that this was a day about practical action. The simple act of planting trees does so much — it connects us to God’s creation; it acknowledges the severe impact of climate change in this region — often affecting most severely the communities with the fewest resources; and it makes a statement of hope for our future.”

In Panama, at Christ Church by the Sea, Colon, he preached about the persecution of Christians around the world. The topic was one that formed part of the wider context of the Archbishop’s trip, owing to continued suppression of the Roman Catholic Church in Nicaragua (Comment, 10 March 2023).

Migration was also a topic that Archbishop Welby said, was “at the forefront” of his mind during the trip. He made the comment in a social-media post recounting an attempt to visit the Darien Gap — a jungle that separates Panama and Colombia, and through which more than half a million migrants from South America travelled last year.

A helicopter flight to the area was aborted after about 15 minutes, as bad weather made a safe landing impossible. The Darien Gap “is one of the most inhospitable terrains in the world”, he said, and many migrants attempting to make the journey on foot did not survive.

“Some are swept away trying to cross the river. Some perish from disease, lack of food and nutrition, or slip off the dangerous mountainside. Migrants are preyed on by criminal gangs, and sexual violence is rife,” he wrote.

The final stop on Archbishop Welby’s tour of Central America was Costa Rica, where he visited an Anglican-run school where many of the students are from families who emigrated from Venezuela and Nicaragua.

He also preached at a service at the Cathedral El Buen Pastor, in San José, and met the Costa Rican Minister of Foreign Affairs, Arnoldo André Tinoco, with whom he reportedly discussed links between migration and climate change.

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