The first area of engagement of the Bethlehem Missionaries in Latin America was in the northernmost land of South America. The extensive fruitful land areas have long been in the hands of a few land owners. This increasingly forced landless Campesinos into impassable, undeveloped, mountain areas in the southern Cordillera where they take possession of, or acquire, a piece of land and gradually build villages. These people who are baptised and raised as Catholics, lack adequate political, legal and spiritual services.
As a result of the invitation and pressure of the Archbishop of Popayan in the 1950s, the Mission Society Bethlehem sent the missionaries who had been expelled from communist China to the south-west Cordilleras between Popayan and Pasto. The priests who were no longer young lived there in the midst of the people – without streets, electricity, running water – without any living comfort. They visited the people in remote hamlets, gathered them for instructions and church services, und encouraged them to live together in solidarity with mutual respect and dignity.
The Second Vatican Council and the General Chapter of 1967 of the Mission Society that followed gave the impulse that the area in Colombia in the care of the former Chinese missionaries should no longer only be understood as Church in Need, but as Church – and society – in the process of development, consequently a true mission area.
In the 1960s a project developed with group engagements. Teams set together with people from different professions. (nurses, social workers/family helpers, priests, agronomists) had as their goal the integral development of communities. The assistance of the teams was to reactivate the enfeebled strength of the population from the economic, social and church points of view so that they could continue out of their own initiative to build up their communities and thereby integrate the awakened Christian community.
Mobile mixed teams were now also working in communities which were formerly in the care of only one missionary and with their community living played a part in encouraging a positive change in the communities. They helped in the training of specialist and leadership personnel in handwork (carpenter), nutrition (housekeeping, horticulture), health (nurses) and catechetics.
– Today two members are working in the field if indigenous and human rights pastoral work in an area where violence and terror reign as it is a mineral-rich area A further member escorts indigenous groups on the Pacific coast and a fourth missionary works in the colonial city of Popayan in the management of the regional seat of the Mission Society.