Secular Franciscan Urges Continued Involvement at Bolivia Conservation Area

Charlie Spencer Franciscan World

Last year, Ignacio (Iggy) Harding OFM, (then) guardian, St. Francis Basilica, La Paz, Bolivia, invited me to relocate to the Amazon basin of eastern Bolivia to help create, promote, and manage an International Franciscan Ecological Sanctuary and Retreat Center in Madidi National Park, considered “the most important conservation area on Earth.”

Although I’m still in Massachusetts, I did join a small exploratory expedition in August, 2005, teaming up with Jud Weiksnar, Octavio Duran, Bishop Oscar Romero’s former private photographer; Enrique Bascons, OFM, guardian and rector of the House of Theology for Saint Clare Franciscan Custory of Mozambique; and Rosa Maria Ruiz, Executive director, Eco-Bolivia, who is largely responsible for the Bolivian government establishing Madidi National Park in 1995.

The park, unfortunately established without funding, management plan, or adequate policing, is located within the Madidi mosaic of over 40 million acres, and is home to more than 5,000 plant species, 885 species of vertebrates, vast deposits of natural gas, water, DNA, gold, etc., and some of the last indigenous tribes in the world. Since Madidi was featured/publicized on the cover of National Geographic magazine in March, 2000, global corporate intrusion and exploitation has become heightened. However, a more promising and protective future is anticipated under newly-elected president Evo Morales.

Since my visit, I have been working with a few OFM’s of Holy Name Province to hopefully encourage more visitors to Madidi in establishing an ongoing Franciscan presence, provide witness to unbridled encroachment, while offering a simple and direct means for others to experience flowers, birds, butterflies, mammals, etc., in concentrations words cannot describe, with comfortable outpost accommodations provided by Franciscans International, Bolivia; Eco Bolivia; and Madidi Travel.

If the global Franciscan family ever saw the need to retrieve the fundamental “‘care for creation'” component of its charism, Madidi would be a good place to place its flag, remembering the words of St. Francis, “let us begin, for up until now we have done nothing.”

For more information, please contact me at or Jacek Orzechowski at

NOTE:  The author, minister at St. Michael Fraternity, Springfield, Mass., is past chair of the National Ecology Commission, Secular Franciscan Order, and Councilor for Ecology, Franciscans International at the U. N.