Bishop Urbano Duarte: 1950-2018

The Rt Rev Nick Drayson, bishop of Northern Argentina, pays tribute to one of Church Mission Society's local partners, Bishop Urbano Duarte.

Early on Monday 10 September the Diocese of Northern Argentina lost one of her spiritual leaders. Urbano Duarte, aged 67, had been assistant bishop for just over two years, and died in hospital after a very short illness. We remember his wife Lucia and five children.

The burial took place in his home town of Potrillo [on Tuesday 11 September] , where nearly 1,000 people gathered to honour him, and say farewell. Noticeable among the mourners, including Wichi and Toba Christians, from the Anglican and other churches, were many schoolteachers, who paid a glowing tribute. “Whenever Urbano Duarte was around we knew there would be peace – he was a gentleman and a quiet leader.”

Bishop with local family in the Chaco
Bishop Urbano on a pastoral visit to the Province of Chaco

Urbano grew up in village of El Yuto, where he came under the influence of the pastor, Felipe Gutierrez, who subsequently trained him for the ordained ministry, and whose shoes he filled when Felipe died in 1999. El Yuto was abandoned due to flooding in 1999, and Urbano accompanied Felipe and his people to Potrillo, where they established a church in Barrio Nuevo (“new neighbourhood”).

Urbano was also a trained schoolteacher, much loved for his quiet and thorough manner, and specialised in helping children with studies in their own language, “Wichi Lhamtes”, which is taught by law alongside the Spanish curriculum. When school No. 433 was rebuilt with a modern building, the government asked the community if they would like any other improvements, and Urbano asked for a new church. This was inaugurated in the presence of the provincial authorities in 2013, and was subsequently the site of the consecration of the indigenous bishops in 2016 and the funeral of Urbano in 2018.

Bishops gathered in Peru
Bishop Urbano at the Climate Change and the Church conference in May

He retired from teaching at 65, and when the decision was taken in 2015 to consecrate three indigenous bishops, Urbano was elected alongside another Wichi pastor, Crisanto Rojas, and a Toba, Mateo Alto. They have paid moving tributes to the friendship and depth of their colleague, as they have shared in many journeys, and ministry together these three years, including two trips to Peru for conferences. Urbano was well-known to be the one who travelled most to far-flung communities and was most in contact by phone with church members and leaders. He was skilled at resolving disputes, listening, and encouraging, and enjoyed receiving new members and opening new churches!

A well-known Catholic priest who spoke at his funeral described Urbano as “a real Wichi, and a real Christian”. He will be greatly missed.

The clergy who gathered in Potrillo expressed their grief at losing a “father in God”, but the overall sense was that “The Lord has given, the Lord has taken away… Blessed be the name of the Lord” Job 1.21.

Published 13 September 2018
Latin America

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