Jul 09

In Paris, a Tribute to Bethlehem Missionary Pablo Meier

The Peruvian Silvia Dana-Echevarria, president of the association “Les Amis du Patrimoine”, active in Paris, came to Immensee in the spring and discovered the sacred paintings on burlap coffee sacks by the priest and artist Pablo Meier SMB in the Bistro and in the courtyard of the Im Bethlehem residence. She was thrilled by their uniqueness and planned to make the art of the Bethlehem missionary accessible to a wider international audience.

The project “Les Amis du Patrimoine” aims to restore the church of Aucará in the Peruvian Andes, which represents in its design and decoration a concentrate of Peruvian history from the Incas to the Spanish colonial era. Silvia Dana-Echevarria, who leads the project organization, is originally from Aucará. Her grandfather Fortunato had told her father Raul, “There are 33 paintings in the church of Aucará, never forget that.”

SMB member Max Egli with a resident of Aucará, 1989

How did Silvia Dana-Echevarria hear about Immensee? She wanted to meet Max Egli and Esther Nussbaumer, who worked from 1988 to 1991 with the Bethlehem Mission Immensee in the valleys of Aucará. More than 30 years after the dark period of terror of the Shining Path, people had spoken to her about them.

Esther Nussbaumer with children from the village of Aucará, 1989

The intense discussion in Immensee raised questions: Who are you? How were the people there? Exploited, civilized? How did they come to have their places of worship and churches with the magnificent paintings?

During this visit, the Peruvian from Paris became passionate about her homeland, the valleys of Aucará in the Peruvian Andes. She discovered previously unknown details thanks to the stories of the Swiss missionaries in Immensee. She also became passionate about the sacred paintings on sacks by Pablo Meier.

Inspired by this new knowledge and her admiration for Meier’s art, Silvia Dana-Echevarria decided to dedicate a session of the online series “Semaines de l’Amérique Latine et des Caraïbes” to his work.

The event, titled “Art and Devotion Without Borders: Pablo and the Coffee Sacks,” took place from May 16 to June 2, 2024.

Based on the film about the artist’s work, which was subtitled in French and Spanish, this event drew the international public’s attention to the Bethlehem missionary who died in 2021.

Pablo Meier always sided with oppressed and disadvantaged populations during his many years of missions in Africa and Latin America, trying to give a voice to these simple, often marginalized people. He painted on unused coffee sacks: symbols, sparingly in shapes and colors.

With the brush, I can say more than with words; images touch more than words,” he said.

It is an open quest for identity, for the unfathomable mystery. The mission as an encounter, from which a relationship is born. So, it is heartening to see that Pablo’s mission continues.

Peter Leumann


To read the original version of the article in German, follow this link.