Proaño Villalba, Leonidas Eduardo (Bishop) (1910–1988)

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Proaño Villalba, Leonidas Eduardo (Bishop) (1910–1988)

Known as the "Bishop of the Indians," Leonidas Eduardo Proaño Villalba represented a strand of liberation theology that advocated for the rights of impoverished people in Ecuador. Proaño was born on January 19, 1910, to a mestizo family in the northern Ecuadorian community of San Antonio de Ibarra. In 1936 he was ordained as a priest and for the next eighteen years served in Ibarra. In 1954 he was named bishop of Riobamba in the central highland province of Chimborazo. As bishop Proaño gained acclaim for dressing in a poncho and visiting rural communities. In 1962 he founded radio schools to broadcast literacy and educational programs. In 1964, when the military government passed an agrarian reform law, Proaño gave the land of Monjas Corral and Zula, two estates that belonged to his dioceses, to indigenous workers. At Monjas Corral he created the Tepeyac Institute to train indigenous leaders.

Because of Proaño's advocacy of indigenous issues, the wealthy elite accused him of stirring up dissent. In August 1976 the military dictatorship raided an international pastoral meeting in Riobamba, arresting seventeen bishops, priests, and religious workers and interrogating Proaño. Although accused of subversion, Proaño sought to present Catholic alternatives to leftist political organizing in indigenous communities. Upon his retirement in 1985, in recognition of his lifetime of work Pope John Paul II named Proaño "Bishop of the Indians." Shortly before his death on August 31, 1988, he founded the Fundación Pueblo Indio del Ecuador (Indian peoples foundation of Ecuador) to educate and defend the rights of indigenous peoples.

See alsoIndigenismo; Indigenous Organizations; John Paul II, Pope; Liberation Theology.


Proaño Villalba, Leonidas E. Creo en el hombre y en la comunidad: Autobiografía. Quito, Ecuador: Corporación Editora Nacional, 2001.

                                                 Marc Becker