The Bishop of Wheelchairs
Bishop Enrique Figaredo Alvargonzalez. SJ Apostolic Prefect, Apostolic Prefecture of Battambang
“I came here to help in what is needed … I am ready.”
The man that we, and all at the Arrupe Centre, know as Bishop "Kike", was born Enrique Figaredo Alvargonzalez, in the north of Spain.
From early in his life he witnessed seismic shifts in the social and political landscape of his homeland under the dictatorship of General Franco.
He considered following his father into the Spanish Navy but felt a strong calling to the priesthood after attending a youth synod in Taizé, France. There he experienced what he refers to as his “enlightenment”, realising he wanted to be closer to people in need and to help them personally.
This epiphany eventually led him to Cambodia, where he began working with refugees in the Thai border camps during the tumultuous years of civil war in the late 1980s.
Bishop Enrique immediately returned to his missionary work in Cambodia after being ordained a priest with the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits, in 1992. Since then his love for the country and its people only grew and his service didn't go unnoticed. In 2000 the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Luigi Bressan, appointed him Apostolic Prefect of Battambang. Bishop Kike has been leading the Church in Battambang, in Cambodia’s north-west, for over twenty years.
As a true missionary, Bishop Enrique’s closeness to the people opened his eyes to their needs. It was in response to the needs of those he knew so well, who were living with the devastating effects of landmines, that the Arrupe Centre was established in 2001.
“We created this home to welcome them...
...with hope and joy and happiness."
“God is there in the village”
All of Bishop Enrique’s tireless work comes from his deep understanding that he can meet God through meeting the people.
He feels the “sparks of God’s presence” through his conversations with people in the village, the rice fields and those in the Arrupe Centre.
The recognition of God’s presence in all who use the Arrupe Centre is at the heart of its mission to restore the dignity and rights of those affected by landmines by giving them the opportunity to study, work and build their lives.
“We are giving back dignity to these children”
For the past 20 years this approach has seen the Arrupe Centre and the Church in Battambang grow and expand their support work to provide services such as education programs, social enterprises and more.
The Arrupe Centre’s opened its doors and offered a lifeline to Chen, empowering him and offering opportunities that he might not have otherwise had.
"The future of the Arrupe Centre will be one that the needs of the society determines. If tomorrow or in ten years we don't have a hostel, we will be very happy because that means that all the children can grow in their own homes and families. But the Arrupe Centre will be always a welcoming place for people with disabilities."
The life-changing outcomes of the Arrupe Centre are evident but Bishop Enrique is always attuned to the needs of the people and has hopeful dreams of a future where people with disabilities can flourish without the help of the centre.
However, for now there are many children who rely on the support and care that the Arrupe Centre provides. By donating today, you can help restore dignity and empower people living with a disability, like Chen.
The Khmer Rouge regime and years of civil war had decimated the Church in Cambodia. Although the Church now has a strong foundation in more populated areas, there are still many rural communities that have no local Church presence.
Bishop Kike is passionate about rebuilding the Church in Cambodia. He and the priests in the Prefecture of Battambang are all keen to reach out and bring the Church to these communities.
The cross Bishop Kike wears close to his heart as he goes about his pastoral works is a testament to his sense of solidarity with those he ministers to.
With a big heart.
Bishop Enrique has immeasurable wisdom to share. His advice to try to be like giraffes shows his ability to draw out truth from all around him and apply it in his missionary work.
Having called Cambodia home for over 30 years, Bishop Enrique’s passion and love for the people and their culture is boundless, and the programs he has established are truly life-changing and will continue to be for generations to come.