The Pope’s first words in Paraguay were a moving tribute — “It is not hard to feel at home in so welcoming a land”, he confessed almost immediately — to the country’s many ordinary people, who’s names are not destined for history books, but who have been the real protagonists in the life of the nation. He immediately then acknowledged, “with profound admiration”, the role of women. In those very dramatic years, “As mothers, wives and widows, they shouldered the heaviest burdens; they found a way to move their families and their country forward, instilling in new generations the hope of a better tomorrow. May God bless Paraguayan women”, he exclaimed.
It is not the first time Bergoglio has praised the women of this county, where he is concluding his visit to Latin America, as President Horacio Cortes remembered in his warm greeting. His allusion is to the situation in Paraguay during the last 30 years of the 19th century following the extremely bloody war against Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay — which, as the Pope said, was “horrible” — when the population of men was almost annihilated and only women were left to remedy the disaster.
The Pope’s praise is part of an already long series of incisive statements on the specificity and importance of woman’s role in society and in the Church, appreciated and broadcast by many. What he said on his second to last day in Bolivia — during Mass in Santa Cruz de la Sierra — is emblematic: “I am moved when I see many mothers carrying their children on their shoulders. Like so many of you here! Carrying them, you bring your lives and the future of your people”, you carry “all your joys and hopes”. In a word, it is “the memory of their people” that women know how to hand down “from generation to generation”, memory journeys on.
And lining the streets of Asunción to greet the Pope were women, thousands of them and so many young, reflecting the age of the population. The reception at the presidential palace, periodically drenched in rain, culminated in the performance of a piece of Baroque music born out of the Jesuit Reductions, a lofty artistic expression of that “happy Christianity” described in the 18th century by Muratori, just a few years before its destruction, one of the most important causes of the suppression of the Society of Jesus.
Punctuated by cheering, the address given by Pope Francis returned to a theme so dear to him: Memory, this time focused on their past of war and injustice. A past that today requires the building of peace, “day by day, a peace which makes itself felt in everyday life,” a peace which fosters understanding, dialogue and cooperation. The Pope thus showed explicit support for the project of “a solid and stable democracy” and, he added, for the “firm desire to root out corruption”, political decisions that have for some years characterized Paraguay and that Bergoglio wished to openly affirm.
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