Despite the heroism and courage of the Paraguayans the war ended with a massacre for Paraguay, given the obvious disproportion of the forces on the field. Among the consequences of this conflict there was also a demographic disaster: the country lost between 50 and 85 per cent of the population, and perhaps 90 per cent of the adult male population. Felipe Pigna, an Argentine historian, shows in a study that the population decreased from 1.3 million to 0.3 million. In practice only women and children remained. The 1911 edition of the British Encyclopaedia estimated that the Paraguayan population had fallen from 1,337.439 to 221.079 survivors, that is, barely 17 per cent of the total.
Paraguay had virtually ceased to exist as an organized and economically developed community. Only helpless widows, orphans, mothers, daughters and sisters were left. They decided to carry forward a country reduced to ashes and to enable its faith, language and culture to survive. The matriarchy created then saved Paraguay from death – our women, full of courage, strength of mind, ready for sacrifice and with noble and generous hearts; our forebears, our great-great grandmothers, our great-grandmothers, the garra guaraní of the DNA of Paraguayan women.
Certain commanders of the Triple Alliance wished to kill Paraguayans even before they were born. “How many lives and how many resources do we need to put an end to the war, that is, to transform the entire Paraguayan nation into smoke and dust and to kill the foetuses in the wombs of Paraguayan women?”, asked Luis Alves de Lima e Silva, Duke of Caixas, army marshal of Brazil. Instead the women of Paraguay chose to have children and thereby to rebuild the Paraguayan family, whose foundations were later consolidated by the pastoral action of great figures of the Church, such as Archbishop Juan Sinforiano Bogarín.
One hundred and fifty years later, the affection for Paraguayan women which Pope Francis has expressed in recalling those historical events, motivated by wicked interests and which had unsuspected and cruel consequences, enable us to meet one another again, to re-evaluate one another, to remember our roots and to seek to heal the wounds of that most tragic time.
Romina Taboada Tonina
Embassy of Paraguay to the Holy See
St. Peter’s Square
Jan. 27, 2020
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