11 July 2015, The Tablet

Pope pays tribute to the women of Paraguay

by Margaret Hebblethwaite in Asunción

The theme of the Paraguayan woman, “the most glorious in America”, rose up again in Pope Francis’ homily on Saturday morning, when he celebrated Mass at the national Marian shrine of Caacupe.

He has used the phrase repeatedly, both during this visit, and dating back to his days as Archbishop of Buenos Aires.

As is his custom, he on Saturday linked his admiration of Paraguayan women with his devotion to the Virgin, who in the multiple sufferings of her life – in the stable, in the Egyptian exile, and at the foot of the cross – must often have wondered, “Where is God now?” Paraguayan women, he said, would have asked themselves the same question as they confronted the devastation of their country and the massacre of their population – reduced by 70 per cent – in the Triple Alliance War, 1864-1870, which Paraguay fought against Argentina (the Pope’s home country) and its allies Brazil and Uruguay.

Pope Francis said that “the women, wives and mothers of Paraguay, were able – at great cost and sacrifice - to lift up a country, defeated, devastated and laid low by war”.

Addressing the women in the congregation he continued: “You are keepers of the memory, the lifeblood of those who rebuilt the life, faith and dignity of your people”.

Dancers greet Pope Francis during welcoming ceremony in Paraguay. Photo: CNS/Paul Haring

There was, however, no mention of the Triple Alliance having inflicted a “genocide” on the Paraguayan people, as the Paraguayan Ambassador to London said he hoped for, in a pre-visit press conference.Ambassador Miguel Solano López is a direct descendant of Mariscal Francsico Solano López, the president-dictator of Paraguay at the time of the War.

Pope Francis’ strong advocacy of the Guaraní language - the survival of which, after the Triple Alliance War, he has attributed to Paraguayan women – was demonstrated in the Mass this morning at Caacupe, when the First Reading and the Lord’s Prayer were both pronounced in Guaraní. Pope Francis himself could be clearly heard leading the people in the Guaraní words “Ore Ru, yvágape reiméva…” (Our Father, who art in heaven), right through to the end of the prayer.

At the end of Mass, the President of the Episcopal Conference, Monsignor Claudio Giménez, requested that the cause for canonisation of a Paraguayan woman, known always by her nickname “Chiquitunga”, might soon be completed. María Felicia de Jesús was prominent as a laywoman in Catholic Action, before becoming a Carmelite and dying young. At present the only Paraguayan saints are men: St Roque González de Santa Cruz SJ, and his two Jesuit companions.

Then came a surprise – the declaration that the church of Caacupe is now granted the official status of “Minor Basilica”. This confers certain privileges, such as the use of the crossed keys papal symbol on banners and furnishings, and the granting of plenary indulgences for those who pray in the basilica on certain days.

Pope Francis is presented with gifts during welcoming ceremony. Photo: CNS/Paul Haring

Before the Mass at Caacupe, Pope Francis had paid a visit to the Acosta Ñu paediatric hospital on Saturday morning. He asked them the question, “Did Jesus ever get annoyed?” Then he answered it himself: “It was when they wouldn’t let the children come to him. That is the only time in the entire Gospel of Mark when we hear that he was annoyed. We would say that he really ticked them off.”

The Pope’s spokesman, Fr Federico Lombardi SJ, spoke last night of the special atmosphere of happiness and welcome in this final stage of the three-nation trip, in the country so close to Francis’ own land. “I think they will be two marvellous days for all, and for the Pope in particular.”

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