In one of the regular visits to Argentina of Paraguay’s revered image of the Virgin of Caacupé, the former Archbishop of Buenos Aires Jorge Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, stated that "the Paraguayan woman is the most glorious woman" for her role in helping the nation recover after the genocidal War of the Triple Alliance, 1866-1870. It was during those terrible years that Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay were allied against Paraguay in a war that robbed the country of nearly half of its territory and confirmed it as a landlocked appendix in the geopolitical scheme of South American nations. The war resulted in mega-death: it is estimated that as many as 1.2 million Paraguayans died as a result of the war, or approximately 90 percent of its pre-war population.
It was in the 1600s that, according to tradition, a native Guaraní man from nearby Atyrá carved an image of the Virgin Mary in the form of a native woman in gratitude for saving his life. Known as the Virgin of Miracles, the image is now housed in a basilica that every year receives at least 1 million visitors in a country of 7 million people. Miracles of healing, it is said, still occur at the shrine.
In November 2010, while the image of the Virgin of Caacupé was passing through Buenos Aires, Archbishop Bergoglio dedicated a few words to her, stating “She is twice as glorious, for being the mother of God and for being Paraguayan.” Addressing a throng of devout Argentines and Paraguayans, the humble prelate declared "Mother, thank you for honoring this house with your presence. It is interesting that this is not the gospel, but this is the story. She is Paraguayan, from Caacupé, and there is not a single Paraguayan who does not venerate her.“
Archbishop Bergoglio praised the Guaraní woman, and addressing the Church said "You know that in the Americas, the Paraguayan Woman is the most glorious, not because she has studied more than women from other nationalities, but because Paraguayan women knew how to adopt in a country sundered by injustice and international interests, and with all these obstacles she carried forward the development of the country, language and faith.”
While continuing with his homily, then-Archbishop Bergoglio noted that “the Virgin of Caacupé also stands for homeland, language, culture and faith. The Virgin, takes on Paraguayan citizenship under the name of the miracles of Caacupé; she is also eager to help us advance homeland, language, culture and faith. She is the mother of the Faith." On the same occasion, he continued to praise the Virgin of Caacupé, who "[she] seeks peace, peace in her hometown, and is the mother who knows what it means to be persecuted; the Virgin of Caacupé knew how much suffering had endured her son, while being hanged at the bottom of the cross.”
The archbishop ended his speech, while welcoming again the Virgin of Caacupé, to the cathedral of Buenos Aires, "Our Mother, Mother of God, of Jesus, mother of Paraguay, we welcome you to this house and ask that you teach us all these things, teach us to reach wholeness and to be patient, to work for justice and to be merciful, to have a pure heart and seek the nature of God and work for the nation."
According to Celso Chamorro, an official of Human Rights Commission of Paraguay, spoke years later following the election of Archbishop Bergoglio to the papacy, “The current pope drank tereré (ed. note: Paraguayan herbal ice tea) and learned some phrases in Guaraní with a group of Paraguayans living in Argentina.”
Showing a special bond with the overwhelmingly Catholic people of Paraguay, the former archbishop came regularly from a country that had once been the enemy and occupier of tiny landlocked Paraguay and made the pilgrimage to Caacupé on the feast of the Immaculate Conception as do a million believers every year. It is this fervor and simplicity that Pope Francis, who bears the name of a saint revered the world over, brings to the papacy at his inaugural Mass today in Rome.
Spero columnist Peter M. Tase writes on international business and diplomacy, Martin Barillas is the editor of Spero News.
The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author only, not of Spero News.