In ancient times Paraguay was called ‘The Enormous Province of the Indies’ and it came into being from two sources: the troubled arrival of the Spanish conquistadores and the native Guaraní people. It has two official languages: Spanish and Paraguayan Guaraní. It covers 406,752 square km and is divided into two regions: the Eastern desert and the rich vegetation of the subtropical West. It has 6 million inhabitants. There is no sea coast, but it is crossed by two huge rivers: the Paraná and the Paraguay. Beneath the ground lies the guaraní aquifer, the largest known freshwater reservoir on the planet. Its capital Asunción has 600,000 inhabitants and is a cosmopolitan city still small enough to be comfortable.
At the beginning of the sixteenth century, Paraguay was formed as the principal crossroads between other regions of the continent. Asunción was called the ‘Mother of Cities’ because Spanish caravans set out from here to found other cities.
In the second half of the sixteenth century the Franciscans arrived and founded populated places in the country’s interior. Their influence was great. An important chapter in the history of Paraguay was the presence of the Jesuits (1609-1768), with their well-know missions or ‘reducciones’, that is, small townships set up on the basis of reciprocity and the redistribution of wealth. The ruins, called Trinidad, Jesús, San Ignacio Guazu and so on, remain from that period and they have been declared world heritage sites. It was a period of tremendous artistic and musical creativity and what resulted is the so called Guaraní baroque. In 1811 Paraguay gained independence from Spain.
Paraguayan history is full of tragedy, but also full of heroism. The result is a people of real simplicity, who daily rejoice over the little things of ordinary life, doing so especially as a fruit of the faith that has been sown in the depths of their hearts.
The Focolare Movement is as one large family made up of communities throughout the land. It well integrated in the nation’s civil, religious and cultural life. The gaiety, the deeply religious spirit and the hospitality typical of Paraguayans have aided the spread of Focolare spirituality.
The ideal of unity came to Paraguay in 1964, by means of two priests who had met the Focolare while studying in Rome. Returning to their own land they spread the new spirituality especially in their own parishes. The first people to adhere to the Movement went to a Mariapolis in the mountains near Cordoba in Argentina, about 1200 km away. They came back home with their hearts aflame with what they had experienced and they copied Chiara and her first companions: they chose God as the one ideal of their lives.
They met together regularly to read the Word of Life and to help one another by sharing their experiences of living it. In November 1964 a focolarina arrived, the first to come there. It was Ada Ungaro (Fiore). Then Anna Sorlini came to visit the community. By the following year there was sizeable group. One of them, Daniel Galeano, was the first married focolarino from Paraguay and the leading figure of the community until the focolare houses were opened.
In 1967 the first Mariapolis in Paraguay took place. There were 300 people and two of Chiara’s first companions, Lia Brunet and Vittorio Sabbione, came to it as well.
The life of love for one another spontaneously gave rise to the wish to help people in need. In 1966 the first initiatives began and spread from the capital to other cities. Young people too felt drawn by this radical ideal. In 1970 forty girls went to the ‘Gen holidays’ in Argentina. Two years later other young people joined in as well. Chiara’s appeal ‘to die for your own people’ inspired them to put in common their material and spiritual goods ‘so that no one should lack the necessities of life.’ In June 1981 a women’s focolare house was opened in Asunción and in February 1988 the first men arrived to set up a focolare house. Various vocations began to develop among people: men and women volunteers, priests and seminarians, monks and nuns, young people of every age, adherents and sympathizers.
The devastating floods of 1983 meant that the members of the Movement came into contact with people from the extensive poorer areas of Asunción. Inspired by the values of fraternity and solidarity they bought some land in Capiatá (24 km from Asunción) and about twenty families moved there, which greatly improved their quality of life. Currently there are seventy families present and ‘San Miguel de Capriatá’ is a tranquil village with a number of educational, health, work and recreational activities taking place.
In 2003 the long awaited Mariapolis Centre, Mary, Mother of the Humanity (18 km from the capital) was opened. It offers formation to the members of the Movement but it is open to all.
In the political field the Movement for Unity in Politics has come into existence, and in the field of economic life the Economy of Communion is spreading. The ideal of unity penetrates also into different environments, especially health, education, the arts and various forms of media.
There are about 9,000 members of the Movement from all walks of life, including adherents and sympathizers who wish to live the spirituality of unity.
Official website: www.focolare.org/conosur/paraguay/