Much has been made of the messages Pope Francis delivered during his visit to Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay. As always, the pope made reference to local saints and historical episodes in his homilies and addresses, thrilling the locals and confusing foreigners following on television. Here’s a rundown of the some of the people and things Pope Francis referenced during his visit.
In Bolivia, during his meeting with the men and women religious of that country, Pope Francis mentioned two women whose names drew instant applause from the audience.
Blessed Nazaria Ignacia Teresa de Jesus
Born in Madrid, Spain, this religious nun worked with the poorest, smallest and weakest in Bolivia. Her work with disenfranchised Bolivians led her to found the first Bolivian religious community for women.
Early in life Nazaria was drawn to Christ. At her first communion she told Jesus “I want to follow you as closely and a human creature can.” However, her parents faith life was lukewarm and they did not understand her fervent faith. As a young woman she tried to enter the community of the Little Sisters of the Defenceless Elderly. Her father refused to give his permission. The mother superior consoled her saying “you will go to America and return with companions.” That same year her family moved to Mexico for economic reasons and Nazaria find a community of the same religious order there. She finally entered the community and after her novitiate was sent to Bolivia. There she worked with the poor elderly in small communities, but still she felt another call in her heart. She had an opportunity to talk to the Papal Nuncio to Bolivia and told him of the call she felt. He encouraged her and helped her get permission to found a new community: The Missionary Sisters of the Pontifical Crusade (today they are known as the Missionary Crusaders of the Church).
Under Nazaria’s guidance this little community worked with miners, indigenous ranch hands, women, children, and all those most oppressed by the social economic conditions in Bolivia. She went so far as to help women form the first union for female labourers. Today the community has houses and centres in Spain, France, Portugal, Cameroon, and Equatorial Guinea.
Venerable Virginia Blanco Tardia
Pope Francis also mentioned the Venerable Virginia Blanco Tardia, a lay woman known for her untiring work with the Catholic Action movement in Bolivia. Blanco Tardia was born in Cochabamba, Bolivia and joined Catholic Action at age 16. She was studious and cultured and went on to become a teacher and catechist. All accounts of her life say she was an “exemplary catechist” educating the children of farm workers in both Spanish and Quechua.
During her lifetime he founded an “Economic Kitchen” for the poor, a prayer group called the “Prayer & Friendship Group”, and a centre that provided medical services to those who couldn’t afford healthcare anywhere else. Along side this she served as the diocesan president of the Women’s Association of the Catholic Action for many, many years. Blanco Tardio died of a cardiac arrest in 1972 in Cochabamba.
Addressing the diplomatic corps and civil authorities in Paraguay, Pope Francis praised Paraguayan women for saving the country during its most dramatic and disastrous period of history, the Triple Alliance War (or The Great War) that lasted from 1865 to 1870.
The ruler at the time, Francisco Solano Lopez, inherited his position from his father and feels the need to prove himself as a leader. Argentina and Brazil, meanwhile, both believe they have legitimate claims over Uruguay….which is also Paraguay’s only access point to the sea. When Brazil invades Uruguay, Solano Lopez declares war on Brazil and sends troops into Uruguay through Argentine territory. Brazil and Argentina meanwhile reach an agreement regarding Uruguay and join forces against Paraguay.
This leads to a war in which Paraguay is outnumbered and up against Brazil and Argentina’s modern weapons. Solano Lopez conscripts every able bodied Paraguayan male to the front lines. Women have to step in to work the land and provide the support needed to keep the troops fighting. Still, famine and disease set in.
According to some estimates, the war wiped out 60% of Paraguay’s population and 90% of the country’s men. For each man left alive in the country there are eight women. Even though the country is in ruins the women of Paraguay keep going. They keep working, producing food, producing goods, and tending to the needs of those who have survived the war. More importantly, despite having seen the evil that humanity is capable of, they decide to continue having children. This decision saves Paraguay as a nation, but also saves the culture and language of this fledgling nation. Pope Francis has repeatedly referred to the women of Paraguay as the most glorious women of Latin America.
During his meeting with the young people of Paraguay Pope Francis heard the testimony of Liz, a 25 year old woman, a daughter of separated parents, who has become the sole caregiver for her mother and grandmother. Liz’s mother is in the advanced stages of Alzheimer's and her grandmother is bedridden. Through the generosity of her friends, fellow parishioners, and extended family, Liz was able to become a nurse. While sharing her story and her struggles with Pope Francis she said she found inspiration and strength in the example of “Chiquitunga”, who she learned of while working in a hospital.
Chiquitunga is the nickname for Maria Felicia de Jesus Sacramento (born Maria Felicia Guggiari Echeverria). Chiquitunga was born in Villarrica, Paraguay to a faithful Catholic family. At the age of 16 she joined Catholic Action and consecrated herself to the service of God. She taught catechism, provided pastoral care for young labourers and university students, and helped the poor, elderly and abandoned in the poorest areas of her city. She wrote of the great joy she felt being able to serve these people because she found Christ in their faces.
Despite the joy that she felt serving those in need, she felt called to the contemplative life. At age 30 she entered the Carmel de la Asuncion and took the habit of the Discalced Carmelites. Chiquitunga lived only four years after entering the monastery. She died on Easter Sunday 1959 of hepatitis, which had already killed other sisters in her community. The cause for her beatification was opened in 1997.
CNS photo/Paul Haring