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News   -  14  ( 30.11.2006 )


 Damaso Zuazua, ocd - Secretary for the Missions



 This time I am on my way to Latin America.  The flight from Buenos Aires to Montevideo is short.  But the view from the plane of the 300 kms wide bay of the de la Plata river is spectacular. What do I remember about Paraguay?  It is a secular state, the only one in Latin America. The Republic of Uruguay extends over a surface area of 10,417 kms.  It obtained independence in 1825. It is a country of sheep and farming, particularly dairy farming and hides.


Returning to the country’s geography, there are many references to Carmel. The leader of the liberation, Joseph Artigas, claimed the foundation of the city of Carmel in 1816.  Furthermore from the “Fort of St. Teresa” in the capital, there is a “Swamp of St. Teresa” in an area of marshes and three towns are named after our Saintly Foundress. According to a census in 2000 Uruguay has a population of 3,222,141.  The capital Montevideo, with its 1, 380,962, inhabitants has 41.6% of the total population, while the rest, 1,941,179 (58%) live in the interior. The population is ageing due to migration and a low birth rate.


Deprived of all vestiges of an indigenous people, of a native language, Uruguay seems to be suffering from the Melchisedek syndrome: “without father, nor mother, nor genealogy…” (Heb 7.3). What is its identity?  “This is the way we are…” the people reply.  The Uruguayan has an inveterate liberal tendency, influenced by the British, with a marked positivist and Masonic connection. Liberalism came here in 1813, 12 years before independence. The tradition endured since the independence movement was crushed, led by the catholic, Joseph Artigas (1748-1850).  For the first time the “Frente Amplio” party leads the political life of the country.


The Church has been separated from the State since 1816.  It enjoys a certain freedom but without any privileges.  The wise Unamuno wrote with good reason: “Freedom is buried deep and grows from within, not from outside”. Believer or non believer, the people have a culture of respect, tolerance and freedom. A statistical study suggests that the catholic population of Uruguay is 52%, that 19% believe in a superior being, and 11% are atheists,…


Montevideo is the most southerly capital in South America. In 1911 it became the location of the first Carmelite foundation.  There is the neo-gothic church of Prado, today a parish that has been temporarily returned to the archdiocese. Our present priory is called Saint Joseph of the Mountains in the Carrasco area, a vigorous parish sustained by the Carmelite Delegation.  Still in the capital, we have two carmels of Our Lady of Hope and Silence and Corpus Christi and St. Therese.  I was particularly interested in the impressive missionary record of St. Joseph’s parish. It has a parish community which is very much involved in the life and running of the parish. I cannot remember the last time I met a group of young people who were so aware of the missions: they were receptive; they had experience and were committed and had a great desire to do more.  These young people did so much already, giving up their time as well as money, and all on a voluntary basis. They must surely produce abundant fruits,…in fact, they can already be seen.


       Florida –


Florida is the name given to the city, but also to the Province and to the Diocese.  Its full name is ‘Floridablanca’, in memory of the Spanish count (1728-1808), a liberal politician during the reign of Charles III and Charles IV.  The fine road from Montevideo is 95 kms long and goes towards the centre of the country, traversing green undulating hills.  Florida is a city of 25,000 inhabitants. Its history goes back to what is called the “Treinta y Tres Orientales” (“33 Oriental heroes”). “Three Fundamental Laws” were approved, which declared “burn, invalid and for ever valueless” all the former links to foreign powers.  There is a solemn inscription of the left hand wall of the cathedral: “In this historical setting on 25th August 1825 was proclaimed and reaffirmed the basic sovereign right of the political and juridical existence of the Western People”.  With this declaration the independence of Uruguay was proclaimed.


The diocese was established in 1897. It was dedicated to St. Therese in 1931, and assumed the name of Florida, with a sanctuary dedicated to Therese in El Chamizo.  An altar in the cathedral is also dedicated to the holy Patroness of the Missions.  On the main altar the Virgin of the Thirty Three, the heavenly protector of the country, is venerated.  It is small, carved in Guarani baroque as  the stone comes from that part of Paraguay. The most popular saint is called Cono, ever since some Italian immigrants brought the statue in 1885 from Italy.  His feast is on 3rd June and is the biggest in the country.


Before arriving in the city, on a slight promontory to the right, is the Carmelite hill: the novitiate of the Uruguay-Paraguay Provincial Delegation and the recently built convent of Carmelite nuns dedicated to Edith Stein.  The notice board says it all: “Discalced Carmelites –  Centre for Vocations”. We entered inside. I do not recall having seen a priory with a simpler, unadorned design. There is a lot of light from the skylight and the large windows. When the rain falls it is very noisy due to the zinc roof.  The old dairy – now with its modern appliances – is surrounded by endless meadows and eucalyptus woods and just in the right location for the priory. 


The actual reason for the house is the novitiate.  The formation community consists of Fr. Philip Sainz de Baranda, Superior and Master, Fr. Benito Diaz Santamaria, ex-missionary from Sucumbios, administrator of the house and the estate, and the Paraguayan deacon, John Antony Vazquez, who is about to finish his licentiate in theology. There are five novices: all from Paraguay. They arrived here after two years as aspirants and two more as postulants in their country.  The recent week of pastoral initiation opened their eyes to the lay tradition of the Church in Uruguay. It is a timely jolt to their religious experience, as they had been formed in a more protected socio-cultural environment.


Fr. Philip Sainz de Baranda beams with the same broad smile as ever.  He was General of the Order for two six year terms(1979-1991). Throughout that time he believed in, promoted and supported Carmel in Latin America. In the years he led the Order Carmel grew on this continent.  As a result of this when we met I saw a man who was happy and optimistic. Was this because of what he had done or is doing?  Fr. Philip has for some time cherished ideas for the spread of Carmel. In the end a request came from outside the Order.  The President of the Episcopal Conference said: “The novitiate here is very good.  But on this land there should be something to serve the Church in Uruguay in the field of Spirituality, which is different from what is normally called a House of Spirituality…Furthermore it will be a good way to gain vocations”.  Thus in the novitiate in Florida they offer a biblical “come and see” experience (Jn 1.39).  This extensive piece of land, 17 hectares of silent solitude, provides the background for an intense and responsible life.


Because of this, with so much space in which to breathe, and because they expect vocations, they are optimistic and with good reason that the Carmelite novitiate in Florida will be in Uruguay, as St. Teresa said, “a shining star with great splendour” (Life 32.11).  There is a real desire and hope to see this becomes a reality. They have accepted the challenge and are doing what they can to meet it.


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Updated 29 nov 2006  by OCD General House
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