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
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
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
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
(1748-1850). For the first time the “Frente
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
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
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
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
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
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.
actual reason for the house is the
novitiate. The formation community
consists of Fr. Philip
Sainz de Baranda,
Superior and Master, Fr. Benito Diaz
Sucumbios, administrator of the house
and the estate, and the Paraguayan deacon,
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
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
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.