Asunción, Paraguay. Wikimedia Commons

Giotto Among the Guaranì and the Reducciones

Through presences, the expansion of the Presence in the life of a people. The journal of a trip to Asunción: meeting with friends in the local community, the parish of San Rafael, the Happening and the Giotto exhibition.
Roberto Filippetti

From the window of the airplane, Asunción seems caught in a web of red clay tennis courts. These are the roads that lead to the huts of the campesinos. This is a rich and fertile land, producing soybeans, corn, wheat, tropical fruit, livestock… a land where countless poor, whom no one has educated to work, live hand-to-mouth.

Right here is where the spectacular educational experience of the Reducciones–which amazed even Voltaire–took place. Fr Giussani told the first members of the Movement who came here to propose again the experience of the Reducciones. And in less than twenty years, a “little big people” of Christians has bloomed, a people of educators because they have been educated. Giò–the CL Responsible for Paraguay–and Luca took us first thing to see St Catherine of Siena’s School. Its neat, brightly colored buildings stand in a lush green garden, muy lindo, in the midst of the burning brazier of red earth. “If you are all you should be, you will set all of Italy on fire,” todo el mundo, as Catherine of Siena said. The young schoolteachers have this fire in them.

A constellation of works
Next came a stop at St Rafael’s parish, to see Fr Aldo and Fr Paolino of the Fraternity of St Charles Borromeo. What used to be an industrial shed has been transformed in two years of industrious fervor into a beautiful church full of light. A cycle of wrought iron works stands out in the windows, a complete biblia pauperum. Various planets revolve around this “sun:” the clinic (1,340 people given full treatment in a year) and the food center (I happened to be present for the demonstration of how to get so much “milk” and so much “meat” out of a few pounds of soybeans); the San Rafael publishing house (Fr Aldo Trento has written ten or so splendid books on the Jesuit and Franciscan Reducciones); the elementary school, in a castle-shaped building with crenellations, watched over by Joan of Arc at its top; the museum of Guaranì art and building methods; the shop selling books and artisan wares; and all that green space–this manicured naturaleza–with its mini-zoo (toucans, parrots, and monkeys). Raphael means “God heals”–He heals the eyes and the flesh; the mind and the heart. For anyone who happens by here, just as for anyone who enters the two Memores houses, among the largest and most beautiful I have seen, it is first of all a feast for the eyes (and then, after the poetry and music, the food and wine).

Whose freedom, freedom for whom?
I understand why people like this manage to bring 500 people into a theater in the evening. Intiglietta, my traveling companion, opened the 2003 Happening discussing the topic Libertad para quien y Libertad de quien (“Whose Freedom, Freedom for Whom?”). He told about the beginnings of Compagnia delle Opere [Company of Works], then his political work and the attention to the individual when he was Vice-Mayor of Milan, the city where he continues to work today, as Director of the Fair, the enthusiastic adventure of service to the real person. The next evening, it was my turn. With the help of the Provincial and Municipal Administrations of Padua, the exhibition on “The Event According to Giotto” came all the way here and was installed in the large hall of the CL headquarters.

Giò was proud. She had even managed to create the blue vault of heaven, just as in the Arena Chapel; and all around the walls were big flower boxes. I spoke to a crowded hall, with the Italian ambassador in the front row. The 300 seats in the other room, connected by an audiovisual hookup, were also all full. Then came the guided tour for the distinguished guests, and the next day, the preparation of those who would serve as guides, “not as disciples, but as children”–children of the man [Giussani] who has taught us to recognize and love all these gifts of God. Even the two Italian journalists who interviewed me for an hour, live, on the most important radio station in Paraguay, went from amazement to amazement.

At Yguazù Falls
In the following two days, while in Asunción the great closing festival of the Happening was going on, I traveled 700 miles on the bus to visit the friends in Ciudad del Este and Encarnación, and to go with them to see two unique spectacles. With Armando and Sonia, we went to Yguazù Falls, the ones in the movie Mission. In the Guaranì language, “Y” means water and “guazù” means big. Man is he who gives names to things. What majestic beauty! But also, how much greater it is in the company of these two Movement friends: a sign, an ana-logy.

Then dinner with Marcela and Alicia in the Memores house in Encarnación. One of them is there because of her encounter with Fr Lino, a priest from the Veneto region of Italy. The next morning, we set out with Elisabeta to visit what remains of two Reducciones. The stone monument in remembrance of Emilia (three years after her death) stands right in the center of the various ruins of what the Jesuits built. Reciting the Rosary and the Angelus with Sonia on the bus, near that monolith, “From Heaven pray for us, make us untiring rebuilders of houses that have been destroyed.” The sunset sky was afire. A red evening in Asunción.