I’ve never lived in the countryside. I’ve always lived in cities, whether it be Canberra, Sydney, Phnom Penh, Managua or Asuncion, I’m a city slicker. It’s hard to describe the enormous change, and sense of relief I feel at this time in my life to be living in Santa Maria de Fe (Saint Mary of Faith), Misiones (missions) in rural Paraguay. Santa Maria is a small pueblo of what was once the hub of Jesuit missionary activity in South America during the 16th and 17th century. I am here as a volunteer English and piano teacher (piano lessons are just starting) working for an Institute founded by Margaret Hebblethwaite, a British Theologian and writer who has lived in Paraguay since 2000.
The pueblo runs at a gentle pace, and yet I’m not short of things to do. It’s a place where I can soak up beauty, rest, write, sing. The other day, I simply spent half an hour catching through the lens of my camera butterflies dancing from flower to flower. This morning, it was raindrops glistening on petals after yesterday’s rain storm.
The pueblo is poor, but it is a different type of poverty to the urban slums of Asuncion. The people walk with dignity, with less pressure to live the fast-paced urban life.
This is a place with no supermarket, just family run dispensaries which stock the necessities. The place has no resident parish priest, Fr Oscar SJ instead comes in each Sunday to say mass. There is no hospital, just a small health centre. There are no restaurants, but rather a couple of places where you can buy pizza, or icecream. There is a gym which costs 50mil guaranies a month to attend. Basically, 10 bucks! There is one hotel, again founded by Margaret as an income-generating project for the community. It is built in typical baroque mission style, with white adobe walls, terracotta tiles and the bedspreads and curtains are made of lace, crochet and wool in the traditional style of the people.
In the town plaza live a family of monkeys who I have yet to see on this visit. But, and old photo of them is included below 😉
Basic Ecclesial Communities are strong here, and my “mother” here Demetria is one of the lead animators of these groups. Twice this week she has quoted to me from the bible: “Through our baptism, we are priest, prophet and king”, and she takes her role seriously, attending whatever formation or retreat opportunity is on offer.
I live now in a house with three dogs, a cat, chickens, (which are being fattened up, but in the meantime, they have a happy life) and ducks. We have recently acquired 10 ducklings and Demetria is quite in love with them.