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Paraguayan letters

10 April 2012

Barbara Butler reads moving dispatches

One good deed: Rosalina Amele, aged 49, visits her former home in Chamanculo, Mozambique, destroyed by flooding. The RC aid agency CAFOD, working with Franciscan Sisters, helped to resettle her and others from her neighbourhood; and she has become a volunteer, developing the new community. Hers is one of the most cheering stories from 50 Years: 50 Voices: Stories of faith and hope, a celebration of half a century of the agency’s work (CAFOD, £10; 978-18712549997)

One good deed: Rosalina Amele, aged 49, visits her former home in Chamanculo, Mozambique, destroyed by flooding. The RC aid agency CAFOD, working with...

From Santa Maria With Love
Margaret Hebblethwaite

DLT £12.99
Church Times Bookshop £11.70

THIS book is a selection from Margaret Hebblethwaite’s regular articles in The Tablet, written over the 11 years she has spent living and working in Paraguay, first as a temporary and then as a long-term resident.

This is a great book, because it gives an insight not only into the changes in the country over 11 years, but also into the author’s growing love of the people of Santa Maria, a small and neglected town with a glorious past when it was home to one of the many 17th- and 18th-century Jesuit mission settlements or “reductions” for the Guarani, the local indigenous people. The gifts of the people, art, music, and community worship, kindled by the Jesuits, are still there.

We read of the women today who work together to create beautiful embroideries of the lives of the people: the ploughing, sowing, carrying of water, and milling. The creations hang in homes and in the church on the town square. They are worked into vestments, and have recently been included on Paraguayan postage stamps.

The author is aware of the people everywhere she goes. They are poor and suffering, mostly unemployed, and often ill and bereaved. We read of children crying in school because they are hungry. There is a moving story of when she went into the museum where some of the carvings from the Jesuit period are kept. She describes the nativity scene and the carving of a small disabled shepherd, holding a lamb and walking towards Jesus. She sees him as a role-model for today’s poor suffering field workers.

Hebblethwaite is not romantic about the people or about her life with them. She tells hope-filled stories and horror stories. She is well aware that, when it comes to resources, there is what she calls a “yawning chasm” between herself and everyone else. She describes her work, including the setting up of the Santa Maria Education Fund and the Santa Maria Hotel. The hotel attracts visitors, employs local people, and puts the profits back into the community.

We read of terrible struggle, pain, and loss in this book, and of the author’s share in this, so that she can say that she does not regret being attacked and robbed, because it has brought her nearer to the people.

Barbara Butler is Executive Secretary of Christians Aware.

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