There’s nothing better than to begin the year setting one’s life in order. By the grace of God, almost all of the priests of our province were able to make the annual Spiritual Exercises, preached by Fr. Raúl Harriague, who enriched us with his words and religious experience as missionary and priest. All of the fathers were left deeply grateful.
“Nothing better” than just after the Exercises to leave for ‘convivencia’ [days of community recreation] with the fathers, heading southeast in this grand country with the intention of “knowing our own”, that is, our missions, the Jesuit missions, and the natural beauty of this region.
On the way to this destination, we were able to visit the family of one of our novices, who live in a small city called Presidente Epitácio, on the bank of the Paraná River. Two days later we visited our parish in the state of South Mato Groso, in Coronel Sapucaia. There we were received by our Spanish priests, Ángel Casabón, Eduardo Cuadrado, and the faithful of the parish.
Two days later we crossed the border in order to visit our priests in the misión in Paraguay, in the Ciudad del Este. They were intense days. We were able to help by celebrating the Mass and hearing confessions. “Nothing better” than to share the same spirit with our priests and be repaid by seeing how much good is done there.
“Nothing better” than to contemplate Iguazú Falls with their powerful and stunning waterfalls which were familiar to the great missionaries of this land, such as the martyrs Roque González, Alfonso Rodríguez and Juan del Castillo.
“Nothing better” than to continue convivencia retracing the “Jesuit Reductions” which are an example of art at the service of the faith: the Via Pulchritudinis. In a special way, art played a very important role in the Reductions. The Jesuit missionaries realized the natural artistic talents of the Guarani people from the beginning; they were enormously receptive and employed their expressive and musical art, first and foremost as a very effective means of evangelization, of inculturation.
One of the principle founders of the Reductions, Fr. Antonio Ruiz de Montoya (1585-1652), in his book Spiritual Conquest, gives this definition: “We call Reductions those towns of indigenous persons, who having lived in their customary ways in the mountains, hills and vales, by hidden streams, in three four or six houses alone, separated one, two, three and more leagues, were reduced by the diligence of the Fathers to large settlements and political and human life.” .
It is obvious that the final end of any Christian mission is the spreading of the Gospel and the promotion of human and Christian life. This is what the Jesuits sought in the Reductions: that the Guarani Indians would be initiated into the Christian life, free from spiritual and temporal slavery, but, in order to secure this freedom, the missionaries had to separate the neophytes from the settlers and other Europeans. Consequently, there were the Royal Deeds, endorsed by Francisco de Alfaro in 1611, after an official visit ordered by the king. In the end, the missionaries were to organize a type of republic for the missions, within the Spanish empire and subject to the royal crown. This Republic was something unique in human history; something that seemed to the philosophers and thinkers of the time to be like Plato’s Republic, Thomas Moore’s Utopia, Thomas Campanella’s City of the Sun, Philip Sidney’s Arcade, or like other idealistic and utopian visions brought to life .
It is impossible to recount in a chronicle what this epoch of missionaries was. Only a very brief mention about some of them:
The Franciscan friar Luis de Bolaños, the Jesuit historian Antonio de Egaña affirms that “in the Hispanic-American Continent, the Franciscan Luis de Bolaños must be considered the founder of the reduction method (Historia 190). In his study on The Franciscan Work, Raúl A. Molina gives us a complete reference of him.
The great missionary Fray Luis de Bolaños, born in 1539, at the age of 79, exhausted and almost blind, retired to Buenos Aires, where he died in 1629. The composition of a catechism, a grammar book and a dictionary in Guarani, a language that is still happily alive today, exist largely due to him and his collaborators. The presence of Franciscan missionaries in Paraguay continued to be of importance in the following years: in 1680 there were 150 religious in 11 convents, and in 1700, there were 153 in 19 convents” .
One of the most important was the Jesuit Antonio Ruiz de Montoya. He was born in Lima in 1585, and after some years far from God, at the age of 21 he had a conversion and entered the Society of Jesus in 1606. Very soon thereafter he offered himself for missionary work in the Reductions. Fr. Maceta writes of him:
“After Fr. Ruiz de Montoya arrived, he edified many and was admired even by the other priests at the Reduction for the zeal and tenacity with which he began if only to perfect himself in speaking with the Indians, as he spoke as expeditiously as they did, and with whom he had much fruit, but also in all of his virtues and works. He cured the Indians of their ailments, helped them in their needs with great charity and largess, depriving himself in order to feed them. Thus the Indians loved and venerated him, and even if they were chiefs, they would do anything he wanted” .
As a witness wrote:
“He dedicated himself without rest for 25 years in travailing the forests and mountains, the plains and estuaries, under the fiercest sun, eager to gather indigenous peoples into settlements or reductions. He walked for about 10,000 kilometers, almost always alone, with no other weapon than a staff and no other comfort than his prayer book and cross.”
Another hero and founder of the Reductions was Fr. Antonio Sepp, SJ, born in Tirol in 1655. In 1691 he arrived in Argentina, and was a genius at the Guarini Reductions, as the Brazilian historian Artur Rabuske characterized him. Sepp was the founder of several Reductions and brought them to the highpoint of their flourishment. He was a scientist and eminent musician: He played 20 instruments, taught the Indians how to make and play them all with great mastery.
On the other hand, Fr. Fernando Gutiérrez says that “Among the Jesuit missionaries assigned to the Reductions, there were some gifted with specially creative talent: the Fr. Ribera and the friars Primoldi and Grimau, architects; Brassanelli an architect y sculptor; Verger, La Cruz and Grimau, painters; Sepp a musician, and Dominic Zipoli (1688-1726) who was perhaps the greatest of musicians, whose works were brought to the Reductions. As the historian Arnaldo Bruxel, in a century and a half (1609-1668), of the 1,565 missionaries that were there, only 5 or 6 had to retire, almost all of them for issue of health” . Without a doubt, those who did not stand out for these gifts did not lack the zeal and impetus for the salvation of souls and love for the Spouse of Christ, the Church.
“Nothing better…” than to return to our missions with the spirit renewed by the intense community life and edified by these glorious visits (our missions and the “Jesuit Missions”). There is not enough space to recount something about the ITAIPU Binational, the largest hydroelectric power plant in the world… but I believe that, in comparison with the “Reductions”, they end up being a minor detail of our community trip, though not intending to depreciate such a great work of human ingenuity
For all of this: “Nothing better” than to be religious, priests, missionaries of our small and beloved religious family. Thanks be to God! And to everyone who were his docile collaborators in this convivencia of the IVE priests in Brazil.
Priests of the Province “Our Lady of Aparecida”.
 Antonio Ruiz de Montoya, S.J., The Spiritual Conquest accomplished by the Religious of the Society of Jesus in the provinces of Paraguay, Paraná, Uruguay, and Tape. Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1993. (originally written in Spanish, published in Madrid, 1639.)
 Cf. Fernando G. Gutiérrez, S.J., Labor misionera en Hispano-América.
 For a complete description of the “Reductions”, Cfr. Guillermo Furlong. S.J, Misiones y sus pueblos de guaraníes Balmes, Buenos Aires -1966; Bartomeu Meliá, S.J, Guaraníes y Jesuitas en tiempos de las Misiones, CEPAG, Asunción -1995; Ludovico A .Muratoni, Il Cristianesimo felice nelle missioni dei padri della Compagnia di Gesú, Sellerio Editore, Palermo -1985.
 José María Iraburu, Hecho de los apóstoles de América, Gratis Date, Pamplona3, p.197.
 Cited by Clement J. McNaspy en “Una visita a las Reducciones Jesuíticas, p. 25.
 Fernando G. Gutiérrez, S.J. Labor misionera en Hispano-América.