The celebrations of the tercentenary of the of the foundation of our congregation in 2003 brought together different groups working in the region of Latin America with a theme “the spiritan presence in Latin America.” Among their common projects, the spiritan mission to Bolivia was of special importance: it was a mission near Brazil and Paraguay, it was relatively easy to obtain visas, it had an open-minded pastoral approach and it was one of the poorest.
The first team of Spiritan presence, of Fr. Adalberto Ferrezini (Brazil), Fr. Marcelino Cruz (Mexico) and a lay associate, Maria de Jesus de Souza (Brazil) was made up, like the country itself, in a fragile way, and two decades later there are only four priests (from Brazil, Portugal, Tanzania and Ghana) and Maria de Jesus. On their arrival, they took over a parish in the poor outskirts of Santa Cruz de la Sierra (San Juan Bautista), later sub-divided, giving birth to the new parish of Maria de Nazareth.
Mgr. Sergio Gualberti, Archbishop of Santa Cruz, presented a new challenge to the Spiritans in 2014 to take on the Parish of Buenavista, a rural parish located 100 kms away and born from one of the historic missions of the Jesuits.
When Spiritans arrived in Buenavista, they tried to envisage economic self-sufficiency and made an agro-forestry investment. They talked to the parishioners and learnt that there were some farms for sale where crops could be grown. They decided to buy a ‘chaco’ (the name of one of these agro-forestry estates) of 33 hectares, situated 33 kms from the church, many of which are unpaved, impossible to drive on during rainy season, even with 4×4 jeeps! They launched a campaign of support which allowed one part to be paid, while another is being paid in bits and pieces. Then courageous decisions had to be taken so that spiritans could give an ecological witness to the people they animate. It was in this discernment that the idea came up to move on to the cultivation of cocoa, the plantation of which requires the maintenance of taller trees, as shade is needed. Thus, having prepared the ‘chaco’, another campaign advanced: that of buying the cacao trees! As a response to the necessary protection of biodiversity, in addition to the cocoa; coffee, mango, avocado, guava and many native trees and numerous banana plants were planted.
Working in these lands is very hard. The heat is unbearable and the swarm of mosquitoes threaten with dengue fever and other serious diseases. It is hard work, not only to plant, but to cut the weeds that grow so quickly. Not being able to afford to employ anyone at present, all the work is done by the Spiritans themselves, which speaks well of the simplicity and tenacity of these “all-terrain Spiritans” as one would call them.
To proclaim the Gospel implies speaking of God, celebrating the Sacraments, giving witness of a dignified life, being in solidarity with the poorest, having a simple and fraternal lifestyle, listening to the people, building participative communities; but also helping people to love the earth, our common home, where the dignity of people’s lives and our future are at stake.
The future is cloudy, but the sun is rising for the Spiritan mission in Bolivia. At their first Chapter as a Spiritan Group there was fraternal unity, evaluation, reflection, sharing, prayer and planning for the future of the mission. There were first-hand reports of the joys and difficulties experienced during the past twenty years with the realization that there is much to do in building the future. There was also a mention of new commitments and the reinforcement of what is being done in the three parish communities entrusted to them. The diversity of the spiritan presence is remarkable, coming from four countries and three continents: Portugal, Brazil, Ghana and Tanzania, with three more expected: from Madagascar, Angola and Nigeria!