Trans-Chiquitano

A Bolivian Passenger Train Between Santa Cruz and Quijarro

As I sit here in L.A. in the middle of a heat wave—and getting no younger in the process—a new vacation trip emerges from the depths of my mind. I have already written about the 17th and 18th century Jesuit missions in South America. The anti-clerical Voltaire in his Candide appeared to be impressed by the enlightened rule of the Jesuits who controlled Paraguay.

You can find out even more by reading the forgotten classic history by R. B. Cunninghame Graham entitled A Vanished Arcadia: Being Some Account of the Jesuits in Paraguay 1607 to 1767.

Back then, before the War of the Triple Alliance (1864-1870) and the Chaco War (1932-1935), Paraguay included territory which now belongs to Argentina (Misiones Province) and Bolivia (Santa Cruz Province). There are ruins of Jesuit communities in all three countries.

This set my mind to thinking. There is a famous train route called the Trans-Chiquitano—still in existence as of a year or two ago—between Santa Cruz, Bolivia and Quijarro, just before the border with Brazil. Midway between the two termini and somewhat to the north are the ruins of Jesuit missions. I was thinking of touring the missions in Bolivia, then busing from Corumbá, Brazil (just across the border from Quijarro, Bolivia) to Asunción, Paraguay. There I could hook up with a tour to the Jesuit missions east of Asunción (if such a tour exists). Thereafter, it is a short up across the border to Argentina, where there are well-organized tours of the Jesuit missions such as San Ignacio Mini. From there, it is an easy bus ride to Buenos Aires, from which I can return to the States.

It would be a wild trip, with a long, comfortable train ride and easy stays in Santa Cruz and Buenos Aires. Asunción is a different story, but still quite doable.

 

A Vanished Arcadia

Historical site of Encarnacion and Jesuit ruins in Paraguay, South America

The following is a lightly edited repeat of a post I made back in March 2013.

It is interesting to me that, for the first time in its history, the papacy is in the hands of a Jesuit, from South America no less. In southeastern Paraguay and in the Argentinean state of Misiones, there are numerous ruins attesting to the 17th and 18th century Jesuit missions—missions that were so powerful that they were, in effect, the government of Paraguay. If you ever saw Roland Joffe’s 1986 movie, The Mission, with Robert DeNiro, Liam Neeson, and Jeremy Irons, you have some idea of what this Jesuit government was like.

You can find out even more by reading the forgotten classic history by R. B. Cunninghame Graham entitled A Vanished Arcadia: Being Some Account of the Jesuits in Paraguay 1607 to 1767.

It even finds its way into Voltaire’s Candide, but its author being such an anticlerical cuss, he has his hero kill the Jesuit commandant of one of the missions. Yet he writes in Histoire Politique et Philosophique des Indes:

When in 1768 the missions of Paraguay left the hands of the Jesuits, they had arrived at perhaps the highest degree of civilization to which it is possible to conduct a young people, and certainly at a far superior state than that which existed in the rest of the new hemisphere. The laws were respected there, morals were pure, a happy brotherhood united every heart, all the useful arts were in a flourishing state, and even some of the more agreeable sciences: plenty was universal.

Poster for Roland Joffe’s Film The Mission (1986)

I have long thought that, if my thoughts had ever taken a turn toward the Catholic priesthood, I would have become a Jesuit. My teachers at St. Peter Chanel in Bedford, Ohio, wanted me to become one of them, a Marist. But, in the end, I became neither.

So now Pope Francis is a Jesuit from Argentina. He, I am sure, is quite aware of the history of the Jesuits in the southern cone of South America. It would be nice if he did for the Catholic Church what the Jesuits did for the Guarani in Paraguay and Argentina. Benedict XVI was a good man, but not strong enough for the task of making his faith relevant to a world that is falling away from the Church.

A Jesuit Paradise?

Stamps Commemorating the Jesuit Missions of Paraguay

Stamps Commemorating the Jesuit Missions of Paraguay

It is interesting to me that, for the first time in its history, the papacy is in the hands of a Jesuit, from South America no less. In southeastern Paraguay and in the Argentinean state of Misiones, there are numerous ruins attesting to the 17th and 18th century Jesuit missions—missions that were so powerful that they were, in effect, in control of the Guarani Indians of the area. If you ever saw Roland Joffe’s 1986 movie, The Mission, with Robert DeNiro, Liam Neeson, and Jeremy Irons, you have some idea of what the Jesuit government of Paraguay was like.

You can find out even more by reading the forgotten classic history by R. B. Cunninghame Graham entitled A Vanished Arcadia: Being Some Account of the Jesuits in Paraguay 1607 to 1767.

It even finds its way into Voltaire’s Candide, but its author being such an anticlerical cuss, he has his hero kill the Jesuit commandant of one of the missions. Yet he writes in Histoire Politique et Philosophique des Indes:

When in 1768 the missions of Paraguay left the hands of the Jesuits, they had arrived at perhaps the highest degree of civilization to which it is possible to conduct a young people, and certainly at a far superior state than that which existed in the rest of the new hemisphere. The laws were respected there, morals were pure, a happy brotherhood united every heart, all the useful arts were in a flourishing state, and even some of the more agreeable sciences: plenty was universal.

I have long thought that, if my thoughts had ever taken a turn toward the Catholic priesthood, I would have become a Jesuit. My teachers at St. Peter Chanel in Bedford, Ohio, wanted me to become one of them, a Marist. But, in the end, I became neither.

So now Pope Francis is a Jesuit from Argentina. He, I am sure, is quite aware of the history of the Jesuits in the southern cone of South America. It would be nice if he did for the Catholic Church what the Jesuits did for the Guarani in Paraguay and Argentina. Benedict XVI was a good man, but not strong enough for the task of making his faith relevant to a world that is falling away from the Church.