Paraguay, one of the inland republics of South America, separated from Spain and constituted as an independent state in 1811. Etymology.—Historians disagree as to the true origin of the word “Paraguay”, one of the most common versions being that it is a corruption of the term “Payagua”, the name of an Indian tribe, and “i”, the Guarani for water or river, thus “Paragua-i”, or “river of the Payaguas”. Another version, which is accepted as more correct, is that which construes the word as meaning “crowned river”, from “Paragua” (palm-crown) and “i” (water or river). Geography.—The Republic of Paraguay, with an area of about 196,000 square miles, occupies the central part of South America, bounded by Brazil to the north and east, by the Argentine Republic to the southeast and southwest, and by Bolivia to the west and northwest. It lies between 22° 4′ and 27° 30′ S. lat., and 54° 32′ and 61° 20′ W. long. The Paraguay River divides its territory into two great regions, viz.: the Oriental, which is Paraguay proper, and the Occidental, commonly known as the Chaco. Population.—The population of Paraguay is composed of Indians, white Europeans, a very small number of negroes, and the offspring of the mixture of the various races, among whom the Spanish-Indian predominates. According to the last census (1908) the total number of inhabitants is 805,000, of which nearly 700,000 are Catholics. Most of the Indian tribes which are still uncivilized are scattered throughout the immense territory of the Chaco, the principal ones being the Guaranís, the Payaguas, and the Agaces.
Languages.—The official and predominating language is Spanish, and of the Indian dialects the one most in use is Guaraní. History.—Originally, Paraguay comprised the entire basin of the River Plate, and it was discovered in 1525 by Sebastian Cabot during his explorations along the Upper Paranrà and Paraguay Rivers. He was followed by Juan de Ayolas and Domingo Martinez de Irala (1536-38). It was during the first administration of the latter (1538-42) that Christianity was first preached, by the Franciscan Fathers, who, as in almost every instance, were the priests accompanying the first conquerors. In 1542 Irala was superseded by Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca, famous for his explorations in North America, who had been appointed governor of the River Plate, and received among other instructions from the king that of “propagating the Christian religion with the greatest zeal”. This task was, however, beset with many difficulties. In the first place the priests, although picked and of high moral character, were few in number; then they had to preach through interpreters; and worst of all, the cruel treatment of the Indians by the soldiers was itself sufficient to engender in the hearts of the natives a keen antipathy towards the religion that their new masters professed. Furthermore, the corrupt morals of the conquerors, their insatiable thirst for riches, their quarrels in the struggle for power, and their own discords and controversies could not but render their religion suspicious to the Indians. The new governor was well aware of all this; so his first official act upon reaching Asunción (March 11, 1542) was to call the missionaries together to convey to them the wishes of his sovereign, impressing upon them the kindness with which the Indians should be treated as the necessary means of facilitating their conversion; he made them responsible for the success of the undertaking. He then convoked the Indians of the surrounding country and exhorted them to receive the Faith. The administration of Alvar Nuñez was characterized by his wisdom, tact, and spirit of justice, no less than by his courage, energy, and perseverance. He succeeded in subduing the Indians, tribe after tribe, mainly through a policy of conciliation, and by force when necessary. It was thus that the march of Christianity in Paraguay was greatly facilitated during his short régime (1542-44). His achievements, however, only served to increase the jealousies of Martinez de Irala, who, never forgetting his relegation to a subordinate post, finally succeeded in turning most of the officers and soldiers against the governor. As a result of this rebellion, Nuñez was made a prisoner and sent to Spain, where he was acquitted after a trial that lasted eight years. Irala was then left in full command of the province (1542) until his death in 1557. His second administration was noted for the many improvements he introduced, such as the establishment of schools, the construction of the Cathedral of Asuncion and other public buildings, the promotion of local industries, etc. He was succeeded by Gonzalo de Mendoza, upon whose death (1559) Francisco Ortiz de Vergara was made governor, ruling until 1565, when he was deposed. Juan Ortiz de Zarate was then appointed, but, having sailed for Spain immediately thereafter in order to obtain the confirmation of the king, Felipe de Càceres was left in charge of the government. Although Zarate secured the confirmation, he did not assume command, for he died in the same year. Juan de Garay then took the reins of government, and upon his assassination by the Indians in 1580, he was followed by Alonso de Vera y Aragon, who resigned in 1587 leaving Juan Torres de Vera in command. Torres de Vera was still governing the province when S. Francis Solanus, a Spanish Franciscan missionary, made his celebrated journey through the Chaco to Paraguay, coming from Peru. In the course of that expedition he preached to the natives in their own tongues and converted thousands and thousands of them (1588-89). When Torres de Vera resigned his post, Hernando Arias de Saavedra, a native of Asuncion, was elected governor, ruling until 1593, when Diego Valdes de Banda was appointed in his stead. Upon the death of the latter, Hernandarias, as he is also known, again took command in 1601. It was during this second administration of Arias (1601-09) that the Jesuits obtained official recognition for the first time in Paraguay, by virtue of an order from Philip III (1608), approving the plan submitted by Governor Arias for the establishment of missions by the disciples of Loyola. This marked the beginning of the flourishing period of the Church in Paraguay, as well as that of the welfare and advancement of the natives, just as the expulsion of the Jesuit Fathers in 1767, by order of Charles III, marked the decadence of the Faith among the Indians of the Chaco and their falling back into their former state of barbarism. Paraguay was then nominally under the jurisdiction of the Viceroy of Peru, but in 1776 the Viceroyalty of La Plata was created, including Paraguay. Finally, when in 1811 Paraguay declared its independence of Spain, the foundations of the Church were firmly established, as was the case in the other Latin-American countries.
After its emancipation, the country was ruled, more or less despotically, by Jose Gaspar Rodriguez de Francia, as dictator (1811-40); Carlos Antonio Lopez (1841-62); Marshal Francisco Solano Lopez, a son of the former, during whose rule (1862-70) was fought one of the bloodiest wars in the history of South America, between Paraguay on one side, and Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay on the other. The results of this struggle, provoked by the political ambitions of Lopez, were most disastrous for Paraguay. It began on November 24, 1864, and lasted until March 1, 1870, on which date the Paraguayan president was killed in the battle of Cerro Cora. At the close of the war, Paraguay was in a state of desolation, with its population decimated, its agriculture destroyed, and its treasury completely exhausted. After the peace was signed, a constitution was promulgated (1870), under whose shadow the republic has recuperated within the comparatively short term of forty years, having now entered upon an era of prosperity, peace, and stability of government. Relations between the Church and State.—Under the constitution in force, promulgated November 25, 1870, the religion of the nation is the Roman Catholic, and the chief prelate must be a Paraguayan. Congress, however, has no power to forbid the free exercise of any other religion within the territory of the Republic (article 3). By authority of paragraph 7, article 2, of the constitution, the president exercises the rights of national patronage vested in the republic, and nominates the bishop of the diocese, said nomination to be made upon presentation of three names by the legislative senate, with the advice and consent of the ecclesiastical senate or, in default thereof, of the national clergy assembled. It is further provided by the constitution (par. 8, art. 102) that the president may grant or refuse, with the advice of congress, the acceptance of the decrees of the councils and of the Bulls, Briefs, or Rescripts of the Supreme Pontiff. The Minister of Justice, Worship, and Public Instruction is charged with the inspection of all branches of Divine worship in so far as the national patronage over the Church is concerned; it is also his duty to negotiate with the Apostolic Delegates in behalf of the executive. The fiscal budget assigns the sum of $2,259 for the salaries of the bishop, vicar-general, and secretary of the diocese. The Diocese.—The Diocese of Paraguay (Paraquayensis) was created under a Bull issued by Paul III on July 1, 1547, eleven years after the foundation of Asuncion by Juan de Ayolas, August 15, 1536, and is therefore the oldest see of the River Plate. The first bishop was Father Pedro de La Torre, a Franciscan, who arrived at Asunción on the eve of Palm Sunday, 1555, during the second administration of Martinez de Irala. Directly dependent upon Rome, its jurisdiction extends over the whole territory of the republic, which is divided into 102 parishes, 6 of them being located in the capital. The present Cathedral of Asunción was formally dedicated on October 27, 1845. Laws Affecting the Church.—As above stated, the constitution provides that worship shall be free within the territory of the republic. The incorporation of churches and tenure of church property in Paraguay are governed under laws similar to those in force in the Argentine Republic, and the same may be said as to wills and testaments, charitable bequests, marriage, divorce, etc., the Argentine Civil Code having been adopted as a law of the country under an act of congress dated August 19, 1876. All Catholic marriages are ipso facto valid for the purposes of the civil law, and by an act of September 27, 1887, marriages performed under other rites should be recorded in the civil register in order that they may have legal force. Under the Paraguayan law the clergy are exempt from military and jury service, and all accessories of Divine worship are admitted free of duty when imported at the instance of the bishop. Law for the Conversion of the Indian Tribes.—On September 6, 1909, a law was enacted providing for the conversion of Indians to Christianity and civilization. By virtue of this law, the President of the Republic is authorized to grant public lands to individuals or companies organized for the purpose of converting the said tribes, in parcels not exceeding 7,500 hectares (about 18,750 acres) each, on which the concessionaire shall establish a reduction with the necessary churches, houses, schools, etc. Several English Episcopalian missions have been established in the Chaco under this law. Education.—By law of July 22, 1909, and in accordance with the Constitution (Art. 8) primary instruction is compulsory in the republic for all children between 5 and 14 years of age. At the beginning of 1909 there were in Paraguay 344 primary schools, attended by 40,605 pupils, and employing 756 teachers. These figures do not include the private schools, which had during the same year an attendance of from 2,000 to 3,000 pupils. The course of primary instruction covers a period of six years. Secondary instruction is given in five national colleges, one of which is in the capital, and the others in Villa Concepcion, Villa Rica, Villa Encarnación, and Villa del Pilar. There are also two normal schools for the preparation of teachers. Higher education is provided for in the University of Asuncion, which offers a six-years’ course in law, social sciences, and medicine. Further courses in pharmacy and other branches have recently been added. There is besides a school of agriculture and a military academy. Conciliar Seminary.—For the education of young men in the ecclesiastical career there is at Asunción an excellent institution known as the “Seminario Conciliar”, founded in 1881 upon the initiative of Ana Escate, who personally collected the funds necessary for its establishment. During the thirty years of its existence sixty priests have graduated there from, one of them being the present Bishop of Paraguay, Monsignor Juan Sinforiano Bogarin.