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Uruguay, The Catholic Church in


The República Oriental del Uruguay is situated in South America, located between Brazil to the north and Argentina to the west, the Río de la Plata rounding the southern border and leading to the Atlantic Ocean along the east. Rolling hills predominate, dropping to fertile lowlands along the southern coast, and the warm, temperate climate is beneficial to the region' agriculture, although high winds are common. Although Uruguay has few mineral deposits, its resources include fisheries, hydropower and agricultural products that include wheat, rice, barley, corn and sorghum.

Once known as the Banda Oriental, Uruguay was part of the Spanish viceroyalty of Rio de la Plata until 1814 when its leaders broke with Argentina and gained independence. In 1820 the region began a five-year occupation by neighboring Brazil, and became a republic in 1825. Liberals and conservatives struggled for power during the next 50 years, followed by 86 years of liberal rule. Economic unrest during the mid-20th century was punctuated by military rule; civilian rule returned in 1985. About 90 percent of the population descended from Europeans, chiefly Spaniards and Italians. Uruguayans are considered among the most prosperous and literate people in all South America.

Church History . The territory was discovered in 1516 by Spanish navigator Juan Díaz de Solís, who claimed it for the crown of Castile. The few native tribes, which were believed to be ethnic Guaraní, included Charrúas, Chanaes, Bohanes, Yaros and Guenoas; these peoples either fled the region or were exterminated, the last surviving indigenous people being the warlike Charrúas, who were exterminated in 1832. The first missionaries who arrived from Buenos Aires were three Franciscans: Fray Bernardino de Guzmán, who founded the first reduction of Santo Domingo de Soriano and of whom it was said by a historian that "he must be considered as the originator of Uruguayan sociability, because he was able to wrench a whole tribe away from barbarity and relate it to the soil, establishing the habits of profitable and moralizing work"; Fray Villavicencio; and Fray Aldao. Later, Jesuits began their evangelical work, giving special attention to the teaching of the young.

Spanish authorities headquartered in Buenos Aires converted the area into pastoral lands and brought in 100 head of cattle, the basis of the prodigious cattle industry in the modern republic. Several small population centers sprang up: Soriano, Maldonado, Colonia and Montevideo, founded in 1726 by the Spanish governor of Buenos Aires, Bruno Mauricio de Zabala. During the Spanish period, Uruguayan colonists developed a flourishing society. Jesuits were expelled in 1767 as part of an effort to break their efforts to stop the enslavement of native people in South America. By 1800 Uruguay's merchant classes determined to cut ties with Spain. An uprising led by General José artigas in 1811, developed into a four-year battle for independence. In 1814, after defeats at Las Piedras and El Cerrito, the Spanish capitulated and left Uruguay. However, struggles against the nationalistic aspirations of Argentina, Portugal and Brazil continued to bloody the region for the next decade. The region declared independence on Aug. 27, 1828, although skirmishes with the government of Argentina continued.

Uruguay remained part of the diocese of Buenos Aires until 1824, when Dámaso Antonio Larrañaga was appointed vicar of the city of Montevideo and its province. The Church supported the political autonomy of Uruguay, and took an active part in the struggle for independence that achieved success on Aug. 14, 1832. At this point Larrañaga was elevated to vicar apostolic, and in 1878 Montevideo became a bishopric, its first bishop Jacinto vera (181381), who had been acting vicar apostolic since 1859. Vera worked energetically to organize the Church in Uruguay, continuing the efforts of Larrañaga and of the vicars José Benito Lamas and Lorenzo Fernández. The Sisters of Our Lady of the Orchard, the first order of women to arrive, reached Uruguay about 1857, the same period that saw the return of the Jesuits. Other orders working in the country included Augustinians, Basilians, Regular Capuchins, Discalced Carmelites, Claretians, Dominicans, Black Franciscans, Vincentians, Maronites and Oblates of St. Francis de Sales. During the 19th and 20th centuries almost all priests were been foreigners, chiefly Italians and Spaniards. A lack of personnel and the limited financial resources continue to be obstacles to the propagation of the faith in Uruguay.

The Church after Independence . Following independence, Church leaders who had served as advisers to revolutionary leaders then acted as legislators. Among the most distinguished were Larrañaga, adviser to Artigas and founder of the National Library in 1816; José Benito Lamas, who was persecuted by Spanish governor Elío; Santiago Figueredo and then became rector of the University of Buenos Aires; Larrobla, president of the assembly that proclaimed the independence in Florida (1825); and Gadea, Pérez Castellano, Pelliza, Martínez, Peña and Gómez. The constitution of 1830 established Roman Catholicism as the religion of the State. The government subsidized the Church, made religious instruction obligatory and aided efforts to maintain missions for those native people remaining in Uruguay. However, political division between the Blancos (predominately Catholic conservatives) and the Colorados (liberals) sparked a series

of civil wars that hampered the progress of the nation through the 19th century. The government remained in the hands of Colorados from 1872 to 1958, during which time the power of the Church declined, due predominately to the prevalence of anticlericalism. In 1904 the government of José Batlle y Ordóñez was installed and Uruguay entered a period of political and social stability.

Under the administration of Ordóñez, religious education in Uruguayan public schools was eliminated in 1909, and the constitution of 1917 created separation between Church and State, although it continued to grant tax exemption. After this point, the Church was supported completely by the contributions of the faithful and its financial resources declined substantially. Meanwhile, the government created a welfare state through social service programs and an economic infrastructure supported by legislations. The government of Gabriel Terra (193138) was unusually disposed to the Church, and during his term of office diplomatic relations with the Holy See, interrupted since 1911, were resumed.

In 1958 a conservative president came to power and the economy began to falter. In the late 1960s the Tupamaros, a Marxist guerilla force, began gaining political power and in 1973 they backed a military coup that gained control of the government. Within a year the military leaders had crushed the Tupamaros, but retained control of the state until 1985 when the country elected a civilian president. In 1989 amnesty was declared for political prisoners from the military regime. A coalition government elected in 1990 allowed the country to regain its social stability and traditionally high standard of living. In 1997 the Uruguayan bishops called on the president to reveal the fate of 150 citizens who disappeared during the military dictatorship, in order that they could be given a Christian burial.

By 2000 there were 384 parishes tended by 1,110 diocesan and 335 religious priests. Other religious included approximately 460 brothers and 2,800 sisters, many of whom were engaged in maintaining Uruguay's 170 primary

and 90 secondary Catholic schools, as well as working in hospitals and sanatoriums, insane asylums and clinics.

Bibliography: Annuario Pontificio has information on all diocese.

[a. d. pirotto/eds.]

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