Friday, 06 May 2016 13:20

Our Candidates in Ecuador: “Love can take the place of a long life”

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Memories of the candidates who died in the earthquake of Ecuador (April 16th, 2016).

On April 16th, 2016, five young women, who were in the first steps of their formation as Servant Sisters of the Home of the Mother, died beneath the rubble of our house in Playa Prieta (Manabi, Ecuador). The youngest was only 15 years old, and the eldest was 23. They had said their “Yes” to God with great generosity, in spite of the battles and difficulties that each had. In them, we have witnessed what St. Therese of Lisieux said: “Love can take the place of a long life.

We call our postulants “candidates”—Candidates of the Servant Sisters of the Home of the Mother – and that is how I will refer to them in the rest of this article.

Of the five young women who passed away, three were candidates: Maria Augusta, Jazmina, and Mayra.

One of them, Valeria, was too young to enter as a candidate since candidates must be at least 16 years old and have permission of their parents while they are still underage. That is why Valeria could not enter as a candidate, and instead entered as an “aspirant” when she was just 14 years old.

Catalina’s case is special. Catalina was still not officially a Servant Sister of the Home of the Mother, although she had expressed her desire to enter and had been accepted as a candidate. That is why we include her in the term “the candidates”.

Just days before the earthquake, Playa Prieta had suffered serious flooding. The muddy water was more than waist-high. The Sisters in Chone, also in Manabi, told us on Tuesday, April 12, 2016 about the situation of the Sisters in Playa Prieta: “The losses are going to be great. Pray for the people, for the poor. Right now they do not have electricity, but we are in contact with them. The Sisters are fine. They are just worried about the people.” The Sisters and candidates spent the days leading up to the earthquake, and to their own death, completely dedicated to alleviating the sufferings of so many families  who, as a result of the floods, had lost everything. Two days later, on Thursday, April 14, 2016, our Sisters in Chone informed us again: “Hello everyone! Here we are again in the “press office.” I spoke with Sr. Estela this morning. Yesterday, they passed food out to several families. She said they were going to go through the whole town today to see what the needs were and tomorrow we will take them supplies from here [Chone].” Sr. Estela herself, superior of the community in Playa Prieta, when she spoke with our Mother Superior in Spain said, “You can be proud of the candidates. They are working like true Servant Sisters.

That is how our Lord found these young women: generous and joyful; with their hands full of good works for the sake of their needy brothers and sisters; ‘perfumed’ with the sweet aroma of sacrifice, surrender, and self-forgetfulness. I believe that the example of these young women can help us all.

Jazmina Jessenia Castro Delgado

Jazmina was born on February 9, 1994 in Chone, in the Province of Manabi (Ecuador). She studied Social Work in Portoviejo (Ecuador) and lived with the other candidates and residents in the Home of the Mother’s Student Residence.

Jazmina was very courageous when it came to giving testimony of her faith and standing up for it in any situation. She never backed down when it came to defending our Lord, even before her teachers and classmates. She was happy and very expressive. When she began to discover her vocation, she had to fight a strong interior battle before being able to respond to the call of God. She finally entered as a candidate on April 20, 2015 in a pilgrimage to a Marian shrine in the mountains of Cuenca (Ecuador).

The Sisters remember a huge sacrifice that she made shortly before entering as a candidate. Every three or four months, the Sisters organize a mission week in the Amazon jungle, in Puyo, eastern Ecuador. The goal is to evangelize the Shuar Indians, who just now are receiving the Gospel for the first time. Jazmina was told that if she went it was to help and she would have to do everything asked of her without complaining. She accepted and decided to go. Here we have to mention that Jazmina hated being dirty. She couldn’t even drink from a cup after someone else, not even after her mother. She knew that on the mission she would have to overcome herself a lot in this sense. When one arrives in a Shuar village, the first thing one receives is a cup of “chicha”. Chicha is a drink made of yucca. First the yucca is boiled so as to soften it. Then the older women of the village chew the yucca and spit it into a pot which they stir with their own hands. This is repeated again and again, until the right consistency is achieved. It is left to sit and ferment for a day and then it can be consumed. It is a basic part of the Shuar diet and is offered to visitors as a sign of welcome and hospitality. To reject chicha is to reject their friendship. That is why the missionary has to swallow the instinctive disgust and drink it with a smile. This is the first step to being able to proclaim the Gospel in a Shuar village.

The Sisters and young people, accompanied by a priest and a few doctors, took a long hike through the jungle with mud up to their knees until they reached the Shuar village where they were headed. When they arrived, they were welcomed by the indigenous, who invited them to sit down and rest. Soon the women came bringing chicha. Jazmina not only drank her cup without saying a word, but seeing that the girl next to her was having a hard time and her gag reflex kept her from drinking, she took her cup and drank it too. She had a calm face and made no fuss about it. Even later on, she made no comment about how hard that act of charity was—though it surely was.

See photos of Jazmina

María Augusta Muñoz Rodríguez

Maria Augusta was born July 22, 1992 in Chone, in the Province of Manabi (Ecuador). The other girls in the Home of the Mother called her “Cieli” because her sister said that her eyes were from heaven. She entered as a candidate of the Servant Sisters of the Home of the Mother on October 20, 2014 in the chapel of our house in Playa Prieta.

She was in her fourth year of Medicine in the University of Portoviejo (Ecuador), where she lived in the Home of the Mother’s Student Residence. With the other candidates, she spent weekends and a large part of her breaks in our school in Playa Prieta, helping in the Sisters’ different apostolates and receiving formation as a Servant Sister.

She had a great love for Our Lord and Our Blessed Mother. Whenever something was hard for her, all you had to say was, “Won’t you do it for Our Lady?” To which she would respond without fail, “Yes, for Her I’ll do anything.” She loved the song “Tomad Virgen Pura” (Accept, Purest Virgin). She would often ask to sing this song, saying, “That way, we can be with Our Lady.”

One of the candidates who lived with her remembers that at times “in her struggles to respond to her vocation, sometimes she got angry at the candidates that lived with her (in the Home of the Mother’s Student Residence). ”  But once, talking with the candidates, she asked for forgiveness saying, “It’s because when I see you I get mad, because I still don’t have the strength to do what God is asking of me.”

She was responsible with her obligations and very ordered. She had a great apostolic zeal, although she had to work to overcome her shyness to speak about God with other girls. However, she did it for love of God and souls. She wanted her classmates to know our Lord, so she invited them to the Home of the Mother activities and met up with them to talk—all with the intention of bringing them closer to Our Lord and Our Blessed Mother.

When one of the girls in the Student Residence had a birthday, she spent all the time necessary preparing the celebration and making sure the girls had a good day.

When she went with the Sisters on missions in the Amazon jungle in Puyo, she had to take long hikes through the jungle, on muddy paths, and crossing deep rivers with the water above her waist. Maria Augusta, in spite of being very tired because of the physical exertion, gave of herself completely. When they arrived in the villages, she forgot her exhaustion and began to play with the children—to win their trust and be able to teach them later about God. As a candidate who was with her on the mission trip remembers, “She constantly gave of herself with great joy and love for God.”

See photos of María Augusta

Mayra Alejandra Alcívar Vega

Mayra was born on October 1, 1994 in Chone (Manabi, Ecuador). She was studying Social Work at the University of Portoviejo (Ecuador) and was living in the Home of the Mother’s Student Residence.

Like Jazmina, Mayra was also very courageous when it came to witnessing and defending her faith. She did not care what people would think of her. If there was something she felt God was asking of her, she did it immediately. She was very helpful, always willing to do anything asked of her, especially if it were for one of her Sisters. She also had a very cheerful character and a joy that was contagious.

During her Confirmation, she all of a sudden broke out in tears. When the priest said her name and anointed her with the Holy Chrism, she felt like in that moment she was receiving the strength she needed to do everything God asked of her: defend her faith, give herself completely to God… All this, with intense joy!

The youth group of the Home once organized a pilgrimage to the Shrine of Olón (Ecuador). Mayra was a very close friend of Maria Augusta and they had often talked about their battles in accepting their vocation. So, in order to help each other out, they decided to say their “Yes” to the Lord together. This simple act helped them both so much. 

She entered as an aspirant on October 19, 2014 in the Servant Sisters’ chapel in Chone. From the moment she entered, she was convinced that it was in order to surrender her life entirely to God without holding anything back. She entered as a candidate on January 1, 2015. Everyone noticed her especially intense joy on that day at being able to surrender her life more completely to God. She was beaming with joy!

After her first trip to Puyo, to bring the Gospel to the Shuar Indians, she mentioned to one of her companions how it had been a grace for her to be able to be a part of the missionary expedition and speak of God’s love to the Indians. On several occasions, she mentioned how it was such an immense grace to be chosen by God to be His instrument.

See photos of Mayra

Tania Valeria Intriago Sánchez:

Valeria was born on May 14, 2000 in Portoviejo, the capital of the Province of Manabi (Ecuador). Therefore, she died at the age of fifteen. 

While she was yet a child, her mother passed away under dramatic circumstances and her father abandoned her. That was when she went to live with her grandparents in Playa Prieta. Shortly afterwards, she began attending our school “Colegio Sagrada Familia” in Playa Prieta.

Valeria felt the Lord’s call at an early age. She had a special inclination to anything related to God. Although she had endured a difficult childhood, she was never bitter. In fact, she was particularly good-hearted and her classmates often sought her company. On several occasions, her classmates told the Sisters, “Valeria is very good, she's very good,” stressing the word “very”.

We compared her to St. Dominic Savio, the young disciple of St. John Bosco, because like him Valeria was convinced – as she said several times – that she had to be holy soon, because she did not know how much time she had. Seeing how the events have unfolded, witnessing her death at the age of fifteen, one cannot help but realize that it was the Lord Himself who put this desire on her heart.

So great was her desire to give her life to God and belong entirely to Him alone, that she asked her grandmother’s permission to become a Servant Sister at only fourteen years of age. In fact, she was too young to enter as a candidate, considering the fact that candidates must be at least 16 years of age and obtain parental consent if they are underage. For this reason, Valeria could not enter as a candidate but entered as an aspirant. Her grandmother gave her the necessary permission and she entered on October 17, 2014.

After seeing the film about St. Philip Neri’s life she took as her life's motto the famous: "I prefer paradise." Just a few days prior to the earthquake, amidst the intense flooding, her grandmother phoned to see if she wanted to spend a few days at home, until things went back to normal. However, Valeria told her grandmother that she wanted to die with the Sisters. The Lord granted her wish just days later.

One last detail touched us even more. Valeria’s funeral was held on Monday, April 18, in Playa Prieta. She was buried in a white tunic and with a white handkerchief on her head, in imitation of the habit of the Servant Sisters of the Home of the Mother. A perpetual vows’ cross that had belonged to one of the Sisters was found amongst the rubble. Valeria was buried wearing that cross.

See more photos of Valeria

Catalina Navarrete Falcones

Catalina was born on November 7, 1992 in Tosagua, Manabi (Ecuador). She was studying Social Work at St. Peter’s Seminary in Portoviejo. She lived with the candidates and other girls at the Home of the Mother’s Student Residence in that city.

Catalina had had an intense conversion after living a life far from God. She had spent two years in preparation to enter as a candidate. She had been accepted as a candidate, but had not yet made her official commitment. For this reason, she shared in many moments of the community life. But, when we speak of them, we speak of the five candidates, including Catalina. Our reasoning is the following: if baptism of desire exists, then consecration of desire must also exist. And Catalina ardently desired to give herself to God as a Servant Sister of the Home of the Mother.  And in fact, in her heart, she had already made that surrender of self, and she showed it with her life.

We met Catalina thanks to Gema Menéndez, one of our candidates. She tells us what happened: “It was quite a unique encounter. I’ll never forget it, because from the moment I met her I felt like Our Lady wanted Catalina to belong to her Heart. This is how it happened… I was in Holy Spirit Church in Portoviejo. After Mass, I looked back and felt like Our Lady told me, “Go and talk to this girl.” I’m very shy, so I didn’t do it right away, but I told Our Lady that if I saw her again I would talk to her and invite her to our youth group meetings at the university.” To Gema’s surprise, she ran into Catalina at the bus stop and was able to keep her promise to Our Lady that she would talk to her if she saw her again.

Gema continues: “From the moment she met God, she never stopped loving Him more and more, to the point of completely changing her life and giving her entire life over to Him. Catalina was a girl who fell head over heels for Jesus, abandoning herself in His arms. The Lord purified her through Confession and the Eucharist. I would describe her as a cheerful girl. She always told jokes to make people laugh. She had a great sense of humor. She truly loved Jesus in the Eucharist and had a mother-daughter relationship with Our Lady.” Perhaps the most impressive part of Gema’s testimony is when she states that, “From the moment she converted, her gaze was fixed on Heaven, because she was so anxious to see those who had stolen her heart: the Lord and Our Lady.

Gema has held on to a few of the letters Catalina wrote to her. For example, at the end of Holy Week 2015, Catalina writes her: “What an amazing Holy Week, right?! Wouldn’t it be great if we could always live with Him?! With Her, too. The chapel in Playa Prieta had this phrase: ‘I searched for consolation and found none.’ I wondered if we were or if we are His consolation. I wasn’t sure at the time. Yesterday, Saturday (Our Lady’s day) – during the Rosary – I looked at the image of Our Lady of Sorrows, at her Heart. And she told me, ‘You are my consolation. You.’”

Catalina’s funeral was held on April 18, 2016 in Playa Prieta. Like Valeria, she was buried wearing a white tunic as a sign of her desire to consecrate herself to God as a Servant Sister of the Home of the Mother.

See photos of Catalina

 

Sr. Beatriz Liaño

Servant Sister of the Home of the Mother