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“IN DEATH AS IN LIFE SHE REMAINED WITH THE POOR, WITH THE PRISONERS”

“A BEATITUDE WOMAN, JOAN SAWYER 30 YEARS ON”

HER STORY AND EXAMPLE CONTINUES TO INSPIRE US

“The Cross still stands there, bleak and bare near the main road to Lurigancho Prison in Lima. ‘No Mataras’, the inscription reads. You shall not kill. People come to stand or kneel there, to bring flowers, to pray. Thirty years after she was killed, Joan Sawyer, the Columban Sister from Belfast, who ministered to the prisoners in Lurigancho, is remembered.

The prison is also there, as drab, as unwelcoming, as overcrowded as when Joan walked the corridors. Lurigancho holds thousands of men, young and old, all hoping for a better life, for freedom. Men that Joan knew and loved, men who called forth the best in her, who knew that her gentleness would never fail, knew she would never give up on them.

SHOT DEAD

On that fatal Wednesday, the 14th December 1983, she was, with other pastoral workers, taken as a hostage by desperate men, hoping to escape from prison. After hours of negotiation the authorities allowed them to drive out in an ambulance but as they went the police opened fire and Joan with seven of the nine prisoner hostages, was shot dead. In death as in life she remained with the poor, with the prisoners, with her friends.

Thirty years later we remember the quiet, gentle woman and the prisoners who died with her. She was, as one of her teachers said, ”A beatitude person’. Her simple poverty, her gentleness, compassionate and peace-making ways, were the source of her strength and influence.’ Her story continues to inspire us, calls us to be compassionate, to work for justice especially for those in prison, for the poor, for those on the margins of our lives.

Joan lives on in the hearts of the poor in Lima, the people she loved, and in the hearts of all who knew her, especially the Columban family who never cease to thank God for the gift she was, and continues to be, to all of us. May she rest in peace.”
– This article was published in “Far East” (Magazine of the Columban Missionaries) issue December 2013. For subscriptions, donations and enquiries if you feel called to be a missionary please visit http://www.comlumbans.co.uk (external link) or http://www.columbansisters.org (external link).

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CONTRADICTIONS ARE A HAIR-SHIRT – GEMS FOR SPIRITUAL LIFE AND DAILY ROUTINE BY MOTHER FRANCES CABRINI

SAFEGUARDING SPIRITUAL VALUES

“Quite truly it has been written of [St Frances Xavier Cabrini] that she…was a modern woman by nature and inclination. She was thoroughly in sympathy with what has become known as ‘the women’s movement,’ provided only that spiritual values were safeguarded…she was no obscurantist, and wasted no time in sighing after the days of her youth and lamenting the degeneracy of the rising generation. Nor did she adopt an attitude of wholesale, unintelligent destructive criticism towards every educational development, or even every Government requirement.

WOMEN IN MODERN LIFE

Realising the increasing part woman was to play in public life, she envisaged her in the world of to-day as the Church herself does…She foresaw the part the cinema was to play in modern education; [regarding the students in her schools] she believed in plenty of healthy exercise and catered for all the sporting and athletic interests of the day. At the same time, her keen sense of the need of home-making in modern society led her to develop the teaching of domestic science along the most up-to-date lines, and also to preserve and encourage the traditional feminine arts and crafts. She rightly objected to the type of woman who, whilst proficient in higher mathematics, cannot use a needle or run her own home intelligently! …

PREVENTING PURE MATERIALISM IN NURSING

Another field of women’s labour with which she was greatly concerned was nursing. As she gained acquaintance with hospital conditions and medical circles in the [United] States, she was sadly impressed by the fact that so many doctors and nurses are free-thinkers. She saw how easily the young nurse, constantly occupied in tending bodily ailments and studying material science, can fall into a pure materialism. Hence she desired to have nurses’ homes attached to her hospitals, and these foundations to be thoroughly efficient and recognised as training centres for the State nursing certificates, so that girls who entered the profession as practising Catholics should not lose fervour and, perhaps, faith during their years of training. She readily admitted non-Catholics who were ready to conform to the regulations and the Cabrini nurses’ homes, as the Cabrini schools, are recognised as some of the best in the States. In the true sense, she was a Christian humanist and humanitarian.

MOTHER FRANCES AS A SUPERIOR

Turning to consider Frances Cabrini as a Superior and a nun… Among her rare personal notes we find this resolution: ‘I will study to maintain the union of holy charity among the Sisters. I will love them with a true mother’s love, yet striving to bear myself as the servant of all…seeing in each one the image of my beloved Bridegroom and of Mary most holy…’ Those who knew declared that she succeeded…

PENITENTIAL PRACTICES – DESTROYING THE IDOL OF SELF-LOVE

She prescribed no special corporal austerities, and rarely allowed any, but she made up for these in other ways. If lacking the ‘classic’ penitential practices, her institute is yet sufficiently severe. She required her religious to ‘mortify themselves a little in everything and destroy the idol of self-love.’ In 1895, she notes that Quito is ‘where Blessed Mariana lived in such austere penance, though this is rather to be admired than imitated.’ (Blessed Mariana Paredes, known as the ‘Lily of Quito’, is patron of that city. Born in 1618, she died in 1645, having lived the life of a religious in her own home, but never joining any congregation. She was beatified in 1854). From Lima, having alluded in a letter to the austerities practised by St Rose, she passes on to write of that saint’s ‘other crucifixions – those of the spirit – which are better; real crucifixions in the strictest sense, which serve so well to purify souls and unite them intimately to their Beloved.’

MORTIFICATION IN DAILY LIFE

She held that the special circumstances of their life provided her religious with mortifications enough, provided that these were rightly used and, it must be added, she ground fine.

NO GRUMBLING OR COMPLAINING

She would not tolerate the slightest grumbling or complaint, or the raising of difficulties over the daily trials of life, be these what they might. A sister who complained of the heat, when travelling in summer, was promptly silenced and reminded that all weather was God’s weather. Another, who asked permission to take a drink outside of meal-time, adding that she was very thirsty, received the reply: ‘Do not speak like that; it is unmortified. Say simply, ‘May I have a drink?’ without adding anything else.’ Yet another, travelling along the Ligurian coast, remarked, as she watched the bathers from the hot, stifling railway carriage, how she would love a plunge. ‘Do not talk like that; it is self-indulgence,’ was the foundress’ reply.

CHEERFULNESS, PATIENCE, SILENCE

Frances Cabrini’s daughters must take in silence, patiently and cheerfully, absolutely what each day might bring forth. ‘Contradictions,’ she once wrote, ‘there is a real, sharp hair-shirt! If you love penance, there is a penance that has made saints and which all can practise, even with the weakest health. It is a hair-shirt that you can wear not for an hour but all day long.’…

‘YOU MUST BE EMPTIED OF SELF’

Loved as she was, she was extremely reserved, and allowed no familiarities. The few who ventured upon such were severely snubbed. She treated everyone alike, showing an equal interest in all, so that it was impossible to say that one was loved more than another… ‘Do you want to love God? You must be emptied of self. You must enlarge your hearts, and that is done only by getting rid of self-love. Our self-will and self-love are what hinders the love of God from entering our souls. Get rid of these, and you will become fervent souls, true missionaries.’

OBEDIENCE DISTINGUISHES TRUE FROM FALSE PIETY

DAILY LIFE OBEDIENCE AS SACRIFICE

The relations of subjects to their local Superiors had to be on the supernatural plane, always and absolutely. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries Frances Cabrini here speaks but the authentic language of the classic ages of religious life.
‘You serve our Lord Jesus Christ; therefore, see Him in your Superior…if thoughts assail you against obedience, reject them as promptly as you would those against faith or chastity…never look at her personal qualities, her gifts, her manners; otherwise you will change supernatural obedience into that which is purely human.’ Again: ‘It is obedience that distinguishes true from false piety. It is the obedient religious who speaks victories… Obedience is a sacrifice immensely more pleasing to God than any sacrifice you might choose for yourselves.’

And all this in view not only of their own sanctification but that of others. ‘If you sacrifice yourselves, you will become saints and, after having sanctified yourselves, you will certainly be able to sanctify others. She who is not holy will never be able to make anyone else so; she who is will shed a fragrance of holiness around her and all who come into contact with her will breathe it.’

HUMILITY

ABANDONMENT TO GOD’S WILL

Her conception of humility… No refusal to recognise real gifts or good qualities in one’s self, no pious cliches, easy to utter but often meaning nothing; no posing. Humility meant perfect truth as regards oneself, and perfect ABANDON to the will of God; the soul simply counting upon His grace to fulfil whatever task be laid upon it as well as He means it to be fulfilled; referring to Him whatever measure of success may be achieved, and accepting apparent failure peacefully, even joyfully, should failure be His will.

Once she placed a Sister at the head of a school of several hundred pupils. Taken by surprise, the latter exclaimed: ‘Oh Mother, what a responsibility! So many innocent souls to train aright!’ In a flash came the retort: ‘Do you imagine that the welfare of these souls depends upon you, and not rather upon God working in you? Poor creatures we should be, indeed, if the fruit were to be looked for from our puny efforts! We must do our duty well, but in the utmost simplicity and without preoccupations, secure that our Lord will take thought for everything.’

She thus expressed the principle more at length: ‘The true Missionary Sister never thinks, ‘What office will be given me? Where shall I be sent?’ And she should never say, ‘I can’t carry out this or that; I am incapable.’ Whether she be made Superior-General, sent to teach a class of infants, or to sweep a staircase, she should carry it out serenely, in holy indifference…that is real love, practical love, stripped of all self-interest; the strong love you ought to have. You are immolated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus; in this complete self-abnegation lies the very essence of sanctiity. So courage, perseverance! Live up to your vocation!'”
– From: “Frances Xavier Cabrini, By A Benedictine of Stanbrook Abbey”, 1944

 

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“THE HUMBLE LIFE OF ST MARTIN DE PORRES IS STILL ENTIRELY RELEVANT TODAY”

ST MARTIN OF PORRES; FEAST: NOVEMBER 3

Saint Martin de Porres was born in Lima on the 9th of December 1579, “son of an unknown father”. He was the illegitimate son of Spanish nobleman, Juan de Porres, and a former slave called Ana Velasquez. His father refused to recognise him as his son at first. When he was eight years old he spent a brief period of time with his father in Ecuador but later returned to Lima where his father continued sending money so that Martin could finish his studies.

RELIGIOUS LIFE

He asked to be admitted as a “lay brother” at a Dominican convent in Rosario, Lima, and was accepted at the age of 15. In the convent he soon became recognised for his humility, charity and meekness. He is often portrayed in icons with a broom in his hand and is still well known as the “Brother of the Broom”, which highlights his readiness to perform even the humblest of tasks. He lived with great austerity, was contrite and fervent in his work. He was also a man of prayer and was the designated nurse of his large community (around 200 Religious). Apart from helping those within his community, “Charitable Martin” also took care of many of the poor people who became ill in the city. On the 2nd of June 1603, after nine years of service to the Order as a “lay brother”, he took his religious vows. God enriched him with many charisms, one of which was bilocation, the gift of being in two places at once. This enabled him not only to encourage those missionaries who were facing difficulties in places such as Africa, China and Japan, but also to be at the side of many sick people who were dying and to console them in their final moments.

JESUS CHRIST’S LOVE

Helped by many rich and generous benefactors from the city he founded the Santa Cruz Home in order to attend the down and out, beggars and orphans, with the aim to help them get out of their distressing situation. Aged 60, after having spent 45 years in the Dominican Convent, Brother Martin fell sick and said that he would die from the illness. The shock at this news was felt all over Lima and even the Viceroy, the Earl of Chinchon, visited him, kissing Martin’s hands “that had done so much good”. Martin died on the 3rd of November 1639. The entire city went to his funeral and many miracles occurred through his intercession. The humble life of Saint Martin de Porres is still entirely relevant today. Many have a great devotion towards this humble religious man whose holiness even during his life became well known outside of his Convent and even outside of Peru.

MORE RELEVANT THAN EVER

The same longing that Martin had to serve the poor and to improve their living conditions is still needed today and more urgently than ever. His example serves as an inspiration to all of the orphaned and abandoned children in Peru and gives them the hope of a brighter future. There is still a great need for youngsters who, following Christ into religious life, put themselves entirely at the service of the “least”. Still today, there is a great need for generous benefactors that make all of our missionary work in Peru possible. Often these sacrifices are hidden from all human eyes but nothing is hidden from God.
– This article by Fr Pierfilippo Giovanetti was published in “Opus Christi Salvatoris Mundi, Missionary Servants of the Poor in the Third World”- Newsletter, Lent 2013 issue. To find out more about their missionary work and how to get involved, please visit http://www.msptm.com (external link)

 

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A SHORT BIOGRAPHY OF ST TURIBUS OF MONGROVEJO

ST TURIBUS OF MONGROVEJO, BISHOP; MEMORIAL: MARCH 23

St Turibus was born in Spain about 1538, his ministry was exercised in South America, where he was sent as Bishop of Lima, Peru, in 1581. The oppression of the native population by the European community, and the decadence of the clergy, led him to set about reforming the Church and caring for the oppressed with zeal. He travelled extensively through the country, held various diocesan and provincial synods, set up seminaries, built churches and hospitals. He died in 1606, while on one of his journeys through the diocese.

PRAYER:

Lord,
through the apostolic work of Saint Turibus
and his unwavering love of truth,
You helped Your Church to grow.
May your chosen people continue to grow
in faith and holiness.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with You
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Amen.

 
 

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