Meet Sister Mari Graciana from Peru, Congregation Verbo Y Victima
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,”
“My name is Mari Graciana, I am 28 years old and I come from Piura. There are five children in my family and I am the third. Piura is on the north coast of Peru in an area that is fairly hot. The people are very joyful, spontaneous, open and very affectionate and welcoming as well.
I went to school together with my sister in a school run by nuns. My family taught us Christian values, so that whatever we did, we did it in a spirit of gratitude, to God first of all, and also to our parents.
I think that spending all my infancy and part of my adolescence in this particular school and I began to adopt the same attitudes as the sisters and the same way of thinking… But until the age of 13 I never ever thought of becoming one myself. It was one of the teachers at the college, who was the religion teacher in fact, who called me over during the lunchtime break and asked me, “have you ever thought about becoming a religious? Don’t you like the life we live?” And the truth is, it was then that I began to think about it, to think very hard about it. I spent many hours in front of the Blessed Sacrament, asking our Lord what he wanted for me. But although I prayed quite a lot compared to the other girls of my age, I don’t really think I was so different from other young people.
After spending some time before the Blessed Sacrament, I decided to follow His call, but now the question was how was I going to tell my parents about it? My dad would not accept it, not for a moment. It was quite hard for him. But by contrast my mum always supported me and said that there was no life more beautiful than being close to God and that she would be happy and at peace to know that things were well with me.
The sisters teaching at my school had a vocation for teaching, only teaching in schools, and this was one of the questions I asked myself: What kind of congregation should I enter?
I was still doubtful, although I loved the sisters and my school, their way of life and everything. I began to ask myself what I was going to do. At that time I wanted to be a teacher, I was attracted to teaching but not sure about spending all my life as a teacher.
I went to a retreat in my parish and left more confused than ever, after seeing all the different charisms of all the congregations. I was still very, very doubtful about where I should go. I was just about to leave the centre where we had had the retreat, when my parish priest came up to me and asked, “So have you decided then?” Because he knew about my vocation. “No, Father, I’m more confused than ever; I don’t know where I should go.” So then he said to me, “I think that the Lord will speak to you.” And he handed me a little roll of parchment inside a little flask, on which was written a Bible quotation. I immediately took it out and read it: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”. For me this was more than an answer. I said to myself, ‘The sisters at my school don’t baptise, they don’t go out and preach the Gospel. So where should I go then?’ None of the congregations which had been presented to me on that retreat had had a missionary vocation. I stayed calm, thinking that something would turn up. And it was then that the sisters of my congregation, the Missionaries of Jesus, Word and Victim came to my house. They told me about their charism, the places where they worked and the mission they were engaged in, and I said, “This is for me!”
- Life in the community
“Life in the convent during the formation phase is a little different from the life we lead when we are in mission. We get up at 5.15 a.m. and pray Morning Prayer (Lauds), spend time in contemplation, then Holy Mass, followed afterwards by breakfast.
After breakfast we have our first lesson. Every day of our lives we start with one hour of Bible studies. This is the first lesson of the day and we also study the writings of our Father Founder as a guide.
After our Bible study we have an hour of theological studies. During our formation period we study theology, dogma, moral theology, Church history, philosophy, anthropology, and some aspects of Canon Law. These are all topics that will help serve as the basis for our mission.
Then follow the oficios, the domestic duties, and each person is given a different task, more or less in accordance with our abilities – such as the cooking, the cleaning, the sewing, the bakery, the shoe cleaning and mending… We do everything.
After this hour of manual duties we have Midday Prayer, followed by lunch and an hour of free time, followed by Vespers/Evening Prayer, another hour of lessons and then another session of manual duties. After supper we have recreation time, when we share our joys and all that has happened to us during the day, and then we end the day by praying Compline and finally retire to our cells.”
Life in the Mission:
“Here in the mission, the pace of life is a little quicker. We get up and have our prayer and our Bible studies like in community life, but then after that we have our apostolic duties. We go out in twos to visit people’s homes and families, or if there is some patronal feast, then we go to visit the villages. Life is a little different from the formation stage, because now we are dedicating ourselves to the work for which we have been preparing for four or five years, namely our mission. Our prayer times are the same, but then we spend a lot of time with the people. On Sundays we have catechesis, we prepare people for baptism and look after our parish groups.”
Our work in the mission, visiting families:
If we see that some member of the faithful is starting to fall away from God, it may well be because there is something going on in their family, and so we decide to visit them. Generally speaking, apart from the material poverty in people’s homes, we also come across quite a lot of spiritual poverty. Sometimes it’s a problem in the family, because the husband comes home drunk or beats his wife, or the children are left alone at home. Or the parents get divorced and then the mother has to go and work in another town or village, or else there is simply some quarrel in the family and this sometimes results in them falling away from God. It is true that with some people, the more problems they have, the more they turn to God, but sometimes the opposite happens: they have problems, so God doesn’t exist, God won’t help me, God does not love me… And so we have to bring back hope to this family, to revive their faith. If there are difficulties in the home, it is not because God is abandoning them.
Sometimes we come across a good deal of unhappiness in families, but I believe we usually leave them a little more comforted. They are very happy when we come to visit them in their homes, because they see it as a blessing. Sometimes they are even very moved and tell us: ‘Madrecita (little mother), I didn’t think that you would remember me, that you were thinking about me, no, I had no idea…’
God has given us, I think, a heart larger than any mother’s; we seem to have a sixth sense for these things: That person looked sad in church, she was no longer smiling; something has happened to her…
We also go away very happy to have been able to help another soul. We haven’t resolved their problems, but at least we have put back a little bit of love and hope in this family that was greatly needed.
Our task of bringing the Eucharist to the sick and elderly…
“Every Friday I go and take Holy Communion to the elderly. It is quite a difficult moment, because these elderly people once used to go themselves to church on their own two feet, they prayed and received Holy Communion. But now they can no longer do so. And so their inability to do so makes them feel terrible. Many of them refuse to accept their age and infirmity, they tell us: ‘Madrecita, before, I used to go by myself to my chacra (my fields, my garden), I used to go to Holy Mass every Sunday, I used to go and pray the Rosary, but now I can no longer do so. The Lord is punishing me.’ And they weep, so for me it is very painful to see a situation like this; sometimes they even move me to tears as well.
And yet it is marvelous when I can say to them, ‘So now a friend has come to visit you’. ‘Who?’, they ask. And I say to them, ‘Jesus, Jesus has remembered you, he has said: Margarita used to come and see me for so many years, so now I am going to visit her, and so now I have brought you Communion.’
And then at that moment they are overcome with joy, they feel a joy that I cannot begin to describe, but they show it by their tears, by their smile – it is a mixture of everything. So then I say to them ‘Now let’s prepare ourselves, because the Lord is eager to be with you.” We prepare the little table, the altar on which we will place the Blessed Sacrament, and they receive Communion with great happiness, with so much joy.
“For me the hardest thing is not being able to get to see everyone. Sometimes I feel a sense of impotence at not being able to somehow spend more time with them. But the truth is there are few of us, we don’t have enough vocations, enough generous souls who want to be like us and bring the Gospel, bring a word of comfort and encouragement to these people. Often this has left me feeling bad about it: how did I not manage to reach that family? But time simply ran out on us and we couldn’t do so; it costs me a great deal not to be able to do more, but the fact is that the villages are sometimes so far away, the roads are so difficult and it is simply impossible to reach everyone.”
A little anecdote about my work that I would like to share with you …
I’d like to tell you about the group of 12 to 15 altar boys whom I look after. We teach them how to serve at Holy Mass, how to ring the bell, carry the candles, take the collection, things like that… During the meetings we hold every Friday I not only try to teach them what they have to do in the church, but also the right values – how they should behave generally, their attitude inside the church, in school, towards their mothers. I tell them: ‘It’s because you are not like other children, you are special, you serve at the altar.’ The children are generally round about 8 – 11 in age, so they are generally fairly biddable, but as children they can also be quite naughty.
On one occasion I recall that a group of them did something very naughty. I told myself that I would have to scold them a little because if that were to happen again it would be very bad. So I prepared myself spiritually and I called them up. First of all I called up the main protagonist in this piece of mischief and said to him, ‘Look, what you have done was not good. I love you very much, but I will not let that happen again.’ And then he turned to me and said, ‘Madre, so you love me?’ ‘Of course I love you’, I replied. So then he hugged me and said, ‘My mummy never tells me she loves me.’ This disarmed me completely, and I lost all desire to tell him off. These children really do not have a family, a mummy, a daddy, to tell them they love them. They’re in the chacra (the field) the whole time, always the chacra, the chacra. The children escape to come to the parish, to be with us. It made me realise just how important it can be for them to have someone like a mother. It was something I hadn’t thought of before; I used to think it quite normal that these boys, these children, should come to us and give us a hug, should show affection – but beneath it all there is this emptiness inside them. I no longer felt any desire to rebuke him and he too went away very quietly and happy, because la madre loved him.