From Iligan To Vilvoorde

by Sr Marie Paul Therese OCD

Sr Marie Paul Therese wrote this for the newsletter of the Carmel in Vilvoorde, Belgium, which we have featured before in Misyon. It has been slightly edited. You can find the English-language blog of the monastery here.

I am so grateful to our Almighty Father for the gift of life, for allowing me to witness to His grandeur and for giving me this privilege of sharing with you, my dear brothers and sisters.

At home, in school and among my friends, I was fondly called ‘Jijie’. My real name is Jurechille Catalan. That has now been changed to Sr Marie Paul Therese, the religious name given to me during my Clothing (reception of the habit) in October 2009 here in Vilvoorde Carmel.

I was a postulant before in an active-teaching congregation in the Philippines, the Religious of the Virgin Mary (RVM), founded by Mother Ignacia del Espiritu Santo, a Filipina-Chinese. After the one-year postulancy, I returned home in order to resolve some family issues and help my widowed mother to send my younger brothers and sister to school because we were poor. But it was already carved in my heart before I left the convent that I had found my place in religious life. I continued my life outside with my family. I was a teacher by profession but had more experience in a simple business than in teaching. I became an active catechist and a member of the Redemptorist Youth Ministry in Iligan City, where I’m from. Even when I was still a student, I already loved to join religious activities.

Then came the turning point in my life as a young adult because it seemed I was a restless vagabond. I reconsidered the reason I let the convent and set aside my desire. I didn’t see myself really helping my family financially but the other way around. My dear mother retired from being a public school teacher but had to wait for five years to receive her pension. I still wanted to help her and stay with her. Twice I submitted an application letter to a public school. At the same time I was praying that I could go back to the convent. My disposition was still divided and not directed towards one goal.

In May 2008 I got a call from Christ the King College, Maranding, Lanao del Norte, for a class demonstration with freshmen college students. (Editor’s note: Christ the King was founded by the late Fr Edmund Bahl, a Columban priest from Buffalo, New York, in 1950). I was hesitant to respond but I was also thinking of our financial condition. My mother invited me to have a heart-to-heart talk with her. She asked me two striking questions that until now linger in my memory. First, ‘Child, tell me, do you still desire to go back to the convent?’ I spontaneously answered, ‘Yes, Mom!’ And the second, ‘What do you really want to do with your life? You must decide now and put your disposition in place. You cannot serve two masters at the same time’. I honestly answered her that at that very moment I was aspiring to enter another congregation and told her, ‘If everything goes well, I might be sent to another country’. Mommy kept quiet for a moment and broke her silence saying, ‘Well, if that is the will of God for you, I will let you go. I will not prevent your happiness in life. And if your happiness is to serve God in that way, just always remember us in your prayers’.

That moment it seemed I was freed from a kind of imprisonment. At the same time my heart was torn to pieces as I saw the real motherhood of my own mother. I was truly happy then when Mommy helped me pray and supported my decision to pursue a three-month aspirancy in Cebu Carmel. Yet there was no assurance of anything at that moment. What gave me strength to carry on despite the fears and doubts was the ‘voice’ within my heart, the desire for God . . .

I came to know the Carmelite nuns of Cebu after I read an article, Touches of God, by Sr Mary Carmela in Misyon, the magazine of the Columban Fathers, around November 2007. Mrs Carmen Acosta had kindly lent it to me and later supported me in my decision. The article was about Sr Mary Carmela’s first home visit to the Philippines as a Carmelite contemplative-missionary based in Vilvoorde, Belgium. I was able to get in touch with her through the email address at the bottom of her article. And from then on another phase of my love story with Jesus began.

Now that I am in Vilvoorde I am grateful to God, Who has made Himself tangible and visible to me through my experiences in this small, simple and quiet city, especially in our Carmel, where the miraculous statue of Our Lady of Consolation stands in our midst. I am so awed by the beauty, generosity, gentleness and kindness of the people He sent me. There is no reason why I can’t adjust, as my older Sisters here have encouragingly told me. I have been helped to be myself though I am in another culture, time and space. At first, everything was beyond my imagination but I felt at home. Being ‘at home’ is a grace from God that has sustained me in my present state as a beginner in the religious life. As a beginner, each day is a prayer of offering for perseverance and endurance not only for myself but for the whole of humanity.

I am hoping that in the near future, while growing more in loving God through Jesus, from somewhere in this beautiful country and the rest of the world, He will send some other young women, regardless of race or colour, who would want to journey with us. Only Our Lord Jesus knows well whom to call and who will respond to His call with courage and faith, for His greater glory and honour, and for the welfare of our Catholic Church, especially in Flanders.

For our beloved Church here in Belgium, may you allow me to share my wishes and prayers for you . . .

Rest assured that each day the ‘Little Way’ of St Thérèse of the Child Jesus will be practised for your sake and the intercession of Edith Stein (St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross), Patroness of Europe, invoked.

There is no healing without woundedness. Thus, I strongly believe that in God’s own time all things will be made beautiful according to His most holy will, as He has done to my poor soul, although healing is a lifetime process. Only in heaven will all be perfectly healed. If one worthless soul can be lifted up by God’s loving arms, how much more the whole wounded Church of Christ? Let us just continue to pray together and remain in His love for He is always present in us whether we are aware of it or not, whether we like Him or not. Jesus always awaits us within. Hopefully, we can recognize His indwelling in our hearts. No one is worthy except Our Lord Jesus Christ but still we receive His gratuitous goodness and unconditional love. God’s mercy is enough for all of us. However, the mystery of God’s love is unfathomable.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ and in Our Blessed Mother, allow me to end with a simple invitation:

Each day in our daily undertakings may we spare a single drop of prayer for our wounded Church in Flanders for I believe that it is his will somehow to bring forth a soothing effect on the ‘swollen sores’ of our people. Till here and keep in touch in prayer. To God be all the glory and honour!

One with you in love and prayer,
Sr Marie Paul Therese of Jesus, the Good Shepherd