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By Nardelita ‘Nards’ Manangan
The author, from Bacolod City, is Coordinator of the Center for Integrated Faith Formation (CIFF), a project of the Catechetical Center of Colegio San Agustin-Bacolod.
Ten years ago I planned to go to Rome and Malta to see my two nun sisters, Marline and Gilda, Franciscan Sisters of the Sacred Hearts, to see what life was like for them. Being their elder sister, I was like their second mother.
When our mother died in October 2007, Sister Marline did not make it to the funeral. So I told her that I would visit her in Rome. Holding to this dream, I surfed the internet on how to apply for a visa and other requirements for Italy. The Italian embassy replied to my inquiry in February 2010 and asked me to submit the requirements. I reported to the embassy on 16 April but was still lacking in documents. A number of times I had to wait for long hours under the heat of the sun outside, taking a lunch of some crackers and water. It was difficult but I didn’t lose hope. The following Monday I was interviewed, processed my birth certificate and Marline’s residential certificate on Tuesday. By Friday everything was completed. On 10 May I left for Italy.
Next day I arrived in Italy at 6:30 am. It was a great joy when I finally met Sister Marline. She brought me to their convent near the Vatican and there I met Mother Flora Zippo, the Mother General. She asked Sister Marline to get the necessary papers for our visit to Sister Gilda in Malta from Bishop Tommaso Caputo, Papal Nuncio to that country, who was staying at the Bishops’ Dormitory in front of St Peter’s Square.
When we arrived in Malta we took the same route from the airport to the nunciature that Pope Benedict XVI had followed on 17 April 2010. I felt important, so blessed.
Sister Marline and I shared a room. She chose the smaller bed. We stayed for four days and three nights. Each morning when I woke up I could smell the mild and sweet scent of a flower I couldn’t identify and lingered in bed enjoying the beautiful fragrance that usually lasted for five minutes but that Sister Marline didn’t notice. Sister Gilda told me that my bed was used by Pope John Paul II when he visited Malta.
Experiencing the generosity of Bishop Caputo was a big thing for me, especially when he arranged for me to be present at the Pentecost Sunday Mass on 23 May in the Vatican at which the Pope was the main celebrant. I was seated in the third row, next to the bishops and VIPs of Europe. I grabbed the opportunity of seeing the Pope up close and took a picture of him. As he was starting Mass, my heart was beating fast and I uttered to myself, ‘This is the Vicar of Christ!’
It has been a family tradition to make a wish entering a church for first time. In those we visited, I prayed for peace in our family, for the conversion of my younger brother, for the repose of the soul of my mother, for my good health that I would be able to do what He wants me to do, and for the Center for Integrated Faith Formation (CIFF), the catechetical center of Colegio San Agustin-Bacolod in which I am a coordinator, telling Him, ‘Lord, you have to support me. I cannot do it alone. I need you.’
In Turin, I prayed while touching the glass encasing the incorruptible body of St John Bosco at the Basilica of Mary Help of Christians Shrine. I stayed there quite long and didn’t want to leave. I remembered when I was ten, listening to the catechist’s stories about the Shrine of Mary Help of Christians in Turin and about Don Bosco and asking, ‘When am I going to see them?’ Right there in that shrine was the fulfillment of a childhood dream.
I once prayed ‘to help me bring the poor souls to God especially the young people that they maybe catechized and become catechists themselves.’ Now that many young people are studying at CIFF, my prayer is answered.
Milan is famous for beautiful churches, its architecture and sculptures. I felt the same awe there as when I reached the Vatican. I marveled at God’s wisdom for creating people who know exactly how to do those things. The last chapel I visited was the Sistine Chapel where the voting for a new pope is held. I could feel the holiness of the place.
Even with my deep desire, I gave up any thought of going to Lourdes in France, for my money wasn’t enough. But to my surprise, Bishop Caputo facilitated a trip there for Sister Marline and myself with free tickets! I was so grateful for his generosity.
I was dipped in the waters of the pool of Our Lady of Lourdes. I was only there for few minutes but I felt so light and relieved from all my tiredness. During the candlelight procession everyone sang Ave Maria in their native tongue but I felt that we were one. I got goose bumps as I raised my candle while singing. I strongly felt that Our Lady was present with us.
Reaching those places was for me a miracle as I had never planned to go to any of them. God’s grace was so overflowing. I could only utter in great awe, ‘Lord, you are so great. You let me experience the grandeur of your creation. I feel your love and you are always with me. Thank you. ’
I was at peace to see my two younger sisters very fulfilled and happy as they embraced their way of life. They have chosen a beautiful vocation with St Francis’ charism and simplicity. That is their unique contribution to the Church, as I too have my own way of sharing life with others.
I came back to the Philippines full of unforgettable experiences: the grandeur of God’s creation in Malta, the miraculous places of our Blessed Mother Mary, the tombs of the popes, the beautiful St Peter’s Square, the fantastic Sistine Chapel, and other memorable churches in Rome and Malta. Everything was good. I experienced God’s gracious gifts.
The sacrifices when applying for visa were very challenging. It was like journeying with Jesus to Calvary. But upon arriving in Rome, the ‘Eternal City’, I felt consolation when Sister Marline was there waiting at the arrival area. I said to myself, ‘Here is my first joyful mystery’ because language was my first thorn. I could not understand Italian. Sister Marline was there to communicate and translate for me.
My second joyful mystery was when Sister Marline said ‘yes’ to visit Sister Gilda in Malta. We had more time for bonding and talked about ourselves and our family.
My third joyful mystery was when I saw the dome of St Peter’s Basilica. I was pinching my hands and rubbing my eyes to be sure that I wasn’t dreaming.
The fourth joyful mystery was when I saw the smiling face of Bishop Caputo and his mother welcoming us in their residence. I thought of Mother Mary and Jesus in the temple. The fifth joyful mystery was taking pictures with them and the bishop showing me the picture of my sister with the Holy Father. What a blessing! It was a great joy and a privilege to be with them as I also felt the love of Mama Mary through his mother.
The Malta experience was my glorious mysteries. The first glorious mystery was when I saw Sister Gilda at the airport. Her glowing eyes and energetic behavior reflected our family’s identity - hardworking. Like the friends of Jesus, she is the ‘Martha’, while Sister Marline is the ‘Mary’ because of her listening power with the aged who love her so much.
The second glorious mystery was when I walked in the clean, very orderly, and artistic streets of Malta where I saw orderly, mannered people. The beautiful scenery was like what I thought was only in movies.
The third glorious mystery was the realization of my dream to go to Lourdes, a wonderful and solemn place of prayer. The fourth was when we were given accommodation by a sister in Lourdes for four days and three nights with a view of mountains covered in snow. The fifth was the feeling of being at home in St Bernadette’s house and the place of Mama Mary’s apparitions. God is really great!
The Luminous Mysteries were the gift of Bishop Caputo. We were blessed as recipients of his kindness and fatherly concern. He took time to contact his friends for our trip to Lourdes, paid for our tickets, facilitated our trip to beautiful Gozo, Malta, and accommodation in Turin, and most especially reserved a yellow ticket for me to have a seat in the pew near the Pope during the Pentecost Mass. I felt like an angel among the angels near the throne of the Holy Father.
I remain grateful for that summer experience. God indulged me with many of his marvelous works through the generosity of his people and the beauty shown in the grandeur of the places I visited. I was drinking copiously from his overflowing fountain. I realized later that was his way of preparing me for his upcoming invitation to me for the sacrifice and self-denial which I am into right now . . . but that’s another story.
May Our Lady Help of Christians protect us from all harm.
You may email Nards at email@example.com
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