Certainty… encouragement…gamble…movement, all of these have accompanied me during these 25 years of following Him who, one day during the month of Spiritual Exercises captured my heart, and I consecrated myself to Him, as a Handmaid.
At first, He made use of persons, situations, stories and places, in order to speak to me…sometimes in the midst of my deserts, others in moments of consolation… He was always there.
I was an “average” young woman; I was in school, I had friends, one was even more than “just a friend”! When one day the Handmaids who went to my chapel, invited me for confirmation preparation… I was at the right age… 15 years old. So, I went without hesitating… and I stayed!
Later, came the commitment as a catechist, the missions, getting to know the community, and from these experiences I came to know a God who has a specific face: Jesus in the Eucharist! Discovering this was what most attracted and drew me.
Then, in my life as a Handmaid, I have discovered that this Face of God motivates me to find Him in other faces: women, children, youth, the elderly… victims of violence, poverty and injustice… and then there comes the other, greater challenge… to become Eucharist for them!
There can be so many young people who dare to follow him, it can be you who are reading this, it can be me who each day tries to follow Him more closely!!!
In my long pilgrimage through life, Jesus in the Eucharist has always been present, from my childhood, guided by my parents, until today.
Jesus has made me fall in love with Him, giving me peace and happiness, sustaining me in difficult moments.
He has sent me on the adventure of being His disciple, in education, among the most disadvantaged, in the community, in the family, with friends.
I have found Him in the field of education, in accompaniment, in taking care of the students, especially the most disadvantaged, in the active listening, appreciating every success no matter how small.
In alternative education, in the scout groups, in our ACI groups, where Christian values are lived so naturally, almost without being aware of it.
With youth, in different encounters: Retreats, Holy Week, solidarity activities, accompaniment.
Being in a team with the faculty, sharing experiences, searching, prayer and celebrations.
As a volunteer, with teachers, parents, accompanying the students to visit the elderly.
In the service to the poor: immigrants, refugees, prisoners; in their struggles and sufferings experiencing the death and resurrection of Christ, the Paschal mystery comes alive. They challenge me and help me to perceive my self-centeredness, to put my own difficulties into perspective.
In the community, accepting diversity with its problems and with its immense richness, I have learned fidelity to Jesus in the Eucharist, in adoration and in service. In the vitality of the young Sisters and in the joyful generosity of the elderly.
Looking back after 25 years as a Handmaid and remembering where this “adventure” began, there are some moments that I think were important and that helped me to make the decision to follow Jesus.
I once made a three-day retreat, in silence, with a dozen other good friends and a holy and patient Jesuit priest. It was my first time! We were all university students beginning our journey of faith, and it was difficult to be in silence and to contain our laughter and knowing glances. However, little by little, the times of prayer, the atmosphere of silence, and the Eucharists helped me to discover and to “be with” Jesus “as a friend with a friend,” to experience his friendship and the challenge of living my faith with more commitment. It was without doubt the beginning of a call… which I still did not understand. After that retreat we all began to get involved more in different activities, to want to receive more religious formation and to know Jesus better.
Another important moment was an Easter in Taize, where I experienced the universality of the Church and communion with young people of other Christian faiths. Experiencing and sharing prayer, reflection and daily activities with people who were so diverse, from so many nationalities, so many languages, cultures… but where listening and acceptance of each one as he or she is was so real and sincere. We learned so much from one another, called together by Christ Jesus himself, who gives himself for love, for each one of us and challenges us to respond to this same love… with generosity and trust in His friendship. On returning… I felt a profound joy, and although I did not know yet how, it made me take another step: to discern the “how” and “where” to respond to this Love that never turned back, that challenged me to love that way too.
However, afterwards not everything went along in a straight line… and I felt other challenges, I experienced some doubts, fears, uncertainty about whether I would be capable of living that way always…
Therefore, a third moment was important for me: a year as a volunteer in Santo Tomé y Principe, a small country on the African continent. There, living in community with a small group, we put our talents and studies at the service of the Church and the local community, helping in pastoral ministry, in education or in development programs in the local communities. It was the same experience of deep joy on sharing freely what I was and knew. Not being alone, but in conjunction with others who were very different from me, all brought together by Jesus himself for the same end: to give life, to foster growth, to share what we had received!
In all of these, and in many other moments, I have experienced and confirmed again and again, how God calls us to follow him in freedom, if we desire it and when we are ready for it. It makes us feel a deep interior joy, that is capable of overcoming present obstacles and fears of an unknown future, and above all, the certainty and trust that He will be always there; He will walk with us, and with His Spirit He will inspire us with the appropriate words and actions. It is not because of my strengths and abilities, my efforts or my character… but because he has decided to count on me… and by means of me, to reach others. This I continue to believe and experience today and every day. The challenges change… but His fidelity and goodness never changes, and that is where I place my trust, always!
Our lives are framed by basic questions, but usually there is one that is a double-edged sword. In my case, it is the question about the meaning of life.
My name is Delfina Maria Barrera Oro – or Delfo. I am a graduate of one of our schools in an affluent neighborhood of Buenos Aires. I never had to worry about whether we would have anything to eat at home. I want to make this clear because there are many people who do not grow up with this kind of security. In school things went well, and I passed my courses without too much effort. My adolescence was semi-rebellious: going out, parties, family, friends. I thought that I had a bright future and that success was assured, but every so often the question about meaning would disquiet me… Was this all there is to life?
At the age of 16 I made a spiritual retreat. I didn’t understand very well what was happening to me, and without my knowing how, God found me. He took me by surprise, because to tell the truth, I had gone there to have a good time with my friends. It was a reparative encounter with God, who had been searching for me for all eternity. He showed his presence in my life, also in the little moments of suffering that I had had.
This brought me to the encounter with the impoverished. In the summer vacations I began to go on mission to a very poor place in the interior of Argentina, where there was neither electricity nor running water. We shared life with the people, visiting the farms, playing with the children, speaking with the mothers… and encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist, which at first I found very difficult because of my “rebellious state.” Again without fully understanding, I was happy… the mission began to make sense, my priorities were changing.
I discovered that Jesus and his Kingdom were worth it; they were worth my life.
I felt that God was taking up more and more space in my life… and he wasn’t asking me for just a bit, he was asking for everything.
I had experienced the charism in school and through the mission. I had the experience that God was reairing me and that in his Open Heart, I and so many others could enter. The Eucharist had become a moment of basic encounter (with Him, with myself, with others). The thing was that I did not see myself as a nun. (I think that nobody who knew me would have seen me as a nun… maybe not even now.) I looked at the Handmaids in the school and in poor neighborhoods, and I saw that they were all different. I thought, “Well, if these are all different, then maybe here I can also be who I am.” God calls us as we are, free; this is fundamental.
God brought me to those who are most poor, and in sharing life with them I found meaning and joy. I can accompany their sufferings and thus, go through my own also. They reveal to me the human Jesus, the approachable Redeemer. God brought me to the poor, and the poor brought me to God. In this encounter God gave me my vocation as a Handmaid of His broken Heart, and of the people.
As I contemplate again Jesus’ history with me through my vocation as a Handmaid, what always comes to mind is this image of bread, that loaf that He himself picks out from among the other loaves…
I was a teacher before entering the Handmaids here in my country, and the story of my vocation was a bit crazy because really I felt that He was calling me to all the vocations. In fact, I had a very dear friend and I was also a friend to the consecrated lay tertiaries. So during the years of university study, I was very much in love with the Lord, and I was ready to say yes to all the vocations. I dreamed of being a mother, and at another time I envisioned myself as a very committed consecrated layperson.
I grew up in a rather religious family that was also very active in the parish. Therefore, I could not but feel within me that He had been my first love since my childhood. I began to pray about my vocation, and to attend daily Mass, and I met the Eucharistic Jesus more intimately. I felt that the Lord was very constant in revealing Himself to me. Before I finished my university studies, after 4 years of discernment, I made the decision to follow the Lord who was calling me… and afterward I met the Handmaids and the Eucharist. Adoration attracted me gently, but clearly. I fully experienced the normal life of a young girl, and then I left it all in order to follow Jesus as a religious. What helped me most was the spontaneous relationship with Jesus, who went from being a true friendship to being my only love. Throughout this journey, I had several persons who accompanied me with a lot of patience and gentleness, especially when I was experiencing doubt. Although I was able to count on those persons, my parents were not supportive of my decision. However now, as I have two brother priests, my parents have become vocational cheerleaders.
Thirteen years have passed since then, and I am very grateful to the Lord for his great fidelity to our history. He continues to be my reason for living my Handmaid vocation, and I share this joy with all those around me and to whom I am sent. I make my own the words of St. Raphaela Mary “only in Jesus, through Jesus, and for Jesus — my entire life.”
Like the five loaves and three fishes, I would like to be, every day, a piece of bread for others, perhaps because, as it is for the poor of my country, if there is bread there is life.
I remember that, since forever, I wanted to do something to help others: first as a doctor, then as a dentist, and finally as a consecrated woman.
The vocational search can be a risky road, but really it is worthwhile to travel it: the road of searching for the way in which I can be more myself, more of God and for others. This road was taking on a specific form, above all because of the very intense call to a universal gift of myself, in a special way to the poorest.
I was born into a Catholic family, and God was always present in my life, although I did not have a close relationship with Him until the age of 18, when I did the preparation for Confirmation. (There I met the Jesuits and a short time later, the Handmaids.) I discovered God as a personal being, someone with whom I can have a deep and real friendship. I joined several youth groups, and I was for quite a while in the “Life Service Movement.” With them I spent three summers in the interior of Brazil, a place of deep experience of God in the very poor. God entered my house to stay; He never left. The restlessness to respond to the invitation that God was extending to me to collaborate with Him never left me.
I can say that this road of discovering my vocation has been long. There were ups and downs along the way, but my heart was peaceful and at rest when I took the step of entering the Handmaids. It was as if two pieces of a puzzle fit perfectly together, since I not only was able to share a mission with Him, but I was able to make His dream my own reason for being.
It all began in Bikop, my hometown, where, after a conversation with my father about my desire to become a religious, I went to speak with the Sisters in the mission about “how to follow Christ”. Sister Mercedes Quartino was the first Handmaid to welcome me; she lovingly explained the process to follow, and that is how I began my journey.
In the preschool in Bikop, my encounter with two children, Narciso and Christian, both disabled, one mentally and the other physically, was a determining factor. In fact, I became very concerned about them, and I asked myself what would become of these children without the Sisters. That is how I understood, in the deepest part of my being, the voice of the Lord, who was saying to me, “these are the ones to whom I am sending you.” And thus, my religious vocation was confirmed, and my vocation as a teacher was born.
In the juniorate I was sent to study education; I knew that the Lord was offering me the most beautiful gift that I would ever receive. My dream of being a teacher took shape, and at the end of my studies, I understood the importance of education, and our Foundresses’ and the first Handmaids’ commitment to it. Because “to educate” is to be like the potter who skillfully shapes the vessel.
Recently – a few weeks ago – I came to learn that my name means “little blind girl.” The truth is that I didn’t like it very much. The “little” part isn’t bad, but blind? People always connect Cecilias with music because of the saint, but the truth is the truth, and etymologically it means “little blind one.” And even though there is something about it that I still don’t like, this name says a lot about my relationship with Jesus. If there is one phrase in which I can summarize my story and relationship with Him, it is this: “Fix your eyes on Jesus.” In fact, this is the sentence I have engraved in my vows ring.
Since I was a child I have sought Jesus; I have wanted to follow Him. He made my heart burn very early on. In catechesis in the school, the solidarity missions during vacations, my first retreats, my dating relationship, the choice of my career, the Spiritual Exercises in daily life, the entry into the Congregation, the different countries where I have lived – Argentina, Bolivia, Uruguay, East Timor…the desire has always been the same: to see Him. Contemplating Him in adoration, in the life shared with the poorest and most abandoned… it has always been Him.
Even though I am often blind by nature, the knowledge that I am also small and in his hands has saved me. And it is only with Him that I can learn to SEE, to see what God wants me to see, how God wants me to see… and to live accordingly, putting my life at the service of His Kingdom. Because in the end, isn’t that what consecration is all about?
I really like to look at the sea. I grew up by the beach and I was lucky enough to be able to watch the sunset every day. But what I like most is the sound of the waves, and seeing them come and go, to come and go again. And so this story began. And that’s how God came into my life, as the constant that moves and sends you.
The question of religious life came when I was 18 years old. I had just started university and I wanted to give meaning to my life. I imagined myself married with many children, working in the same city where I was born, on familiar ground. But sometimes the waves come in the form of a storm and carry you out to sea. God had another horizon for me and invited me to go out, to go further, and with Him, to “cure every disease and sickness.” He made me this invitation through the suffering and illness of the people I treated in the hospital where I did my internship. And he did it also in the children’s home where I volunteered every Saturday. And his “wave” reached that comfortable reality in which I had settled, to rescue me and attract me with his Gospel through the little ones, the poor, those who suffer. Paradoxically, it was the pain, the silence, the senselessness of suffering, that made the flame of desire ignite in me. I discovered the hidden beauty in the ruptures that I contemplated and I wanted to collaborate on this path of reparation, which was also happening in me.
I trusted and understood that this dream of God’s had to be with others, and that is how I found myself before the question of religious life, which later became a joyful and confident answer. Even today, after 21 years since the beginning of this adventure, God continues to be that constant wave that day by day embraces my small reality and transforms it into desires for more. Even today I wish to let this constant swaying of his call, of his tenderness, of his radical love, continue to transform me and to bring me “deeper.”
When I was younger, I had absolutely no desire to become a religious. In fact, as a child I had had a very bad experience with religious. Growing up, I wanted to have a good job, start my own family, have children and be happy! So, at the age of 24, when I consulted my family about beginning a discernment process with the Handmaids in Vietnam, the response I got from family and friends was laughter; to them it was just a crazy joke.
Although I was settled, with a good job and wonderful friends, the nights were terrible. The only word to describe my inner self was “emptiness”. So, I ran away from that haunting feeling by staying inside an Adoration Chapel after work, gazing silently at Jesus, then asking myself a thousand times the very same question “What’s the meaning of my life?” A friend then asked me to join an Ignatian retreat, which I considered a “vacation” away from that empty life. After the retreat, I was sure that my life could never be the same.
I knew nothing about vocation, I only tried to answer the questions that kept popping up within me, which eventually led me to the Handmaids, once again and forever to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament in the Congregation.