June 14, 2008

Why nuns have clear complexions

Something Like Life
June 13, 2008

(Sr. Mary Veritas – aka Rose Maipid – receives visitors, former journalism and PR colleagues on her birthday, at the Pink Sisters convent in Tagaytay.)

LAST Sunday, I tagged along with a couple of friends to Tagaytay to visit an old journalist colleague, Rose Maipid, who had entered the religious life by joining the Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters, commonly known as the Pink Sisters. Now called Sister Mary Veritas, Rose (I couldn’t help but still call her that) was flustered and excited to see a lot of her peers, friends and family who had come to celebrate her 39th birthday. This is only one of the few times in a year that a Pink Sister can chat and be with “outsiders,” although, technically, they cannot freely mingle with us. There was a steel slotted gate, which had a heavy padlock, that acted as a barrier between us and Rose. She, like the other nuns, can only receive visitors three times a year.

Before our visit, there was some discussion about what to bring her. Someone said she brought potato chips, nachos and some junk food for Rose once before. Another said she would bring coffee and tea. I didn’t know what to bring for Rose except my request for prayers. I wasn’t so sure that giving her chips and dips would make her happy because, I thought, since she had given up this materialistic world of ours, she would have no use for them.

Well, I was wrong. During her birthday feast, I saw Rose’s sister shove half a lechon through a small door in a wall, which Rose promptly took and brought to her fellow nuns. Hmmm… so the Pink Sisters are allowed to enjoy some nice treats, and I made a mental note to bring her various goodies next time. I guess, like many of us, the nuns, too, need a break from their life’s vocation, and are allowed to enjoy some pleasures of the outside world, however limited. I suppose praying for all of us lost souls and those in dire need of help from the Lord can also be mentally and physically exhausting.

So there we were with Rose, chatting with her, dishing the latest news and goings-on among her peers, as well as officials that she often interviewed when she was a reporter. But we were actually amazed that she knew much of the gossip that was going around our industry, and, like a good reporter, was asking us for confirmation. This made us wonder who was keeping her up-to-date with news of the outside world. Either that or she had a divine connection to the outside world through the Lord Jesus or Mama Mary. She knew exactly what kalokohan we were all up to.

(Sr. Mary Veritas fields birthday greetings/calls through a borrowed cellphone.)

Rose didn’t sound or look any different from how I remembered her. One of our friends who spoke to her via cell phone even wondered why she didn’t sound “motherly” (or should that be “sisterly”?). We all laughed at that because we all quickly realized that becoming a nun doesn’t mean changing one’s personality. Everything remains the same except for the inner self, which becomes more spiritual and Christ-like.

I knew Rose as a very competent business journalist, who then became an effective public-relations officer of a bank and an accomplished scuba diver. I remember the last time I saw her, she was shepherding our gaggly media group to yet another eating binge at Dampa that was just newly opened then. She was always the cheerful sort and very grounded, no airs at all, which was why I took to her. That and because she had also come from the same newspaper where I had started my journalism career.

But I never had any inkling that she was contemplating a life of solitude and prayer. According to our common friends, Rose always knew she was destined for some other life outside of the communications/journalism business. She had heard her calling even when she was a reporter. Perhaps she decided to remain in the outside world to gain the necessary experiences for her to serve the Holy Spirit better.

Rose’s becoming a scuba diver actually cemented the way for her eventual decision to enter the religious life some eight years ago. She told us she would often pray the Rosary as she reached the underwater grotto of the Virgin Mary during her dives in Anilao, Batangas. I imagine that seeing God’s creatures and that glorious palette of colors He had painted underwater must’ve left her in awe of His power, majesty and artistry. (I've felt the same way too whenever I went snorkeling, the last being in Palau where the coral reefs are just magnificent, bursting with marine life and the wildest colors.)

She went to many far-off places just to dive and was trying to earn her spurs as a dive master. But during one dive in Anilao, she and her group got lost. Rose took it as a sign from Him that becoming a dive master was not the life He wanted for her.

As a Pink Sister, Rose has given up her worldly possessions and ties to the outside world for a life “in perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Thus we offer intercessory prayer for the needs of all,” according to the congregation’s web site. The nuns who have already made their Perpetual Vows all wear a silver ring with a rose insignia to signify their dedication to the Holy Spirit.

“The rose color of our habits, which we wear in honor of the Holy Spirit, symbolizes our dedication to the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity. Evangelization and the sanctification of priests are particularly remembered in our life of prayer, which includes the singing of the Liturgy of the Hours [Divine Office] in choir,” the web site adds. Thus, at about 11:30 am in their Tagaytay chapel, one will see the sisters file out and kneel in their own pews, segregated from the public, and sing their prayers. It can be a very moving experience just listening to their heavenly voices.

(The Pink Sisters singing their noontime prayers at their Tagaytay chapel.)

Despite their cloistered life, the Pink Sisters are quite aware of what is going on in the real world. I was surprised to find out from the Mother Superior, for example, that the convent does have Internet access, although its use is normally reserved only for her and one other nun. She said they have to make regular contact with the other branches in other provinces (there are six in all in the Philippines) and other parts of the world, thus the need for the Internet access and e-mail facilities. I wanted to ask the Mother Superior if she watched videos on YouTube or chatted with the other Mother Superiors via instant messaging as well, but I was afraid she would whup me in the ass or use a stick to rap me on my knuckles, guilty Catholic schoolgirl that I am. But like I said, the congregation does have a web site where they also receive prayer requests, so these sisters are Internet-savvy.

And there was something about the Mother Superior that instantly endeared her to me. Aside from her very clear complexion, she just positively glowed. I couldn’t explain it, but apparently it was visible to all as my friends noticed it, too. There was a certain peace and serenity in her, although I could see some flashes of wit in her very kind and wise old face. Perhaps this is what a life of service to the Holy Spirit has made her. She is able to channel the Spirit to touch people just by her presence and her smile.

Next year, Rose is scheduled to say her Perpetual Vows. Although she has been a Pink Sister for eight years already, she says she can still leave the congregation if she wants to. In fact, she told us that when she received one of our friend’s rather longish letter, she was at a retreat. Then she woke up at midnight and realized how much she missed diving. I imagine that seeing all of her family and friends last Sunday was a poignant moment for Rose, as it reminded her of the people and the things she would miss should she decide to make that final commitment to the Holy Spirit.

So, as we said our good-byes, she asked for our prayers that she would be able to make it to her Perpetual Vows. Once she takes that final step, there would be no turning back for Rose. I made a silent prayer and wished her well before walking out the door.

***To know more about the Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters, or make prayer requests, you can visit the Adoration Sisters web site.

(My column, Something Like Life, is published every Friday in the Life section of the BusinessMirror.)

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