Cloistered in the Vatican

Visitandines Settle Into Their New Home

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By Carmen Elena Villa

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 2, 2009 ( With days that begin at 5:20 a.m. and end at 9:30 p.m., seven Visitation nuns are lending their aid to the Pope — mostly with prayer.

The nuns are from the contemplative order of the Visitation of Holy Mary founded in 1610 by St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane Frances de Chantal. Since October, the Visitandines have replaced seven Benedictine nuns who lived in the «Mater Ecclesiae» cloister.

Their arrival is in keeping with the directive set by Pope John Paul II in 1994, to create a monastic community of contemplative women religious within the Vatican walls. He wanted a community there to lend their prayerful support to the activity of the Holy Father and his collaborators in the Roman Curia.    Every five years, a different religious order takes up residence in the convent. The Benedictines were preceded by the Carmelites, and the latter by the Poor Clares.

ZENIT spoke with the superior of the Visitation nuns who have just moved in, Sister María Begoña Sancho Herreros.

«We have received this assignment as a singular gift from the Lord,» she told L’Osservatore Romano in an interview published today. «We are aware that we are not prepared for such a special experience. As it is a gift from God, we hope he himself will sustain us.»
Religious of four different nationalities make up this new community: an Italian, a Colombian, one from Equatorial Guinea and four Spaniards.

Their work «is all united to Christ’s sacrifice, offered for the Church and for the Pontiff,» Sister Sancho Herreros told ZENIT. In addition to their prayer, the Visitation nuns will be doing «some work for the Pope himself, such as the care of his garments.»

A day in the life

The sisters dedicate a great part of their days to prayer: Liturgy of the Hours with its six different phases, Mass, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, the rosary in community, spiritual reading and meditation on spiritual subjects.
They also have two moments «of obedience,» when directives are given the community by the superior. Some hours are dedicated to working according to their individual responsibilities.
The sisters have rest periods and recreation after lunch and dinner. They have a daily examination of conscience and end the day with prayers before bed.
Sister Sancho Herreros said that both she and her community have discovered a specific mission within the celebration of the Year for Priests: «To welcome [priests] when they come to request prayers or to tell us about their difficulties.»
She added that every day the sisters pray a special prayer for them: «for the holy, for those who are less fervent, for those who suffer or are tempted, for those who help us with their exemplary life administering the sacraments to us.»
The Spanish nun said her congregation seeks to be faithful to the charism of their founder, St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622), who wanted «to supplement external penance with interior self-denial.»
The superior recalled what the saint requested in his writings: «The congregation desires no more than to form humble souls» and «the characteristic of the Daughters of the Visitation is to see everything as the will of God and to follow it.»
She also referred to the co-founder, St. Jane Frances de Chantal (1572-1641), saying she is a model for every vocation: She herself lived as a noblewoman, a wife, then a widow, a religious and founder.
The Sisters of the Visitation also have intense devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which was especially promoted by St. Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647-1690), who was a member of the congregation.

At God’s service

Sister Sancho Herreros, who was also the superior for the sisters in the Burgos convent in Spain, has been a religious for 30 years.

 «It comforts me to know that my prayers and sacrifice redound to the benefit of the Church and the world, that God uses this to bring men to his heart,» she said.
And, reminiscing about the history of her vocation, she exclaimed: «How many graces I would have been deprived of if I had said no to the Lord!»

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