Choosing Poverty Over Luxury

Portuguese Founder to Be Beatified Saturday

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By Carmen Elena Villa

LISBON, Portugal, MAY 20, 2011 ( For the Portuguese founder of a religious congregation with the charism of hospitality, luxury and entertainment were not as appealing as serving the poor. Her love for poverty will be honored this Saturday when she is beatified.

Sister María Clara of the Child Jesus (1843-1899) will be raised to the altar in Lisbon at a ceremony presided over by that city’s archbishop, Cardinal José da Cruz Policarpo, and the prefect of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes, Cardinal Angelo Amato.

With her spiritual director, Sister María Clara helped to found the Congregation of the Franciscan Hospitaller Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, recognized by Pope Pius XI in 1876.

At her death, the congregation had extended to Africa, with 101 houses and 995 sisters.

ZENIT spoke with Sister Musela Nunes, a member of the congregation, about the life and virtue of the founder.

ZENIT: How did Sister María Clara discern her vocation to the consecrated life?

Sister Musela: Libania — the baptismal name of Sr. María Clara — was brought up in a family with a Christian background, wherein the evangelical values were taught and treasured. She learned from her parents to love God and neighbor, and how to be loving and charitable toward the needy.

At a very early age she lost her mother and before she lost her father, she and her younger sister were sent to the royal boarding school started for orphan children of the nobility. In the boarding school she deepened her relationship with Christ, helped by the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul. Their example made her think about her own vocation. Her younger sister joined a cloistered congregation and soon after she too decided to follow Jesus and serve the needy just as her parents and teachers did. Father Raimundo dos Anjos Beirão, her spiritual guide, was also very sensitive to the poor and needy, hence he was instrumental in helping her fulfill her dream.

ZENIT: How did she choose the active-contemplative life?

Sister Musela: She came from a noble family. After the Sisters of Charity were expelled from Portugal, she went to live with the Marquises of Valada, good family friends of theirs. But her young heart was not attracted toward the luxury of life and abundance of entertainment. Her heart seemed to say, as St. Augustine said, «My heart is restless until it rests in Thee!» So, she made up her mind and decided to join a poor and small congregation, where she began her religious life.

ZENIT: What are her principal virtues?

Sister Musela: Mother María Clara was a very loving person, tender-hearted, simple, humble. Her most outstanding virtue was charity. Her charity knew no bounds. In her dealings with those who hurt her, she was always forgiving. She was able to do all these things because of her great faith in God and his divine mercy. Her trust in divine providence made her go ahead with steadfastness.

ZENIT: What was her character like?

Sister Musela: She did not have a difficult character; rather, she had an active, primary character, but it was moulded by her life of faith and charity. She was deeply rooted in Christ and so she was able to overcome her weaknesses. She saw everything as coming from the hands of God.

ZENIT: How can the life of María Clara help us to live our lives better?

Sister Musela: She led a life of self-surrender, other-centered, greatly involved in doing good to anybody who was in need, [whether those needs were] expressed or unexpressed.

She lived at a time of crisis and challenges, similar to our times. Her initiatives found the right answer to the situations that surrounded her.

It was her great desire to go to the rescue of all those who suffered or experienced any type of need.

Her example motivates us to live more intensely the compassion and care toward those who suffer, through the exercise of merciful hospitality.

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