Dialogue, the ability to forgive, national unity, and great charity were the main charisms of Mother Laura Montoya (1874-1949), the first Colombian canonized saint.
The founder of the Institute of Mary Immaculate and Saint Catherine of Siena, will be canonized on Sunday, May 12, by Pope Francis. The ceremony will be attended by Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos and a government delegation.
After the first miracle, which made her beatification possible, there was a second: the cure of a terminal patient with generalized septicemia and a perforated ulcer, whose clinical situation changed inexplicably from one day to another.
John Paul II beatified her on April 25, 2004. The Colombian Congress approved a law rendering homage to her for her work. Her feast is celebrated Oct. 21.
ZENIT interviewed Silvia Correale, postulator of Mother Laura’s cause, at the headquarters of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes.
ZENIT: What was the main charism of this first Colombian saint?
Correale: She was a teacher and she taught in some villages of the Colombian region of Antioquia. She saw the need to educate the Indians for them to discover the Lord as Redeemer. She obtained fruits of conversion where others had failed.
ZENIT: What was her family like?
Correale: It was a well-off family, at least until her father was killed in internal political fights. I won’t enter into the merit of the conflict, in which her father gave his life for what he considered right for his religion and his country. His enemies confiscated his family’s goods, so they were left in a difficult financial situation. But her mother taught her to forgive and to pray for the conversion of enemies, including those who caused her father’s death, which was a great grief. It also shows how important maternal education is.
ZENIT: She approached the native Colombians. How did this happen?
Correale: She did her studies to earn her way as a teacher, because her mother was also a teacher. And in her first experiences she was in contact with the indigenous population and realized that they were people in great need of God.
ZENIT: Why did she found a Congregation and not a school, for instance?
Correale: She began her apostolate with her mother and some friends. And after a series of incidents, she saw that the Lord was taking her by the hand and inviting her to start a religious Order. She had very profound mystical experiences. At a certain moment she wondered if she should enter the Discalced Carmelites, and the Carmelites even called her to try on the habit. She spoke with her spiritual Father who told her: “If you enter the Carmel you will be a contemplative soul, but you will always have that thirst to evangelize the Indians.” Her Community of missionary nuns is in 21 countries today.
ZENIT: How was Mother Laura’s work regarded?
Correale: On seeing the results of the work of apostolate she carried out among the natives, the bishop of Santa Fe de Antioquia encouraged her to begin a new way for the Church Thus Mother Laura engaged in the work of evangelizing the indigenous culture, first in Colombia and then in Ecuador. Her work was very important because she made the Indians and the descendants of the Africans, and also the civil authorities, aware of their human dignity. It was something remarkable for the age, especially if we keep in mind that it was a woman who was saying this 100 years ago. And that’s why she also met with strong criticisms and resistances.
ZENIT: Does she have a message or special charism for present-day Colombia?
Correale: Yes, national unity is an important testimony. And the testimony of dialogue between different cultures, of the best that Colombia has, because of all that she did, despite the fact she was not always understood by the civil authorities. She turned to dialogue, preached God’s mercy, worked on the peripheries.
ZENIT: The miracle for her beatification was a tumor case. And now for her canonization?
Correale: It was a case of perforation of the esophagus in an immune-impaired patient, with a sickness that got worse through the years. Everything in the organism was profoundly deteriorated and when the perforation of the esophagus happened, septicemia set in.
Usually in such cases surgical intervention takes place to close the wound of the esophagus, but in this case it couldn’t be done because of the
ZENIT: What did the patient say to Mother Laura?
Correale: He was a doctor of Medellin and he knew his diagnosis and prognosis. And he said to Mother Laura: “I am a doctor, I know what I have, if you intercede and obtain this grace for me from the Lord, I save my life but you reach the altars.”
ZENIT: And what happened?
Correale: He was cured that same night and was fine the next day. His fever went down, he began to overcome the symptoms that determine a state of septic shock. Then they began to repeat the examinations and the X-rays and they saw that the liquid no longer came out of the perforation. An endoscopy was done. This miracle which took place in 2004 was so clear that the Medical Commission had no hesitation in accepting it as such.
ZENIT: And her dominant virtue?
Correale: Charity was Mother Laura’s virtue, of a very high level, above all when it is of a supernatural quality. Her writings, which we are putting in order to make a critical publication, are of an impressive loftiness, which remind one of Teresa of Avila. It is incredible that a person who only had teacher training studies could write so well on the experience of God, of the love of God. Her experience of God’s paternity was so strong, that she felt it for the infidels, that is, the Indians. She often experienced Jesus’ words on the cross: “I thirst.” And she said to the Lord: “You are thirsty for those souls, I am thirsty to give you those souls.”[Translation by ZENIT]