[Exclusives by The Connection] Relics of PHL Church’s new venerable just nearby

 

 

SAN JUAN CITY, METRO MANILA—— Hails of bullets swathed Manila given the outbreak of the 1898 Philippine revolution, and Filipino revolutionaries had occupied the Colegio Asilo de Mandaloya (an orphanage) in Kalentong Street, Mandaluyong City. Joaquina ““Mother Consuelo”” Barcelo was worried over the orphaned children under her and elder sister Rita’’s care because of the crossfire between Filipino and Spanish forces.

Spanish Augustinian nun Mo. Consuelo Barcelo, who formed an indigenous Filipino congregation and did pastoral work in the Philippines, is the Philippine Catholic Church's new venerable. Photo by OSALC

Spanish Augustinian nun Mo. Consuelo Barcelo, who formed an indigenous Filipino congregation and did pastoral work in the Philippines, is the Philippine Catholic Church’s new venerable.
Photo by OSALC

The two Augustinian sisters, their 20- plus colleagues, and the orphaned children had to escape the crossfire. At dusk on June 11, 1898, Joaquina and company walked and crossed the Pasig River ——in a ““very long procession,”” from Asilo to the Augustinian convent at Guadalupe, Makati City—— on that rainy day. The then 41-year-old Augustinian nun walked bare- foot most of the way because her shoes got stuck in the mud. The nuns were not wearing any habit during their long walk.

Finally, the Asilo contingent reached the Guadalupe convent and Filipino troops welcomed them. ““Along the perilous way, it seemed that the angels of God spread their wings in the gloomy night to cover them with modesty and protect them from the evil-minded,”” wrote historian Luciano Santiago in a biography of Joaquina.

Such dedication to service reminded of the Barcelo sisters’’ endurance to remain at the Asilo from 1883 until its formal closure during the revolution. That was how far Mother Consuelo’’s epiphany had reached: upon her first arrival in the Philippines on Oct. 5, 1883, the sight of children orphaned by Manila’’s cholera epidemic (that started in 1882) opened up a life of bursting charity for this Augustinian nun, making a difference to the Philippine Catholic Church.

Mother Consuelo’’s charity, given her burning love for God, led to the co-founding of an indigenously Filipino Augustinian congregation that, in the last 130 years, scattered itself through La Consolacion schools, convents, religious communities, hospitals and clinics, socio-pastoral ministries in rural areas, and retreat houses nationwide, as well as foreign missions for overseas Filipinos in some eight countries.

The Vatican’’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints took notice: Last Dec. 20, Congregation Prefect Angelo Cardinal Amato declared that the heroic virtues of Barcelo, co-founder of the pontifical Augustinian Sisters of Our Lady of Consolation (OSALC), were recognized and this Servant of God is now ““Venerable””. She’’s one step away from being called ““blessed””.

Saints, or candidates to such holy stature, come dime and a dozen in the Philippines. Filipinos are still fresh with spiritual glee over St. Pedro Calungsod’’s canonization last Oct. 20, that the Dec. 20 declaration’’s relevance to the Philippines was overlooked.

Mother Consuelo is the Philippine Church’’s pride in that she became the third candidate for sainthood, either of Filipino blood or of foreign blood but whose spiritual and pastoral works were done in the Philippines, to be made venerable. The other two venerables were Mo. Ignacia del Espiritu Santo, founder of the Religious of the Virgin Mary (RVM) sisters, and Mo. Isabel Ramirez, the founder of the Sisters of Charity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus who died in Havana, Cuba.

Actually, Consuelo is co-founder of the OSALC and elder sister Rita was the recognized brains behind. But the OSALC, explains its superior-general Imelda Mora,OSA at the congregation’’s international headquarters here in San Juan City, decided to push for Mo. Consuelo’’s sainthood because documents on Rita (who died in Barcelona in 1904 out of complications from a slipped disc) are hard to find.

Given that sainthood campaigns need to have much historical evidence, and Mo. Consuelo died in 1940, the younger Barcelo ““is closer to our time now,”” Mora told The Filipino Connection.

This is one of three metal casings where the relics of newly-installed venerable Mo.  Consuelo Barcelo are stored. This is found in an Augustinian convent in Metro Manila, particularly in San Juan City. Barcelo's relics are the only ones available for a current venerable of the Philippine Catholic Church. Praying over the relics of a saint, blessed or a venerable is sought after by Catholic faithful.Photo by Jeremaiah Opiniano (The Filipino Connection)

This is one of three metal casings where the relics of newly-installed venerable Mo. Consuelo Barcelo are stored. This is found in an Augustinian convent in Metro Manila, particularly in San Juan City. Barcelo’s relics are the only ones available for a current venerable of the Philippine Catholic Church. Praying over the relics of a saint, blessed or a venerable is sought after by Catholic faithful.
Photo by Jeremaiah Opiniano (The Filipino Connection)

But there’’s more than the historical evidence that’’s present, like Consuelo’’s over- 300 letters to confreres that are archived at the congregation’’s international headquarters located at Santolan Road in the Metro Manila city of San Juan. (The convent, found near a curve of the hilly portion of Santolan Road, is way quieter than nearby The Arena in San Juan where UAAP basketball and volleyball tournaments and their crowds howl frequently).

While Filipinos, after the canonization last Oct. 20 of Calungsod, swarmed his statue that Pope Benedict XIV blessed, inside a chapel at the quiet Augustinian convent are three square-ish metal casings where the bones ——relics—— of Consuelo are stored.

At the moment, nobody except the Augustinian nuns inside the convent were conveniently praying before Consuelo’’s relics, said to be the only relic of a declared venerable found in the Philippines’. Relics of saints or blessed, for example that of St. Francis of Assisi that is placed in a crypt in Assisi, Italy, are filled with security personnel for fear of being mobbed.

(Consuelo was first buried at the congregation’’s mausoleum at La Loma Cemetery in Quezon City until the relics were transferred to the chapel in Santolan Road on Aug. 4, 2005.)

We haven’’t thought about security reasons inside the convent when people deluge Mo. Consuelo’’s relics, Mora said. ““But we will allow public veneration because she belongs to God and to the people.””

 

*****

Joaquina was ecstatic when Rita told her that she and two other Augustinian sisters will sail to the Philippines on Sept. 1, 1883 to serve cholera-stricken orphans. In two batches, seven nuns from the Agustinas Misioneras in Barcelona came to the Philippines.

Arriving on Oct. 5, 1883 seasick over the long journey, the then 26-year-old Augustinian postulant was culture-shocked: the weather was hot, and rice was staple fare over bread back home in Sarria, Barcelona. Right away, Joaquina and company served the children at the old Asilo de Mandaloya (which is the current-day Don Bosco Technical College). Luckily, Joaquina didn’’t get sick while serving the children and got ordained ——and was christened as Sor Maria de la Consuelo—— a day after Christmas in 1884.

That moment at the Asilo, with a looming Philippine revolution on the backdrop, was Consuelo’’s eye-opener to dedicate a life of spirituality and charity in an Asian country. Dedicatedly, it was only her and elder sister Rita remained at the Asilo, at a time when the Philippine community of the Agustinas Misoneras had internal squabbles and split into two, and confreres who joined them in 1883 were returning to Spain.

The Spanish Augustinian friars, after the Philippine revolution, dissolved the Asilo and the Barcelo sisters were compelled to return to the Augustinian beaterio in Barcelona. Rita seemed relieved to be returning home but then 41-year-old Consuelo was said to be in a mid-life crisis, as ““no other cloistered community would accept her,”” wrote the document Inflamed by God’’s Love that was submitted to the Vatican.

Consuelo even became superior of the beaterio in Barcelona in 1903, But after Rita suffered a slipped disc on January 1904, Consuelo took care of her until the elder Barcelo died on May 14 the same year. Back in the Philippines, the dissolved Colegio Asilo de Mandaloya was re-organized into the Colegio Asilo de Huerfanas de Nuestra Consolacion in 1899, which then became Colegio de la Consolacion in 1901.

A month before Rita got injured, 46-year- old Consuelo and Rita did plan to return to the Philippines although the 60-year-old Rita was cautioned from travelling.

Then a week after Rita’’s accident, Fr. Bernabe Jimenez (spiritual director of the Augustinian nuns) wrote Consuelo egg- ing her to return to the Philippines given a petition from the Hermanas Agustinas Terciarias de las Islas Filipinas (or the Filipino tertiary sisters, the precursor to the current OSALC). Consuelo’’s superior at the Barcelona beaterio agreed, so did then Barcelona Archbishop Salvador Cardinal Casanas.

““I do not regret coming here,”” Consuelo wrote to brother Salvador July 30, 1904 or days upon arrival. ““Surprisingly, the thought (of leaving my hometown) does not pain me at all. We know that time will come when one has to leave everything behind; and no doubt, it is more pleasing to God to give up all now for His honor and glory.””

Then the Augustinian Prior General in Rome recognized the Hermanas Agustinas into the Order of St. Augustine (OSA). Mo. Maria del Sagrado Corazon was the congregation’’s first prioress, then Consuelo was elected the congregation’’s first superior-general in 1915 and served for four terms until 1940.

Thus followed the setting up of some of the La Consolacion schools (some of them through loans of up to P80,000), the acquisition of dormitories, the opening up of more vocations, to sending confrere nuns to missions ——be it schools, or medical or socio-pastoral missions—— in the provinces. OSALC, the largest Augustinian group of nuns in the Asia-Pacific region, is now 228 nuns-strong, and some Indonesians, Vietnamese and Thai aspirants are joining the fold.

““Here is a Spanish nun who settled here but got rooted in Philippine soil and who created a legacy of holiness and deep spirituality here,”” Mora said. ““Given the Vatican’’s declaration, the challenge is to deepen our love of God in today’’s realities of loving. We can’’t talk about Mother Consuelo’’s holiness if we don’’t emulate her.””

 

*****

Consuelo’’s known to be humble (read: less recognizable than others, even if she heads the congregation). An English translation of a 1938 fiesta message of hers reads: ““Humility is to think lowly of (one’’s self) and to think of others better and superior to ourselves. Humility is the basis of holiness.””

But it is Consuelo’’s charitable works during her Philippine missionary stint that stand out as this venerable’’s most heroic virtue. ““If there is charity, there will be compliance, submission, obedience; there will be understanding of the faults of others, pardon of injuries received… Charity is the queen of all virtues,”” the same 1938 fiesta message wrote.

““The practice of charity is founded on God because God is charity,”” wrote OSALC’’s Mo. Consuelo Commission in Inflamed by God’’s Love. ““God has been charitable to us first. Only then are we charitable to others.””

So even when, in 1940, while starting to feel sickly, Mo. Consuelo still rises up every 4:30 a.m. for the community’’s early morning prayers. But on July 4, before receiving the Eucharist at a Mass, the 83-year-old Consuelo fell head first from her seat.

Some 27 days after, she had two strong heart attacks and was hospitalized. On the way to St. Joseph’’s Hospital, Consuelo regained consciousness then recited De Profundis: ““Out of the depths, I have cried to you, O Lord.””

Aug. 3 was an eventful day for Consuelo. Even while in pain, and with fellow sisters weeping, Consuelo loudly recited the Confiteor Deo, then whispered Psalm 22:14 (““Even if I had to walk in the shadow of faith,”” I’’ll not be afraid because you are with me, O Lord””), and did not even complain about her bodily pains.

Around 5 p.m., Consuelo felt greater agony and heads of seven La Consolacion schools rushed to the hospital to pray for her. During a moment when Consuelo was unconscious, then Manila Archbishop Michael Cardinal O’’Doherty visited and dropped the premonitions to not just her death on the morning of Aug. 4, 1940, but to the Dec. 20, 2012 declaration of the Vatican.

““Why do you weep?,”” Cardinal O’’Doherty asked weeping Augustinian nuns. ““You should be glad to have in heaven a saint to intercede for you. If Sor Consuelo is not a saint, then there is no saint in Heaven.””

 

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About JEREMAIAH OPINIANO