Consecrated life, with its silent work as always, but dedicated this time to the sick of the year whose story no one has ever wanted to tell. After 365 days since the arrival of the coronavirus in Spain, we recall this period with three Daughters of Charity who, through their dedication, have shown that after Calvary, Easter always arrives.
After a year in which the world's heart has shrunk, the three sisters show a testimony of hope, starting from the conviction that in the midst of pain, the Lord is present, because "we are not alone", as they all say in their reflections. From Madrid, which in April and May 2020 became the epicentre of the pandemic, they reflect on their experience.
Sister Lourdes Blázquez is an emergency nurse at La Milagrosa Hospital. She joined the Company of the Daughters of Charity 15 years ago, after studying nursing: a double vocation that she lives with passion and that is how she transmits it when she is spoken to. After dedicating "a time of prayer to look back one year", she still shudders and wonders herself if she would have the strength to live again in 2020.
However, "I was grateful to the God who has always been with me, but who made me feel His presence especially during the first wave of the pandemic, which was when the impact was strongest and we were pushed to the limit," she says. She adds: "I felt supported by Him. The courage and strength of that moment was not mine.
She lives in the parish of St. Blaise, in a community of four sisters. Sisters from the peripheries who, five years ago, responding to the Pope's call, were sent to support the social and pastoral work in this area of Madrid. "It is a good thing to be here. It is a real work of presence, in a very open community where people of all ages can come to have a coffee or share a prayer," she explains.
Sister Lourdes combines her work as a nurse with her presence at Caritas and a listening centre coordinated by the Vicariate, as well as being involved in the Province's vocation ministry. She is a multi-tasking sister, like her companions in the community (one is a provincial councillor, another works in a social service and another is a teacher).
On 13 March 2020, the president of the government appeared before the whole country to declare a state of alert. "I remember those moments of helplessness, of contradiction... All I did was fight all day and the next day, when I returned to the hospital... it was still the battlefield. I said to myself: here, you have to give everything. I felt a lot of fear, especially at the beginning, the kind that makes your stomach knot and keeps you awake at night. But in the emergency room, fears were put aside, you had to give people security, tell them that everything was under control, because they needed it," she recalls.
Fortunately, "God gave me the health to be able to be there, because many colleagues were infected. Normally, two nurses work per shift - morning, afternoon and night - but during the first wave of the pandemic, there was only one nurse per shift. "Every night before I went to sleep I would say to myself, 'Thank God', because I felt tired, but nothing else," she says. During all this time, she also remembered the words of the prophet Isaiah: "Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength" (Is 40:31). "That has been a very concrete experience here," she says.
During those first months of total confinement, when Madrid was at a standstill, everything was different when you walked through the doors of the emergency room. Despite the chaos, "I learned to smile with my eyes, because that was the only thing everyone could see," says Sister Lourdes. Like all health professionals, she has experienced some spine-chilling situations. "I remember a daughter saying goodbye to her father in the lift knowing she would never see him again..."
His mission? To be able to tell people simply with a look: I am here. A gesture, a word of encouragement, but not so easy when everyone is aware of the gravity of the situation.
In the midst of the pain, Sister Lourdes is grateful for the patience of the patients. "The people were very patient and very grateful. They understood that if we didn't arrive sooner, it was because we were sick. They often told us to go and look after the others first. They left their lives in our hands and that created a lot of bonds," she admits now, as calm returns after a third wave after Christmas that recalls the worst of the first months.
And how did God make himself present during this time? "As I came home from the hospital each day and thought back in my heart about everything I had experienced, I would ask the Lord why. The truth is that it was very easy for me to pray during that time. Any moment was good to present to the Lord what I was going through. I saw Jesus suffering in everyone I met. That's why I know that resurrection is possible," she says. She continues: "He wants to encourage every life and also accompany us in the life that is passing away and saying goodbye. Jesus became a man and is in each of us. "
During these months, she also remembered, as the Gospel shows us, that Jesus was able to care for all the sick. "I wanted to be his hands, his heart, his eyes, because in his name we are there to heal, to soothe, to be that Easter that the sick are waiting for. It is a sign of life. Easter is always possible, even now. And especially this year, with the vaccines, we see that there is hope," she says.
Sister Eva Sáez has been a nurse at the Hospital de la Paz since 2012, currently in the palliative care unit. She has always worked in public hospitals since she left the Daughters of Charity seminary 25 years ago, with the exception of her first two years in a residence for people with advanced chronic diseases. She lives in a community of six sisters and, for the last few months, with some people in need of emergency shelter.
From this year of the pandemic, she draws a clear lesson: "Despite everything, we are not alone. We have never been alone, even if sometimes we live as if He doesn't exist. We do not live alone, and we will not die alone. In the midst of toil and worry, in the midst of fear and anxiety, we are not alone. And God makes no distinction. Even if not everyone believes in Him, He is there," she points out, because for her, "hope is precisely knowing that we are not alone.
She shares her testimony with a phrase that has been with her for several months: To find God, you have to learn to be human. "I live in an environment where death is very close and my mission is to be the best Eva that God wants me to be every day," she says. And the best Eva has nothing to do with a hero: "It's not about heroes, maybe for some people this vision helps them, I respect it, but for me it's not about heroes because only a few could be; it's about humanity, about making us all more human every day. We are people and we have to do our best in difficult situations. "
For her, the experience of vulnerability brings us together. "A few years ago, I found God in my reality and in those who were sick. Of course, the sick are not just a tool to become a better person. That is contrary to my experience of faith. I find God in the people I care for and in my companions, but I have a relationship with people who have a name, I don't just love them because they are a means to be a better Daughter of Charity," she explains, recalling her sisters sent to France to help soldiers or those fighting the plague.
For Sister Eva, "in the depths of ourselves we carry the most authentic humanity, and often we become numb or drown with other things; it is in this humanity that God is found, the God who understands us and accompanies us, even if we do not know him or have not discovered him. And she adds: "It is the light that is born in the midst of pain, it is our salvation and our resurrection. That is why Jesus Christ became incarnate and gave his life, to help us be fully human, without pain and death having the last word.
As she arrives at the hospital each day, she asks God "that in the midst of my weakness, everything I do each day may bring out the most human in me and in each of us in the hospital" and that, "believers or not, we may pass on life to each other, life to work together, to applaud those who are going out or to say goodbye to those who are leaving us, life before joy or tiredness", because "in the midst of everything, He will complete each effort with His continuous presence".
Sister Vicenta González is a nurse at the municipal centre "Catalina Labouré", which has been open for the homeless since July 2020. This is her first service as a Daughter of Charity, as she joined the Company less than three years ago and the first two years have been focused on her formation. It is her first service and it is in the midst of a pandemic. "The Lord introduced me to these people to serve him from there," she says. This centre is the first link for people in a street situation to start a more normalized life process. In the centre located in the heart of Malasaña, these people are offered rest, food and hygiene.
In these times of social distance, she has experienced a great closeness, as users stay longer at the centre and this gives rise to greater human contact. "They often come to the medicine cabinet, which I look after, and often it is to talk and be listened to. They find in us unconditional people who they know will not let them down. I think the greatest poverty for them is that they don't feel loved, that they don't have someone to trust. They have all broken away from their families," she adds.
Sister Vicenta remembers the lunches as a moment of grace. In this centre they had an epidemic and had to isolate two boys in other centres, but they never stopped praying for them at every grace. "Everyone in the dining room is happy to bless the table and it touches my heart, because there are Muslims, Orthodox, Evangelicals, non-believers... seeing them all together touches you. You perceive how every human being is open to transcendence. The two boys were always present at the lunches and, thanks to God, they came back," she explains.
It is clear that the Lord will rise again this year "full of light, stronger".
"If we know how to read between the lines, we will realise that the Lord makes everything new and that there is always hope if we live according to Him. In the midst of difficulty, we men and women grow. This pandemic has made us discover the greatness of the human being. We all contributed: people helped others out of solidarity, some made masks, others did the shopping for the elderly, we were able to start getting vaccinated... "she says, before concluding:
"We are not alone, we are accompanied by the Lord, because he loves us unconditionally".
Original Vida Nueva article in Spanish: here