We are Easter Women
By Sr. Paula Celina Mandolado RA
God, the God of the impossible
Africa at 58? God must be joking I thought, when I was asked if I want to go to the mission. Never in my 58 years had I ever entertained the idea of going to the mission or of being sent off to a far away land. I had refused offers to go abroad because I was a poor traveler. Just imagine an hour trip to Iloilo would already make me very sick. So how then can I manage the long trip from the Philippines to Africa?
But I believe that when God makes a demand, He also gives a corresponding grace for its accomplishment. He cured me of my weaknesses and He gave me a daring spirit.
Zeal for the mission
Before I entered Assumption, I read the life of St. Therese of the Child Jesus, a great missionary without leaving her native land. Her spirit has inspired me very much and has left a deep imprint in my heart, but because of my fragile health I refrained from offering to be a missionary. Yet God had plans for me. After I was cured, a Filipino sister in West Africa asked me to teach our sisters and the people Food Preservation. I finished Home Economics major in Nutrition. By nature I love cooking and I enjoy experimenting along this area. When my Provincial asked me if I wanted to go to the mission, I answered ‘yes’ not knowing where and what I was going to do. This was in month of January.
A month in Paris to learn French
In August I received a letter from my Provincial telling me to prepare myself. My destination was Baham, Cameroon, a French speaking community. I had to leave for Paris in September 8. Of course, when I received the letter I trembled. The date of the departure was too near and I didn’t know a word of French. Anyway my missionary desire overpowered my fears. Right away I took hold of French grammar books and tapes. I read, I listened. My spirit was high, nothing could discourage me. September 8 came and I boarded Air France for Paris. Arriving in Paris I froze. The temperature was so cold, something I didn’t foresee. But the warm welcome of the sisters made me up for it. When the sister started talking to me in French I was at loss. The little French I learned just vanished from my memory. I felt I was again like a little child grasping to understand and to learn how to speak. The sisters enrolled me at a Language School for one month. The school teaches well but one month for me was not sufficient to start me off in my apostolates.
Arrival in Baham
My first month was a time of initiation to the apostolate. The sisters would bring me along with them occasionally to see other parishes and convents. After one week I took over the English classes of Sr. Anne Bernard, our Regional Superior. I accepted the work thinking that teaching English here is very simple not realizing that I needed to know French. In the beginning I was lost. If the students did not understand the word, I couldn’t explain it to them. The students were kind. They would correct my pronunciation. With humility and simplicity I allowed myself to be taught by them. So the learning process was mutual.
March to June I was sent to West Africa as planned. There I helped the sisters and some women with Food Preservations. My experiences there were experiences of total surrender to God’s hand. I went to different cities alone. The sisters would just deposit me in either trains or buses, then somebody else would meet me in the next station.
Back in Baham I was given more involvement in school. Besides English, I now taught Food Preservation to first year students. Every Friday afternoon, I teach Shebashi to the students by small groups. Shebashi is a Chinese healing art geared towards the freeing of a person from tension to inner peace. It is a healing, a relaxation to help reach a certain degree of awareness of the presence of God and of the life within us. Each movement has a particular healing effect.
They dance at Mass
Sr. Paula giving Shebashi to her students
The African church is participative, alive and vibrant. People just love to celebrate. Sunday masses are always a celebration. They play tam-tam drums, people sing and dance. They have lots of gestures. They assign dancers for the occasion. They do not give me the impression of being in a hurry. Sundays are really dedicated for the Lord. Here feast days and Sunday masses take two hours or more.
Religious vocations are rare. Our young girls cannot understand our vow of chastity. There are those who are willing and eager to become religious but they want to have babies first, at least two. When asked what they will do with their children, they will leave them to their parents. A lot of our students grow up with their grandparent or elder sisters. Polygamy is practices her so the family is very unstable. Unfortunately, with this practice it is the children who suffer most. This is one of the many things we put into consideration in our center. That is why we go for home visitation every year to every first year student.
We Assumption Sisters are called to be Easter Women, giving hope and life to our world. Our main apostolate is Education. We try to be faithful to our mother foundress’ Guiding Principle of Education – a Philosophy that allows the good in everyone to break through every rock that imprisons it. Marie Eugene, our mother foundress, addresses the need of Being before Doing – that we be true to who we are, a religious; that our lives be centered on Christ and be rooted in the Gospel in solidarity with our people, especially the poor.