Jazmina Jessenia Castro Delgado
Date of Birth: February 9, 1994 in Chone, Ecuador.
Date of Entrance into the Servant Sisters: April 20, 2015.
Date of Death: April 16, 2016 in Playa Prieta, Ecuador.
Jazmina Castro, 22 years old: “I know that Our Lady loves me a lot.”
The Sisters say that Jazmina could be named patron of young people who are afraid of having a vocation. Indeed, Jazmina was filled with fear by the mere thought of being called by God to the consecrated life. Sr. Ruth Ibáñez remembers, “She was one of those people who, once they begin a life of prayer, the immediately see clearly what the Lord wants from them. And she immediately saw that the Lord wanted her to become a Servant Sister, but she was afraid and felt without strength to respond.” Thanks be to God, her fear did not keep her away from the Lord or from the Home of the Mother activities, although she had to go through some tough moments. And even if she is never officially named “protector of the fearful,” her example can certainly help many young people to overcome their fear and give their lives to the Lord.
Jazmina Jessenia Castro Delgado was born on February 9, 1994 in Chone, in the province of Manabi, Ecuador. Her parents are Ángel Sigifredo and Lilia. She is the youngest of six children: Edison, Arnaldo, René, Magdalena, Angélica and her. She began her studies at Amazonas High school, and later in the UNE. Her mother describes her in this way: “She graduated with good grades; she was a good student despite her lively character. She always took the side of the weaker person, and that’s why they called her ‘the lawyer.’” Her friends remember her as a cheerful and very sincere person. She always said whatever she had to say, not with the intention of hurting anyone, but because the frankness of her character required it of her. Sr. Ruth continues her testimony saying, “I remember her always laughing and very spontaneous; she had an engaging personality.” And Carolina Aveiga completes the description saying, “The look in her eyes said it all: if she was sad, happy, tired… you just had to look her in the eyes and you could discover what she held inside.”
She began to go to the Home of the Mother activities during Christmas 2009. She went to the first meetings with Mayra, her best friend. She was a vain girl, who cared a lot about her physical appearance and was full of attachments. Her friend, Gema Vergara, remembers, “When she started going to the Home of the Mother meetings, her life started to change. At the beginning of her relationship with the Lord and the Virgin Mary, you could tell that the idea that they could ask her to give up certain things scared her. But little by little, she started giving these things to them with generosity. I remember that she was really attached to her cell phone, and she gave it to Our Lady for a week, leaving it at the Sisters’ house and offering it up as a sacrifice.” Those little gestures are much more important than they might seem, because they strengthen one’s will and prepare it to surrender greater and greater things. Sr. Kelly Maria Pezo adds on this note, “She really had a very strong attachment to her cell phone, which did a lot of damage to her soul, and she knew it. She often felt that Our Lady asked her to give up her phone, so she would give it up for a week. There were other occasions in which she did not give it to Our Lady and it really did her harm. Only after having accepting her vocation, right before entering as a candidate, she had the strength to detach herself from her phone for good.”
In these first years, the thought that God could be asking her to give Him everything made her feel terribly uneasy. Sr. Estrella writes, “When Jazmina was interiorly troubled for not responding to her vocation, she would start dating someone to flee from the Lord.” In fact, when Sr. Estrella was living in Spain, preparing herself to enter the novitiate, she received a letter from Jazmina which reveals the anxiety she was experiencing. “Don’t worry about me; I’m doing great. And yes, I am seeing a guy and he’s a good person. The truth is that I’m very happy. Don’t pray for me. I already told you, it’s not necessary. Pray for all the other souls, for your family, for your friends, for the Servant Sisters… but not for meeeeeee!!!!”
She began studying Systems Engineering in the ULEAM University of Chone in 2013. In her first semester, she fell into a bad group of friends who did her a lot of harm. Since she did not have the strength to distance herself from them, the Lord intervened before letting her get lost completely. In her second semester, due to her class schedule, she no longer coincided with them. It was upon separating herself from that group that she realized how bad they were for her.
She continued participating in Home of the Mother activities even though many times it was hard for her. She confessed to a good friend of hers, Ana Moro (consecrated lay of the ACIM) when she wrote, “I hope you are praying for us a lot, even more so now that summer camp is almost here. Camp is always really tough for me.”
A crucial moment in her life was when she participated in the Spiritual Exercises that Fr. Rafael Alonso, founder of the Home of the Mother, directed for a group of girls in Ecuador in 2013. This retreat helped her in a fundamental way. Sr. Reme Rodríguez, who accompanied Father Rafael on that trip, remembers, “I was helping in the kitchen, and Jazmina asked to speak with me. She told me a little bit about her fears and her struggles. I encouraged her not to be afraid.” Shortly after returning to Spain, Sr. Reme received an e-mail from Jazmina: “Hi! I hope that you are doing well. And I hope you remember who I am! I’m the girl that Father said was the ‘scaredy cat.’ Ha, ha, ha! Well, I’m not so afraid any more…at least I think so.” And she ends her letter to Sr. Reme asking, “Sr. Reme, please pray a lot for me so that I can stop being so vain and can detach myself from the things that keep me far from GOD. I want to be good, but I find it so difficult. But at least I want to, because there are other things that I don’t want.”
Shortly after that date, she wrote for the HM Magazine: “Being a member of the Home is the best thing that’s ever happened to me. The Home has helped me to recognize the Lord and love Him in the Eucharist. It has helped me to feel close to Our Lady and experience her as the Mother of God and Our Mother. This is, and will always be, the greatest joy of my life: knowing that the Mother of God is my Mother.” Something that Jazmina never lacked- despite her personal fears- was a great courage to give testimony of her faith and defend it in any situation. She never backed down when it came to defending the Lord, even in front of her professors and classmates. Gema Vergara confirms, “When she had to say something about God, about our faith or anything else, she said it with a certainty that only God could have given her. She fiercely defended the Eucharist and had an immeasurable love for Our Lady.”
Something that everyone agrees on in their testimonies is Jazmina’s zeal for the salvation of souls. Jazmina was conscious of her responsibility in regards to the souls of others, and she wrote to a friend, saying: “When your heart is not inflamed with Love, many will freeze to death.” Carolina Aveiga writes, “I learned many things from Jazmina. One of them was to defend my principles. Also the importance of apostolate, that it’s not enough just to invite girls to the group, but we must insist and give of ourselves entirely in the meetings we have. She was always attentive to the new girls, and had a true gift for getting to know people. She would always know when something was wrong with one of the girls and tried to encourage her.” Denisse Muñoz confirms this by telling her own experience. “I met Jazmina when I met the Home. She was the first person who welcomed me when I arrived for the meeting. She treated me as if she had known me her whole life. She was always attentive to each girl who came to the meetings, and she made us feel included in the group.” Sr. Kelly María Pezo agrees, “It’s true that Jazmina felt especially responsible for the girls. She was concerned for each one of them and did all that she could to make them feel welcome. Even when she was not doing too well (spiritually), she always made the effort to reach out to the others. She said that the girls didn’t have to know that she was going through a rough moment. She was afraid that she might harm them somehow if she acted in any other way. She always tried to ensure a positive environment, even when she didn’t feel like it because she was a bit unsettled inside. This was really something admirable about her. It’s funny, because even when she was fighting against her own vocation (she had made the decision to never respond to the calling), whenever she saw a girl who was struggling with the same thing, she would speak very clearly.”
February 2014 was a very important time in Jazmina’s life. It was her first trip to Puyo. Every three or four months the Sisters organize a week of missions in the Amazon jungle, in Puyo, in the eastern part of Ecuador. The aim of the trip is to evangelize the Shuar Indians, who are just now receiving the first news of the Kingdom of God. Jazmina wanted to go on this mission trip, but she was told that if she went, it was to help and do whatever was asked of her, without complaining. She accepted the conditions.
Keep in mind that Jazmina hated filth. She was incapable of drinking out of a cup after someone else, even if it was her own mother. They did not hide from her the fact that she would have to make a considerable effort in this matter and not only because of the fact that in the jungle they live in total poverty and have no toilets, showers or practically anything. There’s more. When someone comes to a village of the Shuar, the first thing they do is offer to the visitors a cup of “chicha.” Chicha is a drink made of yucca. First they boil the yucca to soften it. Then the women of the community chew it up and spit it into a pot, and they stir it with their own hands. They repeat this process several times until it reaches a satisfactory consistency. Then they let it ferment overnight, and the next day it is ready to drink. The chicha forms part of the basic nutrition of the Shuar, and they offer it to their guests as a sign of hospitality. Rejecting the chicha means rejecting their friendship. That is why the missionary has to swallow the repulsive instinct that the chicha provokes in them and drink it graciously. This is the first step necessary to announce the Gospel to a Shuar village.
The Sisters and the youth, accompanied by a priest and a doctor or two, had to trek through the jungle with the mud up to their knees to reach the Shuar village. When they arrived, they were welcomed by the indigenous people, who invited them to have a seat and rest. The women of the village arrived right away with the chicha. Sr. Kelly María narrates what happened next. “A woman from the village gave me a cup full of chicha. I tried it, but I wasn’t going to be able to drink the whole cup, so I gave it to the little Shuar girl who was sitting on my lap. But then I felt guilty and took the cup again to drink a little more. I had it in my hand, but Jazmina saw that I wasn’t drinking it, so she took it and drank it all. I looked at her with thankful eyes, but she acted if it was no big deal.” She kept her composure, without making any kind of gesture of repulsion. Even after the welcoming act, she kept silence about the sacrifice she had made. A comment she made to a friend, Ani Moro, confirms it. Jazmina writes, “Yes, the chicha is difficult for me. But it’s beautiful to see the love with which they offer it to us.” “If there was anything she could do to alleviate one of the Sisters, she would always do it,” affirms Sr. Kelly Pezo in her testimony. And she adds, “Puyo was very important to Jazmina. I don’t know what it was that happened to her there, but she loved it. Her face would light up at just hearing the word Puyo. Whenever we reminisced about the children of Puyo, she would ask when we were going to return there. She gave of herself with generosity and joy, and since God can never be outdone in generosity, she always received a lot when she went to Puyo.”
Jazmina always said that if it hadn’t been for her mother, she might never have responded to her vocation. Jazmina told her friend, Gema Vergara, “My mom was the one who said, ‘Hey Jazmina, how much longer do you plan on putting off what God is asking of you? It’s about time you said ‘yes’. And your ‘yes’ should be forever, not just for a few days but for your whole life. You know that I support you. If you are happy, I will also be happy.’” Finally, after fighting it for a long time, Jazmina entered as a candidate of the Servant Sisters of the Home of the Mother on April 20, 2015, during a pilgrimage to Cajas, a Marian shrine in the mountains of Cuenca (Ecuador). Once again, it is Gema Vergara who discloses those precious declarations that Jazmina made in confidence. “I remember one time last year, before she entered as a candidate, she said that she was very afraid, and that it would be hard for her to leave behind so many things in her life. But at the same time she was full of joy because of the fact that the Lord had chosen her and she didn’t deserve anything.”
A difficult trial was awaiting Jazmina shortly after her entrance in the community. Her mother, a courageous and exemplary Christian woman, was diagnosed with cancer with a poor prognosis. Jazmina received the news with a spirit of faith and tried to help her mother in all that she could. Sr. Kelly Maria remembers how Jazmina poured herself out for her mother. In those painful circumstances she wrote to Ana Moro, “Yes, sometimes it is hard for me to keep going. You know that my mother is really sick. But God gives me the grace and the strength to go on. Please pray for me a lot.” Her friend, Gema Vergara remembers, “I never saw her sad, despite the tough news about her mom’s sickness. Actually she seemed even happier than before. She would often repeat this phrase, ‘God has chosen me and I can only give Him thanks, because I am nothing. I’m a disaster. Without Him I am nothing but a disaster. He knows why He permits these things.’”
Jazmina changed remarkably after having accepted her vocation and entering as a candidate. Carolina Aveiga confirms this, “I remember one day when Mayra and Jazmina came over to my house. When Jazmina walked into my room she looked around and said, ‘Vanity of vanities. All is vanity.’” Carolina knew how vain Jazmina was in the past, and that comment strongly impacted her. “In that moment I knew that I had to stop using lots of things that were keeping me away from God.” She narrates another episode with Jazmina. “In another occasion, I had started working out at the gym and she asked me why I went and said, ‘Do you think that’s pleasing to God?’ She understood so clearly how everything we do must be to give glory to God, and whenever I started to falter, she was the one who always reminded me of this.”
The last pictures we have of Jazmina were taken during the floods, which struck Playa Prieta just days before the earthquake on April 16, 2016 in which she died. These pictures show her with muddy water up to her waist, working energetically and joyfully. No one would think, seeing her like that, that not too long ago she was conceited, hated being dirty, and was terrified of God’s will. To reach that point, Jazmina had fulfilled, every piece of advice that she herself gave to a friend of hers, who felt incapable of responding to her vocation. It was November 10, 2015. “Think of everything that God has given you up until now. And you… have you given Him anything in return yet? It’s a good practice to give God all He asks of you in every moment. And you have to detach yourself from the things that you know aren’t good for you. I know it’s hard to be obedient, but you should trust Sister (your spiritual guide). Allow her to help you. Open your heart and be honest with her, and let her lead you down the best path there is, which is the path that God has already shown you… Don’t abandon your prayer life for even one day, because that is where the Lord is going to pour out His graces upon you. Don’t stop going to Mass. One day without the Eucharist is a day that’s lost. I would love to see you decide for once and for all to say yes to Him, a yes that’s forever and without conditions. But you have to be stronger. The Lord wants to give you His grace, so you should receive it and be thankful. Don’t look at yourself; forget about yourself. Look at Him, only at Him. It’s never too late to fall in love all over again with the One who we know loves us.”
Sr. Kelly Maria concludes her testimony saying, “Jazmina had a special love for the Heart of Jesus. And she also knew that Our Lady had chosen her as one of her favorites. Even during her interior struggles, she said, ‘I know Our Lady loves me so much.’ Our Blessed Mother was her soft spot. She would sometimes get emotional talking about her. Looking at her life now, I think that Jazmina was Our Blessed Mother’s weakness. She never left her side.” Jazmina also spoke of this interior certainty of Our Lady’s love for her when she wrote to her friend, in that same letter on November 10, 2015. “I know that sometimes we think we can’t take it anymore, that we don’t have the strength, and a thousand other things that the devil puts in our lives to stop us from moving forwards. I also went through this. Do you remember my crazy days? (…) I’m embarrassed just remembering it. Do you know who the friendly hand was who always helped me get back on my feet? Look at her, it was Our Lady. She always takes care of me. Ask her each day in prayer to carry you to Jesus’ arms forever.”
I finish this account with an excerpt from one of the last emails from Jazmina to Ana Moro. The text clearly reflects Jazmina: in love with her vocation, conscious of her weakness, confident in Our Blessed Mother’s love. With her usual sincerity, Jazmina says, “Oh Ani! It’s so beautiful to answer the Lord…But it is also a little hard to begin to die to your past life. At times I think I can’t do it, but I look at Our Lady and I say, ‘Of course I can’t! But You can help me, and make me able to surrender myself to Love.’”