Date of Birth: 11-7-1992, Tosagua, (Ecuador)
Date of Death: 04-16-2016, Playa Prieta (Ecuador)
Catalina, 23 years old: “I’m going to change, I’m going to leave behind this life that I’m living.”
Catalina had a deep conversion after having lived a life very far from the Lord. She had been preparing herself for the past two years in order to enter as a Servant Sisters of the Home of the Mother. She had already been admitted, and although she hadn’t yet made her official commitment, she shared in many moments of our community life. That is why, when we talk about these five young women who died with Sister Clare in the earthquake on April 16th, 2016 en Ecuador, we talk about five candidates of the Servant Sisters of the Home of the Mother, including Catalina as a member of the Servant Sisters. Our way of thinking is the following: if Baptism of desire exists, then Consecration of desire must also exist. And Catalina ardently desired to give her life to God as a Servant Sister of the Home of the Mother. In fact, in her heart, she had already surrendered herself to God, and she showed it in her life.
Gladys Catalina Navarrete Falcones was born in Tosagua (Manabi, Ecuador) on November 7, 1992. Her parents are Juan and Mirasol. She had five siblings: Selena, Valentín, Juan Jesús, Sabino and Valeria, who died a few years ago. The first school she attended was “Veinticinco de enero” School. Her mother describes her in her first years as “a very energetic little girl, all she wanted to do was play and jump around”. In school she got good grades and was the “Flag Bearer” (this is a tradition in Ecuador – the best students had the honor of carrying the flag during important ceremonies). Catalina then went on to “Nacional Tosagua” High School, but the academic level was not very high and Catalina – who knew that she was intelligent and wanted to get into college – decided to continue her studies in the “Maria Luisa” High School, a school that belonged to the Daughters of Charity. In this High School she belonged to the Miraculous Medal group. The Sisters loved Catalina very much, and Catalina attended many activities with them.
Karolina Vera tells us details that speak to us about Catalina’s good heart: “Before finishing High School, Catalina had to do an internship with a business. She did an extraordinary job, so much so that the business decided to hire her. In this first job, she only earned twenty dollars a month, but for her this was a lot. She always helped out her family. That’s why, of those twenty dollars, she only kept ten for herself and gave the other ten to her mother.”
She began her Executive Secretariat studies at Tosagua University. However, Catalina was starting to take steps down the wrong path, and, given that she had the character of a leader, she dragged her friends down with her. On several occasions, they went to “Montañita”, a town on the beach where many young people, especially foreigners, would go to surf. The environment was really bad, and Catalina began to live a very worldly life. During her third semester, she dropped out of college and went to live with her friends in Quito. She lived there for a year, working and playing on a soccer team. Karolina Vera tells us, “Catalina was a very good athlete, the best one I’ve known up to now”. And another friend insists, “She stood out among all her teammates. Messi and Maradona fall short next to her, hehehe! She was a star. It was amazing to watch her play. She had a special charism that captivated all of her spectators.”
During this time of Catalina’s life, her mother suffered a lot, because she knew that her daughter was choosing the wrong path.
After a year in Quito, she decided to go back to Portoviejo to keep studying in college. She started studying Business Administration at the Manabí Technical University. In Portoviejo, she kept living in the same environment, very far from what a true Christian life should be, until, one day, she met Gema Menéndez, candidate of the Servant Sisters of the Home of the Mother, at a bus stop. Gema recalls, “I will never forget it. When I first met her I felt that Our Lady wanted Catalina to be totally Hers. I was at Holy Spirit Church in Portoviejo. After Mass, I looked back, and I saw her. I strongly felt like Our Lady was telling me ‘Go and talk to that girl’. Since I’m a very shy person, I didn’t do it at that moment, but I told Our Lady that if I saw her again, I would talk to her and invite her to the meetings that we had for young people at the University.” The surprise for Gema was that, just a few days later, she ended up at the same bus stop as Catalina and was able to fulfill the promise she had made to talk to her if she saw her again.
Gema continues: “She – ever since she got to know God – never stopped wanting to get to know Him more and more, to the point of completely changing her life and wanting to surrender herself entirely to the Lord. Catalina was a girl who completely fell in love with Jesus; she threw herself into His Arms, and He purified her through the Sacraments of Confession and the Eucharist. She had a great love for Jesus in the Eucharist, and her relationship with Our Lady was that of a daughter with her Mother.” Perhaps the most moving part of Gema’s testimony is when she affirms that: “From the moment she converted, her eyes were fixed on Heaven. All she wanted was to see Those who had captured her heart: The Lord and Our Blessed Mother.”
Not too long after meeting Gema and, thanks to her, the Servant Sisters of the Home of the Mother, Catalina decided to go live with other young women in the Student Residence that the Home had in Portoviejo. She decided to change her major to a career that would allow her to serve the poor. For this reason, she applied to “Saint Peter Institute for Religious Education and Values” where she studied “Social Promotion”. This change of environment was fundamental for her. Karolina Vera affirms: “Her life radically changed. Even her family realized that something in her had changed. One day, Catalina was at her house, crying, and she said to her mother, ‘I’m going to change, I’m going to leave behind this life that I’m living’. She said this because she had already had a personal encounter with God. From that day on, Catalina became another person: an incredible person. Personally, I always remember her with the Rosary in her hands. She was never embarrassed to walk in the streets showing her Rosary. This was something that always impressed me about her. She always encouraged me to pray the Rosary with her. For Catalina, the most important things during the day were the Rosary, Mass, and prayer. I saw how she fell in love with God.”
These lines that Catalina wrote to Gema Menéndez in 2014 reflect her determination to follow Christ: “I will do all that’s possible, because all that is impossible is in His and Her Hands. I will keep trying and trying until I can become a good person, even if must wait until I reach ninety years of age. Better yet, every moment and every day I will try to be better and pleasing to God. I will fight, and you, along with the other girls in the Resi, will be in my prayers. I will fervently pray for all of you. May God and Our Blessed Mother bless you and deliver us from all danger and unexpected evil. God loves us.”
Catalina was a natural born leader, with a joyful and affectionate personality. After her conversion, all of the gifts that the Lord had given her – which were many – became instruments for apostolate and for charity. Sister Kelly Maria Pezo remembers, “When she was around, you could always be sure that there would be a good environment and true joy. (…) Catalina was the Camp Leader during the last camp we had in Manabí this past March 2016. The counselors who were in charge of the smaller groups would sometimes go to talk with Catalina, to tell her all that was going wrong or all that they were worried about with respect to the girls in their groups, but they hardly ever got a chance to do so. This is because, whenever they would go up to Catalina, she would say something silly or make some funny sound that would make them laugh and forget about why they were so worried in the first place.”
But her sense of humor was not a result of superficiality, on the contrary: it was proof of the way she gave of herself to others. Sister Kelly Maria describes her like this: “She always asked a lot of questions, you could tell that she was a deep thinker. She was like a sponge. If she had any doubt, she never hesitated to ask, she was very sincere and simple. She was astonished by the fact that so many people in the world still did not truly know God (and she included herself). She really impressed me, above all because in the midst of her joy and her ability to make everyone laugh, she was not at all superficial, she was very profound, with a beautiful, transparent, and generous soul.”
The testimonies of her friends confirm it. Carolina Aveiga remembers, “I have yet to meet someone with such a great sense of humor as Catalina. Her willingness to help, her joy as she gave of herself, was truly something that transcended. When we would go on outings with the girls from the United States, who had come to Ecuador as volunteers to help the sisters, Catalina always looked out for them and tried to find the way to make sure they had a good experience. In spite of the difference of the language, if she didn’t know how to pronounce or how to say something, she would just make it up to make us laugh. She always looked for that: how to make us laugh, and by the grace of God she always accomplished it.” Gema Menéndez affirms, “She used to tell many jokes to make people laugh. She had a very pleasant sense of humor.” Maria Cristina Pinargote adds, “Catalina’s willingness to serve others was a virtue that stood out in her. She always looked out for others. During the meals, she would always get up to see if anything was missing on the table. When someone was in need of help, she was always the first to give a hand.”
A few months ago, our sisters in the community of Chone witnessed first-hand Catalina’s capacity to give of herself to others. Several of the sisters of the community were sick with a virus called ‘chikungunya’. That same week, we had planned to have encounters every morning with the children from a nearby school. They asked the sisters in Playa Prieta for help, and Sister Estela called Catalina and Julissa. Sister Kelly Maria tells us, “It was all really last minute, but both of them reacted with a complete willingness to help. That same night they travelled from Playa Prieta to Chone to help us, even though they didn’t know exactly what that “help” consisted in. But they came and they helped us out a lot. Sister Leticia said that Catalina was amazing: even before she was able to express with words what she needed, Catalina was already on it. She hardly ever had to actually ask her for help, because before she even realized that she needed something, Catalina was already finding a solution to the problem.”
As an example of her intimate relationship with the Lord and with Our Blessed Mother, Gema Menéndez shows us a note that Catalina wrote to her at the end of the Holy Week Encounter of 2015: “What a Holy Week, huh?!!! If only we could always be near Him and with Him. With Her too. On the altar in the chapel of Playa Prieta, this was written: “I searched for consolers but found no one”. And I asked myself if we were or are His consolation. I didn’t know in that moment. Yesterday, on Saturday, the day of our Lady, during the rosary I looked at Our Lady of Sorrows, at Her Heart. And She said to me: “You are My consolation. You”.”
Catalina was buried two days after her death, on April 18, 2016, in Tosagua. She, like Valeria, was dressed with a white tunic, as an expression of her desire to consecrate herself to God as a Servant Sister of the Home of the Mother.