Date of Birth: 14-05-2000, Portoviejo (Ecuador)
Date of Entrance in the Servant Sisters: 17-10-15
Date of Death: 16-04-2016, Playa Prieta (Ecuador)
Valeria Intriago Sánchez, 15 years old. What more can I do for you Lord?
“Valeria knew how to make others want to be better. When I looked at her, I just wondered how someone could give of herself so much and be so selfless.” This is how Carolina Aveiga expresses herself in her testimony about Valeria. In the many testimonies that we have received about Valeria, her friends comment, “her gaze reflected God,” “she had a magnanimous soul,” “she was always happy,” “she was like an angel,” “it was like seeing Our Lady,” “she stirred feelings of love and affection in you because she was so full of God,” “she was a soul that loved Our Lord”… When people say these things about a fifteen-year-old girl, one would think that she is the fruit of a happy family, virtuous and united parents, who have transmitted the faith to their daughter and have protected her. In Valeria’s case, that assumption is far from reality.
The truth is that Valeria’s childhood was very difficult. She was born on May 14, 2000 in Portoviejo, the capital of the Manabí province in Ecuador. On December 9, 2001, only a little over a year and a half-old, Valeria witnessed her mother’s murder. Her father shot her mother and then escaped, abandoning Valeria and her younger sister, Jennifer, who was only a few months old.
Teresita and Antonio, Valeria’s maternal grandparents began to take care of the girls after the terrible ordeal. Valeria always called them “Mom” and “Dad” because they truly acted as so with their granddaughters. People who knew her say that, after the tragedy, Valeria became a very serious little girl. “She was a girl that would get angry easily and scared her classmates with her incredibly green eyes.”
She had to move to her new home in Pueblo Nuevo – very close to Playa Prieta – and began her studies at the “Ambato School”. When she was 11 years old, she asked to be admitted to our school “Holy Family Educational Center” in Playa Prieta. The school year had already begun, but Valeria and her sister’s story moved the Sisters, and all the more so when they learned of the family’s precarious financial situation. Thanks to the Missionary Groups of the Home of the Mother (MGHM), we were able to sponsor their family and give Valeria a scholarship. Sr. Virginia Jiménez, who met them at the time, remembers, “They didn’t know how to thank us for everything we did for them. Every time we took food to their house, her grandmother cried out of gratitude. Valeria’s transparent gaze and huge smile said it all.”
Valeria’s life radically changed from the moment she entered our school. Sr. Virginia continues, “It was amazing to see how hard she tried to catch up with all her classes and be at the same level as her classmates. She was observant, silent, responsible, always with a big smile, looking out for everyone… The teachers loved her a lot. We were really proud of her. Her grandmother always told us how good Valeria was, how hard she worked in her studies. With her good example she also helped her sister, who didn’t like to study and would let laziness get to her.”
She always had difficulties in her studies. It was a consequence of her troubled childhood, but she did her best. Her friend, Erika Túarez tells us, “I remember one night when she came to my house to study. She said to me, ‘Please, teach me, teach me a lot because the Servant Sisters are intelligent and I want to be like them’”.
If on a human level Valeria’s life changed completely, on the spiritual level it was totally transformed. When she came to our school, she had not yet received her First Holy Communion. She prepared herself very well and was able to receive Our Lord for the first time on December 8, 2012. From then on she began to get to know the Lord and His love. The Lord’s love cured all of her soul’s wounds. Truly, Our Lord poured forth His mercy upon her. It is also true that she responded to grace promptly and faithfully. On one occasion, Mother Ana Campo, our Superior General, asked her if she remembered her mother’s death. Valeria’s answer was that she had placed everything in God’s hands and tried not to bring those bitter memories to mind. Her grandmother mentioned a few days after her death that Valeria had encouraged her many times, saying, “Mom, you have to forgive my father, because I already have”. A friend of hers, Karolina Vera, confirms this fact. “She always said that she had forgiven him, because she didn’t want to have any hate or vengeance in her heart.”
Despite having been tested in such a hard way, evil never took root in her heart. On the contrary, her goodness was so well known that her classmates always wanted to be with her. Many times her classmates would say in a surprised tone to the Sisters, “Valeria is very good, very good.” They would stress the word “very.”
The Sisters soon realized how sensible Valeria was to religious things. This allowed her to discover the Lord’s call early on. A young volunteer form the USA, Michaela Decker, witnessed that moment. “One afternoon when I saw Valeria at school, she came up to me and told me she had something to say to me. She seemed very excited. At first, when I couldn’t understand what she was telling me, I asked if I could get an Hermana (Sister) to translate. She asked me not to get anyone else, and simplified what she was saying so I could understand. She told me that she had decided that she wanted to become a Sister. I will always remember this precious moment.”
She told her decision to her family in a very funny way. Her aunt remembers that one day she came home and told her grandparents in a mysterious tone that she had fallen in love and had a boyfriend. Her grandmother was curious and observed her, trying to guess who her boyfriend might be. Valeria showed them a picture of her “boyfriend”… It was Our Lord. Her grandfather reacted immediately saying, “Young man, take care of my Valeria.”
Valeria turned fifteen on May 14, 2015. Having a big celebration for your 15th birthday is a deeply rooted tradition in Ecuador. The “birthday girl” wears a pink dress, they have a party, a presentation in society, a dance, a toast… However, Valeria’s heart already belonged to Jesus. She did not want to have a worldly party. The Sisters, together with her best friends, organized a surprise party that was completely different from a normal party. There was a pink dress, but it was not just any party dress. The Sisters prepared the only type of “dress” that Valeria would like: it was a habit just like ours, except that it was pink. Erika Tuárez remembers that happy day. “When she saw the habit, she was so excited that she began to cry. Once she had put on the habit, her face was more radiant that usual. She was the most beautiful 15-year-old that I’ve ever seen!” The Sisters placed her “boyfriend” by her side at the table. It was the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus from the chapel.
Valeria was too young to enter as a candidate, because candidates have to be at least 16 years old and have their parents’ written permission. That is why she had to enter as an aspirant. Her grandparents gave her the necessary permission and she made her commitment on October 17, 2015. Karolina Vera remembers, “The day her grandparents signed the authorization so that she could enter as an aspirant was that happiest day of her life. She was overwhelmed with excitement.”
Domenica Salazar explains how Valeria’s example was an important part in her own vocational discernment. “I couldn’t believe that a girl of her age was so happy about her vocation, had said ‘Yes’ to her vocation, and was so in love with the Lord. She came back to me and said, ‘The best thing I’ve done is say Yes to the Lord.’ That sentence impressed me so much, coming from a 15-year-old girl so in love with the Lord. In that instant, I renewed my ‘Yes’ to the Lord, saying to him, ‘Help me to be just as in love as she is.’”
We compared her to St. Dominic Savio, the young disciple of St. John Bosco. Like him, Valeria was convinced – as she said several times – that she had to be holy soon, because she did not know how much time she had. Seeing how the events have unfolded, witnessing her death at the age of fifteen, one cannot help but realize that it was the Lord Himself who had placed this desire on her heart. After seeing the movie about St. Philip Neri’s life, she took as her life's motto the famous: "I prefer paradise".
Carolina Aveiga remembers that Valeria once said in a conversation, “I can’t deny God anything He asks of me. How could I do that if He is God? Tell me you’ll never deny Him anything either. I mean it, Carolina, don’t deny Him anything”. Another friend, Maryerlin Juleisi told us, “When we would ask her why she was so happy, she would say, ‘Because I am doing want God wants’”. We were witnesses of the fact that Valeria’s constant disposition, from the moment that she met the Lord, was always, “What more can I do for you, Lord? What more can I do?” Sr. Estela Morales affirms, “Valeria was always where she was supposed to be, doing what she was supposed to be doing. And always with a smile”.
She received the sacrament of Confirmation on January 16, 2016. Her sponsor was one of the candidates, María Augusta Muñoz. They died clinging to each other under the rubble on the day of the earthquake.
A few days before the earthquake, her grandmother called her (at the Sisters’ house) because she was worried about the flooding in the school. Her grandmother suggested that she come home for a few days until things got back to normal. Valeria’s answer, at first glance, seemed exaggerated. She told her grandmother that she wanted to die with the sisters. Karolina Vera – who has helped us so much with this biography – remembers that it was not the first time that Valeria had said something like that. She adds an important piece of information, “Valeria had told her grandmother that she wanted to die because she was prepared and she wanted to join her ‘boyfriend’. She wanted to die with her sisters, the Servant Sisters, because she loved them”. Karolina continues, “Valeria was one of a kind. She was an example for everyone, even adults, and she was only fifteen. She had a magnanimous soul. Her love for God and for Our Lady was contagious. They were the most important people for her. She impressed me a lot, because she hated worldly things and sin. Just looking at her helped me.”
On April 16, 2016, the same day of the earthquake that would take her life, something happened which (looking back now) seemed like a type of premonition. The Sisters and the candidates, along with Valeria, Catalina, and some other girls from Playa Prieta, had been cleaning the mud that the flood had left in the school. They were days of intense work and everyone was working generously. That morning they were working in the library. Mayra and Valeria were trying to get the mud out from underneath a big bookshelf full of encyclopedias. Suddenly, the entire bookshelf gave way and fell on them while the falling books also hit them. The sisters came to help them. Jokingly they said, “Can you imagine if we were to die together?”
At lunch, Sr. Estela, the superior of the community, took advantage of what had happened that morning to ask a question, “Imagine that what you said happens. Imagine that we were all to die. Are we prepared?” Valeria was the first to answer, “I am ready and I am yearning for it. I want to see the Lord as soon as possible”.
Just a few hours later, at 6:58 p.m., a 7.8 magnitude earthquake demolished the main building of the school “Holy Family Educational Center.” Friends and neighbors came to the help of the Sisters and girls trapped under the rubble. Risking their own lives, they were able to rescue Sr. Estela, Sr. Merly, and Sr. Thérèse together with Mercedes and Guadalupe. We found the bodies of our other six deceased sisters about twenty-four hours later. Among them was Valeria, young Valeria, who had lived in such a way that the Lord could fulfill her every desire: to die at the age of fifteen, to die with the sisters, and to see Him soon.
There’s one last detail that moved us even more. Valeria was buried in Pueblo Nuevo on Monday, April 18th, 2016. They dressed her in a white tunic with a white handkerchief on her head, like a veil, imitating the habit of the Servant Sisters of the Home of the Mother. Among the rubble, they found the perpetual vows cross of one of the Sisters. Valeria was buried with this cross over her chest.