Sr. Michelle Araujo, Ecuador:
All of the sudden Sr. Clare appeared and said to me: "C'mon Michelle! Walk. It's just a small step. C'mon. It's not a big deal. It's just a step. Don't look back. Don't look back. It's for the Lord. Give everything to the Lord."
It was the last week of November 2012. I can't remember the exact day. I was studying in the Library of the University where I studied architecture. It was about nine or ten o'clock in the morning. A friend of mine and I were trying to finish up a new design that we had to present and talk about in class. We were already running late because class had started fifteen minutes beforehand. My professor was very demanding, and since there were only eight people in the class, it was easy to notice if someone was tardy. As you could imagine, we were really nervous because we didn't know what the 'Architect' was going to say because we were late. I was in a hurry to get to the classroom. The class we had to go to, Architectural Design, was a really important class for our major.
As soon as we had the project basically situated and finished, we went running from the Library with a ton of things in our hands. It's always funny to see architecture students walking through the plaza of the University. You can recognize them instantly because of the gigantic folders, rulers, and other things they have to carry. That was our exact case.
As soon as you exit the Library, there is a plaza, benches and several palm trees. Walking straight ahead from the Library you reach the Architecture Faculty, our destination. In front of my Faculty, there was a small chapel that I had only entered once during the entire year and a half I had spent studying there. While we were walking at an Olympic pace, trying to not drop anything along the way, I saw some women dressed in white with something hanging from their belts. It was a rosary. I said to my friend, "Look. They're nuns." She looked and said to me, "Yeah." And we continued our marathon as we got closer to our classroom. All of a sudden, we saw one of the Sisters walking towards us. I started to get nervous, even more than I already was. My friend said to me, "Look. They're coming towards us. It looks like they want to talk to us." And I said to her, "Yeah, but keep walking—fast! We can't be late." And inside I thought, "And on top of it, I do not want to talk to a nun."
During that period of time, I had been distancing myself from God. I had heard a lot of things from those around me that made me question whether the things of the faith really made any sense. I had so many questions, but no one could give me answers. The answers people gave me sounded like clichés, or they seemed incoherent because of the life those people were living.
In any case, that Sister saw that we started walking even faster and in the opposite direction, and so she also picked up the pace. My friend was curious because it seemed like she wanted to say something to us. And I said to her, "Walk faster or we won't get there!" All of the sudden, I realized that the Sister was behind the palm tree that we had to go past to reach our Faculty. I said to my friend, "Look! There's a nun behind the palm tree." And my friend started to laugh. On the outside it had to be funny to see us running away from a Sister. In that moment, the Sister came out from behind the palm tree and said to us while laughing, "Are you running away from a nun?" Of course, I was thoroughly embarrassed because she caught us. And we very honestly replied, "No, no. Not at all."
I tried to explain that we were in a hurry and that unfortunately, we couldn't stay to talk. But my friend laughed and you could tell that she wanted to talk to the Sister. That Sister was obviously Sr. Clare, and she didn't let me continue with my pathetic excuse, and asked me: "Do you want to learn to be a real woman?" I didn't know what face to put on. A nun was asking me if I wanted to learn to be a real woman. I thought to myself, "And who is going to teach me? You?" I knew nothing about religious life. I only thought that nuns prayed the rosary all day long. It was bizarre that a Sister thought she could teach us to be real women. Afterwards, she invited us to formation meetings that they had on Wednesdays at 3:30 PM, in one of the classrooms of my Faculty.
I remember that the thing that stood out the most for me when I got to know Sr. Clare was her gaze: it was pure... It had been so long since I saw someone with a gaze like that. She even seemed to know what I was thinking because in an act of "courtesy," and to quickly finish talking to her and be able to leave, we told her that sure, we would go to the meeting. Upon hearing that response, she answered, "But don't be like the rest of the young people that say to us: 'Sure, of course I'll go Sister,' and then don't show up. They're afraid of drawing close to the Lord because they're a bunch of cowards."
The other thing that impressed me a lot about her was her joy. It seemed like the only thing she knew how to do was laugh, joke around, and smile. To me that was a mystery because she was a nun! And she was happy! A nun… and happy! In that moment, it seemed like the joke was on me. To sum things up, because of the "nagging insistence of my friend," and because my pride was hurt when a Sister said that we were cowards, I decided to go to the meeting. And when I got there, I noticed that Sr. Clare was doing the same thing: laughing. It wasn't just a front she put on to draw young people. That was how she was. I remember how she said to us: "Look! The first brave young people from the University!" And she laughed. Over time, as I got to know her better and continued going to the meetings, her joy impressed me more and more. You could tell that she was happy because she was following and serving the Lord.
Joy in poverty.
Between January and April of 2013, I went to see the Sisters in their house on a regular basis. I had already started to think that I had a vocation with the Servant Sisters. On one occasion, when I went to visit the Sisters, I had to talk with my spiritual guide. I was waiting for her in the dining room and Sr. Clare was with me while we waited for the Sister who was my spiritual guide to come home. We were talking about a lot of things, and at a given moment, I decided to ask her something about the habit she wore. She was wearing the white habit. I don't remember what my exact question was, but her face and her answer were something I could not easily forget.
I suppose my question was something along the lines of what would happen if she had to go out and her tunic or scapular got dirty? Does she have another habit. I was sitting in a chair and she was standing. She said, "Look." And she looked at herself from her feet to her head. She stretched out her arms and said, "See. Everything I'm wearing is not mine. None of it. I'm poor. I don't even own the habit I'm wearing because everything belongs to the community. And that's how it is for each Sister. We don't have anything." She smiled, looked at me, and said, "And you know what? I'm free. I have more joy than what I would have if I possessed a ton of things in the world."
C'mon! It's just a small step.
On May 27, 2014, I was in the José Joaquín de Olmedo Airport of Guayaquil. I was already a candidate of the Servant Sisters of the Home of the Mother and was about to leave my country to travel to Spain and continue forward with my religious formation. It was a bit of a difficult moment. My family still didn't understand my vocation or the reason for leaving my country. They were suffering because of it. Even though I had the certainty that it was what God wanted, it didn't take away from it being a difficult step for me.
My parents, siblings, some girls and lay members of the Home, and the community of Servant Sisters of the Home of the Mother in Guayaquil were at the airport. At that time, Sr. Clare formed part of that community.
As I said, it was a moment of a lot of emotions. Three other candidates were traveling with me. We started to say good-bye to our families and friends. I was calm and was dealing with it well. I was laughing with the girls from the Home and even said good-bye to my parents without losing my cool. It was hard for me but I tried to not let my parents notice so that they would be calm. The moment came for us to go through customs, which is when you have to go and those who aren't traveling with you have to stay outside.
While I said good-bye to everyone, with all the craziness going on in the airport, I left my jacket with my brother. When one of the Sisters told us it was time to go through and that it was getting late, I completely forgot about my jacket and quickly went to the gate. Right when I was about to go through the gate, my brother went running after me to give me my jacket back, he hugged me, and then started to cry.
It was as if, in a moment, all the strength you have disappears... And you realize how little you can deal with without the grace of God. When I saw my brother cry, I began to have a lot of mixed emotions, and started to look more at myself than at the Lord, and also started to cry. It was an embarrassing situation.
All of the sudden, I can only remember looking back and seeing my parents. My mother was crying. It really wasn't the ideal situation for encouraging you to continue forward, but instead for running back and consoling them. I saw all the girls and even my best friend, crying. She understood but it was hard for her also. And I started to be filled with fear... I also looked at the Sisters. I had the impression that they had faces of worry. They didn't know if I was going to repent of the decision I had taken. I remember that there were a lot of people in the airport. And behind that great sea of people, all of the sudden Sr. Clare appeared. In that moment, it was just like when I met her in the University, when she came out from behind the palm tree. Now, she was coming out from behind a sea of people. She was so funny... She started to wave her arms and say to me, "C'mon Michelle! Walk. It's just a small step. C'mon. It's not a big deal. It's just a step. Don't look back. Don't look back. It's for the Lord. Give everything to the Lord."
When I saw Sr. Clare laughing, almost shouting, waving her arms in the air, I reacted. It seemed like hours had gone by, but it was a question of seconds. It was like waking up. I turned around and could continue walking towards customs, without looking back. Later, I remembered that when she told us her vocation story, she told us that when she had to leave Ireland, it was also really hard to say good-bye to her parents and she said, "I also left crying, but I knew that I couldn't look back." That helped me a lot because even though I looked back, I had someone to encourage me to continue forward.