[Over the weekend, thousands of readers were moved by the images of a young Carmelite nun, Sister Cecilia, whose countenance radiated joy as she approached her culmination. That story, which originated in Aleteia’s Spanish-language edition, culled from the Facebook page Curia General de los Carmelitas Descalzos, received a helpful clarification from the Carmelites, who have subsequently granted Aleteia permission to tell the inspiring story of Sister Cecilia’s joy in the face of suffering. This is, again, translated from the Spanish – Ed]
Photos circulating on the internet of a dying Carmelite sister are certainly, as they say, worth a thousand words. But the images that have traveled around the world are only part of the story. For those who lived her suffering beside her, the nun’s testimony of joy and peace was just as radiant as her face.
News of her failing health and her reflections spread quickly through social media on WhatsApp. Even Pope Francis was following her situation. And Sister Cecilia Maria, a discalced Carmelite, knew about everyone’s prayer.
Despite her illness, she did not lose her joy, which was sustained by the support of her numerous family members, who remained close by. Joyful nieces and nephews congregated in the gardens outside the hospital where she was admitted for some weeks, sending her messages and helium balloons to distract and entertain her from the window.
Her joy was accompanied — or perhaps explained — by a profound state of prayer. Whenever she could, she put on her habit so as to participate at Mass in the hospital chapel. She lived these Masses with the same devotion that characterized her life behind the grille of the Carmel of Villa Pueyrredon in Buenos Aires.
Despite her illness, Sister Cecilia remained quite lucid. Though she couldn’t talk during her last months, her weak gestures at each Mass gave evidence of her attention and fervor. When the prayers of the faithful included the intention of the sick, her expression showed her gratitude.
Those who saw her spoke of her face as showing peace and joy — as someone awaiting the encounter with the One to whom she had given her life, Our Lord Jesus Christ.
During her last months, two religious sisters accompanied her: one, her blood sister, a nun of the Incarnate Word, and the other, a spiritual sister from her congregation. With her and like her, despite the sorrow, they were always smiling, as were the members of her family. This is a beautiful testimony the the power of the domestic Church, facing in unity difficult moments such as these.
“I am very content,” Sister Cecilia Maria wrote in May, “astonished by the work of God through suffering, and by so many people who pray for me.”
Even Pope Francis from Rome had assured her of his prayers in a voice message in which he told her that he knew of her offering and that he loved her very much.
It wasn’t the first time that the Vicar of Christ had his attention on Sister Cecilia. Before taking the habit, she had been able to personally tell Pope John Paul II about her vocation.
Some hours before dying, the Carmelite was able to receive Communion, wetting her lips with the Precious Blood of Our Lord. The illness had already, sometime before, taken the use of her tongue, “the most sacred paten for receiving his Body and Blood,” as she described it.
Like Blessed Chiara Luce Badano, she requested that in her funeral, in addition to prayer, there would be celebration. The beloved would at last embrace her Lover.
She “has softly fallen asleep in the Lord, after an extremely painful illness, which she always endured with joy and surrender to her Divine Spouse,” her sisters in the Carmel of Santa Fe said in announcing her death.