She was killed in 1987 in the Amazon regions of Peru, determined to continue helping people of the Ashaninka tribe.
Maria Agustina Rivas Lopez was born on June 13, 1920, in Coracora, Peru. She was the oldest of 11 children born to Modesta Lopez de Rivera and Damaso Rivas. They gave their daughter the name of Antonia. Antonia and her siblings had loving and caring parents who taught their children the Catholic faith and its virtues.
Antonia developed a deep love for the poor and, as she grew older, always did her best to help and protect them. She loved harvest time because she could give the poor much more than usual. The country atmosphere was well suited to Antonia, as she loved nature with its abundance of plants and farm animals. She also liked helping her mom taking care of the house — no simple task with 13 people living under one roof.
Antonia’s mom did her best to take her children to Mass every day. It was not always possible, but she tried. Her children attended Catechism class in the parish. Her brother, Cesar, answered the call to become a priest, eventually being ordained a Redemptorist.
In 1938 Antonia was in Lima, visiting her brother, and was already feeling the call to service in the Church. It was during this time she had her first encounter with the Sisters of the Good Shepherd. Antonia began a vocational discernment with them, which ultimately led her to enter the Congregation Antonia received her habit and, with it, a new name. From then on, she was known as Maria Agustina, but the sisters gave her the nickname Aguchita.
While she was still in her novitiate, her father passed away. Deeply saddened, she continued to move forward with her calling and, on February 8, 1945, professed her first vows. She prayed that she could always work with the poor. She was steadfast in her commitment to serve Jesus by serving the poor, and in 1949, she made her Perpetual Profession of Vows. Aguchita had a dream, and in it she was in the jungle working with the peasants in the “emergency zone.” She was not sure what that meant, but it was real for her.
Aguchita lived for many years in Barrios Altos in Lima. During this time, her mom died. Aguchita worked in many different places, which included learning various jobs. This diversity put her organizational skills on display, leading to varied leadership levels within the community. Among these was working with the poor as well as with young women who needed help.
Aguchita happily lived the charism of mercy in her community life, always displaying her love and consideration for her superiors. She always seemed to step in when a sister was ill or on vacation, tend to the sick whenever extra help was needed, assist in setting up meetings, and volunteer wherever else help might be required. She truly loved being Sister Aguchita.
To love the poor is to love life
In 1987, Sister Aguchita remembered her dream of being sent to the “emergency zone” in La Florida. The Sisters had been working in the area for 11 years. La Florida had been among the most violent districts in Peru, and it was home to the poorest of the poor. This area saw constant skirmishes and bloodshed between the Peruvian Armed forces and the guerrilla organization known as Shining Light, a Maoist group.
The Sisters knew the risks. They had a saying: “Leave the town or give your life for it.” After prayer and reflection, they chose to “give life” and stay there. Sister Aguchita had, from the moment she arrived in La Florida, devoted herself to the people, extending to them the same love she would give to anyone. She had written, “I was never a respecter of persons, I loved everyone. To love the poor is to love life. Is to love the God of Life.“
Sister Aguchita worked with the Ashaninka tribe, a people who had been almost wiped out in the early 20th century. Rubber exporters destroyed the forests and brought disease to the local people. Sister Aguchita spent most of her time working with the young women of the tribe.
On September 27, 1990, members of the guerrilla band Shining Path entered the village. Sister Aguchita was taken outside and placed in front of the villagers. Six of the local people were also taken out to be made examples of. A 17-year-old girl executed Sister by firing seven shots into her with a rifle. Sister Aguchita died “in odium fidei” (in hatred of the faith).
On May 21, 2021, Pope Francis confirmed the martyrdom of Sister Maria Agustina Rivas Lopez, fondly known as “Aguchita” and a member of the Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd. The date for her beatification has not been determined.