Clapping and tears in the cloister: Nuns’ papal visit experience

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MANILA, Jan. 24, 2015 — Hidden from the world, rarely seen, but still gloriously enmeshed in the life of the rest of the Church. What was the experience of the papal visit like for cloistered nuns in the Philippines?

Life in the monastery is an austere existence made luxurious only by its dedication to silence and prayer — two things so quick to disappear in the staccato of modern habits.

Pope Francis was in the Philippines for a pastoral and state visit from Jan. 15 to 19, 2015. (Photo: Lawrence Ofrin)

Pope Francis was in the Philippines for a pastoral and state visit from Jan. 15 to 19, 2015. (Photo: Lawrence Ofrin)

But the sisters’ daily routine of mostly uninterrupted quiet and work made way to follow news of Pope Francis’ visit to Philippines on television.

Shouts and tears

“We all had a very beautiful and soulful experience. Here we followed everything switching [to] whatever channel has the best transmission. We all cannot contain our joy as the Sri Lankan airplane became visible mid-air,” shared a contemplative nun who declined to give her full name nor the name of her congregation.

According to the former teacher, who had what people would call “a late vocation”, their convent was filled with clapping and shouts of delight from the nuns — not unlike the throngs that waited along roads and camped out on pavements to see the Holy Father, who recently paid an apostolic and state visit to the Philippines from Jan. 15 to 19.

“Even if we were here [inside the convent, it felt like we were present in welcoming him. The clapping and shouts of joy from all of us gave us a feeling that we were also in Villamor! We were all so excited and happy,” she added, describing the mood in the monastery, which currently houses the biggest number of her congregation’s novices in the country.

Tucked away in a 2-hectare compound in Southern Tagalog, far from prying eyes, the contemplative nuns rang their three bells for 15 minutes at exactly 5:30 p.m. on Jan. 15, as Pope Francis landed at Villamor Air base, nearly a hundred kilometers away.

5 minutes, an eternity

The ringing required 9 sisters at one go with 3 sisters ringing at one time, for five minutes each.

“It was funny because each batch felt like 5 minutes was so long, we felt like we already missed out a lot already…We also got tired and hungry, but very energized,” the nun revealed.

The sister, being in the last batch of volunteer bell ringers, shared how they expected to miss Pope Francis’ first appearance, emerging from the plane, because of their duties.

“You can imagine our delight when he was delayed a bit and we were all there when the entire nation saw him in the window. Most of us were already teary-eyed just having a glimpse of him looking out in the window,” she added.

The sisters would — like the rest of the Philippines — try to soak in as much of the Holy Father’s words during his 5-day trip to the country.

With the country still on a “Francis high” a week after the trip, the nuns mirror the collective sentiments of Filipinos.

“As many of us still feels, there is so much to re-read, to reflect, to relish, to pray for, on our common retreat of five days as a nation, with our Holy Father as our retreat master,” said the nun.

In the stillness of closter, bells mark the times for Lauds, Matins, Vespers; the pit-a-pat pattern of the consecrated life is like the beating of the heart of the Church herself.

“We’re now all back to ‘ordinary’ life. The invitation to deepen and to truly practice what our Holy Father planted in our hearts begins right here, right now, wherever we are. Small steps, courageous steps. All is grace,” said the nun.

“We continue to thank Our Lord and Mama Mary as we share yours and our entire country’s joy for the grace-filled visit our dearest Holy Father, Pope Francis,” she added.

The small community’s experience of the Holy Father’s visit, though different from the rest of faithful’s, is summed up by one statement: “It was like Christ passed by.” (Nirva’ana Ella Delacruz/CBCPNews)

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