NEW YORK — When Pope Francis leaves New York City on Saturday, four nuns from the Precious Blood Monastery of Brooklyn will be there to bid Pope Francis farewell and present him with gifts of a bouquet of flowers, a traditional Argentinian gift and a book of Marian images from the Brooklyn diocese’s Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph.
The nuns are Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matará, part of the Religious Family of the Incarnate Word. One special aspect is that in the monastery four of the sisters are Argentinian, while four are American, two Filipino, and one Egyptian. In the midst of their regular cloistered prayer life plus preparing for the big event, some sisters shared their thoughts about this occasion and the papal trip with the Register.
“For me it’s like a dream,” explained Sister Maria Vervo Encarnado. “I never imagined this. I am a cloistered sister in a monastery. We don’t go outside. And one day to be told you have to meet the Pope at the airport — that’s something I never expected.”
Sister Maria Vervo, who is from Argentina, said she has been living in the United States since 1995 and is part of America now, which made this choice all the more unexpected on her part. She still half imagines someone to tell her, “Wake up. You were dreaming.”
Was Mother Maria del Redentor surprised? “Sure,” she said, “because who would expect such a thing.”
Even Sister Innocence, one of the sisters who won’t be going to the airport, is thrilled and honored her community and sisters were asked. “That’s why we’re all so excited,” she said. Sister Innocence is one of the American sisters in the convent.
Perfectly Picked Gifts
Mother Maria explained that the sisters would present Pope Francis with a book completed after St. Joseph Co-Cathedral was rededicated last year.
“This book has pictures of all the images of Our Lady that are present,” she said. The images represent all the ethnic groups in the diocese. The medallion-like rondelettes high along the aisles of the cathedral alone present 22 images of Our Lady, each highlighting a different title from a different country representing the immigrant parishioners in the area.
Describing the images all pictured in the book, Mother Maria happily noted, “One of those murals is Our Lady of Lujan.” Francis will surely light up seeing Our Lady of Lujan, because the original image is in the Basilica of Our Lady of Lujan in Argentina.
The sisters will present this book in the name of the Brooklyn Diocese “because the diocese is mostly [made up of] ethnic people,” Mother Maria observed. “All the Catholics from around the world who live in New York and Brooklyn wish to send him the images of Our Lady for this place.”
Another gift also has special meaning. “Also, we are giving a bouquet of white roses representing the prayers of the people for him,” she said, “but also the prayers he asks from Our Blessed Mother.”
Added Mother Maria enthusiastically: “I’m sure she listens to him!”
Moved by the Pope
One of the things so touching to Sister Innocence so far during the Pope’s trip to the United States are “the reactions of the people to his visit, and their love for him, and being able to see that showing in their hearts,” she said.
In all the Holy Father’s talks, she has seen “how the people have been responding so well and soaking that in.”
Although cloistered, the sisters were able to attend the evening prayer with Francis at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Thursday evening after he arrived from Washington.
“That was really moving for me to be able to be there and pray with the Holy Father,” Sister Innocence said. “It brought me closer into the ‘family’ being there with the Holy Father — the father of the Church. That was very special.” She felt a distinctive “closeness to him, to Rome, the universal Church and the family of the Church.”
She said being part of that service with Pope Francis and being able to show him your love and support and that you care — and by extension being at any event with him — is so important. “It shows the vitality of the Church.”
Sister Maria Vervo believes it an honor to have a Pope from Argentina now. “We have to pray for him double time!” she chuckled, then added, “He’s the pope and you always have to pray for the pope and the Church.”
Mother Maria envisions the benefits to Francis’s homeland now that he is Pope.
“I’m happy he is Pope and he can move the hearts of Argentinian people to the faith so they become more religious and go deeper in the faith,” she reflected. “The majority are Catholics but many of the people are not practicing now. It’s great for our country.”
Thoughts About Francis
Would Mother Maria have a question for Francis if the opportunity presented itself during the presentation of gifts? She said she wouldn’t have any questions, but she will ask him to bless her, her community, her family and, thoughtfully, everybody.
Of course he had had an influence on her from what he has said and done so far on this trip.
“The Pope is a grace for the Church; whatever he does is he is an example for everybody,” explained Mother Maria. “When I see his example of mercy I know I have to be better. I have to follow his example.”
Sister Maria Vervo hasn’t thought about asking Francis anything in particular, but she said she does know that just “to be in front of the Vicar of Christ is something great. Even if I cry and can’t speak, it will be great.”
On the other hand, if she does have a chance to tell Francis something, she would “first of all thank him for his ministry and carrying the cross of Jesus … because he has it not easy,” she reflected. “He has to travel from one place to another. He gets almost nothing of rest. He is always in public and doesn’t have privacy. It’s a difficult and great responsibility.”
Because Francis always asks for the people’s prayers, Sister Maria Vervo would also tell him the sisters “pray for him, and for the Church and for the salvation of all souls. We offer to God our lives for the Pope, the Church and the people.”
She had a particular take on one of the blessings for each of us as the Pope is visiting.
“You need the guidance of a father,” she observed, detailing how Francis is like a father showing you what’s wrong but loving you his children, and telling you how to correct things. She concluded: “He shows his mercy to each one.”
Joseph Pronechen is the Register’s staff writer.