By Fr. Eugenio, sx.
In all my years of missionary priesthood, one thing for which I am grateful to God is for sending some people into my life who, without exaggeration, have taught me to be a missionary, accompanying me and guiding me with their Christian fidelity, and showing me in countless ways that the Gospel is simple. One of these people is Ate Ana Bonifacio, a small Filipino lady, who was seriously ill for many years and who died on 27 June. In spite of her illness, she dedicated a great deal of her time to serving the Christian community of Sitio Militar, one of the most densely populated slum areas of Quezon City, where the Xaverians have been carrying out their missionary work for 15 years, and where I too exercised my pastoral ministry for almost nine years.
I therefore feel qualified to speak about her with pride and gratitude. I know how much time Ate Ana spent listening to the young and not so young, their problems and sufferings, their difficulties and confusion, including in matters of faith. Discretely, she became a spiritual guide for many people who had a spiritual and moral need of help. She also gave good lessons of Christian life to our seminarians, as well as “scolding” more than one of them, without being overwhelmed by their status, which they sometimes exhibited inappropriately!
She also shared her spiritual friendship with St. Guido Conforti with many needy people in the Sitio Militar. Until just a few days before her death, she was still speaking about Conforti, infinitely grateful to Fr. Luigi Menegazzo who had a “special medal” made for her, bearing the image of our Founder. Some years ago, she invented a novena to St. Guido Conforti, making several handwritten copies which she distributed among the neighbors. She prayed this novena with them especially in times of difficulty and family problems, or when she accompanied groups of persons, taking the statue of our Lady from family to family, after praying the Rosary. I don’t know to how many people she gave the picture card of Conforti, in addition to her relatives and sick acquaintances in hospital, encouraging them all to remain close to Conforti and ask for his intercession.
Her concrete, assiduous and daily service in the small Church of the Sitio, in countless ways and in the informal coordination of the various ministries, enabled a community to grow and consolidate its faith and identity as a Christian community. She was the “invisible” but very effective hinge; silent but self-assured and frank. Physically, she was very weak, but she was morally upright and a spiritual rock.
The life of Ate Ana is a new chapter in the story of the love between God and his people. Yes, the life of Ate Ana is a story of God’s tenderness which, when it embraces the heart of a son or daughter, never fails to blossom. Fr. Purnomo,sx has told me that the church of the Sitio Militar was packed during the prayer vigil and he described the “luminosity” of her funeral. This comes as no surprise.
Thank you, Ate Ana, for reminding me that the Gospel is very simple and that it is for the humble people. Thanks for helping me to love my vocation and the One who gave it to me. Often you disarmed me with your smile, even when asthma attacks left you barely able to breathe. You encouraged and supported me often with your patience. I will continue to confide in you, even more than before, now that you are with your, and our, beloved St. Guido Conforti.