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Madrid: Detour to La Aguilera

Alicia Ambrosio

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Nobody in Spain is up at 8:30am on a Saturday morning. Nobody. Except this Saturday. A handful of volunteers from World Youth Day were up and moving at 8:30am. The lure was a very rare visit to La Aguilera and a unique religious community for women based there called Iesu Communio. They don't like to appear in photos, they don't do interviews, but they do welcome groups at their home, they sing, they share their life experiences, and they leave their visitors awestruck.
WYD Volunteers were given the opportunity to meet with the Iesu Communio sisters for one simple reason: a large portion of the young sisters discovered their vocation at or through WYD.
The volunteers arrived at La Aguilera at 10:30 and were led into a round building with floor to ceiling windows and stadium seating. The sisters were already in place and singing, acapella, in perfect harmony. Although the sisters are shy in public, they don't hesitate to share their joy with those who come to visit them. As we took our seats across from the sea of blue denim habits, we were struck by the sheer beauty before us. Looking at them seated in choral formation, one sees rows of beautiful young women... literally, one face more beautiful than the next. To the untrained eye it might seem as though their beauty is due to the sun they get while going about their daily work in the garden, but there is something more to their beauty.
The theory that there is something more at work here is confirmed when the sisters begin to share with their guests. They freely share their personal vocations stories and the recurring theme in many is "I was carrying around an emptiness in my heart, I kept trying to fill it with other things, and then I met Jesus." Ah ha.
Jesus. Of course. These women, many of whom are barely out of their teens, had a personal encounter with Christ and fell in love. They have been able to recognize what Christ was asking of them, said "yes" and the beauty we see when we look at them is the beauty of a person in communion with Christ, with the Church, and with God's will.
For many that personal encounter with Christ happened at or because of a World Youth Day. When one of the sisters asked, "how many of you are here because of a World Youth Day" almost every hand in the group went up. Sure enough several of the sisters who shared their personal stories pointed back to WYD as a definitive moment in their personal journey, either because for the first time they saw millions of other young people just like themselves but full of life, or because it was the moment they stopped running from their vocation and said "yes."
In turn these women and their radiance lead others to God. Their community now numbers 196, with new novices ready to enter over the next few weeks. As one sister explained, "we're outgrowing our little house, but it's okay, God will provide just like he provided the vocations."
Fransiscan Origins
Up until December of 2010 the Iesu Communio sisters were officially a community of Poor Clare Sisters based in Lerma, Spain. The Poor Clare Community had been dying out. At a certain point there were just over twenty sisters in the community in Lerma, all older women, and there had not been a single new vocation in 26 years.
Then one day in the early 1980s, an 18 year old woman named Veronica Bersoza, realized she was being called to the religious life and to the Poor Clare community of Lerma. Bersoza was from Burgos, Spain, a city approximately a two hour drive north of Madrid and half an hour or so from Lerma, where the Poor Clares were based. She asked her brother Raul, then a seminarian, to drive her to Clarissan convent the day she entered. The story goes that Raul didn't believe his sister would find religious life well suited to her and told the mother superior "let me know when you want me to come pick her up." However, the ways of God are mysterious, and the young Bersoza stayed, eventually becoming a Poor Clare sister and the vocations director for the community.
That's when miracles started happening. After 26 years without a single new vocation, the little community started receiving vocations... and they were all young women, under 35, or in many cases under 30. Soon enough there were more young women in the community than elderly women and the small house in Lerma wasn't big enough for all of them. Furthermore, the community itself had changed with the influx of new, young sisters. The Poor Clare constitution simply wasn't appropriate anymore for this new community that was taking shape in Lerma.
The community worked with the Bishop of Burgos in discerning what to do next and eventually petitioned the Vatican to be given permission to form a new community with a modified contemplative character. In December 2010 the Vatican approved the community's proposed constitution, and in February of 2011 the Iesu Communio sisters made their world debut at a Mass of Thanksgiving in Burgos where they each received their new habits and cross.
Veronica Bersoza is now, Mother Veronica, the superior general of the community and she looks as if no time has passed since the day she entered the Poor Clares.
The sisters are self sufficient, they rely on donations and proceeds from their small gift store to survive.
As their numbers keep growing, their house is getting smaller. But the Iesu Communio sisters aren't worried. They have no doubt God will provide as he has provided up until now.

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