The Blood Vow
"God never simply buries our dead and
broken dreams because He'd be burying our
hearts along with our dreams. One of two
positive things will happen. Either the dream
will become fertilizer for something even
better, or the Lord will give me the gumption
and oomph to bring my dream to fruition.
I can't lose either way!"
Pilar Maria and Leonor Lopez de Maturana
were born twins. On July 25, 1884. Both had
great dreams. They felt called to follow
the stars! Leonor joined the Carmelites of
Charity and found herself doing missionary
and educational work in Argentina, Pilar
joined the Sisters of Mercy in the unassuming
convent at Berriz. She was 19.
Berriz is a town located in the province
of Bizkaia, in the autonomous community of
Basque country, northern Spain. Her mother
steered her away from the advances of a naval
officer who was showing too much interest
in her. Pilar was beautiful.
The community of Vera Cruz was cloistered
but they kept a boarding school on the side.
Pilar, now Sister Margarita Maria was an
excellent educator. She was very innovative
also, introducing music, gym and drama in
the curriculum of this school.
Missionaries on their way to India and China
often stopped there and recounted their adventures
in these far away places. The missionary
fervor echoed strongly within the heart of
this young teacher at the monastery school.
She longed to go the missions. She was a
woman of deep feelings, very determined and
above all open to the surprises of God. God
can be so unconventional!
Inspired by their founder, Saint Peter Nolasco,
who in 1218 established the Order specifically
to ransom Christians who were captives of
the Moors (Spain at the time was in the hand
of the moors), the Sisters vow to lay down
their lives for captives or people whose
lives are in danger.
It is called the 'blood vow'. The early Fathers
were even ready to remain "hostage in
the hands of the Saracens for the redemption
of captive Christians." Risks, blood,
captivity, addictions are present even today.
There are new forms of slavery and so we
need new forms of redemption.
Sister Margarita Maria believed the best
way to practice that vow was to transform
the Vera Cruz monastery into a missionary
congregation and "make Christ known
to the ends of the earth."
This was a jump in the unknown. A complete
revolution. A metamorphosis. It is not easy
to break centuries of traditions.
It was naked faith in God that kept her going.
Many were against the idea. Mediocrity around
her tried to kill her dream. Many believed
she was crazy but her joyful enthusiasm dashed
all resistances to the grounds. She believed
what Henri Nouwen would say later, "Your
life is not going to be easy, and it should
not be easy. It ought to be hard. It ought
to be radical; it ought to be restless; it
ought to lead you to places you'd rather
"There are moments in the life,"
she herself said, "that are of utmost
importance where God outlines for us a clear
way to follow. It is up to us to correspond
Everything happened rapidly. The General
of the Order brought Sister Margarita Maria's
project to the attention of Pope Pius XI.
With his blessing, the first experimental
expedition of six nuns was sent to Wuhu,
China in 1926. The second missionary group
went to Saipan in 1927, and a third to Pohnpei
in the Caroline Islands, in 1928.
A river cuts through rock, not because of
its power, but because of its persistence.
When Sr. Margarita Maturana visited Fauchuen
on her journey to Pohnpei to open the first
school there, she picked up a stone and said,
"May this stone be the cornerstone of
the future convent for our sisters here."
Her words were prophetic because less than
ten years later the school was built.
Thus, a soon-to-be beatified woman walked
on our islands! The initial faltering steps
of this enormous adventure developed here
at the Marianas! God has His own way of doing
things … and they are always exciting.
Margarita found herself engulfed in numerous
tribulations. The ambiguity and the denigration
of many around her troubled her. The fatigue
of these long journeys weighed her down considerably.
But her unshakeable confidence in God made
the impossible happen. She felt driven by
In 1930, the Vera Cruz nuns voted unanimously
to become missionaries. On the strength of
their fourth vow, they shared the dream of
Margarita to assume risks and face challenges
even in far away countries. Slowly but surely
she had transformed the hearts of ninety
four nuns of papal cloister in this vision
of universal brotherhood!
On May 23, Rome approved the new religious
institute of the Mercedarian Missionaries
of Berriz. Mother Margarita Maria was elected
their first superior general.
Four years later she died of cancer. She
was only fifty years old. Her parting words
were that to her sisters. "Do not worry.
I will take care of you from heaven."
And I believe she has.
On October 22, she will be beatified in her
hometown, Bilbao, Spain. Bishop Tomas Camacho
and a delegation from the Marianas will be
there. Interestingly enough, that Sunday
is Mission Sunday!
(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission
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