Pilgrimage to Sister Clare’s Tomb in Derry (Ireland), from May 25th-28th, 2016.
We have had the great joy of going on the first “pilgrimage” to Sister Clare’s tomb. It was really impressive. Two Sisters (Sr. Ruth Mª and Sr. Amparo) and three of the girls (Jennifer, Janette and Noelia) from Maria Inmaculada School, which the Servant Sisters are in charge of, left Belmonte (Cuenca) on May 25th. Although the main focus of our trip was Derry, we also visited other places in Ireland.
After the celebration of Mass in the morning of the 27th in Knock, we ran into Tom Gallagher, the man who helped Sister Clare on her first trip to Spain. It had been many years since we had seen him, so it was a great joy to see him there. He told us that he had been in charge of the youth group that Sr. Clare had occasionally gone to. They bought the plane tickets to Spain for some of the young people, and, thanks be to God, Sister Clare was one of them. There in the Knock Shrine we prayed for everyone.
We arrive at Derry on the 28th at 11:30 in the morning. A married couple, Sean and Ann Gallagher, came and met up with us on the road and took us to the cemetery where Sister Clare is buried. Sean is Tom Gallagher’s brother. When we arrived at the cemetery, there was a burial going on right next to Sr. Clare’s tomb and so we had to wait a while. While we waited, Sean and Ann showed us pictures from our first trip to Derry years ago. Sister Ruth Ibáñez and Sister Elena were the sisters on that first trip along with Sr. Thérèse and myself, as candidates. That was where we met Sister Clare for the first time, when she came to pick up her plane ticket. Who would have told me that the next time I visited that place it would be to visit her at the cemetery? When we got out of the car to greet Sean and his wife, their accent reminded me of Sister Clare’s voice. So many times we used to tease each other because of our accents! She was from Derry and I am from Dublin. Just hearing them speak filled my eyes with tears.
When we finally arrived at her tomb, we could do nothing but get on our knees and give thanks to God for her life and for having the grace of knowing her. We spent quite a while in silence, because our soul needed time to take in all that we were living. We were able to be there until 1:30. We prayed for everyone there and we also took everyone’s love there: Mother Ana’s, Father Rafael’s, the Servant Sisters’, the Servant Priests’ and Brothers’, the lay people’s, the young people’s, and especially the affection of the children who loved her so much. We prayed for the conversion of all those who will hear about the testimony she gave with her life and for all those who struggle to accept their vocation, so that, by seeing her example, they give of themselves with generosity. In the end, all were present. In those moments, distance doesn’t exist. While we were praying, a woman came to leave flowers on the tomb. When I looked up I saw that it was Sister Clare’s mother. We weren’t with her for too long because we were going to visit her at three o’clock in the afternoon. She told us that she would be waiting for us with the doors of her house wide open. Just when we were about the start the Rosary, Sean told us to head over to his house for lunch. With heavy hearts we left with them.
The time came to visit Sister Clare’s mother, Margaret. She welcomed us with open arms and told us many things. We were with her until 4:30. Among jokes and laughter, she told us how, because of different circumstances, she had this intuition that something was going to happen to Sister Clare. They hadn’t seen each other for five years and Sister Clare’s last words to her mother had been, “Mom, I love you very much.” Margaret holds on to these words as a treasure. She told us that Sr. Clare was very mischievous and that she also loved to sing. She also told us that she receives letters and sympathy cards from all over the world, even from South Africa. She said, “I don’t know how these letters get here from places that are so far away… Is it that she went there and never told me?” We told her mother all the good that she is still doing, more now than before. God willing, we will be back to visit her in August because we are organizing a pilgrimage and a summer camp in Ireland.
At 6:00 we had Mass at Sister Clare’s parish, but because we had some extra time, we went back to visit her tomb. The truth is that it was really hard to leave the cemetery. And even though none of us have a gift for singing, we started to sing a song that she used to like: “Virgen del Rocío”. After a little while more of prayer, we left and went to Mass.
There is a passage of a letter of St. Paul that says, “May the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” The death of Sister Clare has been a shock and a very deep loss, but in the midst of all of this, there is a peace and a joy that it is hard to explain. Ever since her death, one has a deep experience of the power of the Word of God. There are now so many desires to reach salvation! What a certainty in his promise to never leave us alone! “I will return for you.” “I will not leave you alone.” “I know my sheep and they know me and follow my voice.” Their souls must have felt such joy seeing the Lord’s Hand taking them out of there! I know that you can’t canonize anyone without waiting for the Church to judge, but I just can’t imagine the Lord leaving them during those difficult moments. Our Lady must have looked upon them with such tenderness. Heaven must have opened its doors, for them, but also for us. It is as if Our Lady is letting us see through a crack what awaits us. Don’t you just want to be with them already? Doesn’t that step that we so feared seem easier and closer? Now it’s time to get to work. What is left, in the end, is love and nothing else, how much we have loved. “Love each other as I have loved you.” This is our path.
Testimonies from the girls:
The people in Ireland are amazing! A day before the trip, the sisters talked to us about being friendly; during this trip we have received so much amiability.
During the days that we were in Ireland I felt right at home. All of the people there were very friendly, generous and willing to help. I learned a lot from each of them and it has been a very important life lesson for me.
We went to many places in Ireland and I liked it all, but what I liked the most was visiting Sr. Clare in Derry. It really impacted me to see that Sr. Clare is no longer with us but it is a consolation to have the hope that she is in Heaven, because I have already felt her help. We prayed before her tomb and we sang a song that she always liked to sing. I had heard her sing that song at the nursing home in Belmonte, Cuenca. Every Sunday we would go and Sr. Clare would play the guitar and sing, to bring joy to their day. She would also sing for us and make us laugh. When we visited her, I entrusted to her all the intentions I hold in my heart, so that, together with Our Lady, she can help me. I asked for the strength to open my heart more, and the truth is that it is happening. Every time I am going to fall, she tells me that I can’t allow it, that what I have to do is persevere and grow up as a Christian doing God’s Will. Sister Clare helped me a lot and she still does.
Thinking about her and how she left everything to give her life to God, I think that the best way to live life is to live it close to Him, because, just like her, we will have a huge reward. It’s time to move forward and pack my suitcase ready for the most important trip ever, our trip to Heaven. I hope Sister Clare expects us with a suitcase like hers!
-Noelia Sánchez Porrero
For me this trip has been a shower of graces. The most important part of our trip was Derry. The closer that we got to Sr. Clare’s tomb the faster my heart started to beat. I didn’t know Sr. Clare personally, because I got to Belmonte the year after she left. Some of the girls that did know her were always telling stories about her. The girls always sang her songs and would talk about “Sor Clor” (which is what she named herself as a joke with the girls). Whenever I would go to an activity organized by the Home of the Mother, I really wanted to meet her, but she had already gone to Ecuador. When I found out that she had passed away, I was really sad, but what then happened was what surprised me. After her death, we would put on her videos at home (Maria Inmaculada School), the sisters and the girls would tell stories about her; they would laugh remembering her silliness. And that is when I began to get to know her.
When I was at her tomb, I asked her to pray for my little brother, who is not doing well. Later on, when we were with her mother, she told us things about when Sister Clare was younger. When she saw me laugh and saw the look on my face, she told me that Sr. Clare used to be into the same things that I was and that I reminded her of Sister Clare. This was a huge joy for me, and truth be told, an honor. I feel like I really identify with Sister Clare, and now I ask her to give me a hand with my struggles. Hopefully I will never be a flat Coke.
It was a huge grace to be able to visit Sister Clare on my birthday. Two weeks ago I got confirmed. The sisters told us that we could pick a saint name to be our patron for the day of our Confirmation. Seeing Sister Clare and seeing how she had given herself to the Lord, I decided to take her name. Now I am Jennifer Clare. When we were with her mother, we told her about my name and she was really happy, and moved. Even though I didn’t know Sr. Clare, now it seems like I do. It was a great trip.