CNA Newsroom, Mar 16, 2023 / 07:57 am (CNA).
Triplets María Gorete dos Santos, María de Lourdes dos Santos, and María Aparecida dos Santos, 57, are all nuns belonging to the Franciscan Congregation of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Born into a Catholic family of 17 siblings in rural Bahia state in Brazil, they felt their vocation awakening in childhood. "We didn't know … what it was like, we just wanted to be religious. It was something that only God can explain," María Gorete said.
Gorete, Lourdes, and Aparecida are from the small town of Itamira in the district of Aporá. There they met "a nun from Italy, Sister Ricarda" when they were children, and the nun's witness made them want to follow the same path.
"She visited the communities there, where we attended holy Mass and, while the parish priest ministered to … the people, she gathered the children, seated them in front of the altar, put on a record player, and taught us."
Lourdes then said "'when I grow up, I want to be like this sister.' That made us feel the call even more. We grew up with this idea, which matured, and we lived with this ideal," María Gorete told ACI Digital, CNA's Portuguese-language news partner.
Gorete recalled that her mother, Josefa Mendes de Souza, stated that she would not let her daughters leave the house unless it was to marry or to enter religious life. However, the family didn't know how to make the triplets' dream of entering religious life happen.
A priest who celebrated Mass in the region learned about their desire and contacted the superior of a convent in Salvador in Bahía state, who said she could take the young women. The first to follow the call to a vocation was Lourdes in 1984.
María Gorete recalled that Aparecida also wanted to go, but her mother "said that it wasn't possible at that time, because we had to help with the younger siblings. And the mother [of the house] also helped the elderly people in the community, because in the countryside they needed help to put away firewood, since there was no gas or electricity, to wash clothes in the river, because there was no tank ... So, we had to help her."
A year after Lourdes went to the convent, Aparecida followed the same path and, after another year, it was Gorete's turn.
For María Gorete, there may have been "a bit of influence from one sister to the other, because the first one pulled us along," but she clarified that "each woman has her ideal of being a religious, of consecrating her life to God. This was maturing, and our desire was growing more and more."
For a year the three lived in the same convent, in Salvador. "It was good for us to be together, because we strengthened each other," María Gorete said.
However, the presence of the triplets "created a lot of confusion in the convent," because although "each one worked in a different place," when one of the nuns spoke with one of the triplets and then with another one, she thought she had spoken to the same person.
Currently, María Gorete is in São José dos Campos in São Paulo state, where she works at Asilo Santo Antônio. María de Lourdes is in the convent of Santa Clara do Desterro in Salvador. María Aparecida is spending time at home, taking care of their 85-year-old mother.
"Today, our mother needs care and wants us close. So we talked to our mother superior and we can stay with her. We're going to take turns caring for her," María Gorete explained.
For her, following religious life "is worth it."
"It's worth leaving everything, leaving the family. It's not like abandoning the family, but following what Jesus says: If you want to follow me, renounce everything you have, pick up your cross, and follow me. It gives life meaning," she said.
"By deciding to follow Jesus, we prepare ourselves for whatever comes. We don't know what's ahead, but we know we're not alone. So, we have the courage to give up everything and go without fear. The apostles followed without fear and fulfilled their mission. We are here in the world to carry out our mission of serving, whether in the family, in the convent, wherever God wants us," she concluded.
This story was first published by ACI Digital, CNA's Portuguese-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.