"Remember, I am with you always to the end of the age" (Mt 28:20)

Girlie: The Little Flower of Bukidnon [PART I]

 Thérèse and her sister Celine
he world came to know about St. Thérèse’s “Little Way” through her autobiography 'The Story of a Soul'. Two years before she died in 1895 Mother Agnès of Jesus, the prioress, had commanded Thérèse to write her diary which she did under obedience. Within a year she filled up six exercise books and submitted these to the prioress, who just put them in a drawer without even reading. Then one year after her death, the diaries were published in a small edition of 2,000. It became an instant bestseller. It swept and ignited the world such that miracles started to happen. Since then her diary has been translated in fifty languages which is proof of how much the world hungers for spiritual nourishment that an ordinary cloistered nun, a.k.a "The Little Flower" had sparked. This moniker fits perfectly her fleeting life on earth. The flower bloomed and before it wilted just at age 24, she was able to bring beauty not only to her surroundings inside the monastery but to the whole world. Hopefully before we die, we too could boast as much as the Little Flower that was Thérèse.
The Little Flower of Bukidnon
Allow me now to tell you about the story of another Little Flower that God has destined for me to meet during the first year of my priesthood and as a missionary in a rural parish in Cabanglasan Bukidnon. I remember vividly arriving that morning of May 16, 2014 coming from Manila and seeing for the first time this mountainous province. I was welcomed by the children of indigenous peoples whose schooling were being supported by the parish. The face of this young girl with a radiant smile beaming with sheer joy and contentment would be etched forever in my memory. Her name is Marineng Daw-it but we fondly call her by her baptismal name GirlieFrom that day on I knew there was something extraordinary about her. Indeed in the three months that followed, I got to know her life story. Like an indigenous little flower, which often the world would not appreciate for its preference for external beauty rather than native beauty. She hailed from a community of indigenous peoples called Umajamnon tribe who are known for their traditional attire and jewelries made of beads.

What was so special about Girlie? Everyone who got to know her would unanimously point to her talent for selflessness and heroic virtue. When I first arrived, Girlie was still in third grade together with those aged between 8 and 10. But Girlie's age was already that of a teenager because, like most children of indigenous peoples, she did not have early access to formal education. Surprisingly, despite her lack of training, she exuded a life of holiness that she practiced not only while inside the church but in her dealings with others outside, doing corporal works of mercy that we rarely see nowadays. Let me share just a few of the examples of her virtues.

Our cook, when she did not report for duty because of sickness Girlie visited her in her house and even fetched her regular supply of water to drink. She would normally do things like these when she is not in the class. There were instances when she would ask to be dismissed earlier because she needed to attend to her acts of service for others. Because of this, she was well loved by her fellow scholars because of her great selflessness  and sometimes to the point of being taken advantage of. She would volunteer to cook for them all. The Jesuit Volunteers (Philippines) grew very fond of her for she always brought them freshly cooked rice for lunch which Girlie would do on a daily basis. One incident I will never forget was one early morning before going to say mass at a remote village and I could not find my pair of mountain shoes. I taught at first it was stolen. I learned later on that Girlie took it and washed it late at night because the shoes were too soiled.

On just the fourth month of having adjusted to the place on August 21, 2014, something occurred. That was Monday morning, a holiday, when one volunteer who was celebrating his birthday brought all the scholars to a nearby creek for swimming. We Jesuits have just gone back to Malaybalay City for our usual day-off and to re-join the other Jesuits. I was the first to receive a call from our parish secretary with the sad news that Girlie has just died from drowning. I was in total shock and could not believe what I heard. Me and my fellow Jesuit had to rush back to the parish to see for ourselves. I felt like someone so precious was taken away. The pain I felt was similar to those moments when one usually asks, "Why this person, Lord?"

Today's feast is a memorial of the many St. Thérèse's that each of us get to meet. I would always remember Girlie as my Little Flower back in Bukidnon. I truly believe they are sent by God to us most especially when God would like to teach us of the true virtue of humility and reliance on God. We forget along the way who we truly are-precious children in the eyes of God. No wonder, I thought to myself, I learned so much more from Girlie than from my years of formal studies. In the Gospel for today let the following words sink deep into our hearts through the intercession of St. Thérèse and aided by the inspiring life of Girlie.
The disciples came to Jesus and said, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ So he called a little child to him and set the child in front of them. Then he said, ‘I tell you solemnly, unless you change and become like little children you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. And so, the one who makes himself as little as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. ‘Anyone who welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me.’ (Mt. 18:1-5)