‘I promise consecrated chastity, poverty and obedience to God, our Lord, to the most Blessed Virgin of Mount Carmel, and to the prioress and her successors.’

With these simple words the Carmelite sisters of the convent of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Tambacan make their profession of vows. But what led up to this moment was a careful process of discernment, often involving long nights spent in prayer. Here on the island of Luzon in the northern Philippines, in a remote and desolate region, Sister Lorelei Marie Libo-on has at last found her ‘Tanging Yaman’, the ‘true treasure’ of her life. Like most of the sisters here, she sensed her vocation to ‘serve the Church through prayer and sacrifice’ at an early age. The nuns pray for the whole world but ‘we pray in particular for priests, religious and all missionaries.’

Sister Marilyn Facinabao has a favourite song: ‘Musmos ka pa lamang minahal na kita – You were still a very little child when I loved you… I was holding you by the hand when you made your first steps…’ She always felt ‘called’, but she had never seen a nun, so she always said, when asked, ‘I want to be a priest’. But when she first met a religious sister, she immediately realised ‘That’s what I really want to be.’ She never forgot God’s call in her heart, which gradually became louder. She felt his guiding hand.

In fact God has led every one of the sisters by the hand to this Carmel in Tambacan. Their life is one of great abstinence but also one of great grace. There are many vocations, with 21 sisters in training and twelve who have made their full profession. Many other young women are knocking at the door of the Carmel. They too want to serve God here. But there is no more room, as under the Carmelite Rule, each sister must live in a separate cell.

So there are three aspirants still waiting for admission. They also need a special wing for elderly and sick sisters to be completed, so some of the frail and elderly sisters, who struggle with the stairs and need help from the younger ones to reach their cells, would be able to move there, freeing up space for the new entrants. But they don’t have the money for this wing, or to build new cells.

Sister Maria Violeta Banawa recalls her own journey to the Carmel. ‘True love makes everything possible. I thought loving him was enough, but love is not only a matter of feelings. It means dedication, sacrifice and commitment. I lacked this in the beginning.’ Experience taught her how to truly love. She has committed her life to Jesus. ‘The chapter of losing, searching and finding has ended now. A new chapter begins’, she concludes, thanking those who have helped her on her journey.

This article can be found in Mirror 0217.