Her name is Sister Maria Felicia. Her smile is captivating. Obviously she has found the secret of happiness. She died a Carmelite cloistered nun at the age of 34; the good die young. On June 23 she will be beatified at the Estadio General Pablo Rojas in her native land – Paraguay. She sill be the first ever Paraguayan to be beatified.
Maria Felicia Guggiari Echeverria was born on January 12th 1925 in Villarica del Espiritu Santo, Guairá, Paraguay. She was the first of seven children. At the age of 16, she enlisted in the ranks of Catholic Action. Despite the strong opposition she received from her family she dedicated herself to help out in the Church’s activities and even made a promise of virginity. She tried to receive communion every day and did her best to help children, young people, the sick, the elderly and needy.
She fell in love with Saua Angel, a young leader of the Catholic Action, and a medical student who was very close to becoming a doctor. Equipped with a deep faith and love for Saua at the same time, she wondered if God was calling her to marriage like the parents of St. Therese of Lisieux who had, at first, chose virginity. Maria waited with confidence for the manifestation of God’s will, and about a year later Saua told Maria he felt called to the priesthood. As soon as she heard of his vocational call, she offered to help him achieve his goal, even though this broke her heart.
To avoid the opposition of his family because his father was a Muslim, Saua was sent to Madrid for specialization in psychiatry, and at the same time to discern better the call to the priesthood. He left for Europe in April 1952 and in November entered the seminary. At the same time, Maria Felicia felt clearly that God was calling her to dedicate herself totally to God in the religious life. Her family opposed her vocation, but she kept going on. She never lost her beautiful smile. “She smiles even when she cries”, someone noticed!
“…Bridegroom of my soul, You know my desire for apostolic zeal for the salvation of souls, help me to know where you want the complete consecration of all my being.”
Despite the opposition of her family and that of various priests who saw that the parish was going to lose a remarkable help in the parish, Maria entered the Carmel of Asuncion (Paraguay) at the age of 30 and took the Discalced Carmelite habit on August 14, 1955, the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple.
At this point, Sister Maria Felicia, who had kept an intense correspondence with Saua, ceased to write so that she could be immersed forever in a “life hidden with Christ for God.” “Goodbye till Eternity” was her last words of farewell.
A year later, on August 15th, 1956 Maria professed her temporary vows and took the name Sister Maria Felicia of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. She lived the next three years with fervor, in fellowship, distinguished by charity, sacrifice and joy. She offered her sacrificed love for Saua, for the Church, for her homeland, and in a very special way for priests.
In January 1959 Sr. Maria took ill with contagious hepatitis and was forced to move into a sanatorium in the city. At about 4:10am on Easter Sunday, March 28, 1959, with all her family present, Sr. Maria Felicia of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, lying on cushions, sat up with a burst of energy and spoke her last words: “Jesus, I love you! What a sweet encounter Virgin Mary!” And with her characteristic sweet smile on her face, she died at the age of 34.
Chiquitunga (pronounced Chichitunga), as she was affectionately called, had been within the walls of Carmel for four years but she left a profound impression on the Mother and sisters of her community who remember her for her pronounced spirit of sacrifice, charity and generosity, all clothed in gentleness and catching happiness.
Described as their “lily’ by the Catholic Church of Paraguay, Venerable Maria Felicia of the Blessed Sacrament could become the first Saint from Paraguay. Many of her writings, poems and letters still exist. They are full of spontaneity and simplicity.
The Beatification Process was started on December 13, 1997, and on March 27, 2010 she was declared Venerable by Pope Benedict XVI by a decree of heroic virtues.
“Father, for Your glory accept the total surrender of my being in union with the perfect sacrifice of Your divine Son. In Him, through Him and with Him I live, love, believe, suffer and die. I choose Your heart as a place of my eternal home!”