What is it with nuns in pink that people flock to their convents? Is it the fact that they are constantly seen kneeling in front of the Blessed Sacrament that people think that if they pray for one’s petitions, these would be immediately heard by God? Do the grills and enclosure make them holier? Indeed, when I decided to interview the Vocations Directress of the Pink Sisters of New Manila, I was honestly quite nervous because I’ve never met a Pink Sister. I’ve met Poor Clares as well as Carmelite nuns (also enclosed orders) but I’ve never had a close encounter with the nuns in pink.
Last week, I had a long conversation with the Vocation Directress of the Pink Sisters to know more about their congregation. When I arrived at the St. Joseph’s Chapel for Perpetual Adoration along Doña Hemady road in New Manila, I felt quite jittery because I wanted to know a lot of things about the lives of the nuns in pink but I didn’t quite know how I could converse with a nun behind a grill or what kind of questions I am allowed to ask such a holy woman. I might scandalize her with my many inquiries!
I was led to wooden door at the back of the convent where I had to press the buzzer and wait for a sister to open the small opening for us to converse. When I informed the sister I was meeting the Vocation Directress, I was then led to an electronically-locked parlor where the first thing one notices are the grills that separate the visitors from the sisters. I felt like I was being transported to a different era.
The silence inside the parlor was deafening and all I could hear were faint footsteps outside and none from the cloister. The portraits of St. Arnold Janssen, the founder of the Divine Word missionaries family as well as the co-foundress Mother Maria Michaele, and the Sacred Heart of Jesus at the very center of the room give the impression that one is indeed in the presence of holiness. Finally, the amiable sister arrived and our conversation began.
Formally known as the Sister Servants of the Holy Spirit of Perpetual Adoration, ordinary folk would rather call them by the color of their distinctive habit rather than their kilometric, formal name. The “Pink Sisters” wear a rose-colored habit because according to the Vocation Directress, “pink is the color of love and joy. It is the color also of the Holy Spirit who is the God of Love.” Originally, the order was to wear a red-colored habit but the sisters themselves found it too blaring.
The soft, feminine color of pink that they don represents the radiance that comes forth from their union with Christ. “We are joyful because we always in the presence of Jesus.” The Vocation Directress told me that within the walls, they also do the same tasks the rest of humanity is engaged in.
“Many of our tasks are similar to the rest of humanity: housecleaning, washing, ironing, cooking, sewing, answering doorbells and telephones, caring for our sick members. The flow of work is interspersed with recreation,” she said.
This is very radical in the standards of the world. Secularism sees this as a veiled form of escape from the demands of the modern age and a pathetic, boring life. Many young people today find it creepy surrendering one’s self into the enclosure of the cloister when one can be very rarely seen by people. In this day and age of Ipod, Facebook, Twitter and whatnot, a life in seclusion, a life of routine and essentially, a life of surrender, isn’t attractive at all.
But routine has an important and special part in the lives of the sisters. They maintain that all of what they do is centered only on One Person, the source of all the joy and radiance their habit, and ideally, their very lives, proclaims: Jesus Christ.
“Every fifteen minutes, a clock chimes and all the sisters have to stop whatever they’re doing and pray the Quarter Hour prayer. Our days start with the Mass and we pray the Liturgy of the Hours,” she said. According to her, this is their way of constantly and consistently reminding themselves to offer whatever they do, think or say to God, the Source of Life, Peace, Hope and Joy.
The Sisters and the Philippines
The Philippines has had love-affair with contemplative sisters starting with the Real Monasterio de Santa Clara in Intramuros, Manila where the Poor Clares established, with Royal Patronage, their first cloistered monastery in the 17th century. Filipinos, therefore, have had a long affinity for contemplative nuns. Is it perhaps we are edified by the sight of virgins behind grills, their veils covering their faces and praying for us 24/7?
Upon the request of the Bishop of Lipa, Bishop Alfredo Verzosa, 10 pioneer sisters, 5 Germans and 5 Americans from Philadelphia, arrived in Manila in 1923. They were welcomed by the Blue Sisters or their sister order, the Missionary Sisters Servants of the Holy Spirit, and with sisterly love, were allowed to stay for some time in the College of the Holy Spirit (formerly College of the Holy Ghost) in Mendiola, Manila. There, the Blue Sisters taught the Pink Sisters some practical things such as Philippine cuisine. Shortly after, in a convoy of 14 cars accompanied by the Manila Marian Ladies Congregation, the Pink Sisters finally arrived at their first convent in Lipa, Batangas on 25 November 1923.
“The entrance of the sisters into the convent in a grand procession with the Blessed Sacrament was said to have been a ‘Eucharistic triumph’,” said the Vocation Directress.
However, due to the warm conditions and the welfare of the sisters, the nuns soon found themselves in the cooler climate of Baguio. The sisters were able to recuperate there, and with the assistance of the Maryknoll Sisters, who, like the rest of the religious orders in the Philippines maintained estates in the country’s summer capital, the Pink Sisters were able to render perpetual adoration despite their small number. The Maryknoll sisters stayed in the chapel for adoration from 10:00 in the morning until 12:00 noon then returned at 2:00 PM and would stay until 5:00 PM.
Despite their humble beginnings, and rather late arrival in the Philippines, the Pink Sisters were wholeheartedly welcomed by the local Church and the rest of the Philippines. Today, the sisters have six convents in the Philippines, namely, Baguio, Manila, Cebu, Davao, Aklan and Tagaytay.
The New Manila Sisters
Ever since I was four years old, I’ve always wondered who the “Pink Sisters” were. This was because I attended a kindergarten run by Dominican nuns along 11th street in New Manila, just a few houses away from the Pink Sisters’ serene chapel-convent compound at the corner of 11th and Doña Hemady streets.
The sisters established their convent there in 1965 after the invitation of the Philippines’ first Filipino Cardinal, then Archbishop of Manila Rufino Cardinal Santos. The sisters purchased a beautiful plot of land in a quiet area outside the hustle and bustle of downtown Manila. Located in genteel New Manila, the sisters found themselves neighbors with Spanish-speaking households that included those of businessmen, professionals, artists, and politicians as well as many other religious institutes and orders who also found the area appealing for its quiet peace.
The Contemplative Life’s Invitation for the 21st Century
However, unlike before, things have greatly changed.
“There are barely new vocations,” the Vocations Directress honestly admitted.
“There is just too much secularism and materialism in our world. There is so much noise,” she continued.
Indeed, after Vatican II, the Catholic Church has seen a constant, and not to mention, dramatic downfall in vocations into the religious life. Today, in the age of massive information exchange through the aid of the powerful Internet, people, and in particular, the young, have been susceptible to the feeling of powerlessness against the trends set upon them by society and the Media. The values of the world are daily propelled by the countless TV shows seen by the millions and it seems an inclination to the religious life, more so, the contemplative life, is simply impossible.
But ironically, the Directress echoes the call of the late Pope John Paul II: there is a need for prayer.
“God has a dream for each one of us. God has called each one,” the sister said in our interview.
“I invite the young to discern, to take time to listen to Him through the Eucharist and the Sacraments especially the rich Sacrament of Reconciliation,” she said.
“It is the grace of God that opens us more to greater freedom here within the walls of our cloister. Through our correspondences, and through the prayer requests people write to us, we come closer to the sufferings, wants and needs of countless human hearts. Here inside the enclosure, we become open to the realities of human life. We then pray for them, in constant adoration of the Eucharist. We pray always too for the sanctification of priests. We fast for the clergy.”
Women who seek entrance into the Pink Sisters are first asked if they have an inclination to the contemplative life. This is because the cloister is not an escape or refuge from the real world,
“If she (the applicant) says that she is entering because she is not happy outside, more likely than not, we will not accept her. If you aren’t happy outside, who can be sure that you will be happy inside?” the sister explained.
“But if she says that she is happy outside but there is some degree of emptiness, then there might be a vocation.”
The cloister of the Pink Sisters is not an escape as they are “missionary contemplatives”. Many of the sisters transfer convents after Perpetual Profession. In fact, many Filipina Pink Sisters are found in all the Pink Sisters convents outside the Philippines. The community in Africa is composed entirely of Filipina sisters while the houses in Europe, which is seeing a negative growth in vocations, are being assisted by Filipina Pink Sisters as well.
“The roles have reversed. It was the German Sisters who brought the order here. Now we are the ones keeping it alive there.”
For them, the life in the cloister, which is silent and simple, enables them to open themselves more freely to the call of the Holy Spirit. The sisters also have more time to be with Christ, to whom they are espoused after saying their Perpetual Vows. Every 30 minutes, sisters take turns in adoring the Blessed Sacrament in the chapel in vigil. Jesus is never left alone 24 hours, 7 days a week.
With the 26 sisters in New Manila, which is the Pink Sisters’ only house of formation (in years past, all convents were houses of formation), the residents of Metro Manila find solace that there are courageous women they could come to for prayers and guidance.
“All we do is in union with Christ. He is the source of our joy.”
An honest, frank and confident answer from a woman who had forsaken the world end entered a world behind grills. Sleeping in cells, and only getting-by through donations and Mass Card offerings, the Pink Sisters continue their humble but noble and holy work in the warm embrace of Christ. The story of the sisters has always been that of grace and despite the fall in numbers, they continue to sustain their lives through generous hearts and open minds.
In this day and age when we claim to be more “open-minded”, we also constantly confess of the lingering sense of shallowness and emptiness that terrorizes our lives. The headphones that constantly blast music into our ears, the television that keeps our eyes glued on whatever is shown, the mobile phones and gadgets that attract our fingers, and our bodies always clothed with whatever is in vogue as dictated by the media, directly points to the loss of freedom. We have been enslaved by the secular, money-driven world and thus, it has hindered us from reaching our full potential.
We fail to see that perhaps there is Someone greater than the careers we build, the bodies we maintain and the material wealth we try to accumulate. The young of today in particular need to relearn the practice of prayer and the great importance of silence, things that can be found in the sanctuary that is the Pink Sisters’ adoration convent. I highly suggest that we all pause and take some time out, and by paying the sisters’ convent a visit, open ourselves to the greater call of authentic joy and interior life. Maybe we could also use a little bit of pink in our lives.
For women who are interested in asking about the religious life within the Pink Sisters congregation, you may visit the St. Joseph’s Perpetual Adoration Chapel along Doña Hemady Road, Corner 11th Street, New Manila, Quezon City. Beautifully sung Masses are said daily at 6:00 AM while Sunday Masses are celebrated at 7:00 AM and 5:30 PM.
*Archival photos and clippings are properties of the Sisters.