Saint of the Day – 28 April – Blessed María Felicia of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament OCD (1925-1959) “The Lily of Paraguay,” Virgin, Discalced Carmelite Sister, Apostle of the poor and marginilised – born as María Guggiari y Echeverría on 12 January 1925 in Villarica del Espiritu Santo, Guairá, Paraguay and died early in the morning of 28 April 1959 in Asunción, Paraguay of infectious hepatitis, aged 34. Also known as María Guggiari y Echeverría, “Chiquitunga” – her father’s pet name for her as a child. Patronage – Paraguayan youth.
Maria Felicia Guggiari Echeverria was born on 12 January 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 made the “Dedication to the Apostolate” and added the subject of virginity. She committed herself to daily Communion and a joyful and unconditional dedication to the Apostolate on behalf of children, young people and the sick, the elderly and needy. She achieved a total forgetfulness of self and a total surrender to God and neighbour. Her love for the poor and suffering was exceptional.
She soon 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.
To avoid the opposition of his family because his father was a Muslim, Saua was sent to Madrid for specialisation in psychiatry and time to discern the call to the Priesthood. He left for Europe in April 1952 and in November decided to enter the Seminary. Maria Felicia, happy with his decision, in turn felt that God was calling her to total dedication to the religious life. During 1953 Maria Felicia suffered severe opposition to her vocation from her family but supported by her faith and a boundless hope in the Lord, did not cease her prayer life and the sacraments or her apostolic work with the young and marginalised. She never lost her peace of heart or her infectious smile. She even smiled when she cried.
Despite the opposition of her family and almost all the Priests who saw a great loss for the pastoral care of the young and marginalised, Maria entered the Carmel of Asuncion at the age of 30 and took the Discalced Carmelite habit on 14 August 1955, the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple.
Sister Maria Felicia, who in the last two years had written at least 48 letters to Saua, some of great length, and most of which are still preserved, ceased to write so that she could be immersed forever in a “life hidden with Christ for God.” “Goodbye to Eternity” was her last written words of farewell.
A year later, on 15 August 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 fervour, in fellowship, distinguished by charity, sacrifice and joy. She sacrificed love for Saua, for the Church, her homeland and in a very special way for Priests.
In January 1959 Sr Maria took ill with infectious hepatitis and was forced to move into a sanatorium in the city. At about 4:10am on Easter Sunday, 28 March 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 a little less than four years but she left a profound impression on the Mother and sisters of her community who remember her for her great spirit of sacrifice, charity and generosity, all clothed in an outstanding gentleness and infectious happiness.
Described as their “lily’ by the Catholic Church of Paraguay, Blessed Maria Felicia of the Blessed Sacrament is the first Saint from Paraguay. Many of her writings, poems and letters still exist. Writings of spontaneity, simple yet piercing, reveal that she lived to the full her Baptismal vocation as an apostle.
Blessed Maria Felicia’s cause for sainthood commenced under St Pope John Paul II in 1997 after she received the title Servant of God, and the confirmation of her heroic virtue led to Pope Benedict XVI conferring the title of Venerable on 27 March 2010. Pope Francis confirmed her Beatification and it was celebrated on 23 June 2018. The Beatification miracle involved the healing of a newborn, Ángel Ramón, who showed no vital signs at birth but recuperated after 20 minutes, following the prayers by the obstetrician for the intercession of María Guggiari Echeverría. The Beatification recognition celebrated at the Estadio General Pablo Rojas, Barrio Obrero, Asunción, Paraguay and was presided by Cardinal Angelo Amato presiding on the pope’s behalf.