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Monday, December 31, 2007

God's "Housewife"

From an article in the Archdiocese of Miami's "Floriday Catholic":
God's "Housewife"
Colombian native becomes first Miamian to enter cloistered order of
Discalced Carmelites

Sister Anita enters the chapel where she will profess temporary vows to the Discalced Carmelite Sisters, a contemplative order.

At a time when vocations to the religious life are rare, Ana Carolina Bernal felt called to the rarest — to become a cloistered nun.

From now on, Bernal will be known as Sister Anita del Corazón Misericordioso (Sister Anita of the Merciful Heart).

She will live with 8 other Discalced Carmelite Sisters in the Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity on the grounds of Immaculate Conception Parish in Hialeah.

She will spend all of her days in prayer, leaving the convent only on rare occasions, and greeting visitors, including her family, through a grille.

“It is a life with God. It is a total surrender,” said the 28-year-old Colombia native, who is the first local vocation for the order.

If Bernal’s vocation is rare, it seems even more so considering her background. The youngest of three children, and the only girl, she came to the United States at age 9 and graduated from Coral Gables Senior High School before earning a psychology degree from Florida International University.

Behind the partition that separates the Discalced Carmelites from the world, Sister Anita professes temporal vows to her superior, Mother Alba Mery de Jesus.

While in college, she began attending prayer groups and taking courses with the Siervos de Cristo Vivo (Servants of the Living Christ), a lay association founded by the late Father Emiliano Tardif. Little by little, she became more and more involved in the life of the church.
“I was very attracted to the Blessed Sacrament, to the Eucharist,” Sister Anita said.

‘It is a life with God. It is a total surrender.’
Sister Anita del Corazón Misericordioso

Then she found out about the existence of the cloistered Carmelites and stopped by for a visit. She says she did not think much of them at first, but “a restlessness inside me urged me to return.”

Sister Anita reflects after receiving the symbols of her profession -- a crown of flowers symbolizing her espousal to Christ, a book containing the rules and constitution of the Discalced Carmelites, and a crucifix.

She started attending classes they offered every Saturday, and “felt God calling me more.”

In 2004, the Carmelites invited her to experience their lifestyle for three months.

“She stayed,” said her brother, Jose Bernal, a realtor in Raleigh, N.C., which is where their parents also live.

“I kind of suspected” she had a vocation, Bernal said, but like his parents, he was surprised his sister had been called to a life of prayer and contemplation.

“We were surprised because in this day and age it is so difficult for a young professional to enter a cloistered convent,” said Lucila Bernal, Sister Anita’s mom.

“She looks happy. No one has seen her bored yet,” said her aunt, Cecilia Aranzazu, who along with Sister Anita’s parents, brother and other relatives was present Dec. 12 for her profession of vows.

She already has spent one year as a postulant and two as a novice with the Discalced Carmelites. These first, or temporal, vows are for another three years, after which she can make her perpetual profession.

“I felt that I had to love God with all my heart. I had to be everything for him,” Sister Anita said of her vocation.

She compared the life of cloistered nuns to that of active religious by saying, “They dedicate themselves to the people. We dedicate ourselves exclusively to God. We’re like the housewives of God.”

Sister Anita stands behind the grille that now separates her from the world. She is committed to spending the rest of her life in constant prayer as a member of the contemplative order of Discalced Carmelites.

Separated by a grille, Sister Anita chats with relatives after her profession of vows.


The Discalced Carmelite Sisters arrived in Miami from their native Mexico in October 2001 at the invitation of Archbishop John C. Favalora.

He asked them to pray especially for the needs of the people of the archdiocese, for more vocations to the priesthood and religious life, and for the success of local pro-life efforts.

Currently housed at the former Mercy Convent on the grounds of Immaculate Conception Parish in Hialeah, the sisters are planning to move to a larger facility, the former Rader Memorial United Methodist Church in Miami Shores, as soon as it is refurbished to meet their needs — and as soon as they have raised the $2.5 million needed to pay for the refurbishing.

In addition to newly-professed Sister Anita del Corazón Misericordioso, the Discalced Carmelites have another young woman, a native of Nicaragua, entering as a postulant in January.

The group’s current superior, Mother Alba Mery de Jesús, attributes the vocations to “the mercy of the Lord. We do not promote ourselves, but somehow each one of us managed to get here.”

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