By Carina Cruz Benson
In my dictionary, Sr. Mafran (Maria Francis) is a living saint whom I had the privilege to meet while doing mission work in the Philippines. As a nun, she goes against the grain of living a cloistered and prayerful life in convent. She is a running, sweating and hard-working servant who actualized her love of the Almighty by providing shelter, food and education to Aeta children and others who are in need. Sheer faith enabled her to complete her mission despite many setbacks. Even in illness, I witnessed her praying for her mission and the children under her care.
The Aetas are aboriginal people of the Philippines who used to be hunters and gatherers in the forests of northern Luzon. It is said they are descendants of Africans who migrated to Asia back in history through land bridges. When Mount Pinatubo erupted back in 1991, their dwelling places and ancestral lands were destroyed leaving them no choice but to migrate to the lowlands. They are discriminated upon because of their looks and lack of education.
Working with Sister Mafran at the Aeta Learning Center, I had the opportunity to interact with many Aeta children. I am awed by the simplicity through which Sister Mafran was able to make changes in the lives of so many children. The school and dormitories are made of basic hollow blocks and GI sheets and yet they have withstood category 2 storms rampant in the country during the rainy season. Her residence, which she shared with Sister Junetta, is a hut where there is a small prayer room, an office and a living room where she entertains visitors. She has chosen to live a life of poverty and simplicity in her service of God and His people.
Maria is one Aeta child whom I have had quite a bit of interaction at the learning center. She is somewhat delayed in her cognitive abilities due to her medical history but as a teenager, she has come a long way from the malnourished and very sick girl she once was. She is such an excellent singer; you would never know she almost died in her early childhood from malnutrition. I was told Sister Mafran found her abandoned like a little kitten, eating soil from the ground as a toddler. Today, she can sing, read and write because someone cared enough to let it be so.
In my journey as a missionary, nothing inspires me more than people like Sister Mafran who actually live out their calling to change the world. She has saved a lot of souls and even just one child like Maria makes all her efforts worthwhile. Sister Mafran did not choose an easy path to trek but it certainly is a meaningful journey of a lifetime.
Rather than live a contemplative life in the convent, Sister Mafran has chosen an active religious life in the community serving as God’s hand and feet, and bringing the love of God to the Aeta children in her daily interactions. We are called to be God’s eyes, hand , and feet in carrying out His mission.