Blessed ‘Conchita’ a model for wives, mothers and lovers of Christ

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Can a married woman say that her soul belongs to Christ?

Can a mother find time to pray, receive daily communion and attend spiritual direction? Can a widow, after having nine children, found lay communities and religious congregations? Concepción Cabrera de Armida, better known as “Conchita,” responds affirmatively to all these questions. She was beatified in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City May 4.

To know more about the life of this holy woman, the Denver Catholic spoke to Sister Claudia Govea, member of the Sisters Missionaries of Charity and Mary Immaculate, a congregation belonging to the Family of the Cross, which lives out the spirituality of the Cross inspired by the revelations made to Conchita, and is present in Denver.

Wife and mother

When she was 13, Conchita met Francisco (Pancho) de Armida, who would become her boyfriend for nine years. “Courtship never disturbed me in the sense that it made me belong less to God,” she wrote. “It was easy for me to join both things.”

Sister Claudia, also originally from San Luis Potosi, Conchita’s home town Mex., says she “was very pretty and led a normal life… When she saw people criticizing others, she would interrupt them by telling a joke so that people would laugh and change topic.”

Before getting married, she asked her fiancée, Pancho, to let her receive Communion daily, and he accepted. They got married Nov. 8, 1884, when she was 22 years old.

“My husband had a very violent personality, he was like gunpowder, and when the fire had passed, he would calm back down embarrassed,” she confessed. “But after a few years, he changed so much that his mother and sisters were amazed. I think it was due to grace and the continuous filing the poor man had to endure with [me as] the sand paper and flint.”

Conchita and Pancho had nine children. Two of them became religious: Manuel, their third child, became a Jesuit priest; and Concepcion, the fourth, joined the order of the Religious Sisters of the Cross of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Conchita formed her children in the faith of Christ. Two of them embraced the religious life. (Photos courtesy of the Missionaries of the Holy Spirit)

Four children got married: Francisco, Ignacio, Salvador and Guadalupe. The other three died at an early age: Carlos, 6; Pablo, 18; and Pedrito, the youngest, who drowned in a fountain near his house at the age of 3.

“He was by my side a few moments before that happened; when he went outside, other kids say he said he was getting water for the birds. There were three maids by the fountain and none of them saw him fall in,” Conchita wrote. “I went to the foot of the big crucifix and, pouring my tears on his feet, I offered him the sacrifice of my son, bowing and asking him to fulfill his divine will in me.”

Sister Claudia said that in the process of beatification, this event was researched extensively, and it was concluded that it was not due to neglect from Conchita, since “it can happen to any mother.”

The holy mother “built many relationships with bishops, was obedient to her spiritual directors,” Sister Claudia said. “And at the same time, she cooked and was able to read, pray, teach her kids to pray, talk to her spiritual director, visit the sick — she always looked for a way to help; as a wife, she never neglected Francisco, whom she truly loved.”

Conchita tried to give practical advice to her children, married or religious. “Never use harsh or offensive words against Elisa,” she wrote to her oldest son Francisco when he got married.  And she said to her religious daughter, “Such precious jewel was not meant for the world: The Lord chose it for himself.”

Her husband Francisco died when she was 39 years old. “I have felt the divine scalpel in my soul, cutting everything that kept me attached to earth,” she wrote in her diary. “I made sure he went to confession and received Viaticum in advance… I said many prayers for the dying for him.”

Mystical experiences

In 1894, Conchita started having the so-called “Apparitions of the Cross” while she was praying before the Blessed Sacrament. “First, the Holy Spirit appeared to her, whom she saw surrounded by a great light; and then she saw a cross after Communion,” Sister Claudia said.

On the cross, Conchita saw a heart. “It was a living heart, pulsating, human, but glorified; it was surrounded by fire… and above it, a different type of fire emerged from it, a fire of better quality,” she described. There was a small cross on the heart, which “represents the pain on the cross that the souls of those God most trusts cause him — at times consecrated ones,” Sister Claudia explained.

Thus, Conchita understood that her mission was to save souls, and one of the ways she could do so was by offering up her daily crosses and sufferings. After this experience, and with the spiritual direction of Father Félix de Jesús Rougier and Bishop Ramón Ibarra y González (the first bishop of Puebla), the Apostolate of the Cross was established.

This image is based on the vision that Conchita had of the Cross of the Apostolate.

In some of her revelations, Jesus showed his concern for priests: “[Tell them] not to fear… that if they have offended me, I am God’s forgiveness; that they have a brother, son, mother, father, God-man in me, who loves them… who extends his arms and wants to save them, embrace them against the heart that let itself be torn so that all priests could fit in it, to transform them in me, their Jesus, all mercy and goodness.”

Her revelations are in perfect congruence with the Magisterium of the Church and are found in 66 volumes of manuscripts. “Towards the end of her life, she was tempted to think that none of these occurrences were true,” Sister Claudia said. “Nonetheless, she had faith and died in the odor of sanctity.”

She died March 3, 1837. Sister Claudia said that, for the Family of the Cross, “her beatification is the sign that certifies that, if we are faithful to our spirituality, we will live according to the Gospel and God’s will.”

COMING UP: Five Hispanic-American saints perhaps you didn’t know

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The American continent has had its share of saints in the last five centuries. People will find St. Juan Diego, St. Rose of Lima or St. Martin de Porres among the saints who enjoy greater popular devotion. Yet September, named Hispanic Heritage Month, invites a deeper reflection on the lives of lesser-known saints who have deeply impacted different Latin-American countries through their Catholic faith and work, and whose example has the power to impact people anywhere around the world. Here are just a few perhaps you didn’t know.

St. Toribio de Mogrovejo
1538-1606
Peru

Born in Valladolid, Spain, Toribio was a pious young man and an outstanding law student. As a professor, his great reputation reached the ears of King Philip II, who eventually nominated him for the vacant Archdiocese of Lima, Peru, even though Toribio was not even a priest. The Pope accepted the king’s request despite the future saint’s protests. So, before the formal announcement, he was ordained a priest, and a few months later, a bishop. He walked across his archdiocese evangelizing the natives and is said to have baptized nearly half a million people, including St. Rose of Lima and St. Martin de Porres. He learned the local dialects, produced a trilingual catechism, fought for the rights of the natives, and made evangelization a major theme of his episcopacy. Moreover, he worked devotedly for an archdiocesan reform after realizing that diocesan priests were involved in impurities and scandals. He predicted the date and hour of his death and is buried in the cathedral of Lima, Peru.

St. Mariana of Jesus Paredes
1618-1645
Ecuador

St. Mariana was born in Quito, modern-day Ecuador, and not only became the country’s first saint, but was also declared a national heroine by the Republic of Ecuador. As a little girl, Mariana showed a profound love for God and practiced long hours of prayer and mortification. She tried joining a religious order on two occasions, but various circumstances would not permit it. This led Mariana to realize that God was calling her to holiness in the world. She built a room next to her sister’s house and devoted herself to prayer and penance, living miraculously only off the Eucharist. She was known to possess the gifts of counsel and prophecy. In 1645, earthquakes and epidemics broke out in Quito, and she offered her life and sufferings for their end. They stopped after she made her offering. On the day of her death, a lily is said to have bloomed from the blood that was drawn out and poured in a flowerpot, earning her the title of “The Lily of Quito.”

St. Theresa of Los Andes
1900-1920
Chile

St. Theresa of Jesus of Los Andes was Chile’s first saint and the first Discalced Carmelite to be canonized outside of Europe. Born as Juana, the future saint was known to struggle with her temperament as a child. She was proud, selfish and stubborn. She became deeply attracted to God at the age six, and her extraordinary intelligence allowed her to understand the seriousness of receiving First Communion. Juana changed her life and became a completely different person by the age of 10, practicing mortification and deep prayer. At age 14, she decided to become a Discalced Carmelite and received the name of Theresa of Jesus. Deeply in love with Christ, the young and humble religious told her confessor that Jesus told her she would die soon, something she accepted with joy and faith. Shortly thereafter, Theresa contracted typhus and died at the age of 19. Although she was 6 months short of finishing her novitiate, she was able to profess vows “in danger of death.” Around 100,000 pilgrims visit her shrine in Los Andes annually.

St. Laura Montoya
1874-1949
Colombia

After Laura’s father died in war when she was only a child, she was forced to live with different family members in a state of poverty. This reality kept her from receiving formal education during her childhood. What no one expected is that one day she would become Colombia’s first saint. Her aunt enrolled her in a school at the age of 16, so she would become a teacher and make a living for herself. She learned quickly and became a great writer, educator and leader. She was a pious woman and wished to devote herself to the evangelization of the natives. As she prepared to write Pope Pius X for help, she received the pope’s new Encyclical Lacrymabili Statu, on the deplorable condition of Indians in America. Laura saw it as a confirmation from God and founded the Missionaries of the Immaculate Heart and St. Catherine of Siena, working for the evangelization of natives and fighting or their behalf to be seen as children of God.

St. Manuel Morales
1898-1926
Mexico

Manuel was a layman and one of many martyrs from Mexico’s Cristero War in the 1920s. He joined the seminary as a teen but had to abandon this dream in order to support his family financially. He became a baker, married and had three children. This change, however, did not prevent him from bearing witness to the faith publicly. He became the president of the National League for the Defense of Religious Liberty, which was being threatened by the administration of President Plutarco Elías Calles. Morales and two other leaders from the organization were taken prisoners as they discussed how to free a friend priest from imprisonment through legal means. They were beaten, tortured and then killed for not renouncing to their faith. Before the firing squad, the priest begged the soldiers to forgive Morales because he had a family. Morales responded, “I am dying for God, and God will take care of my children.” His last words were, “Long live Christ the King and Our Lady of Guadalupe!”