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Santa Clara in PH history and culture

Among the saints popular among Filipinos is Santa Clara of Assisi, whose spiritual inspiration “came” with the first Franciscan missionaries in 1578. But it was only in 1621 when the Poor Clares arrived, led by Spanish nun Madre Jeronima de la Asuncion, the first community of women religious to permanently settle in the Philippines.  When Intramuros was bombed in 1945, they relocated to Katipunan in Quezon City, with Madre Jeronima’s remains. The nuns’ support in evangelization showed that prayer watered the seed of the Good News that the missionaries sowed. The nuns continue this role in 27 communities in the country.

The eggs. People bring eggs to the Poor Clares for good weather. “La clara” is Spanish for egg white, brought to the nuns for “claridad” (good weather).  Santa Clara’s feast is today, Aug. 11, during the rainy season. It’s said that on this day the skies clear up, but after the afternoon procession, the rains pour as if on cue. In fact, President Duterte said that on his inauguration, someone sent eggs to the Poor Clares for good weather. Today people give eggs for intentions other than good weather, and the nuns share them with the poor.

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Mothers who want a child. In Obando, Bulacan, mothers who want a child dance to the tune of “Santa Clara, pinong-pino…”  A request for a partner for those who do not have one is implied. The Tagalog pino, (from the Spanish fino) refers to Clare’s noble breeding, a word still used to describe a refined, well-bred person. The basis for her granting children is in the preface of her Mass, where she is proclaimed “mother of many virgins”—her “daughters” in the Order of St. Clare, the largest contemplative order of women.

Patroness of TV. In 1958, Pope Pius XII proclaimed St. Clare “patron of television,” based on the story that on Christmas 1252, she was sick while Mass was being celebrated in the Basilica of St. Francis. Later, she described the celebration as if she were present. TV Masses might ask for her prayers for the positive role of the media, as Filipinos spend more than two hours watching TV daily.

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Santa Clara in Rizal’s “Noli.” Though indirectly, Rizal made the name “Clara” more known by naming “Maria Clara” the main female character of “Noli Me Tangere.” Her name was given to a street in Manila and to the first movie awards before the war. She was the symbol of the “incompatible” union between Spain and the Philippines that eventually led to the Revolution of 1896.

Maria Clara had a troubled life, having been made to choose between marrying the Spaniard Linares and entering the Monasterio de Sta. Clara in Intramuros, since her true love, Ibarra, had presumably died. Choosing the convent, she later “lost her mind,” and supposedly died there. Her love story was perhaps a veiled reference to the failed affair between Rizal and Leonor Rivera. In her photos, she is dressed in what is now known as the Maria Clara costume.  In time, Maria Clara’s image evolved to become a kind of “symbol” of Filipino womanhood, a blend of the Blessed Mother and St. Clare.

The first woman to write a rule of life for her group. Rizal’s Maria Clara did not have the strength of Maria, the Mother of Jesus, and Clara, the founder of her Order of Poor Ladies. Until her time, nuns followed a Rule of Life, written by men. Clare wrote one for her sisters. Pope Alexander IV approved it just before her death in 1253, and canonized her two years later.

Our teacher in prayer. In his last visit to Assisi, St. John Paul II called St. Clare “our teacher in prayer.” Her life centered on the Eucharist, as she is portrayed with a monstrance. The practices of Eucharistic adoration, recommended in the International Eucharistic Congress in Cebu last January, originated in St. Clare’s time. In moments of crisis, the nuns found recourse in the Blessed Sacrament. Once, the voice of the Child Jesus was heard from the tabernacle saying, “I will always protect you.”

The new evangelization and contemplatives. Contemplative Orders play an important role in the New Evangelization proposed by the Church today, as it is through prayer that makes the enterprise effective in bringing people to God. The rest of the baptized give testimony of faith, through preaching and life.  May the Spirit guide us to heal and unite our people in preparation for the 500th anniversary of the coming of Christianity to our country in 2021, as well as the 400th anniversary of the coming of the Poor Clares.

Antonio Maria Rosales ([email protected]), a Franciscan author, artist and visiting professor of moral theology in the Redemptorist Seminary in Davao City, is based in St. Francis Friary, Punta Princesa, Cebu City.

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TAGS: Poor Clares, Santa Clara of Assisi, st. clare
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