A TRIBUTE to Sr. Valeriana Baerts, ICM—God’s Loving Missionary
by Sr. Pat Martinez, ICM
One of us has gone home to God’s eternal love, Sr. Valeriana Baerts, the last of our Belgian Sisters in the Philippines, and a Filipino citizen as well. Today also, the family of Sr. Valeriana and our ICM Sisters in Belgium, especially those who have been missioned to the Philippines, are one with us in prayer, remembrance, and affection.
Sr. Valeriana was born in Hasselt, Belgium, on August 5, 1928. At the age of 19, she left home and joined ICM, making her first vows in 1950. After seven years as a missionary in Belgium, she was sent to the Philippines and arrived here on February 7, 1957. She was missioned to Eversley Childs Sanitarium in Mandaue, Cebu. After a year, she was called to Quezon City to care for our sick Sisters in the old Queen of Peace, now the District House. “Her boundless and inexhaustible energy brought her beyond the walls of Queen of Peace to the wards of the then National Orthopedic Hospital, where she worked as a volunteer nurse, caring for the patients, cleaning, dressing, and bandaging their wounds. It was there that her heart was touched, deeply and permanently, by the sad plight of her differently-abled brothers and sisters. It was there that her lifelong advocacy and commitment started. She saw possibilities in them, where others saw only limitations, incapacity and a passive acceptance of one’s condition. Where society turned its face away, pretending it did not see, Sr. Valeriana saw, shed tears, and began to dream about a future for them — about how they can live fully and meaningfully, with dignity.” In 1969, she started a tiny workshop in a garage and made it into a home which she called, Bahay Pag-ibig. Again, Valeriana’s energy, faith, and commitment brought her beyond the wards of the National Orthopedic hospital into the streets. I was told by Mary Ann, who, as a small child, susunod sunod kay Valeriana, that when Valeriana would see a disabled person, she would approach him/her, talk to him/her, and invite him/her to join her. And so, Bahay Pag-ibig branched into different homes and workshops that exist till this day.
Indeed, Sr. Valeriana changed the mindset, not only of our society, but of the differently-abled themselves. Mahalaga ang papel na ginampanan ni Sr. Valeriana para baguhin ang pananaw, hindi lamang ng ating lipunan, kundi lalo na ang pananaw ng mga may kapansanan. Buo ang kanyang paniniwala na sila ay may sariling kakayahan at ang kailangan lamang ay maniwala sila dito at magkaroon ng pagkakataon na pagyamanin ito at palaguin. Sa adhikaing ito, ibinuhos ni Sr. Valeriana ang kanyang buong lakas at pagmamahal. And she did it, not so much by talking but by walking her talk. Hers is a story of love and courage, commitment and a daring, stubborn determination, and a living faith — all marks of the Belgian missionary zeal.
This morning, on our final goodbye, I ask Sr. Valeriana: How would you wish us to remember you? The directive she wrote on what to do in the event of her death, could help us arrive at an answer. She wrote this in 2011, before her final illness, and I quote a portion: … “No more flowers or any extravagance —simple as any ordinary ICM sister… Please pray for me.” Here, in these few words, Sr. Valeriana, who had many awards, recognition, plaques of appreciation; who accomplished a lot, who changed mindsets, moved mountains and peoples, bishops and cardinals; here, she gives us a glimpse of who she really was, who she had always wanted to become: a simple ordinary ICM sister. And this identity, must have been deepened on her bed of pain and suffering; on her bed of physical, actual solidarity with some of the people she served and cared for. A paradox, in fact; through suffering and pain, she must have arrived at a discovery of where her true joy can really be found: not so much in the impressiveness and success of achievements and honor, but in the simplicity, humility and ordinariness of an ICM Sister’s life, lived with a deep love for Jesus and an untiring love for, and service to, the disadvantaged among God’s people. For only in a life lived this way, could God work wonders among his people, as he has done through her. How, then, do I wish to remember Sr. Valeriana? I wish to remember her, smiling at all of us and saying, “Do you still not understand? It was all God’s work. I was just his simple, ordinary servant who loved you and loved him with all my heart.”
Note: Sr. Pat is a colleague of Sr. Valeriana in the ICM congregation. This was read during the interment of Sr. Valeriana.
Word of THANKS
by Sr. Cora Sastre, ICM
When Sr. Valeriana was born 89 years ago, there was not a crowd to usher her into that earthly journey but 1 or 2 significant others with much love and hope for a dream that will soon be fulfilled in the unfolding of a life…
Sr. Valeriana’s biological family could not come. Her family has written and has expressed their gratitude for all these, our expressions of love for Sr. Valeriana… Pondering on the life of Sr. Valeriana and the inner resources she had, I cannot help but imagine a loving, supportive, and nurturing family. With deep gratitude, we thank Sr. Valeriana’s family for the precious gift of her person. All these years, they have supported Sr. Valeriana in her self-giving in a foreign land she embraced as her own till her last breath. She passionately lived and died for God’s mission. We can surmise that seed of this love for God’s Mission, was sown and nurtured in and through her family.
Sr. Valeriana was God’s instrument in building not just one but several homes and not just homes but communities for the differently-abled … Some of these homes bear names that concretize Sr. Valeriana’s vision or PANGARAP of ay taos-pusong nagpapasalamat sa inyo dahil alam PAGMAMAHAL/PAG-IBIG, PAG-ASA, ultimately in a HOME/TAHANAN fit for differently-abled persons -WALANG HAGDANAN. When Sr. Valeriana was still able, she came to you all. Now, you have all come to see her. Kami ay taos pusong nagpapasalamat dahil alam naming ipagpapatuloy ninyong tutuparin ang pangarap ni Sr. Valeriana.
Sr. Valeriana lived a Eucharistic life–chosen, blessed, broken and shared: God has been so generous to her to have many priests celebrate the Eucharist in her memory since her wake till this morning… We thank you, Fr. Gaby, Fr. Tony, Fr. Luke, Fr. Eric, and Fr. Jim. We also thank Bishop Gabriel Reyes, Bishop Antonio Ledesma, Bishop Antonio Tobias, and Bishop Pablo David and other 17 priests who came during the wake. Now, we thank the choir of Tahanang Walang Hagdanan for their loving service in this Eucharist.
Sr. Valeriana did not found a Bahay Mapayapa… It was just right that she found peace in Queen of Peace which was Sr. Valeriana’s home before moving into her eternal home — na siguro naman wala talagang hagdanan. We thank our Sisters and personnel in Queen of Peace Community for giving her the care, the peace, and space she needed in the last years of her life.
It is quite a crowd as we all witness in faith Sr. Valeriana’s homecoming to eternal life than it was 89 years ago —her first and temporary homecoming. Whenever we look up and see the blue sky or have a chance to glimpse at the deep blue sea, we thank God for Sr. Valeriana — the woman with piercing blue eyes— eyes which reflected in them the vision of wheels— wheels abled persons forward to the realization of God’s Dream: A LIFE LIVED IN DIGNITY OF AN EMPOWERED HUMAN BEING DEEPLY LOVED BY GOD … Once again, our ICM family sincerely confirms the goodness of your heart.
Thank you Sr. Valeriana for the unconditional love, compassion and encouragement to persons with disabilities. You taught us to believe in our capabilities despite our limitations. Thank you very much for making us feel the love of God and for teaching us to have a grateful heart. Your purpose has been fulfilled on this earth and we will continue what you have started for us. We love you.—TWHI Family
Note: This is an edited version of Sr. Cora’s message during the internment of Sr. Valeriana.