The Portrait of Jesus in Tala Leprosarium

Some parts of their body are missing. Some have incomplete fingers. Some have distorted nose. Many of them are bed ridden. Many are in the wheelchair. They are men and women, young and old.

They are imprisoned in leprosy. The disease is considered a curse, a sickness for sinners, as they say. I don't believe in that. It is more easy for me to believe that the disease is caused by a bacteria called Mycobacterium leprae (M. leprae), affecting human since the the beginning of the human story.

They are outcasted, rejected by the society, even during Jesus' time. That is why they learned to live in a different world, to protect themselves from the judging, disgusting looks of the so called 'healthy' human beings.

I can feel their insecurities. I can feel their hesitations to mingle in the society.

I remember Sr. Elvia - the Novitiate level coordinator of AWFP Formators - telling me that we, Novices, should be very careful of their sensitive nature. We cannot just call them lepers. We lovingly and reverently called them brothers and sisters.

It is not easy to win their hearts - wounded and broken - by their conditions and by the rejections of their own families.

I cannot see their smiles, at first. But as we started with the program, I started to see their precious smiles. I am grateful and appreciative of my co-Novices' genuine efforts to make them feel accepted and loved. Leading this year's batch of AWFP Novices becomes easy because of the support of all the Novices and our formators who just allowed us to grow.

Our mission was to bring Jesus to the patients of Tala Leprosarium. And we did all our best to make them see Jesus in us. But at the end of the day, I realized, I was the one who saw Jesus in them. I saw in them a carefree Jesus in the way they laughed. I saw in them a loving Jesus in the way they treat each other. I saw in them a happy Jesus in the way they appreciate our efforts to entertain them, I saw in them a communitarian  Jesus in the way they support and love each other as they live together.

(This article is first published in Pahatid -  the Official Newsletter of the Association of Women Formators of the Philippines - 2016-2017 issue)

By: Sr. Mary Irene V. Rafer, OP
AWFP Novices - 2016-2017
All rights reserved


My Breasts and the Mystery of Natural Healing

By: Sr. Mary Irene V. Rafer, OP
            I have abnormal cell growths in my breasts. My first ultrasound on July 1, 2013, before I entered as aspirant to the Dominican Sisters of Regina Rosarii, showed that I have 23 lesions in the right and 14 lesions in the left. The largest lesion in the right measured 2.3 X 0.8 cm, while in the left measured 2.5 X 1.4 cm.
            When I requested for a breast ultrasound in February 13, 2015, before I was accepted in the Novitiate, the number of tumors decreased to four (4) with the largest lesion measuring 4.0 X 3.8 X 1.3 cm in the 10:00-12:00 retroareolar to zone B of my right breast. On my left, the number decrease to two (2) with the largest lesion measuring 3.7 X 1.8 X 3.1 cm in the 12: 00 A-B with microlobulation. Two tumors have microlobulation; one with wall calcification.
            January 5 of 2015, I had severe pain on my right underarm, including the right area of my neck as well as on my back. I also noticed the swelling and the reddish color of the skin on the area of my largest tumor in my right breast. I requested again for another ultrasound. The number of tumors increased again on both breasts. I have six (6) on the right and six (6) on the left. But the good news is the largest lesion on the right is now 3.42 X 2.33 cm only; on the left is 1.61 X 1.15 cm only. The severe pain, the swelling and the reddish color disappeared in three days, after I stayed most of my time in the garden, touching the soil and smelling the scents of my herbs.
            How did I discover I have lumps? December of 2012, I felt the pain in the lower part of my left breast, and when I checked there was something round, the size of a jack stone ball. I was shocked. That was my season of fear and uncertainty. That eventually became my point of departure for my memoir about identity, self-worth, career and life’s priorities.
            I know very well what it is to get the dread of discovering a tumor in the breasts and what it is to face all that comes after. For almost three months, I cried every night asking what went wrong. Now, the blue print of my being is at risk.
            My Sonographic Report impression on my second ultra sound is that I had “Bilateral Breast Cyst Showing significant interval increase in the size of the largest lesions and need additional imaging evaluation and / or previous mammograms for comparison.” I have no previous mammograms. See, I can already feel the tumors. So, I refused mammograms believing that its pressure and radiation, in the process, may do more harm than good to my already distorted cells and will even include the normal cells.
            But, thanks God, breast tumor is not a medical emergency. I have more time to research and decide what treatment to take from the many treatment options available. It is not contagious, so I cannot infect anyone. I decided I want to be in control of this disease. I am the one who is fighting for my life and I want to choose my fight. I have the ability to keep myself well. I chose natural healing. I respect my body and I do not see the point of having any part of it cut and remove and infuse with poisonous chemicals that destroy everything. Surgery does not really remove the cancer. Cancer cells are deeply buried, covered by the tumor naked to the eye. Only my body’s healing power can reach that deep. Further, I am a human person and my healing can also come from nature – where I come from.
            Mr. Google became my friend as I started my research for alternative cure of the disease. I decided whether the tumors are benign or malignant, my goal is to get back my cells to its normal programming and functioning. My goal is to shrink the tumors, naturally, until I am free of them.
            I am just lucky that my Canonical Novitiate was spent at Regina RICA. The place is very much conducive for healing. There, as much as possible, I consumed plants and herbs directly from the ground. I avoided processed, instant, fatty, sugary, ‘unclean’ foods – as described in the bible, dead food, and fast foods. The scents of herbs, grass and germinating seeds that I can smell in the morning whenever I am in the garden also do wonder in my whole being. And so my last Sonographic report is “Probably Benign Finding; short interval follow-up suggests (6 months).”
            Traditional Chinese Medicine considers breast cancer as “Chronic Negative Emotion.” That gave me the idea that every breast tumor is very much connected with the repressed emotions—whether negative or positive.
My infirmity made me understand and respect more God’s design. My idea is that human cells self-destruct or deprogram themselves, develop into tumors to protect the body from more harm and threatening diseases, to cope with traumatic experiences. And so, I believe there should be no battle with breast tumors or finding a cure. I just need to learn to participate in my healing process and unlock my self-healing abilities.
            I understand that every unkind word and action or traumatic encounter is detrimental to my cells. So, when I am confronted with disrespectful, cruel, bully, faultfinder and cranky people, I immediately back off. It is important that my tumors are happy. And so, I have to befriend my distorted cells, take good care of them until such time that they are returned to its original programming, and eventually leave my healthy body.
            Women with breast tumors should have a support group to comfort them. In my case, since I am in the novitiate, it is very challenging. Access to my family and friends is very limited or none at all. Taking care of myself, I do several self-soothing activities such as walking around the RICA land; listening to healing music, grounding; writing and herbal gardening at St. Hildegard’s Haven of Health and Healing.
            I believe the Intelligence of the Divine is embedded in all the cells of my body and in the cells of vegetable and herbal plants. And so, my cells and the plant cells can communicate. The chemistry of my body and of the plants and the soil that support the plants are the same. So, plant cells will take care of my distorted cells. I am confident that they will not make my cells into aggressive, invasive and vindictive little monsters.
            There are times the pain is so severe. Those are the times when my tumors feel ‘maltreated’ and not happy or when the estrogen in my body is increasing. I learned to listen to their cries, and be very gentle to myself. I learned to offer every pain to my God, for my family, for my congregation, for those who are asking for my prayers, especially for healing. But most importantly, I learned also to befriend my pain.
            Yes, my tumors have life of their own. They are also nourished by the nutrients carried by my own blood! And I respect them. I can feel now that they already shrunk by at least 30%. I thank God for all the naturally grown herbs and edible plants that I consume directly from the soil of RICA land.
            I want to live until I am 108. I want to tell more about the story of my constant healing. I want to see my family thrives up to the fourth generation. I want to witness the unceasing development of Regina RICA as well as its fruits in the future. I want my God to continue to mold and use me as He wishes.
             Nevertheless, death may come whenever it pleases. All I can control is my time in between and how will I live my remaining years. So, when I see something good, I appreciate it. When I crave for my favorite foods, I try to request for it or look for an alternative -whatever is available for our community. If the rose is particularly white, I kiss and gaze at it. At Regina RICA, when our pilgrims need to share their stories, I give time to listen attentively. When they want to take picture with me, I just allow them. When children approach me I hug and kiss them. When family and friends visit me, I dare to ask permission to meet and make quality time with them. Whenever possible I avoid dealing or living with ‘should’ or ’don’t’ of other people. Whenever necessary I give my peace and forgiveness, to those who need it, even if it is rejected or suspected. Every day I am happy to be alive that I can still see the beauty of creation; that I can still feel the love of my family, community and friends; that I can still praise my God.
One day I know the damaged cells on my breast will all die, naturally, as I live until my Creator is done with me.


A Blessed Sacrament or A Burning Light?

A pilgrim at Regina RICA, on a Black Saturday of 2015, showed this picture of Our Lady Regina Rosarii, he has taken on their visit. He said the illuminating circle near the heart of Mama Mary and the right hand of Baby Jesus is a Blessed Sacrament. For me, it looks like a burning  or illuminating globe. What is your message Our Lady? What is your message Jesus?


My Word of Thanks

                First, I want to thank the Holy Trinity for the graces and the blessings, that I am able to reach this stage.
                I thank Fr. Ferry for answering all my questions and confusions. Thank you so much.
                I thank my family for being here today. To my parents, thank you for giving me the gift of life. Thank you for giving me five beautiful sisters and three wonderful brothers. Thank you for the unconditional love. Thank you for always trusting me. Thank you for giving me away.
                Thanks to my visitors and guests; to my hermana in Sarong Bangi International, to my former officemates, to my lifetime friends.
                Thank you to my especial guests – Tita Cres with family and Tita Mary Ann.
                Thank you to all our staff.
                To all my sisters at the Dominican Sisters of Regina Rosarii: Thank you for being a part of my formation. Thank you for the experiences and the lessons that I learned. Thank you for all your generosity and efforts in the preparation for today; Thank you Sr. Ding for being my first formator. I specially thank Sr. Menchie for showing me a concrete example of humility.
                Twelve months ago, I was accepted as a postulant. I was excited and quite sure that this is the life that I want. I was wrong. I was wrong to think that this is the life that I want, because the truth is, this is the life the Lord wants me to be. And, I thank Sr. Matt – my formator – for helping me realize this. Few days ago she told me, “don’t you know that you are protected by the Lord?” Looking back and pondering upon the events that happened in my life and the graces that I have received, I can say that, yes, indeed, the Lord protected me all along and saved me for Him and for His people.
                Thank you Sr. Matt for allowing me to grow. Thank you for the understanding. Thank you for just being you. Thank you for journeying with me, for feeling what I feel at every event in my life. Thank you for just being there.
                I always believe in the power of number. I believe that the Lord speaks to us through numbers. My life path number is five (5). Today, March 5, is very symbolic to me. My birthday is May 5, and that is also the foundation date of our congregation.
                Nine years ago, a brave sister founded our congregation – Sr. Eppie Brasil, OP. Thank you Sr. Eppie for starting our congregation. If you did not do it, I should not be standing here right now. Thank you for the opportunity to belong in your congregation that carries out the new expressions of Religious Consecrated Life. Thank you for trusting me. Thank you for all that you did. My journey was not easy. It was challenging. Yet, it became exciting and bearable because you were there.
                Last week, a Dominican sister – Sr. Ella of Anunciata – gave Sr. Matt and me candles and fortune plants. She said, “Give these to Sr. Eppie.” I was delighted to receive those candles and plants. And now, may I give these to you? The candle symbolizes you as my guiding light. The plants symbolize my growth, and how I have grown. Sometimes, it may be slowly, but continuously. Please continue to be our light as our new congregation continues to grow until we become as the Lord has planned.
                Sometimes in January, a pilgrim visited here and the Lord made us meet. I invited her to go upstairs to visit Mama Mary. After several steps on the stairs she revealed to me that she was operated several years ago, after an accident. Her body is now supported by steel.
                I became worried and asked her if she can still go to Mama Mary. She said yes, so I just accompanied her, more gently. We were able to reach Mama Mary. Going down, she requested me to pray over for her. We were both crying as she was telling her story that manifested deep faith to the God of divine providence. We felt the presence of the Holy Spirit. It was a God experience for me. She is here now. Tita Mary Ann, you don’t know how much you gave me more reasons to stay. You don't know how much you gave me reason for being here. Thank you so much.
                As the mystery of my vocation is revealed to me everyday, and as I commit to him everyday, I know the challenges will always come. But as I continue in this journey I will hold on to his mercy and grace.
                One of our modular class teachers told us that we need a witness in this journey. And you are now my witnesses until I fulfill this journey to God.
                Thank you so much for your presence today. Please continue to pray for me.





I used to live in the jungle,
With harmony in nature.
It was easy,
just follow the law of nature 
and be one with it.

Destiny brought me to a different jungle.
With a mission
Armed by the memories of love,
Of childhood.

Maybe, that is enough
Maybe not.
Lord, I cannot do it alone...


My Journey to God

Below is my letter to Sr. Eppie, my 'Kuwentong Buhay' for our radio program Sacred Space on the air. It was aired on February 01, 2015.
Dear Sister Eppie,

Magandang gabi po sa inyo at sa lahat ng mga kapanalig na nakikinig ngayong gabi. Nagtanong po si Sr. Brenda kung puwede ko uli ibahagi ang aking kuwentong buhay ngayong gabi. Hindi po ako nagdalawang isip na pumayag kasi marami na nangyari sa loob ng mahigit isang taon na nakipamuhay ako sa inyo.  

Naibahagi ko na po dati pa kung paano ko nakilala ang Regina RICA at ngayon ay gusto ko simulan ang aking kuwento sa panahon na ako ay naging Aspirant. Napakarami po ng struggles at challenges pero ako ay nagpapasalamat dahil mas marami naman ang mga pagpapala at grasya ng panginoon. I thank the Lord that I always feel cherished and loved.

Napakarami na po ng mga nangyari at nagpapasalamat ako sa panginoon sa lahat ng mga pingdadaanan ko. Hindi ko po makakalimutan ang unang pagkakataon na nakadalaw ang aking ina sa Mother House at pagkatapos ay pinapunta mo kami sa Regina RICA at pinatigil niyo siya doon ng tatlong araw. Hindi po lingid sa inyo na tutol ang aking ina sa aking pagmamadre, noong una, kasi hindi daw po madali ang buhay na ito at isa pa ay isa ako sa mga inaasahan sa pamilya, bilang pangalawa sa siyam na magkakapatid. Noong una po makadalaw ang aking ina sa Mother House natuwa po ako na nakadama siya ng saya at kapayapaan. Sinabi niya po sa akin na “Ang saya naman dito.” Nagulat po ako na ganoon ang reaction niya kasi ng dumating siya sa Mother House ay gabi na, madilim at walang ibang tao. Alam ko po na pinaramdam sa kaniya ni Mama Mary ang saya sa kaniyang puso. Ng pumunta naman po kami sa Regina RICA ang sinabi niya ay “parang paraiso dito.” Nagpapasalamat po ako sa magandang pakikitungo sa kaniya ni Sr. Merly, at hindi niya po nakakalimutan yon. Ang higit na ikinatuwa ko po ay ng nasa Regina RICA kami na kasama kayo at pagkatapos ng morning prayer natin, sa harap ni Mama Mary at mga sisters sa RICA at kasama kayo ay sinabi niya na, “Ipinagkakatiwala ko na po sa inyo ang aking anak, alam ko na nasa mabuti siyang mga kamay.”

Sr. Eppie lagi ko din pong dalangin noon na sana haplusin din ni Mama Mary ang puso ng aking ama, na hindi pa kapanalig, na sana ay matanggap niya na din ang buhay na pinipili ko. At masayang masaya po ako na pagkalipas naman ng limang buwan ay ang aking ama naman, kasama din ang aking ina ang nakadalaw sa Regina RICA. Ako po ay talagang kinakabahan sa magiging reaction niya pag nakita niya ang malaking statue ni Mama Mary. Pero talaga pong sa pamamagitan ng intercession ni Mama Mary sinagot din ang aking mga dalangin. Pagdating po namin sa Regina RICA, ang unang unang sinabi ni Papa ay, “Gusto ko umakyat sa malaking rebulto, gusto ko siya makita.” So umakyat po kami at pumasok sa SULOD. At sumunod naman po siya sa lahat ng instruction ni Sr. Neneng simula sa pag expose ng blessed sacrament, sa adoration at sa paghalik kay baby Jesus, dahil Christmas time po noon. He also knelt down in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Pagkatapos po noon ay umattend kami ng 11 a.m. mass. Sr. Eppie first time po yoon na umattend kami ng misa na magkakasama kaming tatlo, dahil dati po ay sa ibang klase ng worsip kami magkakasama.

Hindi ko din po makakalimutan noong araw na tinanggap ninyo ako bilang Postulant. Pagkatapos po ng acceptance pumunta tayo sa Regina RICA, kasama ang family ng isa nating Mission Partner at doon po sa pamamagitan niya ay ipinarating ni Mama Mary ang kaniyang mensahe ng sinabi niya sa akin na “We need more good sisters.” Ang mensahe pong iyon ay hindi isang kautusan. But for me it was a powerful and strong message at hindi ko po kinakalimutan iyon, at nagsilbing gabay ko sa aking paglalakbay sa bagong buhay na ito.

Lagi ko din po ipinagpapasalamat ang napakaraming biyaya at pagpapala na ipinagkakaloob ng panginoon sa aking pamilya. Bago po ako pumasok bilang isang madre ay  naging pilgrim din po ako sa Regina RICA at naka attend sa mesa sa kakahuyan at doon po ay nagsulat din ako ng aking mga intensiyon. At lahat po iyon ay natupad at natutupad na. Ang mga kapatid at pinsan ko na idinalangin ko na makatapos sa  pag aaral, pumasa sa board exam at makakuha ng maayos na trabaho ay natupad na.

Sr. Eppie ng magdesisyon po ako na tuluyang pumasok bilang madre sa Dominican Sisters of Regina Rosarii ay isang pangarap para sa aking ama at ina ang hindi ko pa nagagawa pero alam ko po na ipagkakaloob din iyon ng panginoon sa pamamagitan na ng aking mga kapatid. Sa aking desisyon na ito po ay lagi ko silang kasama dahil naapektuhan sila ng aking pagkawala sa pamilya pero nagpapasalamat po ako na tinanggap na nila ang desisyon ko na ito.

Hindi po madali ang aking paglalakbay. Marami akong mga kakaibang karanasan sa unang pagkakataon. Marami akong nadiskubre sa aking sarili. Marami ang hindi ko naiintindihan. Lahat ay iniingatan ko sa aking puso. At maraming mga bagay ang unti unti kong naiintidihan dahil sa practice natin ng contemplative prayer. Sa tulong ng mga tao na ipinapadala ng panginoon lalong lalo na sa mga pagkakataon na maraming mga tanong sa aking isipan.

Malaking challenge po sa akin ang pakikipamuhay sa community, dahil sadyang kakaiba naman ang buhay na ito. Sa mahigit sampung taon na nagtrabaho ako sa iba’t ibang industriya sa Ortigas at Makati, I was trained to become a people person. And I thought that I am. Natutunan ko makisalamuha sa iba’t ibang klase ng tao, sa iba’t ibang antas ng buhay at edukasyon. Pero sa karanasan ko po parang nabalewala lahat iyon sa buhay ko sa loob. Dumating po sa punto na parang di ko na din kilala ang sarili ko. My virtues were tested. My worsts were being brought out, and I just let it. I naturally regress. I remember Sr. Menchie told me once, “You should put your best foot forward.” But in my mind I was saying, “I am trying to decide for a lifetime commitment and so you have to first accept and love me on my worsts. My best can always come out easily and naturally."

I thank you for sending me to modular classes. Marami po ako natutunan na nakatulong sa akin na maintindihan ang mga bagay bagay sa Religious Community Living. Ang higit po na ipinagpapasalamat ko ay ang walang katapusang pagpapala ng panginoon through the intercession of Mama Mary. Marami po miracles sa akin, lalong lalo na pag nasa Regina RICA ako. I believe it is just normal because I first felt in love with the place before I learned about your congregation. Everything is just kept in my heart. It is just between me and my God.

Sr. Eppie hindi ko madalas nasasabi sa inyo kung gaano ako nagpapasalamat na nakilala ko kayo. Hindi ko lubusang napapasalamatan ang lahat ng mga ginagawa niyo para sa akin, dahil words are not enough. Basta SALAMAT po sa lahat lahat. Lagi ko po pinagdadasal na lagi ko kayong kasama hanggang sa pinakahuling sandali ng aking paglalakbay sa panginoon. Kaya sana manatili po kayo malusog at ingatan niyo po lagi ang sarili niyo.

Hanggang ngayon hindi ko po tiyak ang kinabukasan ko sa buhay na ito. Ang alam ko lang po gusto ko maglingkod sa panginoon sa pamamagitan ng inyong congregation. Maraming pagkakataon na nararamdaman ko pa din ang mga pagdududa at insecurities. Madalas nararamdaman ko pa din ang panghihinayang sa mga pagkakataon sa magandang trabaho o negosyo sa labas at ang pagtitiwala ng mga tao na nakatrabaho ko at marami sa kanila ay gusto pa din na makasama ako. Pero I also feel the embrace of our Lady and the unending graces of the Lord.

Sa pamamagitan ng ating congregation, gusto ko makatulong magbigay ng kagalingan at inspirasyon sa maraming tao at matulungan sila magkaroon ng makabuluhang buhay.

Malapit na po magtapos ang postulancy ko. Hindi ako sigurado kung tatanggapin niyo ako sa next level. Marami pa ako dapat baguhin to become “ a good sister.” I cannot promise to change everything in a snap, it may take a lifetime. Pero anuman po ang mangyari alam ko na masaya si Lord dahil binigyan ko ng pagkakataon ang kaniyang pagtawag sa akin.

The fear of the ‘unknown’ that could await a woman who acknowledges the call of the Lord could be overwhelming. But through the intercession of our Lady Regina Rosarii, I know God’s grace would be sufficient to vanish the fear. I believe Our Lady had led me to the Dominican Sisters of Regina Rosarii and will show me the path to holiness. God has a plan for each of us. We are called to follow Jesus. Sometimes, we do not understand or do not feel the fire for God in our hearts because we are always busy. Sometimes, we are faced with hardships and pains. But, really, the Lord, as always, has his ways to appease us. I am really grateful to all my class mentors for they served as the Lord’s instrument for my enlightenment. I appreciate your generosity for allowing me to attend all the classes.

Serving the Lord does not need logic and so much thinking. It is just felt in the heart. And when we feel the seed that the God has planted in our hearts, we can only ask Him for the gift of increased zeal to follow Him and to love Him.
 Lubos na Gumagalang,

Irene V. Rafer
Candidate for Novitiate
Dominican Sisters of Regina Rosarii


Thanks be to to God! My formator - Sr. Matt - said on the air that I am now accepted to the next level - the Novitiate. I thank her for all her sacrifices for me. I thank her for all the patience and for all the understanding, for letting me grow.

I thank everyone who is a part of my formation:

I thank my lifetime friends for the gift of genuine friendship. 

I thank my family for being the 'wind beneath my wings.'

I thank our lay partners who became my prayer warriors. I also thank my prayer warriors at prayerwarrior.com for unceasingly praying for me.

I thank Mama Lita, Ate Violy, Ate Imelda, Jam, Atong, Kuya Molong, Rally and Kuya Isot.

I thank all my sisters for all the experiences, and the lessons I learned. I thank them for being a significant part of my formation.

I especially thank Sr. Eppie - our Superior General and the Founder of our congregation - for all the goodness and for showing me how it is to be a "good sister."