My Dream to Serve God—How It Came True
ON November 14, 1962, a cherished dream came true. I entered the convent of the Third Order of Franciscans of Calais, in Santo Tirso, Portugal, to become a nun. It seems that my entire life had been spent preparing for this moment. As I stood on the doorstep of the convent saying good-bye to father, his happiness and mine were so evident.
Ours was a devout Roman Catholic family. Father would go off to work in the fields, rosary in pocket, reciting his prayers. Every night our entire family repeated the rosary together.
All good Catholic families were expected to give one child to the Church. In our family, I was chosen. This was considered a great privilege. I diligently studied the catechism. I was interviewed by the bishop of Vila Real. Many of my closest friends and relatives already were nuns and priests.
Life in the Convent
To my surprise, adapting to convent life was not so easy. Our accommodations weren’t the problem. The dormitory had partitioned sections, each with a bed, small table and chair. It was the long periods of silence that I had a real struggle with. After all, I was accustomed to the daily chatter and lively atmosphere of family life with three brothers and three sisters.
We rose daily at 6:30 a.m., spending the first half hour in the chapel saying prayers. Actually, only an hour a week was devoted to religious study using Church publications. Breakfast was eaten in complete silence, as were all other meals. Then we went to work in different departments.
After the noon meal each day we had an hour of recreation, during which we could speak with one another. No direct reference, though, could be made to reveal the name of our hometown. Vaguely, we would have to say something like this: “At a certain place . . .” Our incoming and outgoing mail was censored.
After a month, I settled down to the routine and began to enjoy convent life. When I wanted to talk, I would speak with God. Every day I considered it a privilege to put on the black veil, long black dress and crucifix. I was conscientiously following a devout life according to Church ritual.
A Disappointing Surprise
As the postulate period of six months came to a close, I looked forward to receiving a ring. This would signify that I was “engaged,” so to speak, to Jesus Christ. Then, several years later, I would complete my training and take perpetual vows as a nun.
One day while working in the laundry, I was given the sign to go and see our Mother Superior. In a straightforward but kind way, she explained I would not be able to continue at the convent due to my health. I had developed bronchitis, and only those in good health could be kept on. Words cannot convey my shock. My life’s dream seemed to be shattered. I insisted there must be some way to stay. But her words were final: I would have to leave.
After much weeping, I learned that my father was waiting outside to take me home. Trying to encourage me, the Mother Superior said I could do much humanitarian service. She promised to arrange work for me in the Holy Mary Hospital in Porto. Father was upset: “If my daughter can’t be a nun,” he said, “she won’t go to any hospital. She’ll come home and live with us again.”
Back home, my zeal for Church traditions continued. I still considered myself a “bride” of Christ, and continued to follow all rituals such as observing holy days, fasting and the recital of prayers. Before retiring each night, I kissed the crucifix. If I were away from home and the cross in my room was on a wall, I would stand on a chair, or even climb on top of a dresser in order to kiss it. My main desire in life was to serve God.
The Influence of a Cousin
Eventually I went to work in Lisbon, Portugal’s largest city. During the Christmas season of 1973, I visited a cousin living near the city. She had three children of whom I was very fond, and I brought presents for them. On this occasion she gently broke the news that she was studying the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses. I had planned to spend my vacation with her the following May, but now my reaction was never to set foot in her home again. From what I had heard, Jehovah’s Witnesses had “the worst religion around.”
Later, however, I reconsidered and decided to go as planned. But I had a definite purpose in mind—to help her become a good, practicing Catholic again. My cousin, though, proved to be as determined as I was. Since I refused to consider any Witness literature whatsoever, she tried to show me several passages in a Catholic Bible translation. Still I doubted that it was a “legitimate” Bible. So she encouraged me to obtain one I would consider “genuine.” It became obvious to me how much she desired that I personally examine the Bible.
During my last week of vacation, one day my cousin said that I would have to eat supper without her as she would be attending a congregation meeting. Although I had consistently disagreed with her on every religious matter discussed, I felt an enormous curiosity to attend this meeting. Surprisingly, I accompanied her to the Watchtower study and found the program very interesting. I suddenly realized I knew a number of the Witnesses, as they had frequently called by my cousin’s home during vacation. I found them to be friendly people and sensed a “family” spirit among them.
My First Bible
After vacation I searched in many a Lisbon bookstore for a Catholic Bible, all in vain. Finally one was purchased through a religious order. Going straight home, I started looking up the references my cousin had given me, becoming completely engrossed until four o’clock the next morning. It amazed me what the Bible taught about images, the condition of the dead and who God is. I asked myself: “Why did we not study the Bible in the convent? Why does the Church not follow the teachings of the Holy Scriptures? Why was God’s name, Jehovah, not restored to its proper place?”
Immediately I stopped using images in my worship. After considering Hebrews 10:10, I no longer shared in Communion. From July to December 1974, I studied the Bible by myself, although now I gladly used the Witnesses’ publications.
Having a cousin who was a prominent priest and president of the theology faculty of the Catholic University in Lisbon, I decided to confront him with what I was learning from the Bible. To my amazement he admitted that the use of images in worship was not Scriptural. However, he justified their use by saying: “Humans are weak and need visible aids, otherwise they would forget God.” He readily agreed that God’s personal name is Jehovah, but weakly maintained that the use of the term “God” is less offensive to most people. Interestingly, he did not discourage me from studying with Jehovah’s Witnesses. Yet he attempted to undermine the Bible by saying that it was contradictory in many places. Obviously his faith was not very strong.
By December 1974 I made a decision: I would request a home Bible study with the Witnesses. A few days later, on December 22, I was among the more than 39,000 at a special meeting in Lisbon to hear visiting speakers N. H. Knorr and F. W. Franz, members of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The meeting had a tremendous impact on me. Here I was in the midst of so many people, all students of the Holy Scriptures, familiar with its teachings. This, I thought, is truly the kind of worship pleasing to God, “worship with spirit and truth.”—John 4:24.
I began regularly attending all congregation meetings. In February 1975 I started going from door to door, telling others the good news of God’s kingdom in obedience to Matthew 24:14. Now I truly dedicated my life to serve Jehovah God, based on accurate knowledge from the Bible. To symbolize my dedication, I was baptized at the “Divine Sovereignty” District Assembly that summer.
By November I began serving as a pioneer, a full-time worker of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I told the elders: “Here I am ready to serve Jehovah. So you can send me wherever you want. I can be a regular pioneer, a special pioneer or a missionary. Just let me know what you think is best.”
In November 1977 I was married. Now, along with my husband, I am happy to be preaching the “good news” here in Portugal. As others were patient and helpful with me, so I am keenly endeavoring to open the spiritual eyes of many still held in bondage by the traditions of false religion.
Rather than adopting “a life of contemplation and mortification,” I have found Jesus’ words and example to be the very best, namely: “There is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving.” (Acts 20:35)—Contributed.
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THE DREAM UNFULFILLED
IT COMES TRUE!