Sister Maria RubyWe don't look at the poor with the respect we should".  

Sister Maria Ruby, 42 years old, Colombian, belongs to the Congregation of the Daughters of St. Camillus. In this interview she tells us how she was inspired by the light-filled gaze of the Camillian Sisters and how God made her see over the years what He was asking of her at each moment.

Leticia Sánchez de León-October 24, 2023-Reading time: 8 minutes
Sister Maria Ruby

Photo: Sister Maria Ruby in the garden of the house where she lives with her sisters of the congregation.

The Daughters of St. Camillus were founded in 1892 in Rome by Blessed Luigi Tezza and St. Giuseppina Vannini. Sister Ruby, the third of eleven siblings, came to know the congregation when she was only 16 years old.

Today she lives in community with six other sisters of the congregation in the first house established by the Daughters of St. Camillus in the Termini district (Rome), a neighborhood that, although it is centrally located in the city, does not enjoy a very good reputation. In addition to the traditional vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, the Camillian religious profess a 4th vow of service to the sick even at the risk of their own lives. 

Sister Maria Ruby welcomes us with a smile from ear to ear. It has been hard for us to get here. Not because they don't want to talk, but because they are always so busy. Finally, in the vicinity of the Termini district of Rome, we arrange a half hour to exchange impressions and get to know each other. 

Sister, thank you very much for seeing me, can you tell me something about yourself and how you got to know the congregation?

-I come from Colombia, I am 42 years old, I come from a family of 11 children where I am the third. We have always lived in the village of "Aguas claras" in the municipality of Timaná, which belongs to the department of Huila in Colombia. My parents raised my siblings and me in the Christian faith, simple and genuine. 

How did you get to know the congregation?

-I met her 25 years ago. I was very young and, honestly, before I met the sisters I had never thought of becoming a religious. If anything, I had an enormous desire in my heart to help the poor and the sick. I felt inside me this inclination towards the most disadvantaged. I saw in my town, which was very poor, the need for someone to take care of many of the people who lived there, without charging them too much money because the economic capacity of the people was very unequal; those who had money could afford certain types of care but there were so many who could not afford it. This desire to help those people without resources was taking over my heart. 

When did you feel that God was calling you?

-When I was a little girl, a nun of the Annunciation came to town on a vocational mission, and all the people of the town, including my confirmation godmother, said that I would enter a convent sooner or later, and I remember that I went to my mother, very determined, to tell her "I will not enter a convent to lose the best years of my life". It seems that the Lord had other plans?

Years later, in 1995, a diocesan priest, Father Emiro, brought to the village the idea of the "Focolare", invented by Chiara Lubich, the founder of the Focolare Movement, and wanted to start this journey with 7 families of the village, including mine. So I got to know the Movement and, thanks to them and to the activities we did, for example the Mariapolis I was able to get to know the Jesus that is hidden in every person, and that was also within me. This discovery filled my heart, but I still felt within me a deep desire to care for the sick and the poor that did not leave me in peace.

I don't know what Father Emiro saw in me. I was just expressing my desire to help others, but at the same time I was a very normal girl from the village, living with her parents, I had my boyfriend, my dreams: I wanted to study medicine or nursing. Father Emiro asked me if I wanted to meet some nuns who worked in the health field and maybe I could do something with them. When I remember, I think that he had seen something in me that I did not see at that time. 

It was while I was with the sisters that I realized that I had a great emptiness inside me, something I missed. I saw the light in the eyes of the sisters and one day I said to one of them - Sister Fabiola, who passed away a year ago - "I want what you have that I don't have". She then began to explain to me the call of God, the vocation.  

What does this word mean to you?

-Now I realize how great it is: it is a gift that you don't realize you have received until some time later. At the time, I didn't understand it, but I went to talk to the superior and entered the novitiate. But, as I said before, if God had not put Father Emiro in my life, I would never have reached where I am today. That is why it is so important to give opportunities to those who know more than we do. If a person intuits that he may have a vocation to the consecrated life or to married life, or to be a priest, it is important that he let himself be advised by good people, who understand more, who serve as a guide, to take the step. 

What is the charism of the Daughters of St. Camillus?

-It could be summed up in the following sentence: "Let God's mercy visit you to visit him in those who suffer.". When I was a postulant or novice, it was our sisters who took care of the sick and the poor while we postulants were in formation. 

From the very beginning, I understood that this charism consisted in being "Merciful Jesus for the suffering Jesus". This transformed me completely; the gift received transforms you; I can no longer say that during the day I am one way and when I go to sleep I am another; I am always the same because the charism is within you. 

After my first profession I stayed in the house in Grottaferrata for 7 years and I felt in my heart the words of Jesus that filled me greatly: "as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me". And this charism of caring for the poor, the sick and the most needy is manifested in all the occasions I have to kneel down and serve, to live mercy towards myself and others, in joy, at work or in my studies. 

One funny thing was a little crisis I had when I was asked to study nursing. "You have to be nurses," they told us. I, a bit upset, went to Mother Superior and said to her: "But why am I being asked to be a nurse if I am already something else? I am a consecrated woman, I should not be anything else. But over time I came to understand that this total disposition of my soul for the service of the most needy at that time implied studying to become a nurse and thus be able to be present with my charism in the hospital, attend to more people and serve better, because some specific services require greater professionalism, one must know how to carry the sick, know how to change people's position, know what to do from the point of view of health care, what to say to the patient... I soon realized that all this was a richness that came to me to serve the poor.

In 2018 I returned to the hospital, this time as the person in charge, and I must say that it was a very intense and moving experience because I could see the suffering of the sick, but also the care that the staff put into caring for them and I also saw my own suffering, which was not enough to be able to fill their needs. I took all these feelings and took them to the Lord who was in the chapel and gave them to him.

How do you live that charisma on a day-to-day basis now?

-Since 2019, I have been living in this house (Termini district) that encourages us to live our charism towards the poor and the young; it is a house that is completely dedicated to stirring the consciences of the new generations so that they may go towards those who suffer without fear. We welcome them, and we propose activities to motivate in them this inclination towards those who suffer, because we are all afraid of pain and death, and no one wants to face these issues.

In doing this - in welcoming young people - for me it is an opportunity to learn a lot from them and for them, to be enriched by the poor we meet, by the terminally ill we visit, by the elderly couples who live abandoned in these big buildings...it is about new forms of poverty because there are so many poor people in these buildings and sometimes we don't even know how many live inside. It is not a material poverty, but a poverty of relationships, because they have no one by their side.

How did the activities with young people begin?

-We started in 2012 with a small group when two sisters began to participate in meetings for young people organized by the parish. From then on it has been word of mouth that has brought all the young people: they are the ones who come, experience and then many decide to commit themselves as volunteers. When we are with them, we try to teach them the need for love that the poor have and, by going directly to visit some of the poor at the beginning, they understand that if the poor "appear" many times as papers thrown on the ground; if you find a paper on the street, you step on it without thinking about it. In the same way, the poor often appear as someone who no longer has dignity, but not because they have lost it, but because we are not giving it to them. We do not look at him with the respect we should.  

When the young people come, they see what the sisters do, which is to take care of their bodies with great respect - as St. Camillus said: "as a mother does with her sick child" - and in this way they see the whole process and how the sisters take care of them: the grooming, the cleaning, the bath, everything was prepared in detail, with so much tenderness, with so much care, and then the cream, the beard, the hair - ..... 

A very beautiful experience was that of a boy who did not feel worthy to help the poor because he had some personal problems. We saw how he approached a poor man - perhaps he didn't even feel capable of doing good to someone - but the boy began to help him with the cleaning, he began to abandon himself to love, and this poor man let himself be loved, let himself be found. In the end, one had received love and the other had let himself be loved, and we saw both of them transformed: the man with clean clothes, all cleaned up, and the boy, full of this experience, who asked when he could come back. There are many testimonies of young people who, by healing the wounds of others, also heal their own wounds within themselves. 

Another activity we do with them is a podiatry service. We tell the young people that this is an opportunity to meet each other. It is not only about what is done, concretely, (washing their feet, cutting their nails, putting cream on them, etc.) but the fact of being there with them, the fact of listening to their stories, and in this way it becomes an important moment. The poor are usually very grateful for this service but we tell them "Thank you for coming and giving us this opportunity". 

History of the Congregation

The foundation of the female religious Congregation "The Daughters of St. Camillus" has its origin in the "Order of Ministers of the Sick" or "Camillians", founded in 1591 by saint Camilo de LellisA young Italian with a hard childhood behind him and an incredible story of conversion, St. Camillus was beatified in 1742 and canonized in 1746 by Benedict XIV. St. Camillus was beatified in 1742 and canonized in 1746 by Benedict XIV.

In 1886, Leo XIII declared St. Camillus, together with St. John of God, protectors of all the sick and hospitals of the Catholic world; and universal patron of the sick, of hospitals and of hospital personnel. 

The spirit of St. Camillus, from the very beginning of the foundation of his Order, has been gathering men and women around his ideal of service. In this sense, throughout history, different groups, religious institutions and lay movements have emerged, which today continue to keep alive the desire of St. Camillus to "care and teach how to care". 

The Congregation of the Daughters of St. Camillus is one of the female congregations that belong to "The great Camillian family" - as they call it - and was founded in 1582 by Blessed Luigi Tezza and St. Giuseppina Vannini, when the Order of Ministers of the Sick felt the charismatic need to see the spirit of St. Camillus incarnated in women who could offer authentic maternal affection to those who suffer. Today, the Daughters of St. Camillus work in hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, psychogeriatric institutes, rehabilitation centers, home care and professional nursing schools.  

The Congregation is present on four continents: Europe (Italy, Germany, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Hungary and Georgia); Latin America (Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Chile and Mexico); Asia: India, Philippines and Sri Lanka; and in Africa (Burkina Faso, Benin and Ivory Coast).

Blessed Luigi Tezza and saint Josephine Vannini

Blessed Luigi Tezza was born in Conegliano on November 1, 1841. At the age of 15 he entered as a postulant among the Ministers of the Sick, becoming a priest in 1864, when he was only 23 years old. Tezza exercised his apostolate in Italy and was a missionary in France and Lima (Peru), where he died on September 26, 1923.

St. Josephine Vannini was born in Rome on July 7, 1859. At the tender age of 7, orphaned of father and mother, she was entrusted to the Torlonia orphanage in Rome, run by the Daughters of Charity. The contact with the nuns matured in the young girl a religious vocation that led her to ask to become one of them. After a period of discernment she left the Institute, but a providential meeting with Father Tezza helped her to know the will of God in the foundation of a new religious Congregation: the Daughters of St. Camillus. 

The authorLeticia Sánchez de León

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