Article published on the site of the
National Youth Ministry Department
Bernardete Oliveira and Ângela Oliveira, asm
We are sisters… times two!
This is how we answer the question we are asked endless times: “Are you sisters?” We couldn’t think of
any other way to start this witness. Actually, when you think about it, another way would be quoting our
“Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were
in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the
boat and their father and followed him.” (Matt.4:21-22) Jesus saw two other sisters: Bernardete and Ângela.
And called them.
Today we write this grinning and in a laid back way. But we need to confess that a few years ago this would have been a rather awkward idea.
Yes! To be a “nun” was not always in our plans (so much so that we came close to convincing God that He
was wrong). Neither of us had planned to live in community, let alone this way: together, in the same
In Guimarães we shared the same roof for 13 years.
Our parents, two other sisters and we. Together we think back to the upheaval it was going to Sunday Mass (“too many women” – our dad would say), the evening prayers in family (so often fighting sleep at the end of a long day), the many games and exchanges between cousins and friends that made our childhood so happy.
Years went by, more or less 19, from the birth of Bernardete until the day she packed her bags to go on retreat with the Sisters of the Aliança de Santa Maria. Yes, a retreat that would be the opening up of a new horizon. While at this time Ângela still kept her sixth-grade books in her bag and happily went to catechism, for Bernardete it was different, anything that spoke of God had very little impact. So how did Bernardete go on retreat?
Think of an agenda that seldom had free days, then a weekend with nothing to do, an invitation precisely for that weekend, taking the plunge, and there you go.
What attracted Bernardete at this time was the limelight of parties with friends, the boyfriend, the work, the motorbikes.
Therefore, the silence of that retreat imposed a “noise” unknown to her: of God speaking, of what God wanted.
She remembers a piece of paper that landed on her hands that weekend, that unsettled her tremendously: “What’s the meaning of your life?”. This question challenged all the false assurances and the fear of commitment she felt.
After that retreat, support from someone with more experience was fundamental, someone who would be able to help her answer the questions that kept surfacing and moving her towards the encounter with the Master: “Have you asked God what He wants of you?” Having heard this provocation Bernardete chuckled. “What? Ask God what He wants of me? What kind of question is that? I’m the one who decides what I want!”
But she felt she had nothing to lose – little did she know she would come to “lose everything” – and dared to ask.
New habits began to emerge in her daily routine: she went back to the rosary prayer (this time without dozing off) a prayer that also kept her company on her way home after a day’s work, and began to visit the Blessed Sacrament after coffee with friends.
Looking at her story she feels she belongs to those of whom God says: “THEY have sought me that before asked not for me, they have found me that sought me not.” (Is. 65:1)
As she became acquainted with the Sisters of the Aliança de Santa Maria she also became aware of what to her seemed impossible: “to be a nun and be happy”! The relaxed approach of the Sisters fascinated her. They spoke about everything, they reflected immense joy and simultaneously a seriousness of life.
Shortly before her 21st birthday she said “Yes” to what God wanted of her. It was at about this time that Ângela started to participate in the meetings of her sister’s congregation. “I wonder how she is?” “How did my sister become a nun!? Bernardete!?”
Before, in Ângela’s subconscious hovered a rather prejudiced image of what it was to be a religious: someone grim looking, distant and strictly serious.
From an initial suspicion and distance, the meetings Ângela had with the Youth Ministry of the Congregation started removing these prejudices of the religious life and she essentially began to deepen her relationship with the Lord: it went from the idea of the God-on-highto one of the God-down-below, who wanted to be face to face with her. So that everything made sense. The easy and approachable nature of the Sisters appealed to her, as it had done to her sister, as well as the joy that overflowed from the community. Slowly Ângela found herself organising her life according to the Youth Ministry Programme of ASM; she didn’t want to miss any meeting, it was never enough, she
felt touched, at each moment, by the same gaze of the Master Who made her “heart burn”. The question was begging: “What does God want for me?”
She recalls a poem by Fernando Pessoa that accurately describes what she was going through: “to be great, be whole”. What was the measure? I would be happy as long as I was whole! It was a question of wholeness. Once again discernment was marked by an intense time of prayer and something fundamental: spiritual direction, “sharing it”.
“Becoming a nun!” The “why me?” serenely became “why not me?” She could see herself in that house, with those Sisters surrendering in the same way. The calling grew and the answer became clearer and clearer: “Yes, my place was there: head, hands and heart open to God and Humanity.”
But it hadn’t always been clear. There were ups and downs. Knowing God’s will seldom coincides with easy understanding. That certainty started to fade… And then there was high school, the arts, going out with friends, the games of Vitória de Guimarães, and every now and then a young man for whom the heart skipped a beat. And another great passion: the theatre – for which she dedicated a lot of time and space. There was an inner conflict, a great wish to “delete the historical”, delete the journey made. At this stage there was a factor that was decisive in her discernment: the death of a friend in a car accident. Tiago. She was jolted and realised how fragile and brief life was awakening her to the need to find her place and not defraud God.
So… At home, the silence finally gained voice in the room. Irresistible. The place and the presence that God took up within her were stronger than any other passion. She knew that without Him she was not, and wanted to follow what she knew.