When I was a little girl I was given a present of a picture with a little girl praying, with this text: “Lord, I pray for the happiness of every human being in the world.” It is hard to believe, but God had apparently already planted this desire deeply into my heart. I was far from being an angelic child, I was totally normal, I loved playing, learning, fighting with my brothers and sisters of course, but I was friendly, and right up until today, I value and care deeply for those God gives me as friends.
I am Bernardita Zambrano Chávez. I am from Cañete, a beautiful city in the south of Chile, close to rivers, lakes and the sea. My parents, Pedro and Berta, still live there. I have two brothers, both of whom are married, and who have given me the joy of having five nieces and nephews.
My call to religious life began around the age of 15, when I came to know Jesus and his gospel as a member of the Pastoral group for young people run by the brothers of the Sacred Hearts. At the time I was enjoying reading my first bible, Biblia Reina Valera, a gift from my protestant aunt for my First Communion. At some point in her life, my mother had also been in a Protestant Church. It was my father who gave us the opportunity to be catholics, but I subsequently learned that he too had searched for God in other Churches.
Although God knocked at my door when I was 15, I was very clear about my plans for the future. I wanted to develop as a woman, as a professional, and I also wanted to have a family, and children, and be financially independent. While at University I had some key moments of profound conflict with God, and also a deep re-encounter. I had to leave home to go to University, to a bigger city; I had to be responsible for myself, my studies. It was not easy to handle this new freedom. I had a lot of things to distract me. Sometimes I felt very lonely, even God seemed to be silent for a long time. I remember going to mass simply to say with fury: “You have forgotten about me, but I am here to remind you of my existence”.
At the worst point, when I felt that nearly everything was going badly- my studies, friendships, love – I was invited to belong to a Christian Community (CVX), and there, very quickly, I once more felt that Jesus was there with me on the journey, saying “you are not alone, I want to be with you in this challenge and all those yet to come”. In that community I found tenderness, warmth, strength, company and a seeking for God and what He wanted for each one of us. Later, one of the young people in the community suggested I get spiritual director from a religious sister. That was how I came to know Sofía Baranda rscj and I remember that time as sacred; I went deep inside, deep into my story, and time and time again I returned to look at Jesus to learn truly what it means to be human.
I had my degree and was already working, I had a boyfriend, and I was financially independent when I began to work alongside some friends in my parish, setting up a youth group. It was a really wonderful time, during which the Lord began again to speak to my heart. I had already achieved my goals, I felt everything was going very well. I began to measure my work, which at the time was helping to finance and train micro-entrepreneurs with very little resources, against my pastoral work, helping adolescents to develop as persons and to discover Jesus as the way of life…
Once again I felt myself called to the consecrated life. I was happy and enthusiastic, thinking about it, but I was also assailed by many fears, with all the things religious life meant I would have to renounce. It was a very challenging time, only becoming peaceful when I put myself totally into the hands of God. I lived what followed with a great deal of peace, explaining to people close to me that I would be leaving my job, my profession, my country, my parents, to consecrate my whole life to God and to the spreading of His Kingdom. It was difficult for my mother, and sometimes it still is. As she is not a Catholic she finds it hard to understand a commitment like mine, but today my religious sisters are also part of my family and getting to know one another has helped blur the distances, the uncertainties, fears and has given way to affection, closeness and mutual concern.
To tell you everything that being a religious (monja, as we are often called in Chile) has given me would not fit into a book, but the most important thing has been a journey with God: wide, resource-filled, tranquil, always through prayer, where I am invited every day to explore and open out my heart to learn and love more. I have been gifted with sisters, women of great heart, together with whom I dream of a more loving humanity where the most fragile are especially cared for; I have been gifted with many companions on the journey with whom I look for and and share the good news of the God of Life.
Also, everywhere I have lived, I have had the gift of people I have loved deeply, who are part of my heart today. Among these I remember most especially those in my international experience in India. How could I ever forget Shanti, Angel, Roshan, Shroti, Rina, Ariam, Vijay, Allena, and my beloved rscj sisters: Sushma, Daphne, Vimala, Lili, Valeria, Jhoty, Shalini, Tureeya… to name but a few.
There are many names in my heart, a huge love of God, given and received, many, many lessons learned… using creativity to speak of Jesus to young people, using my gifts in the Church’s mission, using my relationship skills to be a bridge in different circumstances, and my experience as a woman to speak of God with a feminine perspective.
All of this with only one certainty, His love and Promise: