“… when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the disabled, the lame and the blind, and you will be happy …”
Lc. 14, 13-14
She had a bright smile. Her normal expression was grim, as if anchored to this difficult reality that we live in and that she assumed as a religious. But when she made eye contact with another person, that smile would appear and the interlocutor felt peace. That peace opens the door of the soul to God and the person has the opportunity to improve. That is a very humble but highly effective way of presenting the Gospel to people, because it resonates with any creed, because it can alleviate any suffering, because it can lift up any suffering.
That smile dazzled me in a mobilization to the field of our university in 1989, I in the first year of Telecommunications and she in the Computer Machines room. I was struck by the fish on his chain: it was the symbol of the first Christians. So I asked her and she told me that she was Catholic, that she went to mass in El Salvador del Mundo de Marianao, where there was a good group of young people. The following Sunday she introduced me to Shirley, Juanito, Freddys and several others, and an essential friendship was born in my life. Mayte has been with me since then, my wife and the girls have also benefited from her testimony of faith, her maternal sweetness and her joy of living no matter the difficulties.
María Teresa Varela Suárez (Mayte) became a Little Sister of Jesus because she wanted to be happy “organizing banquets” (see Luke 14) for the underprivileged in Havana and around the world. She wanted to comfort people by encouraging them to reconcile with her life and improve it from the very marginal reality where they live. She wanted to do it by living with her sisters in that same marginal reality, but not as victims, but as the protagonist. She wanted to weave a better story for the poor, a humble, peaceful, silent story, but “her own” after all, “her own” in terms of personal responsibility, community life and union with God. That’s where her smile came from! From there springs the light of any little sister or brother of Jesus.
“Look that neither your foot has been hurt nor your tunic has been stained in these 40 years […], therefore keep the commandments that I have taught you […], because I am your God, who brought you out of Egypt” (read Deuteronomy 8). Mayte read it to me whenever I complained about difficulties or setbacks and today it is fully valid in my life and hers. Overcome her body by covid-19, buried in the vault of a friend, in a grassy cemetery and without sidewalks, Mayte has been the spitting image of poverty. However, I can tell that “his robe has not been stained and his foot has not been hurt”, because his faith and his brotherhood with Jesus remained intact despite the fear that he felt when he entered the intensive care, or the moments difficult that his previous life had: that faith and that brotherhood are “the foot” and “the robe” of which the sacred author speaks, conserving them is the true protection that God offers to those who decide to accept his friendship or fulfill his mandates, said in Biblical language. Mayte helped me understand that life is precisely the rough path to the Light, with the shadow behind you: those shadows of envy, resentment, fear or oppression. As if that were not enough, she helped me bear the consequences of walking towards that Light in Cuba.
The poverty of her choice, then, is not the misery that every human being must avoid, because misery in its etymological root means “inability to give.” The poverty of a follower of Charles de Foucauld is a tool to “be lighter in luggage on the journey of life […] being needed is a good path that relies us, that unites us again (re-link: re-link join, that’s where the word religion comes from) ”–said Mayte in an interview that could well be her spiritual testament, granted to Mirada Contemplativa, an international ecumenical Christian community born in Venezuela and present in twenty-three countries.
Thus, poverty is lived to give in fullness, to give to the One who gives everything. That is why everyone who has allowed themselves to be “given” by these holy women and men, has very rich sources from which to always drink again, especially when “things are on fire.” The light they give comes from God and can heal you from the selfishness that prevents you from sharing, or from the limitations that make you materially poor, so that you can improve your material and moral life. The task is obviously yours.
Mayte entered Intensive Care on June 30 and died in the early morning of July 16, 2021. She was born on July 8, 1968 in Havana, pronounced her first vows in the Fraternity of the Little Sisters of Jesus on October 14, 2000 and the perpetual on the 1st. December 2008.
Thank you for your light, my dear little sister! Now it’s your turn to continue giving it from heaven. Ω