At age 19, Maria Teresa Alva was already involved with the Christian Life Movement in her native Peru, when she met members of the Marian Community of Reconciliation, also known as “Fraternas” — laywomen who have consecrated themselves to God in order to serve others in the world.
Founded in Peru by a consecrated layman in 1991, the Fraternas take on the commitments of obedience, celibacy and detachment from temporal goods in order to be fully available for the apostolate, centered on working with youth, families, the needy, the evangelization of culture and the protection and the dignity of life. Currently, members of the community serve in several dioceses of South and Central America, Australia, England, Italy and the U.S. (California, Colorado, Connecticut and Texas).
Alva felt there was something special about the Fraternas. “I was really touched about their joy and happiness,” the now 37-year-old told The Tidings in a group interview with three other community members at the recent Religious Education Congress.
“I started to ask myself and ask God what he wanted for me,” said Alva. “I knew I wanted to give my entire heart to God, not only a part, all of it. So, with a lot of signs, I realized he was really calling me to this kind of life.”
Since joining the community, she has served in Chile, Ecuador, Peru and arrived two months ago to join three other Fraternas living together in a house near St. Victor Church in West Hollywood.
Susana Nieto, 36, the director of faith formation at St. Martin of Tours parish in Brentwood, says her high school participation in the Christian Life Movement’s ministries to the needy and to youth also sparked the desire for a deeper commitment.
“I felt that God was calling me to consecrate myself somehow,” said Nieto. “Just by opening my heart to the will of God, to see what it was that God wanted me to do and also knowing the signs that he was putting in my path, I realized that this was my vocation [to join the Fraternas],” which she did at age 20.
She said the authenticity of the Fraternas impressed her. “The joy that each member was able to spread and share just by living — by doing daily things like cooking, going shopping, praying, leading groups — it was that joy, their own witness and testimony, that brought me closer to Christ. I saw how they were so happy and fulfilled living their own vocation that it put down my own [fear] barriers of discovering my vocation.”
Like other Fraternas, after living three years in a house of formation, Nieto was sent to a community — in her case to a town close to where she grew up in Lima, Peru — and she started her apostolic ministry, which lasted for two years. She was then sent on a mission to the U.S. in Denver, serving there eight years working with youth before arriving in Los Angeles nearly four years ago along with fellow Fraternas, Brazil-born Luciane Urban, executive coordinator to Archbishop José Gomez.
“Sometimes,” noted Urban, “when we tell about our vocation and we say ‘I gave my life to God and I don’t know where I’m going to live, who I’m going to live with, what I’m going to do, or how long I’m going to be in one place,’ people ask, ‘How can you live with such insecurity?’”
She explained it as a paradox of faith. “On a human level, it seems so insecure, but it’s totally the opposite,” said Urban. “What greater security can we have than being in God’s hands?
“I think that’s one of the things that gives us a lot of joy and that helps us be able to live here and meet the people and the friends we make in one place, and then go to another place or change ministries or do something that we have never done or thought of before. If God is asking us to do it, he’s going to give us the grace. What seems so insecure in the eyes of the world, it’s the total security of God.”
Peruvian native Rossana Goni, 47, who was a journalist with Catholic News Agency before joining the Fraternas at age 26, points out that the community (canonically approved as a society of apostolic life) was born after the Second Vatican Council, which called for the laity to be more active in evangelization.
“In our community, the emphasis is on being a lay person and being active and evangelizing — to go out and be there in the middle of the world doing something,” explained Goni, the community’s superior in Los Angeles. She notes that Pope Francis is calling today for a similar type of outreach with the new evangelization.
“We want that — we want to go out and tell people that God is alive and he loves you and he wants you to be happy,” said Goni.
She noted that, although members take a vow of celibacy, that doesn’t mean the consecrated laywomen give up motherhood. They become spiritual mothers, helping people on their path to holiness. “I’m a spiritual mother to many, even people older than me,” noted Goni.
“To be a spiritual mother,” she added, “is extremely fulfilling. We were born for that. We’re women; we don’t lose that [desire for] motherhood. We live it fully.”