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Girl who met Mother Teresa: She smelled ‘like flowers’

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Mother Teresa talks to the late Josefa Cabrilla, who prepared meals for the visiting sister while in Samar. Mother Teresa is flanked by Msgr. Basiling Rosales, the person who invited her to Calbayog City; the late Generosa Bernardo, a supporter of the Missionaries of Charity; and Remedios Quisumbing. (Photo: Eleanor Bernardo Tingzon)

CALBAYOG City, Samar, Sept. 1, 2016 – What’s the most unforgettable part of entertaining a saint at your home?

For the Bernardo family whom soon-to-be-saint Bl. Mother Teresa personally visited in January 1987 in this city, it could be the fact that she ate specially prepared Filipino dishes or that she made time for conversation. But for a woman, who was a young girl at the time, it was her scent that smelled “like flowers” that she remembers vividly even after nearly three decades.

“I can’t forget her scent. It was not from a perfume. It was a scent similar to flowers. And her hands, though wrinkled, were very soft,” shared Judith Ignacio-Whuillas, who recalled she was with her father and everyone in the family to meet Mother Teresa at the airport. She was only 11-years old then.

Visited by a saint

A few days away from her canonization, Whuillas, who is now based in Samoa, recognized the singular grace of having met Bl. Mother Teresa.

“Now that she will be declared a saint, I appreciate how blessed we were to kiss or bless her hands as young children. Now we realize how important person she is. Because back then, we never know much of her.”

When Mother Teresa made a short visit to the Bernardo house then located along the city’s Rosales Boulevard, the grandchildren of the late Generosa Bernardo had no idea who the visiting sister was or how special she was.

Whuillas added: “My cousins and I were peeping when Mother Teresa and lola (grandmother) were talking. We would go up and down the stairs, play and run while they were in a room discussing something.”

The woman many people considered a “Living Saint” stayed in Calbayog from Dec. 31, 1986 to January of 1987 and had a chance to sample traditional Filipino fare.

Pancit palabok, halo-halo

Eleanor Bernardo Tingzon, who was 12-years old at the time of visit, said it was her mother, Nida Bernardo, who prepared special halo-halo and pancit palabok when the sister dropped by the family-owned Bernardo’s Refreshments, which the Bernardos set up on the first floor of their home.

Mother Teresa, who was accompanied by the late Msgr. Basiling Rosales and a nun assigned at the Missionary of Charity (MC) in Barangay Oquendo, was treated to halo-halo, a popular Filipino dessert of shaved ice, sweet fruit preserves and other ingredients, for which Bernardo’s Refreshments, one of the oldest restaurants in the city, was famous for.

Tips given to Bernardo’s serving staff were put in a donation box and were given to charity as a way to remember Mother Teresa’s 1987 visit.

Ma. Perpetua Socorro Ignacio-Cabatan, who was 14-years old then, recalled their grandmother gave an envelope to Mother Teresa with Php 5000 inside as donation. The Bernardos’ matriarch, the late Generosa Bernardo, was an active parishioner and a supporter of the Missionaries of Charity.

Dying child

Pedro Panoy, a child facilitator at the St. Expeditus ECCD Center, shared that before Mother Teresa left Calbayog, she heard of a dying child in Brgy. Oquendo whom she quickly visited and prayed for before heading to the airport. The child later on recovered.

Blessed Mother Teresa, who died on Sept. 5, 1997, is scheduled for canonization on Sept. 4. Then Pope St. John Paul II beatified her six years later, on Oct. 19, 2003 and waived the 3 years waiting period. (Carl Jamie Simple S. Bordeos / CBCP News)


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