“Judgment Day” came for Maria Basilia Mapa-Garcia, or Maribi to her friends, several times during her younger years.
When she was five years old, she tore up her sister’s notebook, which was meant to be displayed at a school exhibit, to clean a toy car.
“You’re a bad girl. You are not going to heaven,” a nun told the little Maribi.
The same nun became Maribi’s teacher when she was eight years old.
One day at school, the young girl was called to read in front of the class.
“I felt like peeing out of nervousness,” recalled the now 66-year old woman.
“Sister, can I go to the comfort room?” asked Maribi. The nun did not give the girl permission.
She asked again and again until someone told her, “Say ‘Sister, may I go to the comfort room?’”
By then it was too late. Maribi was not able to hold on longer. She peed on her skirt and wet her classmates’ bags.
“You’re a bad girl. You’re not going to heaven,” the nun told Maribi.
The third time she was told that she could not go to heaven was in college in another school run by the nuns.
Maribi was then a commercial model. Her pictures wearing skimpy skirts and sleeveless tops were all over the pagers of papers and magazines.
One day, the nun told the class: “I heard some of you are showing off your legs in the newspapers.”
“All the men who will look at it will sin and you will suffer,” said the religious sister.
Maribi knew the nun was talking about her, so she stood up and said: “I don’t think they will suffer, Sister.”
That was when she was again told that she would not be going to heaven.
At 66, Maribi got a surprise. It was not from a nun. It was from the pope.
Maribi is one of four Filipino women who will receive the cross “Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice” from Pope Francis this year.
It’s the highest medal lay people can receive from the pope for distinguished service to the Catholic Church.
The other recipients are Digna Calina, Sonia Rufin, and Leticia Vizcayno. Victor Quezon is being conferred the Knight of Saint Sylvester award.
Bishop Ruperto Santos of the Diocese of Balanga, where all the recipients came from, said the recognition is “a huge inspiration for us to share God’s immense goodness.”
The prelate said it is an “encouragement that amidst this dangerous and devastating time of Covid-19, God is with us and working marvelous things for us.”
The prelate said the awardees deserve the award as they have shown dedication and devotion to their Catholic faith and obligations.
Maribi still can’t believe she was chosen one of the awardees.
“When you work for something, and you get an award it’s because you worked for it,” she told LiCAS.news in an interview a week after the announcement of the awardees.
“Here, however, [All I did] was just to work for the Lord because I was given missions,” she said.
“I never thought of any award. I never thought of it. I just said yes to the mission,” said Maribi.
She said she “feel so unworthy because I grew up being told I won’t be going to heaven.”
“I think my life is not worthy of an award as I’m hard-headed and naughty,” she said in jest.
She admitted that her “faith and the desire to serve God” might have been motivated by the “fear of not going to heaven as instilled by the nuns.”
The former model said her practice of regularly visiting the chapel to pray “can be traced back to fear.”
Since she was young, Maribi would always visit the chapel to “report to God” about her day or how she feels that time.
“I didn’t like long prayers as I can’t memorize them. So, I’d just talk to God as if we were conversing,” she said.
When she was a little girl who was afraid of going to hell, Maribi would automatically go to confession every time she misses Mass or when she’s sick.
During her adult life, she dedicated her time to work until she decided to just stop.
“I asked the Lord then, ‘What do you want me to do?” she said.
One day, Maribi received a call from Father Rafael Borromeo to ask for help to write a book “for busy people.”
“I felt unworthy but the priest assured me that the Holy Spirit will guide me,” she said.
While writing the book, her childhood fears got the better of her. She suffered a severe clinical depression for about two years.
“The trauma with the nuns developed low self-esteem in me that I covered up through … modeling and being a magazine cover girl,” she said.
It was also that time when she realized that “God has to cleanse me of whatever unresolved baggage I had before I go to mission.”
She admitted it was a difficult battle that she survived only through the help of the people around her.
“It was very difficult even with the support of my family and friends, so I thought how much harder it was for those who didn’t have anyone,” said Maribi.
When she finished her best-seller book “Presence: Prayers for Busy People” with over a million copies sold, Maribi co-founded the Bethesda Springs of Hope Healing Ministry.
Through the ministry, she gave retreats that are focused on “inner healing” and helped communities by setting up healing ministries across the country.
“Some people get stuck with unresolved issues with their lives, others think healing is physical but what’s also important is spiritual and emotional (healing),” she said.
She also wrote “Healing Presence: Prayers for Healing” based on her experiences and missions.
“There seems to be a book in every chapter of my life,” said Maribi.
Her book “Abiding Presence: Prayers for the Seniors,” which she co-wrote with Father Borromeo, was published with success.
In 2019, St. Paul’s Publishing, recognized Maribi with the publishing house’s “first ever bestselling author” award.
“I didn’t expect it as I just wrote because I was invited after I asked the lord what he wants me to do, so it must be the Lord,” she said.
In 2015, Maribi and her husband, several trustees, family members, and friends established the “Holy Land,” a 15-hectare spiritual and pilgrimage spot in the town of Subic, north of Manila.
The “Holy Land” is under a 50-year lease from the Aeta indigenous people who Maribi hired to work in the park. They get a portion of the park’s earnings.
Even before the establishment of the “Holy Land,” Maribi already had a close relationship with the tribe.
Every year, during her birthday, she would visit the community to distribute gifts and to share experience. She would also invite them to attend Mass.
“I learned that they were baptized as Catholics, but nobody ever taught them about the Catholic faith,” said Maribi.
She conducted catechism with the Aetas and with an American donor, the Centenera couple, the parish priest and personal friends, built a chapel in the village.
In November 2017, doctors found a 4.5 cm tumor in Maribi’s left lung. She has stage four cancer.
Just like everything that she went through in life Maribi said “the Lord allowed this. He is in control.”
“It seems that God allows me to go through everything to understand. Like before, I had to get sick because I have a mission to help people in healing,” she said.
(LiCAS.news talked with Maribi over the phone while she was confined in a hospital after doctors discovered that her cancer has metastasized, or has spread to other parts of her body.)
“As a priest told me, ‘Focus on the humor, not the tumor,” quipped Maribi.
“I’m just privileged that I am Catholic with all this that I went through. My purpose was to love others,” she said.
After years of service to the Church and to God, Maribi said she has learned that suffering is linked to one’s mission in life.
“You cannot escape the cross,” she said.
“It’s God’s work, the same way that Jesus also suffered. A person cannot escape suffering as it is part of the mission and suffering will just give more meaning to one’s purpose,” added Maribi.
Her message to everyone is to “treat every day as a gift” just like every other award, some may be unexpected, some, like one Maribi is receiving from the pope, one deserves.
Maribi shared a short prayer that has given her much strength and the grace of complete surrender: “Lord, you know all things, you can do all things, and I know you love me very much. Jesus I trust in you.”