February 4, 1903
It was ten o'clock in the
morning in Mexico City. Father Félix de Jesús Rougier,
Superior of the Marist Fathers who staff Our Lady of Lourdes
Church, wanted to leave to take care of certain matters, but
a strange force kept him inside.
It was not long before the
sacristan advised him that a lady wanted him to hear her
The woman entered the
sacristy, made a brief confession and immediately proceeded
to speak about an unexpected matter. Father Félix tells of
the incident in a letter to his Superior General:
"She revealed to me all the
nooks and crannies of my soul. She told me what my thoughts
were; that I needed to shake off the spiritual lethargy
which had involved me; that I needed to make a conscious
effort to give myself to the service of God; that I should
make a new start.
I was dumbfounded. I was
moved and thanked God, whose call I had chosen not to hear
so many times and who suddenly was lending me a hand".
In his "Memoirs", Father
Félix relates this same incident and adds:
"This unknown lady spoke to
me about personal matters which she could not possibly have
known by natural means".
That strange penitent was
Mrs. Concepción Cabrera de Armida, an extraordinarily
charismatic woman and an extraordinary saint. Because her
friends called her Conchita so will we, because we consider
ourselves her friends.
She tells in her Journal that
the morning of February 4th, while she was on her way to see
her mother, she got off the trolley for some unknown reason,
went to the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes and asked to have
Father Félix, whom she did not know, hear her confession.
Then she adds:
"As if moved by an
extraordinary impulse, I began to speak to him about the
Works of the Cross, and about his spiritual life. I felt
that the words were not mine, because my speech was fiery
and I spoke with ease, in a way that could only have been
inspired by the Holy Spirit.
Not knowing how, I saw the
impact my words made in the depths of the heart of Father
Félix. I felt clearly that he was being transformed,
enlightened, shown a way and given the strength to follow
Conchita continued talking
about the Works of the Cross. When Father Félix heard her
refer to the Sisters of the Cross of the Sacred Heart of
Jesus, a congregation of women, founded six years earlier,
and to their spirituality, he asked if there was a
congregation of priests with the same spirit. Conchita’s
laconic answer was:
"No, but there will be".
Their meeting lasted two
hours. In her Journal, Conchita reports that the dialogue
ended like this:
-I must have tired, you,
Father; I am leaving.
-I never tire of hearing
Then Conchita promised to
give Father Félix a book on the Apostleship of the Cross and
Father Félix commented in his
"During this conversation my
life was redirected towards new horizons.
One month later, on March
2nd, the Lord spoke to Conchita to tell her that it was His
will that Father Félix found the new Congregation of the
Religious of the Cross (later known as the missionaries of
the Holy Spirit).
But Conchita mentioned
nothing about this to Father Félix. First, she consulted her
spiritual director, Father Alberto Casco y Mir, S.J., who
lived in Oaxaca.
It was not until April 9th
that Conchita spoke with Father Félix about this delicate
"And from that day on, I have
never had the slightest doubt that God is calling me to
this" (Letter from Father Félix to his Superior General).
On April 10th, the Lord again
"I want Father Félix to be
the founder of the men's congregation. I want him for the
Works of the Cross". (Journal).
However, life was not so
simple for poor Father Félix. He had been a religious in the
Society of Mary for 25 years and loved his Congregation very
much. Should he ask for a dispensation from his vows and
leave his community in order to found the new institute?
On April 13th, Father Félix
and Conchita had a long conversation about these matters
during which Conchita spoke the following prophetic words:
"When the time comes, you
will see your Superior General. With his authorization and
without leaving your Congregation, you will begin the work.
In this way, you will not scandalize your brothers or anyone
else. Later the separation can occur with little ado".
Things happened the way
Conchita had predicted, but not as soon as she and Father
Félix wanted. God's ways are sometimes disconcerting to us.