Into The Deep

By Sr Francesca M. Mariano FSP

I am the ninth of thirteen born of the second marriage of my father. Six died in infancy. My father was 42, widowed with five children when he married my mother, then only 18. Their marriage was arranged by their parents. My mother didn’t know about the five children. After the wedding my father began bringing them home, one after the other. They were aged thirteen, eleven, nine, seven and five. They considered their father’s new wife as their own mother. My parents welcomed all their children from the hands of God who rewarded them with the joy of having many children. I always enjoyed the company of my big family. Many times we disagreed and quarreled, but beyond that we loved one another.

Then each one followed their own vocation. I entered the convent and at present I’m assigned here in Italy. Six remained in the Philippines and five went to the USA. And now our Lord is calling us back to Him one by one. Three in the Philippines have gone back to God and three in USA. Thanks be to God, we are still many.

My swimmer brothers

I recall when my three younger brothers were ten, eight and six and I thirteen. Though small, the boys were good swimmers, brave and clever. Unbelievably they could traverse the river, which ran through the middle of our farm, during a flood, even when the bridges were down. Two of them were observing the overflowing river, with logs coming down from the mountain. They told my father that they’d gather some logs. My father was against this because something bad might happen. But they went. They brought some rope, selected the log nearest the riverbank, tied it and brought the other end to my father. He had to pull while the boys guide the log towards the riverbank. They were able to gather good lumber, the length of an electric post.

That time I didn’t yet know how to swim. During the flood many people were watching the river, especially where bridges had been destroyed by the flood. I saw people trying to cross the river on bamboo rafts. Some had to go home to the barrio and some to the town for their needs. During summer the river was calm and the people could swim and wash clothes without fear. One of my brothers next to me, thought of teaching me to swim. Because someone drowned in it every year, it wasn’t easy for me to get permission to go swim in it. To get around this, and since many washed their clothes in the river during the summer, we came up with the idea that I needed to learn how to launder.

Swimming lesson

Each Saturday we were at the river to wash clothes. Just imagine, my three younger brothers had to help me to wash the clothes in order to have time to teach me to swim. We’d been doing this without the knowledge of our mother. Since I knew how to swim a little, they had to teach me how to save myself in case of danger in deep water. There was a construction made of logs on one of the riverbanks to prevent erosion. We climbed on it and the boys explained to me what we would do. I was to dive into a part of the river that was about five meters deep. I said, ‘What if I drown?’ They assured me, ‘No, we’ll rescue you. When you dive, we’ll watch you struggling because then you’ll really learn to swim. We’ll rescue you when we see you can’t go on anymore. We’ll swim under the water from behind you, and push you towards the shallow part and can swim away. So don’t grab us.’

I reflected, then agreed. Since I had never swum in deep water I was a little afraid, but I trusted them: they were good swimmers. Then we began the lesson. We repeated it many times until I’d learned. Thank God, it went smoothly.

The eldest of these three little boys later served in submarines in the US Navy, the second worked in the USA as a linotypist and the third a policeman in Manila.

Experience in Deep Water

After many years, I had an experience here in Italy. It was summer vacation and my superior told me to accompany a sister who was convalescing after a delicate operation. Our vacation house was only 50 meters from the sea, our own part of the beach fenced off. On Sunday I decided to go swimming after Mass. At ten o’ clock I began ‘riding over the waves’ and really enjoying myself. Then I began floating, lying down on the surface of the sea, my eyes closed.

Through the tides

At a certain moment I didn’t feel the waves anymore. I opened my eyes and looked around. Oh! My God! I’d carried out to the open sea. Then I looked towards the shore. The people looked as if they were only one foot tall. At once I tried to swim towards the seashore. But I encountered riptide, a strong surface current flowing out from the shore, something I’d read about in a pamphlet. I was continuously combating the waves in vain until I got tired. I stopped struggling and said to myself, ‘perhaps I’m going to die now.’ I tried to float to rest a while but was being carried away to the open sea. I tried to shout for help but the water was entering my mouth. I was very far from the shore and the roaring of the sea was louder than my voice. So I stopped struggling and looked up at the sky, and beyond the sky to heaven. I began my conversation with Jesus. ‘Jesus I’m tired. I can’t go on anymore. If you won’t help me I’m sure I’ll die. But if I die it won’t be bad at all. I’ll be happy knowing I’m coming to you.’

Then I felt my shoulder to see if I could still struggle for life. I continued, ‘Yes I know You will help me. Without your help I can’t go on. But remember, “minus one” of your workers in your vineyard.” Then I watched the movement of the sea and was inspired to ride on the top of waves. I could see from afar the waves returning back to the open sea and cried, ‘Lord Help me’ I dived deep down under the water to evade them. I repeated this until I felt the touch of the sand. I exclaimed, ‘Oh my God I’m safe. Thank you, Lord Jesus.’

Safe at last

I continued walking, the sand underneath reassuring me. When I reached the shore there were many many people, but nobody noticed that I had nearly drowned. When I reached our gate, I leaned on it, and with eyes closed murmured, "I have no words to express my gratittude, Lord. Thank you, my God, you have given me new life." I went down to the sea at ten, and with God's grace, returened home exactly at eleven. I struggled for life for more or less ne hour. The real gift of God that moment was that I didn't panic. Afraid? No. The next day I went swimming again.

From the writings of Sister Attila FSP

‘Let us keep reminding ourselves that alone we can do nothing, but with God we can do wonders, and all things. Our almighty God wants us to be close to Him. When we trust working with Him, what may seem impossible can become possible. Miracles have happened when all things seemed impossible.’