We present the exciting story of Sr. Ida Porrino, an Italian missionary of the Daughters of St. Paul, who has lived in Taiwan for 45 years and is now being sent on mission to Pakistan. With humor and spontaneity Sr. Ida tells of her search for God in non-Christian religions; the conversion of young people; the love she experienced by taking on the dramas of others; rebuilding families.
I was born in Montegrosso (Costigliole d’Asti) the sixth of eight children of a peasant family. My mother respected our decisions. She wanted her children to find their own way for them to be happy. Instead my father wanted me to be a nurse, saying that the nuns do not have a very high position in the Church. My brother had had joined the Salesian seminary but later left, I felt that we owed something to the Church: a priest would have been better, but in the end even a nun is fine! ”
Why did I choose the Daughters of Saint Paul? The Salesian sisters followed me, because of my brother, but to tell the truth I didn’t like them. Once the Daughters of St. Paul came to our parish, I saw them full of life and spontaneous, they did not scream at us because of our short skirts or demand we wear a veil at Mass.
If you could become a nun while keeping your originality I would think about it. I finished high school. Then I went to Alba to college, my brother, who had originally thought to be Salesian, instead became a lawyer because my father invested in our future and our education.
Don Alberione’s apostolate
At college in Alba I lived in the dormitory that belonged to the Daughters of St. Paul. Then I met Don Alberione and the sisters who followed him. Their fervor and the family environment they lived in struck me. Don Alberione was tiny, a little humpback, at first I was disappointed: I was used to seeing robust peasants in my family. But immediately after listening to his homily, I realized the reasons that made him a man who attracted and inspired people’s hearts. Added to this the nuns’ lives attracted me, their familial rather than institutional style, because they are not too structured but leave room for human contact, so it is easy to understand the reasons for my choice. For example, no punishments were known. If my brother in the minor seminary broke a glass, the family had to pay. For us it was not like that. I remember with great clarity that I inadvertently broke one of the book printing machines. The superior called me and told me the cost of the damage and I immediately thought: “I really blew it, who is going to yell my father he has to pay for the expensive spare part?” But unexpectedly she said they told me the cost not to make me pay but so I would understand the price of things. This kind of attitude makes you feel part of the family. So that week I voluntarily did overtime for all five working days.
I liked their apostolic life, going to families and trying new ways of approaching people: I remember that one year we went dressed in civies to the beaches, if we had worn our habits we would not have been accepted.
At the end of my training, however, I had a moment of inner crisis. So I went back to ordinary life for some time. At that time I did not know why I wanted to become a nun: did I make the decision too young? Or did I want to fix the fact that my brother left the seminary? I left for almost a year. I was free to go home but did not want to go back to my family, it would not be the right environment for a definite decision. So I lived in the guesthouse helping the sisters, but leading an independent life. I followed the spiritual exercises at a cloister institute: in the meantime I had also met a very nice young man: Should I marry? Should I just do social work? Or be an elementary school teacher? Meanwhile, time passed and I could not resolve the dilemma, I was angry with God, I did not understand what I should do. Then I began to think more seriously: what do I offer to God? Do I offer him my ability to love and my freedom. By giving Him these two things I felt satisfied, but if I had only given something marginal I felt within me that I was not generous enough with God.
It was then I decided to make my perpetual profession when I felt like I had at the beginning of my romance: I felt a new force within me.
To Taiwan among non-Christians
Making my perpetual profession after a deep crisis was like passing through the desert to Easter. So I asked for my perpetual profession at Easter on April 2, 1972. At the same time, the superior general needed 22 missionaries for Latin America, Africa and Asia. I asked to be sent but, to tell the truth, I thought that, having just emerged from an internal crisis, they would not trust me because I did not give any guarantees. Instead, the letter of acceptance for the missions arrived. My preference was for Bolivia, so I started studying Spanish by myself. Then a member of the General Counsel can and said that the list for Latin America was already full. And immediately she added, “You will go to Taiwan.” “Taiwan ?!Where is Taiwan ?! “I asked. Given my character, I did not feel fit for the east, I thought that there they were all educated and content. But my objections did not hold, the superior general had already decided.
Then of course, I did not know how to tell my family, because we were very close. My mother then asked me, “Where are they sending you?” I said, “A little farther.” And she: “Rome?” Then she understood and accepted my mission, while my brothers and my father wanted to meet my superiors to dissuade her. I was hesitant but then, after a wonderful missionary course I felt very encouraged and found the impulse to leave.
I arrived in Taipei 45 years ago, on December 1st, 1972. I left without fear, but when I arrived here at the airport I wanted to go straight back home on the return flight. I understood nothing they said and I was wondering, ‘How did I get here?’ But the Lord knew me more than I knew myself and I soon fitted in very well here in the East. Oriental art and music have attracted me so much, calligraphy in Chinese paintings has become a cause for consolation and inspiration. Meeting non-Christian people was definitely a big challenge: I had to answer questions that no one had ever asked me before. I have found even deeper reasons for my faith that I would never have found had I stayed in a “Catholic” environment.
I have visited Buddhist temples to understand their approach to other faithful. For example, the temple near us had been built by an army general who had killed many people during the war and for this reason could not find peace. Little by little this general withdrew into the temple and found his inner tranquility. Reflecting on Jesus’ mission I understood more deeply that he had incarnated himself to draw close to us. In Europe I never thought of certain issues. Now, almost 50 years later, Europe has returned to be a land of evangelization! Perhaps we can share our mission experiences and see, for example, how people when they have problems come to pray with us, so we also use Bible psalms and poems of Eastern essays.
The path of forgiveness
The apostolic and pastoral experiences here in Taiwan were beautiful. A man, baptized as a baby but then who moved away from the life of faith, who worked in a high-level government position, one day came and started telling me about his life. When he finished, he asked for absolution, saying that a priest would not understand him. Instead, I convinced him to go to an old priest who, however, was very close on that occasion. The young man came back depressed. I felt a sense of guilt, and he confirmed to me: “I told you it would not work!” Then I advised him to go to a young priest. I remember that there was the typhoon and it rained uninterruptedly. I called the priest and just said, “A young man will come for a confession, remember that God is love.” The priest was very grateful, the man was very impressed by this priest who was waiting for him all wet on the road to offer him time for confession. That young man from that day began to rebuild himself and his life. On another occasion, at the international book fair here in Taipei (台北國際書展, TIBE) I remember a woman once came in tears and told me about her difficult family life. Her husband treated her worse than a servant. Once she entered a church and saw the crucifix and said right away “This is my religion. Buddhism helps me but it does not take my pain away: if this God gives meaning to suffering, this is my religion. ” After baptism, she found the strength to face her husband and to be respected as a wife and as a woman she met Jesus directly, without any mediation of missionaries or other faithful. This is what I like about our life: the fact that our apostolate brings us into the living environments of real people. At another international fair, a 23-year-old girl confided to me that she had just had an abortion: she was a Buddhist and wondered how many times she would have to reborn to pay for denying her child’s life. I simply told her, “Give me this baby and I’ll will pay the debt you owe your child”: I remember that we also prayed for her child in the community. We have a strong friendship with her. The girl felt relieved from our meeting, she seemed to have unloaded an absurd weight that weighed down on her inner state of mind. I think these are very deep sharing experiences, perhaps unthinkable in other vocations.
Mission to Pakistan
Now I’m about to start another chapter in my life: Superior General Sister Anna Maria Parenzan called me last month and said, “Since you are no longer the provincial superior and among our sisters in Asia you are now free, so I am sending you to Pakistan, we have 18 nuns in that region, learn urdu and share!”
I had not thought of such a big change. I feel like Nicodemus: “How can an old man be born again?” I put this new adventure into the hands of Jesus. When they told me I felt inwardly shocked. Our life in Pakistan is sometimes not easy, but I know I would regret it if I refused. I do not know the result but I know that I can offer myself now. From Taiwan I bring rich experiences, even from the kitchen. After the first moment of uncertainty, now I feel freer and less apprehensive about the future, although I often feel very impatient.
We started our mission in Kaohsiung, and a few years ago with our sisters we wrote the book, there are many experiences together accompanied by illustrations of a famous artist, 許書寧, author of several books, who married a Japanese artist. She was interested in the stories of young nuns, she wanted to write about our experiences with humour and so we collected our memories and our Taiwanese stories.
The fact that we write and distribute books with constructive content is very important, it is at the heart of our mission: I remember that we went to visit the families close to the Franciscans of Taishan (泰山)and met a seamstress. When we sold her a family book she bought it and let us go. After two years she invited us to her home and we saw her interest in family books. Then she told us that when we meet two years before she was separating from her husband, but thanks to the book that contained very simple tips on a couple’s life, she began to pay close attention to the details of each day, to cook very good dishes for her husband and daughters. She realized that she loved him, and she started sharing her books with her husband and they helped her change. This is the example of a family that on that occasion found inspiration from the content of our books, and this made me understand the importance of the media. Now in Pakistan I will continue this mission, we have several stores, including one on Lahore Highway!