A Filipina nun on a short visit to Spain to renew her visa died Saturday due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), her Benedictine congregation announced.
Maria Gratia Balagot served as superior missionary in India, but was in Spain to renew her visa that is expiring in April. The CBCP News website said she died at the age of 71.
Balagot was admitted to a hospital on March 22 and was diagnosed with pneumonia. She was transferred to the Intensive Care Unit and later tested positive for the virus.
Balagot was able to talk to her 2 brothers in Barcelona over the phone before she succumbed to the disease.
“Nakakausap namin siya. Pero mahinang-mahina. Isang minuto lang. Pagod na pagod na ako, sabi niya,” said her brother Patrito.
(We were able to talk to her. But she was very weak. Our conversation was only a minute long. She said that she was very tired.)
Her brothers lamented that they couldn’t be with her on her deathbed.
Burial will have to wait until the lockdown in the country is lifted.
“Hindi man lamang namin siya nasamahan noong kinailangan niya kami,” said Randy, her other brother.
(We weren’t even able to be there for her when she needed us.)
Balagot grew up in La Union, north of the Philippine capital, with her 8 other siblings. She was a catechist and a religion teacher to several public schools and parishes.
She later went to Spain to work for a Spanish household. In the next years, she dedicated her life helping her siblings in their studies until they get good jobs.
When she felt that her siblings already had stable lives, she committed to a religious life by entering the missionary through the Benedictine Sisters.
As a laywoman, she was an important pillar and leader in the beginnings of the Filipino Community in Barcelona. She co-founded and was the first president of Samahan ng mga Migranteng Pilipino sa Barcelona, or SMPB, the first Filipino association legally registered in the city that became instrumental in helping undocumented Pinoys in the 1980s.
“Sa kaniyang pag-upo bilang president, sa kaniya nagsimula ang pagtulong sa mga papeles ng mga Pinoy. Pati ang cultural program ay kaniya ring initiative,” recalled Macrina Salcedo, who took over as head of SMPB.
(When she was president, the group started helping the undocumented Filipinos in processing their papers. The cultural programs were also her initiative.)
Balagot was also key in creating the Centro Pilipino that provides training and assistance to the growing Filcom and served as intermediary between employers and Filipinos.
Balagot was at the frontline as well of Babaylan Europe, a European network of Filipino women that promotes women empowerment and values.
As of March 31, Spain ranks 3rd among countries with the highest coronavirus infection at 85,195 and 7,340 deaths.