Maria Cecilia da Camera de Siqueira was born in Lisbon, Portugal on December 8, 1931. She was had a great thirst for freedom and a desire to spend her life putting others first. This led her to enter the Congregation of the Dominican Sisters of St Catherine of Siena when she was eighteen years old.
Drawn by youthful enthusiasm and by the joy of belonging only to God, during her first years in the community she particularly dedicated herself to teaching.
In 1967 she was among the first people in Portugal to come to know the Focolare Movement. What immediately struck her was the message of unity that seemed to her could be lived in harmony with her own vocation as a religious. She wrote to Chiara Lubich: “You’ve given Jesus to me so that I may bring Him to wherever God’s wants me!”.
To help seal her decision to adhere to this Spirituality, the following year Chiara suggested a sentence of the Gospel that she could live in a particular way: “Take heart, I have overcome the world” (Jn. 16-33), to which she added the words of Our Lady of Fatima: “In the end My Immaculate Heart will triumph”.
Sr. Celilia was greatly surprised: “I never knew that this triumph of Our Lady could exist here below in such a palpable way”, she remarked. The energy she received from this, and exploiting her many talents (especially her remarkable intelligence and a great love for music) she was later led to understand the fruits that the Gospel produces when it is put into practice concretely.
In 1978 when she was elected Superior General of her Order she continued in her witness to the Gospel more with her life than with words.
She worked earnestly for the religious sisters of the Movement together with Mother Achillia, and even though they were from many different countries, congregations and faith experiences, more and more sisters chose to live the charism of Chiara in harmony with the charisms of their own Orders.
In May 1988, she discovered that she had Alzheimer’s disease. She confided to Valeria Ronchetti (one of the first companions of Chiara) her fear that she was not prepared to face such a new trial “always, immediately and with joy.” Then she resolutely affirmed: “But there is one thing that I have no doubts about. He has called me to live the spirituality of unity completely as a Dominican! This is what was impressed upon me right from the very first moment. So I would truly prefer to die right away, rather than be unfaithful to God even now in this Grace that he has deigned to grant me.”
“I forget everything. I need to write everything down, because I can’t remember where I put things. For example: I have to take notes before going to Confession because if I don’t, I forget my sins (. . . ) but I’m at peace.” In 2004 she wrote the following, which witnesses how little the advancing illness was able to corrode her radical decision to stay always close to that Jesus – lonely and suffering on the Cross – to whom she felt more than ever joined: “This is a beautiful experience because it helps you to better understand other people’s sufferings.” And she truly had a deeper love and understanding for every neighbour.
The sisters of her own Congregation remember her in this way: “Even during the illness, she was always faithful to the divine office and she kept intact the happiness of belonging to Jesus right until the very end. She left us the witness of a very joyful sister, attentive to others, poor, very zealous, helping the Congregation to live the spirit of holiness of our foundress: ‘God above all things’.”
She went to heaven on August 19, 2011 after having accomplished the design of love which, as her very rich life demonstrates, God had planned for her.