Q & A with Sr. Venus Marie Pegar on her 'painting for the mission'

by Madonna Virola

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Sr. Venus Marie S. Pegar, a sister of St. Francis of Xavier located in San Pedro, Laguna, in Central Philippines, has been painting with passion since she was 8 years old in Leyte province where she was born. She attributes her early start to her father, who was an artist and introduced her to the world of art.

Pegar is in her seventh year as a professed nun. She painted in her free time more for personal reasons while she was busy with vocation promotions in her congregation until 2017. That year, she visited her congregation's mission in Myanmar and was inspired to seriously consider raising funds for the ministry with the elderly in San Pedro and for the needs of Sisters of St. Francis Xavier postulants.

In 2005, using oil and canvas, she joined the art exhibit of the United Women Artists Association of the Philippines in the Binondo district of Manila. She was among 34 artists in the group, which promotes women's empowerment.

United Women Artists founder Menchu Arandilla said Pegar "radiates with passion for painting." Pegar, 41, paints subjects related to women who, in time, have become ready to face new challenges, without fear and anchored to God.

Her paintings have sold in the Philippines for $100 to $200.

Now, with permission from her mother superior, she continues to paint on a more regular basis in her spare time in the evening, after she finishes her main tasks as nun and vocation director of her congregation.

Since July 2017, she has hosted "Sr. Venus para kay Hesus" ("Sr. Venus for Jesus") on Radio Veritas Asia — Filipino Service. Global Sisters Report spoke with her recently about her pursuits of art and faith.

GSR: How were you led to painting in the convent?

Pegar: The reason behind my painting is really my passion since childhood — thanks to my Papa, who was an artist, too, because he introduced me to the world of art.

I have three siblings. My eldest brother is an expert on portraits while my youngest brother is a graphics design artist. My mom was working at the municipal health center and my dad managed the bakeshop that our family owned.

My painting used to be for personal growth. Getting serious about it was at first a blurred choice because I was a bit busy with my assignment in vocation promotions.

I only entertained painting more seriously last year. That's when I was exposed to poverty in Myanmar, where, in our mission areas, I've seen people to be used to poverty [that is less extreme]. Like in our orphanage, children were mixed and crowded in a hall that's covered by native mats. It's in a hut that the sisters serve them food. The extent of poverty is miserable but they're happy doing that. Even though our country, the Philippines, is poor, it's different there [in Myanmar]. I couldn't help but cry.

I quietly told myself, when I return to the Philippines, I will do something to help them in my own little way. I prayed and discerned for some months until I saw my unfinished paintings, which were kept in a corner. That's an "aha" moment. "This is it. I am going to paint for the mission," I said.

I also got signs [from God] for me to venture into painting to raise funds. On Aug. 30, 2014, my life of love and vocation was featured on the national television show "Maalaala Mo Kaya." In an episode called "Sulat" [meaning letter], the researcher, after I asked them not to post my front photo, chose my side view photo from my Facebook, a picture that represented my congregation. I thought that was also God's signal.

Since I didn't know anything about selling paintings, my brother, a professional artist, supported the idea. He gave me some of his extra painting materials and even showed me how to paint such that they can be sold to raise funds for the mission.

What are your sources of inspiration?

It's primarily being able to support the mission. I created a page called "Nun's Sense" on Facebook and displayed my paintings on the timeline. I received a good number of "likes" and comments. Those supportive people are part of my mission and godly inspiration as I trek through the world of painting.

The subjects of my paintings are basically nature, religious images, abstract images and portraits.

What has been achieved in this ministry?

I don't price my work when it is still with me, but if it is already displayed in the gallery, it's up to the exhibitor. The sisters are all so fully supportive of my artistry. In fact, some of them are encouraged and did some paintings, too.

Proceeds go to missions for the poor in Myanmar and for the formation funds for ladies who desire to become nuns but have financial constraints to pursue further studies.

I am also using this as an opportunity for me to promote vocation to religious life in my work as director of vocations in the congregation. I usually invite some young girls to visit here and paint together while casually talking about vocation.

The City of San Pedro, Laguna, under the livelihood department, granted me 80,000 pesos [$1,500] worth of art materials. It was through my good friend who is working in the mayor's office. As I was featured in "The Best of San Pedro" [a Facebook page that cites people from San Pedro who excel in different fields], local citizens who read the article sent me some art materials to support my passion in painting.

I provided the visuals in the book I Have a Voice: Trafficked Women — in Their Own Words, which featured life stories of young women who all experienced various forms of violence in their lives. The original paintings were sold out.

What were the challenges with your painting ministry?

The major challenge is time. With permission from my mother general and superior, I started freely stroking varied colors on that plain canvas, positively thinking that this would be the turning point for a colorful journey ahead.

I just do my paintings during our community recreation or on any available time of the day. These are not stable hours but I just go on until, unknowingly, it's done already. It is not so hard though, because it's just secondary to my mission as a nun assigned to the elderly home. I didn't have even a single thought of giving up since it is a kind of leisure for me and at the same time nourishing the talent God has given me.

But my brother always encouraged me to just keep on painting until I complete a masterpiece.

Of course, I did not go with subjects of politics and nudity that are shown in mainstream arts.

How do you see the Holy Spirit working in your ministry? How do you keep your spiritual energy strong?

One year since I started painting for the mission, I saw the growing support of people. Many unbelievable things happened. There were many surprised blessings, and opportunities keep coming in. There and then, I clearly feel the positive nod of my loving God, that this is his will.

My local superior and our congregation's mothers general have given me their blessings. My family continues to encourage me, with my artist-brother providing me with painting materials.

I keep my spiritual energy strong by being faithful to my congregation, to our mission.

I look after 20 residents at the Mary Mother of Mercy and Home for the Elderly and Abandoned in San Pedro. They remind me that all things will pass, that time is very important and none should be wasted, for it belongs to God. Life is meaningful because I allow God to love, with me as his instrument.

On top of my assignment is my role as vocation director and overseer of the formation of postulants. Their enthusiasm reminds me of my early years in my vocation and how God sustains me throughout the years. His promise for the future is something I also look forward to.

[Madonna Tividad Virola is a freelance journalist based in the Philippines.]