Laura taught us that our teaching had to come from a place of love and respect for their customs and their beliefs, Parra said.
Montoya required her nuns to learn the local languages and live, sleep and eat in the same conditions as their congregation. That sometimes meant living in abject poverty.
Montoyas work was eventually embraced by the church and she is officially recognized as the founder of the Congregation of Missionaries of Mary Immaculate and St. Catherine of Sienna, but the group is more commonly known as Las Lauritas in honor of their founder. Pope John Paul II called Laura the mother of the Indigenous peoples.
Today, the group has almost 1,000 nuns working in 21 nations. Outposts can be found deep in the Amazon, in the Democratic Republic of Congo and on the streets of Haiti.
Montoya herself was so ascetic that when a wealthy patron put Montoya up at her plush mansion, she slept on the floor. But she also had a sense of humor. Montoya was a heavy woman, recalled Marítnez, and the congregation struggled to find an animal that could bear her weight. They eventually settled on a sturdy mule named Flores.
In 1939, when Montoya was given the nations highest honor, La Cruz de Boyaca, she insisted it was Flores that deserved the award. Montoya was also knighted during the ceremony, leading her to joke that the country had changed her sex.
Even on her deathbed, when an infection of her lymphatic system had created painful, running boils on her legs, she kept her good humor, said Martínez.
When we put gauze on her, she said it felt like a burlap sack, Martinez said. But she never complained.
The church requires two miracles before someone can be declared a saint, and the first came in 1994 when a woman suffering what the doctors believed was terminal cervical and pelvic cancer was inexplicably cured after invoking Montoyas name. She lived another nine years and died of other causes. The second miracle came in 2006, when a young doctor, Carlos Eduardo Restrepo, was given last rites after battling what has been described as lupus and renal damage. After praying to Montoya, he made a full recovery. On Sunday, it was Restrepo who presented Pope Francis with Montoyas relics.
Last December, then Pope Benedict announced Montoyas canonization along with that of two others: Antonio Primaldo, an Italian who was martyred along with 800 in 1480 by Ottoman invaders, and María Guadalupe García Zavala, a Mexican nun who founded the Congregation of the Handmaids of St. Margaret Mary of the Poor, and who died in 1963.
But those announcements went almost unnoticed. That same day, Benedict shocked the Catholic world when he announced his retirement and became the first pope to step down in more than 600 years.
Theres no way to overlook Montoya now in Colombia. Television is flooded with documentaries about her and street vendors are selling everything from mugs and t-shirts to handbags with her image.
Parra never met Madre Laura, but she said her heros sanctification would force the organization to redouble its efforts to keep working with the indigenous, the marginalized and the poor.
We have such a huge responsibility now, she said, with this incredible woman looking over us.