Mother Teresa. The very utterance of these two words is sheer magic to millions of people the world over; to some others, it is even a miracle.
Take for example, Shiv Kumar who was picked up, some years ago, in a most dehumanized condition from the Ahmedabad Railway Station by a Missionary of Charity called Sr. Thomasine. Apart from being all skin and bones, the only movement that this young man was capable of was on ‘all fours.’
For months, the sisters nursed him with tender loving care and kept praying to Mother Teresa. A miracle took place….Shiv Kumar was able to walk straight again. Perhaps, he had never walked all his life…now, thanks to Mother, he could not merely walk but could even run.
Yes, Mother Teresa touches the hearts and lives of millions in magical and miraculous ways.
As September 4th 2016, the day of Mother Teresa’s canonization, approaches, the world awaits a new chapter of one of history’s greatest icons. ‘Sainthood’ was conferred on Mother Teresa even when she was alive. That “sainthood” did not need the rigors of a process which is mandatory in the Catholic Church.
It was a spontaneous, unconditional and loving response of a people whose lives were profoundly touched — the poor and marginalized; the dying destitute; the unloved and rejected; the poorest of the poor. Most of the world had no time or space for these “least of our sisters and brothers,” but Mother Teresa opened her heart and doors to them. She made them feel wanted, accepted and loved. She cared for them, restored them back to a life of dignity and meaning.
For them she was their saint, and this sentiment is voiced and re-echoed by countless all over the world. So, on September 4th, we celebrate not merely the fact of having known her and touched her, but the fact that a saint was with us and will continue to be with us.
As the big day dawns, many of us will obviously relive warm memories of having known her, spoken to her, been with her, touched her…or almost, anyway. My first meeting with Mother Teresa goes back to 1972 when, on a visit to Calcutta, I was taken by some Jesuit Fathers to visit ‘Nirmal Hriday’ (“Home of the Pure Heart,” a hospice for the sick and dying founded by Mother Teresa.)
A couple of days later, while visiting a Calcutta Basti teeming with Bangladeshi refugees, I could see that the only ones that mattered to these poor migrants (literally in an unknown and unwanted land) were the Missionaries of Charity, and in the midst of them was Mother talking to them, listening and with eyes full of compassion and love, just telling them that she accepts them: scenes that will remain always etched in my memory.
Then, in 1974, on her first visit to Ahmedabad, (a little after her sisters had “parked” themselves in the sacristy of the Mirzapur Cathedral), Mother was exhorting us “to do more for Jesus in Gujarat.”
In 1984, the day after Indira Gandhi was assassinated, Mother was called very specially to Delhi by Rajiv Gandhi to bring healing to a city and a nation that stood torn apart by hatred and revenge. As students of Vidya Jyoti, we clergy had decided to shut down the theologate and respond to the cries of helpless Sikh victims who had taken shelter in the refugee camps.
But it was Mother’s impassioned plea: her call to all men and women of goodwill that ultimately silenced the cries of hate and vengeance. It was she who led a rally for peace; it was she who was able to go out in the midst of victims and in a great measure touch their bleeding hearts.
Over the years, the remarkable quality of this woman is not the prizes and the awards that she won or the accolades that came her way, but her ability to be one with the poorest of the poor and to be able to open the doors and the coffers of the mightiest and the richest of the world. It was not without reason that she was often accused of taking money from the “corrupt,” but to this, her oft reply was “if any money is used for the poor, it is for good.”
There was also the accusation that ‘she spoiled the poor.’ For that she always had a plain-speaking defense: “Why should only the rich be spoiled all the time?”
One of Mother Teresa’s last visits outside Calcutta was to the city of Ahmedabad in March 1996. In fact, several hundred people of the city were privileged to meet her and interact with her during that two-day visit.
Her visit to Ahmedabad was indeed hectic. Efforts were made that the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation would accord a Civic Reception to Mother. Because March 8 was International Women’s Day, it was indeed an appropriate day to honor one of the world’s greatest women.
The then Municipal Commissioner of Ahmedabad Mr. Keshav Verma was very keen on it; but the then Mayor of Ahmedabad, a woman, just would have nothing to do with it. Not to be out-staged, the Municipal Commissioner hosted a reception at his residence inviting several eminent citizens of the city and also the mayor and her husband. The husband wanted to trap Mother with that stereotyped question, (in full glare of the media) “Mother, why do you want to convert people?”
He pat reply was, “Who am I to convert anyone? I can never convert. Only God converts…!’ “From this moment onward, I will pray to God to convert you too.” The “protestor” stood there, just shell-shocked.
One can go on narrating stories and anecdotes, sayings and quotes of Mother Teresa. social media, the internet and the other mainstream media are today full of stories of this “Saint of the Gutters,” but that’s not what is important.
What is important is that she walked this earth in our very own times. She was able to touch simple, ordinary people in profound ways and transform them into the image and likeness of God. She was able to love and in turn bring out love in all its totality.
The work she began still continues in the back and beyond from the slums of Calcutta to the bustle of California, from the favelas of Rio to the shanties of Nairobi, through the wholehearted and free service of her Missionaries of Charity and the legion of collaborators.
As we celebrate this saint, let us in some small measure try to walk in her footsteps.
Pray for us Saint Teresa of Calcutta!
Fr. Cedric Prakash S.J. is a human rights activist and is currently based in Lebanon and engaged with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in the Middle East on advocacy and communications. He has been with Mother Teresa on several different occasions and was responsible for her visit to Ahmedabad in 1996. He is closely associated for more than thirty years with the Missionaries of Charity. He can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org )