This article was published in the Oct.-Nov._December, 2003 issue of “Michael”.
On October 19, 2003, World Mission Sunday, a visibly moved John Paul II beatified Mother Teresa of Calcutta, the founder of the Missionaries of Charity, “whom I have always felt close to me,” before a crowd of 300,000 overflowing St. Peter's Square, adding that she was “one of the most important figures of our time, one of the greatest missionaries of the 20th century.” More than 100 cardinals and numerous bishops accompanied the Pope as he beatified the world-famous servant of the poorest of the poor. The Holy Father established September 5 as Mother Teresa's feast day — “the day of her birth in heaven.”
Some 500 Missionaries of Charity in their white-and-blue saris attended the ceremony, where the front rows were reserved for 3,500 poor. Also present were representatives of the Orthodox Church and two Muslim communities from Albania, since Mother Teresa was born to an ethnic Albanian family. Next to Sister Nirmala Joshi, Mother Teresa's successor and superior general of the Missionaries of Charity, were the heads of other institutes founded by the new blessed. Also present was Monika Besra, the Indian woman inexplicably cured of an abdominal tumor through Mother Teresa's intercession, who received Holy Communion from the Pope.
On December 20, 2002, the decree of the miracle attributed to Mother Teresa (Monika Besra's cure) was made public. So, only five years and three months after her death (on September 5, 1997), her beatification was announced, which is unprecedented in the history of the Church. Usually, the Church's norms require a waiting period of five years after death before a Diocese can begin an inquiry into the life of the would-be saint.
On December 12, 1998, Pope John Paul II granted a dispensation from the norm, and the inquiry for Mother Teresa was able to begin in the Archdiocese of Calcutta. The closing session of the diocesan inquiry was held on Aug. 15, 2001. The Acts of the Diocesan Inquiry consist of 80 volumes, each approximately 450 pages. This material was subsequently submitted to the Congregation for the Saints in Rome. So, even though an exemption was made for the period of waiting, no exemption was made from the formal process itself or from any of its steps.
Here is the Pope's homily for this beatification:
The servant of the least
“Whoever would be first among you must be slave of all” (Mk10: 44). Jesus' words to his disciples that have just rung out in this Square show us the way to evangelical “greatness”. It is the way walked by Christ himself that took him to the Cross: a journey of love and service that overturns all human logic. To be the servant of all!
Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Foundress of the Missionaries of Charity whom today I have the joy of adding to the Roll of the Blesseds, allowed this logic to guide her. I am personally grateful to this courageous woman whom I have always felt beside me. Mother Teresa, an icon of the Good Samaritan, went everywhere to serve Christ in the poorest of the poor. Not even conflict and war could stand in her way.
Every now and then she would come and tell me about her experiences in her service to the Gospel values. I remember, for example, her pro-life and anti-abortion interventions, even when she was awarded the Nobel Prize for peace (Oslo, December 10, 1979). She often used to say: “If you hear of some woman who does not want to keep her child and wants to have an abortion, try to persuade her to bring him to me. I will love that child, seeing in him the sign of God's love”.
Is it not significant that her beatification is taking place on the very day on which the Church celebrates World Mission Sunday? With the witness of her life, Mother Teresa reminds everyone that the evangelizing mission of the Church passes through charity, nourished by prayer and listening to God's word. Emblematic of this missionary style is the image that shows the new Blessed clasping a child's hand in one hand while moving her Rosary beads with the other.
Contemplation and action, evangelization and human promotion: Mother Teresa proclaimed the Gospel living her life as a total gift to the poor but, at the same time, steeped in prayer.
“Whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant” (Mk 10: 43). With particular emotion we remember today Mother Teresa, a great servant of the poor, of the Church and of the whole world. Her life is a testimony to the dignity and the privilege of humble service. She had chosen to be not just the least but to be the servant of the least. As a real mother to the poor, she bent down to those suffering various forms of poverty. Her greatness lies in her ability to give without counting the cost, to give "until it hurts". Her life was a radical living and a bold proclamation of the Gospel.
The cry of Jesus on the Cross, “I thirst” (Jn 19: 28), expressing the depth of God's longing for man, penetrated Mother Teresa's soul and found fertile soil in her heart. Satiating Jesus' thirst for love and for souls in union with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, had become the sole aim of Mother Teresa's existence and the inner force that drew her out of herself and made her “run in haste” across the globe to labour for the salvation and the sanctification of the poorest of the poor.
Serving Christ hidden in the poor
Suffering from a huge abdominal tunor, Minka Besra was being cared for by the Missionaries of Charity in West Bengal state. The sisters prayed for Mother Theresa's intercession, and Besra was healed on the first anniversary of their founder's death. A Hindu at the time of the healing in 1998, Besra became a Catholic. It is this miraculous healing that allowed Mother Teresa's beatification.
“As you did to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Mt 25: 40). This Gospel passage, so crucial in understanding Mother Teresa's service to the poor, was the basis of her faith-filled conviction that in touching the broken bodies of the poor she was touching the body of Christ. It was to Jesus himself, hidden under the distressing disguise of the poorest of the poor, that her service was directed. Mother Teresa highlights the deepest meaning of service — an act of love done to the hungry, thirsty, strangers, naked, sick, prisoners (cf. Mt 25: 34-36) is done to Jesus himself.
Recognizing him, she ministered to him with wholehearted devotion, expressing the delicacy of her spousal love. Thus, in total gift of herself to God and neighbour, Mother Teresa found her greatest fulfilment and lived the noblest qualities of her femininity. She wanted to be a sign of “God's love, God's presence and God's compassion”, and so remind all of the value and dignity of each of God's children, “created to love and be loved”. Thus was Mother Teresa “bringing souls to God and God to souls” and satiating Christ's thirst, especially for those most in need, those whose vision of God had been dimmed by suffering and pain.
“The Son of man also came... to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mk 10: 45). Mother Teresa shared in the Passion of the crucified Christ in a special way during long years of “inner darkness”. For her that was a test, at times an agonizing one, which she accepted as a rare “gift and privilege”.
In the darkest hours she clung even more tenaciously to prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. This harsh spiritual trial led her to identify herself more and more closely with those whom she served each day, feeling their pain and, at times, even their rejection. She was fond of repeating that the greatest poverty is to be unwanted, to have no one to take care of you.
“Lord, let your mercy be on us, as we place our trust in you”. How often, like the Psalmist, did Mother Teresa call on her Lord in times of inner desolation: “In you, in you I hope, my God!”.
Let us praise the Lord for this diminutive woman in love with God, a humble Gospel messenger and a tireless benefactor of humanity. In her we honour one of the most important figures of our time. Let us welcome her message and follow her example.
Virgin Mary, Queen of all the Saints, help us to be gentle and humble of heart like this fearless messenger of Love. Help us to serve every person we meet with joy and a smile. Help us to be missionaries of Christ, our peace and our hope. Amen! (End of homily.)
Mother Teresa's biography
This luminous messenger of God's love was born on 26 August 1910 in Skopje, Macedonia, from Albanese parents. The youngest of three children born to Nikola and Drane Bojaxhiu, she was baptised Gonxha Agnes, received her First Communion at the age of five and a half and was confirmed in November 1916. From the day of her First Holy Communion, a love for souls was within her. Her father's sudden death when Gonxha was about eight years old left in the family in financial straits. Drane raised her children firmly and lovingly, greatly influencing her daughter's character and vocation. Gonxha's religious formation was further assisted by the vibrant Jesuit parish of the Sacred Heart in which she was much involved.
At the age of eighteen, moved by a desire to become a missionary, Gonxha left her home in September 1928 to join the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, known as the Sisters of Loreto, in Ireland, known for their missionary work in India. There she received the name Sister Mary Teresa after St. Thérèse of Lisieux. In December, she departed for India, arriving in Calcutta on January 6, 1929.
After making her First Profession of Vows in May 1931, Sister Teresa was assigned to the Loreto Entally community in Calcutta and taught geography and catechism at St. Mary's School for girls. On May 24, 1937, Sister Teresa made her Final Profession of Vows, becoming, as she said, the “spouse of Jesus” for “all eternity.” From that time on she was called Mother Teresa. She continued teaching at St. Mary's and in 1944 became the school's principal. A person of profound prayer and deep love for her religious sisters and her students, Mother Teresa's twenty years in Loreto were filled with profound happiness. Noted for her charity, unselfishness and courage, her capacity for hard work and a natural talent for organization, she lived out her consecration to Jesus, in the midst of her companions, with fidelity and joy.
The “call within a call”
On 10 September 1946 during the train ride from Calcutta to Darjeeling for her annual retreat, Mother Teresa received her “inspiration,” her “call within a call.” On that day, in a way she would never explain, Jesus' thirst for love and for souls took hold of her heart and the desire to satiate His thirst became the driving force of her life. Over the course of the next weeks and months, by means of interior locutions and visions, Jesus revealed to her the desire of His heart for “victims of love” who would “radiate His love on souls.” “Come be My light,” He begged her. “I cannot go alone.” He revealed His pain at the neglect of the poor, His sorrow at their ignorance of Him and His longing for their love. He asked Mother Teresa to establish a religious community, Missionaries of Charity, dedicated to the service of the poorest of the poor.
Nearly two years of testing and discernment passed before Mother Teresa received permission to begin. On August 17, 1948, she dressed for the first time in a white, blue-bordered sari and passed through the gates of her beloved Loreto convent to enter the world of the poor, under the jurisdiction of the Archbishop of Calcutta. She hardly made it to the middle of the street when she was overcome by anguish. Suddenly the reality of her new state in life became clear. She was completely alone, with no house, no savings and no work. She did not know what she would eat and where she would sleep. She found herself in that same terrible condition of those who have nothing- those whom she wanted to serve.
After a short course with the Medical Mission Sisters in Patna, Mother Teresa returned to Calcutta and found temporary lodging with the Little Sisters of the Poor. On December 21, 1949, she went for the first time to the only slum with which she was acquainted, located just behind St. Mary's High School. She had heard many horrible stories about the misery in this slum. While she was living at the convent, she had never wanted to step foot in this slum. Now she decided it would be her home.
The next day, Mother had already found five children to teach. There was not even a table, chair, basin or chalkboard in her room, and she used a stick to trace the letters of the alphabet on the dirt floor. A few months before, she had been the principal of the famous high school located just a few steps away and had taught the daughters of rich families. Now she was in a slum where people lived in misery among rats and cockroaches, teaching the children of people who were nobodies. The heat was suffocating in her shack: 115 degrees with humidity surpassing 95 percent.
Mother Teresa recalls: "Through the children, I began to penetrate those labyrinths of the most squalid misery in Calcutta. At that time, the number of homeless in the city was about 1 million. I went from hut to hut, trying to be useful. I helped those who slept on the sides of the street, who lived on garbage. I found the most atrocious suffering: the blind, the crippled, lepers, people with disfigured faces and deformed bodies, creatures who couldn't stand upright and who followed me on all fours asking for a little food.”
She visited families, washed the sores of some children, cared for an old man lying sick on the road and nursed a woman dying of hunger and tuberculosis. She started each day in communion with Jesus in the Eucharist and then went out, rosary in her hand, to find and serve Him in “the unwanted, the unloved, the uncared for.” After some months, she was joined, one by one, by her former students.
The Missionaries of Charity
On October 7, 1950 the new congregation of the Missionaries of Charity was officially established in the Archdiocese of Calcutta. By the early 1960s, Mother Teresa began to send her Sisters to other parts of India. The Decree of Praise granted to the Congregation by Pope Paul VI in February 1965 encouraged her to open a house in Venezuela. It was soon followed by foundations in Rome and Tanzania and, eventually, on every continent. Starting in 1980 and continuing through the 1990s, Mother Teresa opened houses in almost all of the communist countries, including the former Soviet Union, Albania and Cuba.
In order to respond better to both the physical and spiritual needs of the poor, Mother Teresa founded the Missionaries of Charity Brothers in 1963, in 1976 the contemplative branch of the Sisters, in 1979 the Contemplative Brothers, and in 1984 the Missionaries of Charity Fathers. Yet her inspiration was not limited to those with religious vocations. She formed the Co-Workers of Mother Teresa and the Sick and Suffering Co-Workers, people of many faiths and nationalities with whom she shared her spirit of prayer, simplicity, sacrifice and her apostolate of humble works of love. This spirit later inspired the Lay Missionaries of Charity. In answer to the requests of many priests, in 1981 Mother Teresa also began the Corpus Christi Movement for Priests as a “little way of holiness” for those who desire to share in her charism and spirit.
During the years of rapid growth the world began to turn its eyes towards Mother Teresa and the work she had started. Numerous awards, beginning with the Indian Padmashri Award in 1962 and notably the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, honoured her work, while an increasingly interested media began to follow her activities. She received both prizes and attention “for the glory of God and in the name of the poor.”
The whole of Mother Teresa's life and labour bore witness to the joy of loving, the greatness and dignity of every human person, the value of little things done faithfully and with love, and the surpassing worth of friendship with God. But there was another heroic side of this great woman that was revealed only after her death. Hidden from all eyes, hidden even from those closest to her, was her interior life marked by an experience of a deep, painful and abiding feeling of being separated from God, even rejected by Him, along with an ever-increasing longing for His love. She called her inner experience, “the darkness.” The “painful night” of her soul, which began around the time she started her work for the poor and continued to the end of her life, led Mother Teresa to an ever more profound union with God. Through the darkness she mystically participated in the thirst of Jesus, in His painful and burning longing for love, and she shared in the interior desolation of the poor.
During the last years of her life, despite increasingly severe health problems, Mother Teresa continued to govern her Society and respond to the needs of the poor and the Church. In 1991, Mother Teresa returned for the first time to her native Albania and opened a home in Tirana. By this year, there were 168 homes established in India.
By 1997, Mother Teresa's Sisters numbered nearly 4,000 members and were established in 610 foundations in 123 countries of the world. In March 1997 she blessed her newly-elected successor as Superior General of the Missionaries of Charity and then made one more trip abroad. After meeting Pope John Paul II for the last time, she returned to Calcutta and spent her final weeks receiving visitors and instructing her Sisters.
On September 5, Mother Teresa's earthly life came to an end. She was given the honour of a state funeral by the Government of India and her body was buried in the Mother House of the Missionaries of Charity. Her tomb quickly became a place of pilgrimage and prayer for people of all faiths, rich and poor alike.
Mother Teresa left a testament of unshakable faith, invincible hope and extraordinary charity. Her response to Jesus' plea, “Come be My light,” made her a Missionary of Charity, a “mother to the poor,” a symbol of compassion to the world, and a living witness to the thirsting love of God.
John Paul II and Mother Teresa
Here are excerpts from an article written by Fr. Sebastian Vazhakala, Superior General of the Missionaries of Charity, published in the Oct. 22, 2003 issue of the weekly edition in English of L'Osservatore Romano:
We are making two big celebrations of praise and thanksgiving. One is the jubilee of 25 years of Pope John Paul II's great and eventful Pontificate, and the other is the beatification of the great venerable teresa of Calcutta, virgin and foundress of the Family of the Missionaries of Charity.
In the past year through faithfully and contemplatively praying the Rosary, the Christian faithful worldwide have been thanking God for the fidelity of our present Pope, for his wonderful example, his profound teaching and preaching, his endurance in the many and unceasing trials of life, his availibility and approachability, his personal zeal, and for the many apostolic and missionary journeys which gave so many people of good will a chance to see, hear and even to touch in person the Vicar of Christ on earth. This is what our beloved John Paul II has been doing ever since his election to the See of Peter 25 years ago. Thus, the reason for this great jubilee celebration.
If Pope Pius XI called St. Thérèse of Lisieux the Star of his Pontificate, seen not only in his beatification of her in 1923 but also her canonization within two years (1925) and her designation as patroness of the Missions together with St. Francis Xavier, then Pope John Paul II has another great Star in his Pontificate, whom we all know and love: Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Unlike St. Thérèse de Lisieux who did not live during Pope Pius XI's Pontificate, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta worked very closely with Pope John Paul II, as we all know.
Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II are ordinary people to whom God bestowed extraordinary gifts and talents, above all the gifts of invincible love, ardent charity and unshakeable faith. In order to understand these two outstanding personalities of our time, it is good to see their background and many other things that pertain to their lives and future missions. the similarities are astounding.
Their countries of origin, at one time or another, was under Communist rule. In fact, Albania had the worst form of Communism. By law they were forbidden even to mention the name of God.
Both lost one parent at the age of 9: Karol lost his mother on April 13, 1929; Agnes lost her father in 1919.
For both, 1946 was a grace-filled year. On November 1st of that year, Pope John Paul II was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Krakow, Poland. And it was on September 10 of the same year that Teresa had her second call, which she called “a call within a call.”
Both the Holy Father and Mother Teresa are so devoted to Our Lady, especially to Our Lady of Fatima, that is, the Immaculate Heart of Mary. For both the Rosary has been one of the strongest weapons to attack the evil of atheistic regimes that destroyed peace and unity in the world. In fact, the Missionary Sisters of Charity of Calcutta was founded on October 7, 1950, the feast of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary.
I could go on with many more striking similarities between the two prophets of our time whom God used and continues to use to show the world He still loves it as He loved it once in Jesus Christ. Let us hope and pray that the jubilee celebration of our beloved Pope John Paul II and the beatification of our dearest Mother Teresa of Calcutta may bring all people of good will more closer to God, to the Church, and most specially to the poor of the world.