The archbishop of the metropolis during the soon-to-be-proclaimed Saint’s mission, Msgr. Henry Sebastian D'Souza, tells AsiaNews about the last days of Mother Teresa and her legacy for India and for the world: "The beauty of life and of Mother Teresa's mission is that she was able to transcend the barriers of race, language, culture, social status ... Whatever barrier. She was the image of Jesus, His face in the world".
Calcutta (AsiaNews) - Mother Teresa "was the face of Christ in the world, a person who spent her life to help us understand the nature of the divine. That's why she does not belong to only Calcutta or India, but to the whole world and ultimately to Jesus" says Mgr. Henry Sebastian D'Souza, archbishop emeritus who led Calcutta from 1986 to 2002, during the years of the soon-to-be-proclaimed Saint’s mission. Pope Francis has decided that her canonization will take place in Rome on September 4, 2016.
Your Grace, you were the Archbishop when Mother died. Share with us Mother’s last days. How did she pass from this life to the next?
I was not present when Mother Teresa died. I was in Rome by invitation of Cardinal Ratzinger to present the Catechism of the Catholic Church to the Holy Father. I had been the Asian representative for the composition of this Catechism. On hearing of Mother Teresa’s death I returned immediately.
I was told that Fr. Hansel D’Souza the Parish Priest of St. Mary’s Church anointed Mother Teresa before she died.
Can you share with the readers, the few days following her death, of the requests you received for Mother’s process to be initiated.
After Mother Teresa died I had the responsibility of handling her funeral. I had been blessed with the assistance of Mr. Bill Canny of Catholic Relief Services (CRS). He had come to see me some months before Mother Teresa died. He asked me if I had any plans in place in case of her death. I had none. He advised me to make the plan.
Accordingly we sat together, discussed the various issues and visited several places where the body could lie in state until the actual funeral. We anticipated large number of dignitaries who would need to be met, accommodated as well as seated for the funeral. There were also details about how to preserve the body during the days after the death, on how to handle the crowds who would want to obtain a last blessing from her, on how to organize the liturgy with its music, etc. Mr. Bill Canny proved to be an excellent strategist. After several discussions he drew up a plan of several pages to cover all the details after her death. It was a very comprehensive document and excellently planned. I gave a copy to the Sister in Charge in Mother House and another to Fr. Valerian Nazareth the Parish Priest of St. Thomas’ Church where the body would lie in state; a third copy was with me. Mr. Bill Canny would be the CRS coordinator for all the anticipated events.
As a result of this planning, my absence from Calcutta when Mother died was not felt. The Vicar General, Mgr. Francis Gomes, took the copy of the plan and started all the arrangements along with Mr. Bill Canny and Fr. Valerian Nazareth. The meticulous planning had paid off. The required medical care for the preservation of Mother’s body was attended to by the MC Sisters. Fr. Valerian organized arrangements in St. Thomas’ Church so as to allow the queues of people coming from far and wide to move in an orderly fashion, while they paid their respects. The hundreds of dignitaries were also suitably met and accommodated. I can only be grateful for the support I received at this crucial moment when Mother Teresa died.
Can you tell us about the opening of diocesan enquiry?
After the death and funeral of Mother Teresa I received innumerable letters requesting me to start the process of her canonization. Within a few months I wrote to the Congregation for the Canonization of Saints to give me the permission to begin the process. By Canon Law the process can only begin after five years. I needed an exemption. I cited the fact that many key witnesses were very old and may not survive the mandatory five years. The reply from the Prefect of the Congregation was that the rule had to be maintained. However he advised me to start collecting in an informal way such evidence that might become helpful. I must say I did not do anything in that line. However within a year I got another letter from the Prefect of the Congregation, stating that it had obtained the required permission for the process. I was requested to initiate the canonization process immediately.
I was lucky to have a qualified canonist in Bishop Salvador Lobo. He was my suffragan and neighbour in Calcutta. He resided within an hour’s drive from Archbishop’s House in Calcutta. Bishop Salvador Lobo agreed to head the Commission and to do the needful for gathering evidence for the Process. He identified suitable persons as the secretary and notary. Thus the Process began in a room in Archbishop’s House.
I am deeply grateful to Bishop Lobo. He was able to complete the work within a year and we were able to transship three dozen boxes of evidence to Rome. Fr. Brian Koloudowinsky was the person who took the documents and delivered them safely to the Congregation.
“The Sunshine of the Darkness is Bright”, can you explain this in Mother’s Life, mission and now her Sainthood?
I have said enough about Mother Teresa’s life and mission. The aspect of her dark night was not known to me. She always met me with her radiant smile. After reading her life and struggle I realized how the darkness was bright.
Mother Teresa explained her life in a few sentences. I quote from “The Spirituality of Mother Teresa & Catherine Doherty” by Fr. Omar Tange:
“That your heart must be simple and pure in order to live in the unconditional service of the poor for Jesus through Mary,” she answered. Then she went on, “Without this simplicity and purity you will reason the reality of Jesus and His Mother into a dead thing. Your self-sufficiency, your selfishness and your intellectual pride will inhibit His coming to live in your heart, because God cannot fill what is already full. It’s as simple as that.” (Pg.102)
“God doesn’t ask that we succeed in everything, but that we are faithful. However beautiful our work may be, let us not become attached to it. Always remain prepared to give it up, without losing your peace. The work doesn’t belong to you but to Jesus.” (Pg.116)
“God will take care of you, be not afraid,
He is your safeguard, through sunshine and shade.
Tenderly walking, wherever you go,
He will not leave you to wander alone.” (Pg.118)
The three quotations explain her life and mission and give us the key to her sanctity in spite of the darkness in her soul.
Why did the Communist Government give a Catholic nun a State funeral?
The funeral of Mother Teresa was taken over by the Army. It was not just a State Funeral. It became a national event, The National Flag draped her coffin from St. Thomas’ Church to the Stadium where the funeral took place and then to the Mother House where she was laid to rest. The National Anthem was played with bugles as the body was lowered into the tomb. Mother Teresa had passed into history. She did not belong to her native country. She did not belong to Calcutta. She belonged to India and the World. But in fact she belonged to Jesus.
Was religious freedom an important tool in Mother’s mission in India?
The beauty of Mother Teresa’s life and mission was that she was able to transcend the barriers and limitations of race, language, culture, status or whatever. She was the face of Jesus to the world. Those who met her recognized that she was a godly person who had lived a human life to help us to understand the nature of the divine.