Faith, love and courage of the future saint archbishop take centre stage in what the archbishop of Mumbai said at the 2016 AsiaNews International Symposium. “She based her life on love and prayer.”
Rome (AsiaNews) – What would Mother Teresa say if she were here with us? Maybe Mother Teresa is here with us. She would smile and say: "Do not talk about me, talk about Jesus." I am only "a pencil in His hands. Now stop talking and do something. "
My first impression of the Mother was her courage. For us in India, she was already a saint. On Sunday, the Church will recognise this, but for us this was already the case. Many Hindu friends told me: "Why do you go through all these procedures? She is already a saint."
She was very courageous. She left home, first for London and then Calcutta. She was a brave person who wanted to give everything to her mission. It took a lot of courage when she heard the calling travelling by rail, leaving the Loreto Institute, to find her poor.
Some opposed her. "You cannot go from one congregation to found another." But she did, thanks to her great love for God.
Years ago, when the abortion law was being discussed, Mother Teresa wrote to the Prime Minister of the time: "You will not live forever. Sooner or later, you will have to die. If this law goes into effect, what will you say to God?"
She went to America for the Prayer Breakfast, meeting with nuns in favour of abortion. She told them: "If you want peace, stop abortion. You cannot allow the killing of children and ask for peace. " At that time, Hillary Clinton and many other important people were present, but Mother never stopped when she had something to say.
I thought about the courage of her personal decision, because many of us when we feel called by God we believe to be brave. But she received an important call: leave teaching for the poor. She strongly felt that she had to give it up to devote herself to the poor.
She thought a lot, talked to many people, but she felt the calling. All this came in her life of prayer, because when she prayed she analysed decisions and ideas. In those moments she conversed with God. This is why she was always very strict on the issue with her sisters. They need prayer.
I met her so many times as a priest. I was consecrated bishop in the week she died. But every time I met her she always gave me many ideas. She shared a story with me. It was at the start of Congregation, and sisters were asking her what to do because there was not enough food. She asked what they suggested. “A small dinner, lunch, a small dinner.” She replied: "No breakfast, give food to the poor and go and pray." You will not believe it, but at 11 am a lorry pulled up. A wedding had taken place, and the bride and groom wanted to give the food to the poor. When she told me the story: "Father, I have never been afraid that there would not be enough food."
Because of this faith in God, she was a person of tremendous hope who could convey this hope to others. She met the last of the last, always giving them hope of joy, love, and God. Through her person, her prayer, her faith. She was able to communicate with them: she was full of Christian hope.
Everyone knows that Mother Teresa was a symbol of love. She loved not only the economically poor, but also the poor in spirit. Mother had this quality; God gave her this quality . . . Once, in a hospital where she was working with non-Catholics, the doctors wanted to formalise the work of the Missionaries of Charity. Beforehand, they organised a reception. Mother went around and met the doctors but she was not comfortable. At one point she apologised, she filled a plate and left. She had seen some poor people sitting on the sidewalk. She went to them and gave them sandwiches and cake. Her attention was focused on them.
People who travelled with her on the plane told me that she often put aside the tray and asked passengers to do the same. Wherever she landed she went to distribute these meals outside the airport. She could not eat without giving it to others first. And she infected others with this love.
Mother had a great devotion to the Eucharist. She insisted that her sisters participate in the Mass every day. She insisted with governments: if you want my Sisters, you also have to accept a priest. Outside of her chapels a plate said: "Priest, celebrate this as if it were your first and last Mass".
The Eucharist gave meaning to her efforts.
She was a very simple person. If you had you met her, you would never have said: "This is the famous Mother Teresa." I remember her as a woman of simple faith, which she showed in her way to talk. She never asked for any preferential treatment, and indeed complained if anyone wanted to favour her.
I remember one time she was going to meet with President Clinton. People who were helping her said: "Mother, it's cold. Do you want something to cover yourself? ". She wore a sweater with holes, and to those who mentioned this, she replied: "Maybe if Clinton sees it, he will give me a new one, for my poor."
She had a strong and deep faith, did not give herself airs, although she was famous, that is true. I remember one of the last Synods I attended as a priest and she was present as a religious. When the synod ended, all TV cameras were on her, but this did not inflate her ego at all.
When attending a conference, she always stood in the back. During coffee breaks, she only drank water. I remember one time when, at a conference in Rome, around 25 years ago, she too was supposed to speak. A member of the audience asked her, before she was not yet on solid financial grounds, how she could support her works of charity. An intelligent question. She stood up and said: "Sir, I've never studied economics and finance, only the Bible, and the Bible says that the Father will take care of you. If this is what the Bible says, why should I care about money?" Everyone in the audience stood up and applauded, because it was a simple and true answer.
She knew how to carry her cross, even though she was misunderstood and many criticised her, and told her: "You have to teach how to fish; you have to say from where and from whom you get the money; why not control well the origin of the money. You are doing this to convert them ... ". These are things that hurt her, but it never stopped her work.
She had the charisma of really feeling the charisma of God. It is true that she lived a dark night of the soul. At the end of her life, she said: "I realise that my suffering is tiny compared to the suffering of Jesus on the Cross". She took his Cross, but always with joy.
I believe Mother Teresa was a Pope Francis before Pope Francis. She put into practice the teachings of the pope. She was very close to John Paul II, who reciprocated. During the homily of beatification, the holy pontiff called her the "icon of the Good Samaritan."
Her life is a testimony of truth and humble service. She chose not to be the last, but the servant of the last. She bent to the suffering of the last. Her capacity was to give "until it hurts."
Pope Francis quoted the Mother in an interview he granted on the flight from Greece to Rome. What difference, they asked him, will his visit make to the refugees? He said: "I’ll answer with a phrase that is not mine. The same question was asked of Mother Teresa” who “answered: ‘It is a drop of water in the sea! But after this drop of water the sea will not be the same!’”
Her canonisation in the Year of Mercy is the centre of the Jubilee. She is a person we saw, knew and would like to imitate. She was Indian, born in Albania, but Indian in the heart. Indian newspapers are currently full of news about her, and Indians are preparing – also buying new TVs – to follow the canonisation. Doctors offer free treatment. You see so many poems written about her and her people.
In India she is loved by every community, not only to by us Catholics; Hindus, Muslims, Jews all appreciate her work. The Indian government has sent an official delegation. The head of the delegation phoned me and I felt he was really happy to be here. Some time ago a politician criticised the Mother, and the media went along. They asked me to reply, and that was not hard. I agreed and, in the study in my office, there were 15 people who wanted to talk: not one criticised her. I did not have to do anything: I only listened. None was Christian. And this shows how much she was universally appreciated.
She received many awards, all over the world. India appreciates her; the world appreciates her.
What would Mother Teresa say if she were here today? I think she would say: "There are so many poor people. Go and help them; set alight some hope in their hearts"