Your Excellency, when did you first meet Mother Teresa and what struck you of that meeting?
I saw Mother Teresa helping people in hospitals during the India-Pakistan war over Bangladesh’s independence in 1971. One event that stands out deeply touched me, which I consider as the first true meeting with Mother Teresa.
At the time, I was the diocese’s vicar and was in charge of the local Caritas. The government asked us to open a hospital for refugees from Bangladesh who were filling the streets of Calcutta.
When I went to the hospital to check how things were going, I saw the nuns taking care of the patients until 2 pm before going back to their convent. I was unhappy with the situation and so I asked Mother Teresa why she would not allow her sisters to stay in the hospital for the entire day. She spontaneously answered saying, “We are not social workers. I asked my sisters to go home and pray before the Blessed Sacrament to find Jesus in their hearts and see him in the people they treat.”
That answer gave new meaning to my vocation and today is the basis of my spiritual life.
You once said that Mother wrote a letter in which she said, “With me the sunshine of darkness is bright.” Tell us about it.
The sunshine of darkness refers to the mystical and spiritual light that shines in every dramatic circumstances of life. Mother Teresa had the Grace to bring light in the spiritual darkness of people. A few days ago, a missionary of charity told me about a number of reported spiritual miracles that have occurred in the past few years. Such “healings” are not physical and do not play any role in her cause of canonisation; however, they tell of people who after a moment of desperation and darkness find faith and joy again, unexpectedly, through the intercession of Mother Teresa.
One of them spoke of a Jehovah’s Witness who was tired of his religion and decided to leave his community, but once made, the choice left him empty and he did not know how to fill his spiritual emptiness.
He looked at Catholics with disgust, but one day he woke up and decided to find out about Mother Teresa’s life on the internet. On one site, he read about her life story, her love for Jesus and her disinterested attitude towards everyone.
Thinking about someone so good made him dizzy. He printed out a picture of Mother Teresa with a child in her arms. As he looked at the image, he heard a voice tell him, “Love Jesus, don't deny Him your love. He needs you.’ These words led him to convert to Catholicism. In a letter, he wrote, “I now have Jesus, something I never had before. I feel Mother Teresa with me; I know she’s by my side.”
Mother Teresa spread the light of hope. Where there was despair, she brought hope; where there was frustration, she calmed fears. She was the incarnation of the love of Jesus, which is always present in suffering, pain, sadness, distress and joy. She transmitted the love that was around her, giving a new meaning to difficult circumstances. The real Missio Ad Gentes is to spread the light of the Gospel through one’s life, to be, as Mother Teresa always said, “the light of God’s love for the world.”
Although Macedonian by birth, Mother Teresa has come to be identified with India. What did the culture of this country mean to her?
When Mother Teresa received what she called “a call within a call”, she immersed herself in the culture of the people she met. When she left the Convent of the Sisters of Loreto, she left behind the traditional habit and veil to wear the blue-striped white sari worn by ayah, Calcutta’s street-cleaning women, and began touring the slums of the city.
Walking the streets, she met the poorest of the poor, and came into direct contact with our country’s culture, as an Indian among Indians. In walking around Calcutta’s poorest neighbourhoods, Mother Teresa saw the value and worth of the poor, qualities that too often go unseen.
She discovered the joy of the poorest among the poor, their generosity and nobility in dealing with each other, and shared these values with her sisters, who in the poor discovered the words of the Gospel.