Mother Teresa is already a saint, says Mgr Henry D’Souza
by Nirmala Carvalho
Monday is the 15th anniversary of her death. After arriving in Kolkata, she worked among the poorest of the poor, and went through an exorcism after a heart operation. Here is an interview with the archbishop emeritus of Kolkata (Calcutta), a friend of the blessed for more than 35 years.
Mumbai (AsiaNews) – “Compassion is what the world needs today” and “Mother Teresa was the face of compassion to the world.” Her “canonization [. . .] is not a priority for me. Mother Teresa is a saint. She is with God.” Two days before the 15th anniversary of the nun beatified by John Paul II in 2003, the archbishop emeritus of Kolkata, Mgr Henry D’Souza, who was with her for more than 35 years and the postulator of her cause of canonisation since 1997, talks about some moments of his life together with Mother Teresa, about her capacity to draw the attention of the poor, the rich, heads of state and atheists; the exorcism she underwent after her heart operation because “The devil is real and has his own tricks to disturb the holy ones particularly in moments of bodily weakness”;her ability to be a “mother to all”. For Mgr D’Souza, she taught “to accept problems as God’s gifts.” He remembers when, already wheelchair-bound, she “would take my hand in both of hers and say, ‘Remember you are my son’.”
How did Mother Teresa capture the attention of so many people from all walks of Life – Poor, Rich, Heads of State, even atheists? What was so special about her, that no one could be indifferent to Mother?
Calcutta was known as the City of Palaces. The imposing skyline along Chowringhee Road was visible from the river. As the steamers of the British days puffed up the Hooghly to Outram Ghat, people lined the decks to observe the majestic buildings that met the eye with the Queen Victoria Memorial dazzling white in its marble beauty.
With all the changes in 1947 after the partition of India and Pakistan, millions of refugees flooded the city. Mother Teresa entered the scene at that time. She was in Entally Convent. She would walk daily to St. Teresa’s Church where there was a small Bengali parish school. Mother Teresa saw the misery of the refugees as she walked up and down from the Convent to the school. The unfortunate people had no shelter, no hygiene facilities and no food. In her heart, she heard the call of Jesus, “I thirst.” She decided to leave Loreto and serve the people on the streets. Thus began the work of Mother Teresa.
Her total commitment to the poor soon won the admiration of people. The poverty of Calcutta was special because Calcutta was a welcoming city. People easily accepted the stranger. Differences of caste, religion or status were not important. Calcutta was home to all, even if the accommodation had to be on the streets. Calcutta thus became a City of Joy from a City of Palaces.
One day I visited Jyoti Basu with Mother Teresa. His colleague turned to the Chief Minister and said, “How do you find time to receive such a holy person as Mother Teresa when you are an atheist?” Jyoti Basu replied, “People are my God. Mother Teresa loves people.” That may be the key to the attraction that Mother Teresa exuded wherever she went. People were God’s presence among us. Mother Teresa found among the poorest of the poor – the naked, the hungry, the homeless Jesus.
There was global interest in the “Exorcism”. Your Grace had requested the Rite to be performed on Mother. Share with us your reasons and the results or consequences of this Rite on Mother. Do you have any afterthoughts (regrets) of having? How long did you know Mother? Did Mother have a Demi God Status in Calcutta?
Mother Teresa and I were in hospital together. Dr. Patricia Aubunel was the visiting surgeon. She had to do an angioplasty for Mother Teresa and for me. She did me first, as she said, “To gain some experience”. The next day she put the “stent” for Mother Teresa.
Dr. Aubunel would not discharge me although I was well within three days. She said, “Something is wrong. Mother Teresa is quite cheerful all through the day. She has no clinical problems. Yet at night she is so restless and tosses about all the time.” Dr. Aubunel wanted my advice. I told her that very often holy persons suffer such problems because the devil worries them. I would ask Fr. Strocio SDB, to say the Prayer of Exorcism for Mother Teresa. Fr. Strocio was well known to Mother and was a confessor of the Missionaries of Charity. He came at my request and told Mother Teresa what he planned to do. Mother Teresa was quite happy to have the prayer said over her. After the prayer, Fr. Strocio blessed her and left. Mother Teresa seemed very pleased with the visit. Dr. Aubunel said the following morning, “Mother Teresa slept like a child.” I left the hospital that very day. I have no regrets about having asked Fr. Strocio to say the Prayer of Exorcism over Mother Teresa. Saints as Don Bosco and the Curate of Ars have also been disturbed by the devil. The devil is real and has his own tricks to disturb the holy ones particularly in moments of bodily weakness.
Your Grace, share with us some personal insights about Mother, and what you gauged about Mother in your long association with her, something the world needs to know.
I was named Archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar on the 23rd February 1974. I had lost my mother in the previous year. A day after the announcement Mother Teresa walked into my office. At that time, I was Vicar General of Calcutta. She just said, “You have lost your mother. You are now an Archbishop. I shall be your mother. I shall be there for your Episcopal ordination.” I laughed saying, “Mother you are all over the world. God knows where you will be when the date is fixed.” Her reply was, “I will be there with you.” In fact, she was there on 5th May 1974 at the Cathedral of the Most Holy Rosary in Calcutta. More than that, she was sitting by the side of my father in the first bench. I asked later, “Who put Mother Teresa by the side of my father.” I was told that Mother Teresa came up the aisle with another sister, moved the family a little and put herself by the side of my father.
Yes, Mother Teresa had taken the place of my mother. During the early Episcopal years, I had several problems. On one occasion, I confided them to Mother Teresa. Her reply was, “Do not call them problems. They are gifts.” And so, I learnt to accept the problems as God’s gifts.
In later life when I was the Archbishop of Calcutta. I would visit Mother Teresa on a regular basis. When she became wheelchair-bound, every time that I would visit her, she would take my hands in both of hers and say, “Remember you are my son.”
I remember those words all the time. It was a very special consolation for me at her beatification ceremony in Rome. As I had been responsible for the process of beatification, I was invited by Fr. Brian K. to be on the altar with the Holy Father along with Archbishop Lucas, although I had retired. It was a special favour for me. Unfortunately, on the day before the ceremony, I was informed that I could not sit besides the Holy Father. Only the reigning Archbishop had that privilege. I was disappointed and sat with the other bishops on the podium outside the covered area. When the Holy Father declared Mother Teresa “Blessed”, her picture was unveiled. I looked up and there was Mother Teresa smiling at me saying, “Do not forget. You are my son.” My imagination was it? But I am sure that I had heard her and was consoled.
Since you knew Mother so well, is it correct to say that Mother was an Inspiration to the World, a Mother to All? Share with us that this is True.
While claiming in all humility to be a special son of Mother Teresa, I can wholeheartedly agree that Mother Teresa was Mother to the world. I believe that her dominant trait was compassion. Compassion is what the world needs today. Individualism and the needs of self are dominant, but the world needs compassion. Mother Teresa was the face of compassion to the world. She made no distinctions and no exclusions. She was Mother to all. Her face, her ministry and her intercession continue to exude that quality of compassion.
Finally, Your Grace, the Canonization of Mother, how soon should we expect it?
The Canonization of Mother Teresa is not a priority for me. Mother Teresa is a saint. She is with God. She showers her blessings all the time. I am personally privileged to be a recipient of her love and protection.