09/05/2016, 12.30
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Mother Teresa's "failed mission" in China: an everlasting regret

by Li Qiang

The coordinator of the attempted entry of the Missionaries of Charity to the Asian nation speaks to AsiaNews of the days of the arrival of the new saint, the local government enthusiasm and the door slammed in her face by Beijing. A first-person narrative to celebrate the canonization and witness to the truth.

Beijing (AsiaNews) - Mother Teresa, along with a group of eight led by her sisters, arrived in Hong Kong Friday, 18 March 1994. At 8 am the next morning she had a direct flight to Haikou, capital of Hainan, southern China. Before that trip some of the Mother's assistants had visited Hainan several times. Fr. John Worthley, at the time a professor at Seton Hall University, had made two or three academic tours on the island, giving lessons on public administration and business management at the Hainan University and the Hainan Foreign Trade School.

During his visits, the father had mentioned Mother Teresa's desire to help the poor of China: he had received a very positive response from the Provincial Association of Hainan disabled, a response approved by the provincial Department of Civil Affairs.

Mother Teresa was to send some of his sisters to Hainan to help disabled children and orphans of Hiakou Welfare Center, a governmental institution in the capital which at the time housed about 150 children: it was the "first step" in her charitable mission to Hainan. Two religious –  sister Jan Petrie and brother Bill Petrie - had made a few visits each to discuss the details with the Centre and with the Disabled Association.

The Provincial Association and the Department of Civil Affairs had discussed the project with the National Association of disabled people which - at the time - was led by Deng Pufang, son of Chinese President Deng Xiaoping. The latter had given his consent, while expressing some "concerns" about a "possible" link between Mother Teresa and the Vatican.

To address these concerns, the Mother had sent a letter to Hainan stressing that the Missionaries of Charity "never compare cultures or nations; never criticize any government. " She also clarified that the Congregation represented "a charitable NGO, devoted to the poor around the world, regardless of country or political institution".

Therefore with Beijing's approval, Hainan sent an invitation to the Mother. She and eight of her sisters were in Hong Kong, the "southern gate" to China, waiting for a flight the next morning. But suddenly, on the eve of the trip, Beijing sent an urgent order to local authorities: "No mission or Mother Teresa's visit is allowed. Otherwise, all the consequences will fall on you. " The text did not specify any reason for this change, but I believe it to be connected to the "possible" relationship with the Vatican.

The Hainan officials were embarrassed and frightened, and did not know how to deal with this terrible situation. You invited guests and now they are at your door; they have come with the best intentions in the world, they just want to help. But Beijing changed their mind and closed the door.

From the outset, I had played the role of facilitator and coordinator. But I was also the only one involved - from the Hainan side - without an official government position that could be removed. So Hesen - then president of the Association of Disabled - entrusted me with the task of solving the problem.

The hope to see the arrival of Mother Teresa was still strong in me, so I decided to call the office of Deng Pufang to request a review of the decision. I tried to clarify the position of the Missionaries, reminding him of the letter of the Mother guaranteeing "no political involvement". Sun Junyi – Deng's secretary - replied after speaking with his boss: "Absolutely not."

I felt as if I had suffered a total defeat. I called the Mother, and with great shame I had to inform he of the failed attempts. It was Mother Teresa who comforted me with her calm and gentle voice: she was only worried about the possible punishment of local officials in Hainan. I told her that I would take all responsibility, since I was not a government official, and she thanked me.

Some Hong Kong media discovered the whole story, and tried - outraged - to report to the world what had happened and China's inconsistency. They considered it a real scandal. Mother Teresa was pained by this and wanted to stop the journalists. She left with her assistants for Calcutta, leaving behind her a perpetual regret, for the mission, for the poor of China and for me.

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