09/02/2016, 09.37
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The seeds of Mother Teresa are blossoming in China

by John A. Worthley

Despite three attempts, the Missionaries of Charity have never been able to enter the land of the Asian Dragon. But the visits of the future saint and her love for the Chinese people have left their mark. A "third order" of religious - tens of thousands - lives and works inspired by her charisma and a "House of Mother Teresa's love" will soon be opened in the country. The Virgin of Sheshan accompanied the mother until the day of her death.

Rome (AsiaNews) - The Great Mother Teresa's unfulfilled dream was to bring her mission to China. Although on three occasions she was close to realizing this dream, it was always shattered by politics and Beijing's opposition. But the seeds flung far afield on Chinese soil by the future saint are beginning to blossom: a "third order" of religious inspired by the Missionaries of Charity live and work in the country, and soon will open a "House of Mother Teresa's love." Although it will not be run by the Missionaries of Charity, she lives by the rule and the charisma of the Blessed.

This is what Fr. John A. Worthley, who lived for years in China and has had the opportunity to accompany the mother in his three trips to the Land of the Dragon tells the 2016 AsiaNews International Symposium. Until the last day of her death the founder of the Missionaries held in her pocket a small statue of the Virgin of Sheshan, which today "travels between the houses of the Missionaries of Charity as a relic to recall the mother's dream, that the Missionaries of Charity become a vessel of the Divine love for China ". Here is the full text of Fr. Worthley's address.

In October of 1993 Shanghai Bishop Aloysius Jin Luxian gave Mother Teresa a statue of the image of the Blessed Mother that stands atop his basilica in Sheshan.  The image of Mary holding the Infant Jesus over her head  had touched Mother’s soul the instant  she saw it because it expressed visually  her mantra: “to Jesus through Mary”. Mother put the statue  in the pocket of her sari habit and it remained close to her–as a daily reminder of the  China dream–until the day of  her death.  Everytime we met , whether in Hong Kong, Kolkata or New York, Mother would place the statue on the table as a prayer of intercession to Our Lady of Sheshan. Today it travels among the Houses of the Missionaries of Charity as a reminding relic of Mother’s dream that the MCs be a vessel of Divine Love for China.

I was given the same replica statue.  Here it is.  As Mother would do I now place it on the rostrum as a prayer to Our Lady of Sheshan that Mother Teresa’s dream for China continue to unfold through the grace of the Holy Spirit.  Not merely by coincidence, a smaller, bronze statue of Our Lady of Sheshan was given by Cardinal John Tong of Hong Kong to Pope Francis immediately after his election to the papacy.  It is said that the statue remains on the night stand next to the Pope’s bed.  Mother Teresa is always at work for China!

Mother Teresa long dreamed of serving the people of China and, after bringing her sisters  around the world--including to Russia, the United States and Moslem countries--China became and remained  her focus. Indeed,  Pope St. John Paul II asked her to live her final years as a bridge of love and reconciliation to China from the universal church.

Mother first entered China in 1986, accompanied by our beloved Sr. Dorothy, MC, at the invitation of Deng Pufang, who was then forming the China Disabled Persons Federation.  While in Beijing she also met with Liu Bainian, chair of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association who still fondly speaks of the grace of their time together.  During her brief stay I was teaching at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing.  Not yet a priest,  I was elated when her picture appeared on the front page of the China Daily, the English language paper, on news stands throughout the city.  Because the discussions were positive, and given that Deng Pufang was the first-born son of China’s leader, Deng Xiaoping, Mother thought that her dream of an MC presence in China was about to be fulfilled.  But it was not yet to be.  Upon departure Deng Pufang told Mother that the time was not right. 

Sr. Dorothy often recounted these days during our many meetings until she went to God just last year.  Mother was heart-broken, she would recall.  I later learned that opposition to collaboration was so strong among factions both in Beijing and the Vatican that even the Nobel laureate and the son of the president could not prevail.  Three years ago Sr. Dorothy–when she helped to consecrate the Shrine of Our Lady of Sheshan in New York– recalled those days as a first holy sacrifice by Mother Teresa for reconciliation between China and the universal church.

A second holy sacrifice was offered in October 1993.  Mother was invited to visit officials in Beijing and Bishop Jin in Shanghai.  Discussions had progressed and she thought that this was the time that Deng Pufang had mentioned seven years earlier. On arrival in Shanghai–which Mother had decided to visit first out of respect for Bishop Jin–no one was there to greet Mother Teresa.  Something had happened and another heartbreak was unfolding.

She had brought with her thirteen boxes of items common to all houses of the MCs, so sure was she that this was the time and place.  With no one there to meet her Mother  personally helped carry the boxes through customs.  (I was later told by officials that protocol required Mother to enter China first through Beijing. Her entry through Shanghai was viewed by hardliners as a subtle undermining of the government.) After phone calls and petitions, Bishop Jin was permitted to welcome her the next day and invited her to the Sheshan basilica.  She was elated.  When the bishop asked her to participate in Mass her special wisdom emerged: Because Bishop Jin was part of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Church, Vatican  rules at the time were such that Mother would be participating in an “illicit” Mass.  So, she asked her chaplain, Fr. Bill Petrie, SS.CC. to concelebrate saying to him “if you concelebrate then it is licit, right?”  Four months later at a meeting in Hong Kong with then Papal Representative, Msgr. (now Cardinal) Fernando Filoni, Mother recounted the event asking Msgr. if that had been okay.  Msgr. Filoni leaned back in his chair as he responded: “Of course Mother Teresa, of course!”

More than 250 seminarians were at that Mass.  Mother was invited to speak to them.  Her message of serving the poorest of the poor captivated them all.  Today many of them are bishops throughout China.  All of them whom I have met through the years continue to speak of the inspiration she gave them.  One priest began a national foundation, Jinde,  that now serves the disadvantaged all over China under the patronage of Mother Teresa of Kolkata. Her picture appears in its facilities. Indeed, one of its next homes for the elderly will be named the Mother Teresa House of Love.

After this Mother fully expected that she would be able to open a MC house in Shanghai.  But, the next day, Bishop Jin informed her that permission could not yet be granted.  She was, again, heartbroken and embraced a second holy sacrifice for reconciliation between China and the universal church.  She then flew to Beijing, met again with Deng Pufang, and was again told that the time was still not right.  She did, ever confident in Divine Providence, leave the thirteen boxes in the Shanghai diocesan pastoral center where they remain to this day awaiting the arrival of the sisters!

Mother’s third and most intense holy sacrifice soon followed. Overtures had already begun in Hainan Province.  Because of its status as a “free economic zone” Hainan had more flexibility and had just completed building a large Welfare Center for the handicapped, orphaned and elderly.  Relationships with the Hainan Foreign Trade School and Hainan University resulted in discussions with the  provincial Disabled Persons Federation.  By January 1994 agreements had been reached for the MCs to serve at the Welfare Center.  Details were developed and visas approved  for four sisters.

Mother Teresa was formally invited to enter Hainan on the feast of St. Joseph, March 19.  She  flew to Hong Kong where we met with Msgr. Filoni who gave his guidance and blessings.  Just hours before Mother was to board the plane for Hainan word came from Beijing that entry was not to be allowed.  The Hainan friends and officials were confounded and devastated. Mother was heartbroken.  We later learned that, once again, hardliners both in Beijing and the Vatican had prevailed at the last minute.  Mother had been  so sure that this was the time.  We gathered in Hong Kong and prayed for hours while appealing the decision.  Mother’s third and most difficult holy sacrifice for reconciliation was to accept the situation and depart.  We promised her that we would not cease our efforts until the time eventually became right.

Sr. Nirmala, who succeeded Mother as superior general, was present for all of this.  She knew the depth of Mother’s desire to serve China and she saw first hand the intensity of Mother’s pain over the developments with Hainan.  She was party to the promise that the effort would continue.  So, she was ready and eager in 2005 when discussions with the bishop of Qingdao and local and national government officials resulted in an invitation to open a house in that diocese.  Again, we gathered in Hong Kong and met with Bishop (later Cardinal) Zen who approved the pilgrimage and gave us his blessing.  At the end of a wonderful three day visit the site for an MC house was designated and the invitation was affirmed.  The timing of entry, however,  would await further processing.  The location designation remains as does the invitation.  We continue to await the entry time confirmation!

These thirty years of efforts and holy sacrifices for China and the universal church by and for Mother Teresa have resulted, through the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, in a Mother Teresa China presence but in very unanticipated manifestations.  In 2010 a “third order” of the Missionaries of Charity was founded in Hebei Province under the inspiration of Mother Teresa. Now numbering nearly ten thousand members it has spread to twelve dioceses in three provinces living the MC charism. In 2014 Li Baofu, its foundress, led a delegation of “third order” priests and laity on a pilgrimage to Sheshan and Kolkata where we met with Sr. Prema, Sr. Nirmala and the MC councilors. Twelve members and  the foundress  are here for Mother’s canonization.

In Hainan the Welfare Center has thrived in the spirit of Mother Teresa.  The joy and love of the Missionaries of Charity, in the mystery of the Holy Spirit, is vibrantly evident there.  Even pictures of Mother are displayed.  While the sisters are not yet there formally, it seems that they are spiritually. In Shanghai, the thirteen boxes needed for a MC house remain ready.  In Beijing an aged, handicapped  Deng Pufang is still vigilant with memories of his relationship with Mother.   Throughout China the Jinde Foundation responds to suffering in the spirit and under the patronage of Mother Teresa.  The Qingdao invitation is intact. Hardliners on both sides are now rarer. Chinese bishops have made pilgrimages to the New York Shrine of Our Lady of Sheshan to pray specifically for reconciliation through the intercession of St. Francis Xavier, Ven (soon to be Bl.) Li Madou (Matteo Ricci), Ven. Xu Guanqi, Hon. Soong Qingling, and Blessed (soon Saint) Mother Teresa. 

Because of Mother Teresa’s unending dream, her continuous prayer and her holy sacrifices the day of reconciliation between China and the universal church approaches as Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Parolin, suggested earlier this week.  May this day of grace arrive soon since, as Mother’s vision foresaw, the church in China–given current demographic trends–could well be the largest Catholic community in the world within twenty years.  Christ’s fervent prayer for unity, “that they be completely one”, beckons. Mother Teresa of Kolkata, pray for us as we continue–during this jubilee year of mercy–to pursue that vision of reconciliation!

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