04/26/2011, 00.00
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When John Paul II embraced Mother Teresa of Calcutta and the dying

by Nirmala Carvalho
On the eve of the beatification of John Paul II, we present testaments to the late Pope’s legacy in in Asia. Archbishop Henry D'Souza, former Archbishop of Calcutta and Sister Glenda, superior of the Nirmal Hriday in Calcutta speak of his visit to India in 1986. The fruits of living a "new solidarity" with the Hindus.

Kolkata (AsiaNews) - Pope John Paul II will be beatified on May 1 this year, but for many around the world, he is already a saint. It is the same the fate of Mother Teresa, beatified October 19 2003 by the Polish pope, but for a long time widely considered to be a saint. The two giants of the faith met many times, but the most anticipated encounter took place February 3, 1986 in Calcutta, with the visit of Pope John Paul II to the Nirmal Hriday Ashram, the home for the dying to Kaligath. Mother Teresa called it "the happiest day of my life."

25 years later, in the megalopolis of 13 million inhabitants, there are many who remember this event. First, the bishop at the time, Mgr. Henry D'Souza, who accompanied the pope.

"The impact of our beloved Pope on the city was immense. The Holy Father captured the hearts and minds of the people of Calcutta. People of all faiths lined the 10 km route from Dum Dum to the Nirmal Hridaya. Looking through the crowd, the Pope said to me: You have many Catholics here in Calcutta! I told him no and explained that these people were people of all faiths come to welcome the head of the Catholic Church, waiting for a blessing from him. "

"For the people of Calcutta - continues Mgr. D'Souza – it was very significant that John Paul II began a visit to the city at the Nirmal Hridaya. This showed that the Pope’s first concern were the poor, the dying, the suffering. With this act of love, compassion and kindness, he won the hearts of the people. "

The other important fact was when the pope kissed Mother Teresa. This unusual sign of affection showed the compassion of the Divine Mercy of Jesus that embraces the poverty of the human person. He, the Pope had come to quench the thirst of Christ and witness to the poor. "

Mother Teresa opened her first hospice in 1952 near the temple of the goddess Kali in Kaligath, changing its name to Nirmal Hriday, "House of a pure heart." From then until now, the hospice has received at least 50 thousand dying.

On his arrival, Pope John Paul II visited the length and breadth of the Nirmal Hriday for at least 40 minutes. He defined the hospice where there are 120 beds for sick and dying as a sacred place where “the mystery of human suffering encounters the mystery of faith and love."

Our beloved Pope said he had no easy answers to the terrible poverty he saw. "I cannot fully answer all your questions; I cannot take away all your pain. But of this I am sure: God loves you with an everlasting love. You are precious in his sight".

During his visit to the ashram, the pope was led by Mother Teresa, stopping at each of the 86 patients beds day, blessing them one by one. The visit was closed to the media, but a Vatican spokesman who accompanied the Pope said that the pontiff had been "deeply moved".

The vast majority of patients were Hindus, but the Pope gave each a rosary and blessed the corpses of four dead gathered in the small morgue with holy water.

Pope John Paul II has also helped the Missionaries of Charity to serve the evening meal to the sick, made of bread, curry with potatoes and pudding. "I do not know who he is - said one of the patients - but he must be a great leader."

In the late evening, the Pope met with religious and cultural city leaders and urged them to forge a "new solidarity" with the dying and the abandoned on the streets of Calcutta. "The saints - he said - and men and real women of every religion have always been moved to a powerful and active compassion for the poor and suffering ... Today, our religious and social consciousness is challenged by the growing inequality between developed areas and those that are increasingly dependent; injustice of the necessary resources channelled into the production of weapons of terrible death and destruction. "

In 1989, in an interview, they asked Mother Teresa what was the most beautiful place she visited.  "Kaligath – she said - where people die in peace, in God's love: this is the most wonderful thing."

25 years after the visit of Pope John Paul II, Nirmal Hriday was  restored and renovated in many parts, but the memory of his visit is still alive, as are the picture of him with the mother while the children sing and dance welcome him.

For Sister Glenda, 57, current superior of Nirmal Hriday, the definition of the logo given by John Paul II remains true: a sacred place where "the mystery of human suffering encounters the mystery of faith and love."

"For us it is a joy to be here. Jesus is here every day, in the flesh of abandoned ... To date there are 110 patients dying, suffering from all kinds of terminal illness. AIDS, cancer, tuberculosis ... We welcome them here and we feel that Jesus comes to visit us. "

The idea of a "new solidarity", launched by the pope, still bears fruit today. "If you look at the list of donors - says Sister Glenda - all of our donors are Hindu. None of them has ever opposed our presence. Kaligath for us is the source of every blessing, because it was the first house opened by Mother Teresa. Even the Hindus consider it a source of blessing. "

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“L’Asia: ecco il nostro comune compito per il terzo millennio!” - Giovanni Paolo II, da “Alzatevi, andiamo”