DAILY CATHOLIC     WEDNESDAY     September 9, 1998     vol. 9, no. 176


To print out entire text of Today's issue, go to SECTION ONE and SECTION TWO


Part One

The following is the first part of a two part exclusive interview with Sister Nirmala, head of the Missionaries of Charity founded by Mother Teresa. The question and answer session took place in Calcutta at the headquarters of the Order and was conducted by Rodolfo Bermejo for Catholic World News in anticipation of the one-year anniversary of Mother's death.
          CALCUTTA (CWNews.com) -- It all began exactly 50 years ago, in this city, famous around the world for its population density and the impoverished conditions in which its nearly almost 14 million inhabitants live. A small nun known as Mother Teresa began her work with the poorest of the poor.

          The body of Mother Teresa now lies in a simple white marble tomb in the central house of the Missionaries of Charity, the religious order that she founded. Today that order has spread around the globe, and is now at work in 133 countries, with more than 4,000 nuns from 80 different nationalities.

          In August, Catholic World News had an exclusive interview with Mother Teresa's successor as head of the Missionaries of Charity. Sister Nirmala--whose name means "Immaculate" in Hindi--was born in Nepal, and raised a Hindu. She met Mother Teresa here in Calcutta in the spring of 1958, when she was 23 years old, and was about to ask to be admitted to the Catholic Church.

          The interview was conducted with Sister Nirmala sitting on the same bench where Mother Teresa used to receive her visitors. Sister Nirmala invited also Sister Frederic--a British nun, whom she describes as her best counselor, to sit in on the interview.

      Q: Sister, can you explain to us how the life of Missionaries of Charity has changed since Mother left?
      Sister Nirmala: The life of Missionaries of Charity, by the grace of God, has not changed in any way, except that we miss our Mother: her physical presence. Otherwise, by the grace of God it is continuing in her spirit.

      Q: But have the people of Calcutta changed their approach to you and the sisters since Mother is here no more?
      Sister Nirmala: No. It is the same. They treat us just like it used to be when Mother was here.

      Q: What are the main changes that have occurred in the order since Mother left?
      Sister Nirmala: Changes? well, the order has grown, in the sense of having more houses, because this year we have sanctioned 17 houses more, just since Mother died. All these houses will be fully working by December of this year.

      Q: But ordinarily how many houses would you open every year?
      Sister Nirmala: It depends--sometimes many, sometimes less, but definitely the number this year is quite large.

      Q: And have you seen a change in the number of new vocations?
      Sister Nirmala: The number of vocations has also increased this year. We have many novices, many postulants.
            But it's true that in these last years we have been getting fewer vocations than what it used to be. The reason is--at it is everywhere- -that many children are not born. Also there is a lack of permanent commitment, which is all over the world. So we can say that the number is comparatively less, but still we get many vocations.

      Q: Have you been traveling at the same pace that Mother used to do when she was governing the order?
      Sister Nirmala: Yes. I would like to travel more, but it has not been possible this year. I have been to most of the South American countries; I have been in all the houses in Albania, and in Rome, and to two or three houses in the United States. Ah!, and Portugal; we visited two houses in Portugal. That's all for now.

      Q: Can you tell us about the future goals of the Missionaries of Charity?
      Sister Nirmala: Future goals are to continue, day by day in the footsteps of Mother--nothing out of the same charisma that she thought us.

      Q: What are the main problems that Missionaries of Charity are facing?
      (Here Sister Nirmala turned to Sister Frederick and repeated the question, and they laughed together.)
      Sister Nirmala: We cannot look at problems as "problems." Problems are gifts of God. If you look at them as problems, they will be problems, but if you look at them as gifts of God, they are challenges, and we always welcome challenges. So they are challenges, not problems.

      Q: But perhaps some of those "challenges" are obstacles to your work.
      Sister Nirmala: No; nothing is an obstacle. How you take it is what matter. People are very open and helpful to the Missionaries of Charity, but remember that it is God's work, it's not our work. He is in charge, he provides and he sees what is necessary and what is good for us, so he allows these "challenges" because they are good for us. He will give us the graces to get through.

      Q: What about financial means: food, medicines, material goods?
      Sister Nirmala: Absolutely nothing is lacking. God provides-- everywhere in India as well as abroad. You know, that is the promise of God for us. When Mother started the society and Mother was called, she did not start on her own, Jesus called her to start this congregation. He wanted her to be poor and the poorest of the poor. He wanted her to be empty-handed and serve the poorest of the poor free. It is such a paradox, isn't? He said: I will provide. That was Mother did, and that is what we are continuing to do: trusting in God's Providence, serving the poorest of the poor, free. And God does it. His promise is fulfilled every day. All we need to do is to keep being faithful to our commitments, to answer the call of God, everything else follows.

      Q: But Sister, what would you tell those people who are so afraid of lacking the "indispensable? things every day, or those who want to possess more material things?
      Sister Nirmala: Trust in the Lord and do your best. Let the kingdom of God in your lives and he will provide everything.

      Q: How does the Order cope with all the financial and economical demands?
      Sister Nirmala: By trusting in God, and he is providing. We never ask for things. People just come and give. Everywhere they want to carry out fundraising activities, we say: "Please don't fund-raise; we don't want to use Mother's name. No."
            We want people acting on their own. We want their spontaneous collaboration. But if somebody is going around fundraising in Mother's name, we don't accept it. We want to depend on God's providence--only.

      Q: That reminds me of the current controversy about the committee that is being formed in Calcutta to name the city's main street as Mothers Teresa's Avenue and to build an statue of her. You are opposed to that effort. Why?
      Sister Nirmala: We are not opposed to naming the street, nor to the statue, but we are opposed to taking Mother's name for that committee and raising funds for all these kind of activities. That is what we oppose. The congregation--the Missionaries of Charity--has the duty and the right to protect and use that name.

      Q: So would you allow the naming of the street if it is a case of something that is done spontaneously--or at least without this fundraising?
      Sister Nirmala: Oh yes, yes; absolutely. But this fundraising we don't want.

      Q: Is there any other place in the world where the sisters carry out as much work as they do here in Calcutta?
      Sister Nirmala: Here it is on a large scale. But we have houses all over: in Africa we have so many; in Haiti; in Ethiopia; in South American countries, in the United States--everywhere. Yes, in Calcutta we have many more centers. But you have to consider that the Missionaries of Charity are in 133 countries around the world.

Tomorrow: the second and final part of this interview

The above interview conducted by Rodolfo Bermejo provided through Catholic World News Service.
CWN is not affiliated with the Daily CATHOLIC but provides this service via e-mail to the Daily CATHOLIC Monday through Friday.

September 9, 1998       volume 9, no. 176


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