DAILY CATHOLIC     THURSDAY     September 10, 1998     vol. 9, no. 177

SPECIAL Q & A INTERVIEW WITH SISTER NIRMALA

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

CWN INTERVIEW WITH MOTHER TERESA'S SUCCESSOR

Part Two

The following is the second 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: Can you share with us some anecdotes of the devotion that people have shown for Mother Teresa since she died?
      Sister Nirmala: People are continuously coming to see (the tomb of) Mother, and everywhere they pray to Mother and they are receiving many favors. The main devotion to Mother is that all these people are coming to share the work, to support us. They come with donations, and all of them are tell us how much their life is inspired by the life of Mother.

      Q: Have you received notice of any miracles from her intercession?
      Sister Nirmala: Many miracles are happening around the world. Physical, spiritual miracles are been reported. Or course for the canonization process not everything is accepted; they accept only certain kinds of miracles.

      Q: Well, have you already seen "those kinds" of miracles?
      Sister Nirmala: No, we cannot say that yet. It has to be documented. They [officials at the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints] have to examine the evidence and they have to say this is the one, we can not say it. The postulation for the cause of beatification has not yet started.

      (In the Chapel some nuns have started the Adoration hour and their voices singing hymns are clearly hear from where we are. The central house of the Missionaries of Charity is a four-story building where 250 nuns live together. The usual work is done with remarkable diligence and silence. It is hard to believe that there are so many people working in the same complex.)

      Q: Can you tell us something that made a deep impression in your heart, being living side by side with a holy woman?
      Sister Nirmala: When I joined, I was just a postulant, and I had not been here even one year, I got sick and Mother brought me from our section to her room, she gave me her bed to sleep on and she slept on the table. Do you understand that? I won't ever forget that.
            She gave up her bed for me. There was no extra bed. She was only taking care of me, and sacrificing.
            I was very new in the order. I was just a small little one, you know, and she was Mother--big Mother. Do you understand the meaning of that? These little things of love were common with Mother: her delicate love.... .

      Q: What was Mother's favorite thing to do besides working with the poor?
      Sister Nirmala: She loved to eat sweets! But more than anything she loved to help the helpless. She was always ready to help, always encouraging and challenging us, always asking others to help her to help.

      (Sister Frederick adds, while laughing): And she loved settling things. Mother always was settling things in their proper place.
            She liked to challenge people to make sacrifices, to give of themselves--not of somebody else. You make the sacrifice and you give.
            Mother used to tell the story of a little child who, when he heard that there was no sugar for the children in Shushi Bhawan [an orphanage run by the Missionaries of Charity], he did not take sugar for a few days and collected it and brought it to Mother. These were the kinds of things she loved: to challenge people to make the sacrifice for the sake of others.
            She was always ready to love; everybody experienced her capacity to love. We all talk about Mother all the time. No matter where we are, we always are talking of her. We love her so much, because she loved us much.

      Q: What about the sacrifices she used to make?
      Sister Nirmala: Even is she was sick and all, she would not care. How much she used to push herself to fulfill her duties! When she was sick she didn't care for her life. It was we people who used to pursue her and take care of her. She never wanted.
            I never saw somebody who just "threw away" her life as Mother did. We had to protect her life, but she was absolutely carefree, and not wanting any attention for herself, because she said there are so many poor people outside. She never wanted to be different from us and from the sisters. Everybody ate same food. She would take no exemption--nothing.

      Q: But in India, that must had been quite shocking--here in a society accustomed to caste distinctions, where she was the figure of authority, the general superior.
      Sister Nirmala: We were very happy to see this in our Mother. It made us feel--as we are--a real family, it was a great inspiration to all of us.

      Q: Are there any persons or institutions in India that are not happy with the work the Missionaries of Charity are carrying out? Are there any detractors? [This interview was conducted just before the killing of three Missionaries of Charity in Yemen.]
      Sister Nirmala: I cannot tell. Maybe they are not happy because they don't want to be happy. That is their business. But I don't know of any; I have never heard of any.
            We have so many applications; there are so many bishops are asking for the sisters to go into their dioceses, in so many countries. With some of them, we are already there, but they want more houses of the sisters. In some countries we have not yet started because we have not enough sisters to respond to all those applications. Sisters are very well accepted and very much wanted.

      Q: But in India Christian organizations are not "very well accepted" everywhere.
      Sister Nirmala: We have had no difficulty along that line. Never. We have never had any confrontation with Hindus or Muslims.

      Q: What was Mother's attitude toward Hindus and Muslims?
      Sister Nirmala: She respected everybody's religion; she helped them to live whatever they have received in their faith, as best as they could. Her whole idea was: "This is what they should do, and if some day God gives them the grace of faith, they may be able to respond generously to that call." But she wanted everybody to be wholehearted in whatever they believed.

      Q: Did she try to convert them?
      Sister Nirmala: No, but she would have been happy if people received the grace of faith. She prayed for the grace of faith. Some of them converted: a few.

      Q: One final, specific question: Can you tell us about the work that the Missionaries of Charity carry out with pregnant women who are considering an abortion?
      Sister Nirmala: Yes. We have a home for troubled mothers and we tell them not to abort, to give us the baby. They come to us and they give birth to the baby. Some then take the baby home with them; after giving birth, you know, somehow they are willing to keep the baby. Others they hand the baby over to the sisters to take care of him, and then give the baby for adoption. In India alone, we have given in adoption more than 8,000 children. Some of these babies come from these ladies; many more are from among the abandoned children we receive.


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 10, 1998       volume 9, no. 177
Q & A WITH SISTER NIRMALA

DAILY CATHOLIC

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