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
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"
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.
This not only refers to the faithful, but especially to His consecrated, ordained priests; those men who Christ has chosen to perpetuate the Bread of Life. Without the priests, we have no Blessed Sacrament. Without the priests, we have no Holy Mother Church. The shortage of priests today is something we should take very, very seriously. The answer is not watering down the priesthood by advocating women priests or married priests, but praying all the harder that God will send good holy young men to carry on the work in His one, true Church. Though priests are human, we must remember they are very special. This, unfortunately seems to be lost on society today as the priestly profession has become a prime target for Catholic and priest-bashing with an emphasis on pedophilia and homosexuality. True, there are some who have fallen, but the majority are loyal to their vows. We need to recognize this and not judge by man's viewpoint but allow God to be the final Judge. In order to foster a renewed vigor towards vocations, the sublime image of the state of the priesthood needs to be returned to the pedestal of holiness. As Catholics we must recognize the succession of priestly power in the presence of all the priests throughout the world who have been validly ordained by the bishop of their diocese. Though we may not always agree with this bishop or that bishop, they are successors of the Apostles and must be accorded all respect. As Catholics we are obliged to be obedient to our bishop and to follow him. The only time we are permitted to go against his command is if it is contrary to the Dogmas, Doctrines and Teachings of Holy Mother Church or the explicit directives of the Holy Father. If and when this would occur, we have recourse to appeal to the Holy See who is the ultimate authority. However we are still bound to obedience to the bishop on all other jurisdiction in which he would be in accord with the Church. The same holds for his priests, Our Lady's special Knights who have donned the armor of Holy Orders in this war with satan. Ordination carries with it the responsibilities and privileges of priesthood. Our priests are the "Shepherds" who guide, guard and protect the Good Shepherd's flock.
Yet, one of the biggest problems in the Church today is that the shepherds are dwindling and the sheep are wandering throughout this world in a state of confusion. Where once this lineage of power and authority was understood, where once obedience was a given and humbly accepted, we have now come to a time in the history of Holy Mother Church that every crack, crevice and nook of the Church is up for discussion, debate and outright disobedience. As mentioned earlier, the Church's consecrated priests are dwindling. Over the centuries, whenever there were shortages, the people would intensify their prayer-life, commit themselves to a virtuous life of sacrifice so that Holy Mother Church would be replenished with a fruitful harvest of new priests to carry on the miraculous unbloody Sacrifice of the Mass and to forgive sins as Jesus commanded in Matthew 18:18. Today, rather than turning to prayer and asking God to multiply the ranks of priests and religious, the majority turn to an easy solution: ordain women priests, allow priests to marry. Their rationing is that the Church will then have an abundance of priests. They're putting quantity over quality. It was quality that has nourished Holy Mother Church for well over nineteen centuries. Quality begets quantity. Quantity does not necessarily beget quality. Regardless of that argument, we forget that human logic has no merit when guided by Divine Reasoning for God is Supreme Being. God said it; we believe it; that settles it! Jesus left us the structure of His Church and the ultimate role model - His very Own Blessed Mother to personify all that He asks of His flock.
Our Lady serves as the ideal example for all religious and laity, the latter having taken a larger role in the governing of the Church. But too many are trying to conform the Church to today's standards, trying to force a democracy, where the very tenants of faith are put up for vote, and the majority vote carries. This is the structure of most Protestant churches. Those Catholics who advocate and persist in this are then not Catholic but Protestant. Let's call them this and end the debate. The Roman Catholic Church is a hierarchy - not a democracy. It never has been and never will be. In essence, Holy Mother Church is a monarchy for she has as her king the King of Kings - Lord Jesus Christ Who has delegated His authority on earth to His vicars of Christ and the successors of His Apostles. They in turn delegate authority to the priests who delegate certain authority to the laity. In this "organizational chart" the laity are a vital component, yet they are not and should not be delegated the authority commensurate with Christ's consecrated and ordained. Yet, in contrast to this it's almost like the inmates are running the asylum. While the increased role of the laity has led to many fruits in the Church, tapping their talents for the good of God's people, it has also led to a complacency in praying and fostering vocations. Many whom God has called have turned a deaf ear to Jesus' beckoning. The result has been an erosion within the foundation of the Church, but His Church was not built on sand but upon a solid rock (cf Matthew 8: 24-27) and Christ promised He would be with us always (cf Matthew 28: 20) charging Peter with the charge of His Church, "thou art Peter, and upon this Rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Matthew 16: 18).
Therefore, we know God will prevail and vocations will resurrect, but we can expedite the process through prayer. In the next installment, we will focus on prayer - the lifeline of the Church and the guidelines Our Lady has outlined at Medjugorje for prayer from the heart. For those who pray, those who submit their wills to the Divine Will, can be assured of one thing: they will be counted among the chosen ones in whatever vocation God so deigns and be robed in the garment of grace for the Heavenly feast that awaits those who are faithful to Him and His Holy Church.
Holy Mother of God, hear the prayers of the Church for all mothers, especially those wearied by life and overcome by the suffering they bear for their children. (Hail Mary).
O Mother of the Word Incarnate, intercede for them from your place in Heaven, that the mercy of your Divine Son might lighten their burden and give them strength. (Hail Mary, Glory Be).
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.
Holy Mother of God, hear the prayers of the Church for all mothers, especially those wearied by life and overcome by the suffering they bear for their children.
O Mother of the Word Incarnate, intercede for them from your place in heaven, that the mercy of your divine Son might lighten their burden and give them strength.
Hail Mary... Glory Be...
"As we contemplate this Mother, whose heart Ďa sword has pierced' (cf. Lk 2:35), our thoughts go to all the suffering women in the world, suffering either physically or morally. In this suffering a woman's sensitivity plays a role, even though she often succeeds in resisting suffering better than a man. It is difficult to enumerate these sufferings; it is difficult to call them all by name. We may recall her maternal care for her children, especially when they fall sick or fall into bad ways; the death of those most dear to her; the loneliness of mothers forgotten by their grown-up children; the loneliness of widows; the sufferings of women who struggle alone to make a living; and women who have been wronged or exploited. Then there are the sufferings of consciences as a result of sin, which has wounded the woman's human or maternal dignity: the wounds of consciences which do not heal easily. With these sufferings too we must place ourselves at the foot of the Cross."
Pray for all children
The eyes of a child are an infinite well of life, hope and goodness. If you doubt the value of life, look into the eyes of a child. If you are worn by life's worries, look into the eyes of a child. If you want to see tomorrow, look into the eyes of a child. And what you will see is the divine spark which brought beauty out of chaos, the infinite beauty, which is the presence of the Creator of His creation.