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
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
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
(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
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
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.
The eminent scholor Cardinal Ferrata, born during Pius IX's papacy, presents a vivid picture of the Blessed Mother's role and of the Pope's part in the overal picture when he writes, "On Gaeta's rock, in the land of his exile, Pius IX had resolved to proclaim the sweet and consoling dogma of Mary's Immaculate Conception. This pious and prudent design was carried out in Rome a few years later, when, on the 8th of December, 1854, in the presence of 192 bishops, the august and infallible voice was heard, that, beneath the glorious vault of Bramante and Michelangelo, proclaimed to the Church the preservation of the Blessed Virgin from the taint of original sin. The definition of this dogma so dear to the hearts of the faithful, assigned to the Mother of the Divine Word her true place in the plan of our redemption, encircled her virginal brow with a new crown of light, and formed the sublimest glorification of moral beauty, a thing much forgotten in these days. That announcement fell upon the world like a chaste effluence of grace and love; it transported the children of the faith to a pure region, where they might contemplate as in a vision celestial the matchess Virgin who hovers like a spotless dove over the muddy waters of the deluge."
The Holy Father's proclamation of this beautiful dogma was not something that he thought of, or that he'd been pressured by, or that threatened the Church as a schism or heresy would. Rather it was a willing, spontaneous feeling and acceptance among all Catholics for centuries and many had long clamored for this in love because of their veneration and respect for so important a personage in the salvific nature of God's Providence. Therefore, it was something that had long been overdue and Pius IX saw no reason to procrastinate but to act on this belief in the sinlessness of the Mother of God from conception. This proclamation was a culmination of a mystery that is supernatural truth but in essence easily understandable because of our familiarity with the Blessed Virgin Mary and the syllogism that follows. If Jesus Christ is truly the Incarnate God, and He is without a doubt, then it follows that Mary, who was God's human instrument in effecting His only begotten Son's conception and birth, would have to be a perfect recepticle - a perfect, holy tabernacle to hold within her womb the Son of God. Jesus became Man and Mary became the Mother of God. In a sense, the more He descended, if you will, to the human state, the more the Blessed Virgin was elevated by the Triune Divinity. Jesus emptied Himself of His glory, clothing His Mother with this glory. Jesus raised His Mother from her position among men and women, endowing her with supernatural powers and supernatural graces. As Jesus descended, His Mother ascended and Mother and Child were united in a mystical union and this union would be given forever to the world in the fact that They live forever in our thoughts. They are inseparable. If we do not honor Mary, we do not truly honor and adore Jesus. If we venerate the Blessed Mother in the right manner, we cannot help but be brought closer to Jesus. This is the mission Our Lady has been given and which she has carried out for nearly 2000 years through her apparitions to countless of her chosen children and the respect and veneration accorded her by Holy Mother Church.
It was this respect for Mary that finally prompted the Holy See to declare that she was conceived free of original sin for she is the chosen daughter of the Father, the Mother of the Divine Son, and holy spouse of the Holy Spirit. It is verified in the Book of Sirach, chapter 24, that Holy Mother Church applies to Mary, "Then the Creator of all things ordered and said to me; and He that made me rested in my Tabernacle. And He said to me, Let thy dwelling be in Jacob, and thy inheritance in Israel, and take root in my elect. From the beginning, and before the world, was I created, and unto the world to come I shall not cease to be, and in the holy dwelling place I have ministered unto Him. And so I was established in Sion, and in the portion of my God His inheritance, and my abode is in the full assembly of the saints...I am the Mother of fair love, and of fear, and of knowledge, and of holy hope. In me is all grace of the way and of the truth; in me is all hope of life and of virtue. Come to me all you that desire me, and be filled of my fruits. For my spirit is sweet as honey and the honey-comb. My memory is unto everlasting generations." Just as the Messiah was to be the second Adam, so also Mary was to be the second Eve. It was through Adam that sin came into the world and through sin death. Through Jesus grace should be given to the world, and with that grace - life. Just as Eve was the first cause of the fall, so Mary was to be the means through whom life entered the world in the Person of Jesus, though she herself was not the Life. Sin then was introduced into the world by Adam through Eve; and grace was introduced into the world by Jesus through Mary. The syllogism continues. If we are to conclude that Jesus, the second Adam, was infinitely superior to the first, then we may also conclude that Mary, the second Eve, was superior to the first, and therefore could not in any way be subject to the misery of sin which was inflicted on the world by Eve.
Mary is therefore the link between Heaven and earth. The angels adore their queen in speechless awe at her surpassing beauty of body and soul and all of hell trembles at the conception of a woman destined to destroy evil. It is a fulfillment of many passages in Sacred Scripture from the Psalms to Isaiah to the Canticles that "The Most High hath sanctified His Tabernacle" (cf. Exodus 29: 43, Leviticus 8:10, Numbers 7:1, Psalms 46:4; 57:2; and 91:1). Mary indeed was conceived Immaculate as Doctor of Divinity Father P.A. Sheehan relates in his treatise "Mary, the Morning Star", "fairer than the unfallen Eve, our second Mother, who retrieved through her Son the fall of the first, and freed us in her own person from the taint upon our race that man was necessarily the slave of sin and the enemy of his Maker. Conceived Immaculate - to be the source of joy to millions of unborn Catholics that were to be proud to acknowledge the high privileges of their Queen. Conceived Immaculate - and not priding herself on her purity to despise us as impure, but constituting herself by reason of her very sinlessness our advocate with God - the defense of our virtue and the apologist for our crimes - our shield on the one hand from the fiery darts of the evil one, and on the other from the anger of the living God."
Yes, it took over eighteen centuries for Holy Mother Church to proclaim that Mary, the Mother of God was truly conceived without original sin. Though long believed and observed by the Hierarchy, it was not until Pius IX's time that God chose to allow it to be made official dogma through His vicar on earth for the world was entering upon a special time in the history of mankind: The Age of Marian Apparitions!!!
In the next chapter, we will continue on our journey through this special time as we examine the Apparitions of Lourdes in which our Blessed Mother confirmed all that Pius IX had proclaimed, when she stated: "I am the Immaculate Conception."