One year ago, Pope Francis proclaimed Mother Teresa of Calcutta Saint, on the eve of her canonical feast, in S. Peter’s square crowded by 120,000 faithful from all over the world. A celebration held during the Extraordinary Holy Year of Mercy, of which the Albanian Saint of Indian adoption became an icon. “I think that perhaps it will be difficult calling her Saint Teresa: her holiness is so close to us, so delicate and fruitful that we will spontaneously continue to call her “mother Teresa'” said the Pontiff. What has changed in one year? In order to understand this, we have asked for help to the Missionaries of Charity, in their house of San Gregorio al Celio, the same where Mother Teresa stayed when she was in Rome. A tiny room with a bed, a bedside table, a small closet and a few more things, which overlooks an outdoor corridor, practically in front of the chapel where every day the Sisters pray before the Blessed Sacrament. The questions which were answered became a friendly interview.
The work of God
What has changed? “In reality, not much… this is a question that also came spontaneously few years ago, after the death of Mother Teresa which many people have often asked us. Not much has changed because as the mother always said, ‘This is the work of God, not mine‘. And she added that ‘if one day God should find another person simpler, poorer than me, she could do even more’. Sr Nirmala and sister Prema succeeded to Mother Teresa and they too were pencils in the hands of God. Therefore, this work of God continued without changes. And after the canonization it was the same, for us nothing has changed. The magnitude of this pencil is that Mother Teresa did not do much but ‘she allowed God to work through her’, just like Our Lady that says ‘I’m here, the will of the Lord will be done’. And like Elizabeth recognized this in the encounter with the Virgin, so we can say that that the holiness of Mother Teresa has been recognized for ‘letting God work through her’”.
The affection and the veneration for the foundress is evident. It is also demonstrated by the way in which they recite the “official” prayer: “It starts with ‘Saint Teresa of Calcutta’ but we add ‘our beloved Mother‘. For us before being Saint she is still our Mother”. All the more for those who have had the privilege to live besides her, at least for a certain period: “We remember her as the person who takes care of us, that when one is sick she goes to visit her, tucks her blanket in, when we are at the table with thirty, forty sisters she is concerned that there is sufficient food even for those who are at the end of the table. This is the Mother for us”. It is no coincidence that the verb is declined in the present tense, almost as if the small, big sister was still there, with them.
Devotion and graces
With the canonization, has the devotion towards Mother Teresa grown? “So many people came in those days to see her room – explains another sister – and even now it’s still the same. Probably in Calcutta even more… But without great clamour: many people call us and ask for prayers. But even before the canonization it was the same, our Mother has touched the hearts of many people. Then there are many graces, big and small, which she continues to bless people with. Many people are asking for relics to be placed in churches and chapels”. “Many people write to us grateful for the graces received, but these are mostly small things. And Mother Teresa said: ‘It is not important to do great things but little things with great love’. It seems to me that she continues to do the same”. A story is emblematic: the one of a teenager who wrote to the sisters that after the death of his father he was in crisis: he could not study, not eat… “One night he dreamt of Mother Teresa who sat beside him, placed his head on her womb and told him ‘I understand you very well because I have lost my father when I was 8 years old and I know what it means’. In the morning, the boy woke up and said that his life had changed”. Not a miracle, after all it was only a dream. But that was what was needed.
Vocations? It is not a question of numbers
Did the sanctification of Mother Teresa help vocations?
“Every vocation is a unique, personal call. In this moment, vocations are decreasing throughout the Church, even if there are still a few. For example, next December here in Rome four sisters will take their first vows, nine will take their perpetual vows, others will do the same in Calcutta and in the centres of other nations. Perhaps these are not large numbers, but the Mother always said ‘I do not need numbers‘ but sisters, people who fall in love with Jesus, who always calls but perhaps today the difficulty is to listen, to have the courage to answer.” After all, the social context is what it is; it is changing: and as people get married at a later time, so the religious experience is at an older age, often around 30 years: “Mother Teresa has always relied in providence also for this”.
A radical choice
But what pushes a girl to embrace a life style so austere? “Young people, not only those of today, have always been attracted by something that is radical, without half measures. What attracts more in our congregation is perhaps poverty, the love for the poor but seen as sharing. Mother Teresa did not want any difference between those who give and those who receive, because in giving you receive a lot. The poor must feel important because they give us something. The Mother said that the poor are great people, from which we learn a lot”.
The modern poverties
Then there is spiritual poverty: is it a more difficult approach with these realities? “There were there already at the time of Mother Teresa, when she came out from India. She herself said that the spiritual poverty is much more difficult to satisfy. But this is what we are trying to do, especially in the West. Every society has different problems; but we do not try to solve them, what we try to do is to reach the individual, to have a contact with the person, not with the problem, for those there are other bodies”. Thus, the presence becomes important, as the Saint explained to one of the missionaries sent to Germany, where she found a scenario completely different from the material misery in India. “But sometimes in front of these modern poverties we just have to listen, to be there because the other can open up, pour out”. This was also the case of the earthquake in Central Italy: the sisters did not go at the beginning but when people did not run anymore. And what they did was to listen to the traumatized people who had a need to tell what had happened.
The affection of the Popes
From John Paul II to Francis. What does it represent for you the kindness and the affection of the Popes? “It is an incentive to be faithful to this charism for the times of today”. Mother Teresa has denounced many times with strength the injustices, the discriminations, the horror of abortion. Your Congregation continues to make its voice heard by becoming an echo of the Saint of Calcutta? “In our own small way, in our daily life we are trying to bring the truth, not the one that cuts you, that makes you in pieces but the one that cares, that consoles. Where there is an injustice we must point out what is good and what is evil. But certainly, Mother Teresa had so many people who followed her, it was natural. We try to do the same in our own small way, in a personal encounter, to indicate an alternative road”.
The spiritual legacy
What can the figure of Mother Teresa teach to the world today? It is perhaps the most difficult question for the sisters that do not know “where to start from… The first thing that comes spontaneously is the love for the poor. There was always this duality, the spiritual part and the practical one. From the beginning, she stated that the spiritual part is the driving force that impels us. And this has always remained. Mother Teresa stated that we are not social workers but contemplatives in the heart of the world and we must be Martha and Mary (sisters of Lazarus who hosted Jesus at Bethany, editor’s note). Religion is not sentimentalism but something that becomes concrete. The second is listening: the mother said that in the silence of your heart you have to listen to what God tells you. We can create a new world only if we cooperate with His plan of salvation“.