Monday 8 August 2016

Tony D'Souza on St Mother Teresa of Kolkata

A soon to be published article by Fr Tony D'Souza, SDB, on Mother Teresa, from his personal experience with her.


Whoever said: to live with the saints in heaven is all honour and glory, but to live with the saints on earth is quite a different story, must be talking of pseudo-saints. Mother Teresa who will be canonised by  the Holy Father in September, 2016, to me was certainly no such pseudo saint, as a few biased critics make her out to be.

My first personal contact with this feeble nun was in 1975, at the Mumbai airport. As I walked through security into the departure lounge, I saw quite a crowd of passengers standing in awe and gazing at a lady who was seated quietly all by herself. As I got closer to the scene, I recognised Mother Teresa in her blue bordered white sari and her simple wooden handle shopping bag.   Something within me pushed me to approach her and I did. With a slight smile and a welcome nod of her head, she seemed to welcome me to a seat by her side and this I did as I introduced myself, a priest belonging to the Salesians of Don Bosco Society. Already then, she came across to me as very motherly in our brief conversation. I told her I was looking after a group of seminarians in Pune and requested her for more than an "autograph, a message for my community of young seminarians." This is what she wrote: Teach your seminarians to find joy in sacrifice. I was reminded of Mama Margaret's words to her newly ordained son, John Bosco: "Remember, to be a priest is to begin to suffer".

Over the years, I have experienced the wisdom of these messages and shared them with others.

Her precious time permitting, Mother Teresa attended the yearly CRI (Conference of India) meeting of Major Superiors. What impressed me was that though she sat in the assembly, mostly quiet and without pretensions, her humble presence and lively interactions with the members had a formative influence on us all.

But my best memory of Mother Teresa was a spiritual retreat (1990, I think) I was invited to animate for the Missionaries of Charity in Nairobi, Kenya. The Retreatants were superiors/leaders of the many MC communities in East Africa and their Foundress was to attend as well. Mother Teresa arrived late night on the eve of the retreat. She was received warmly at the airport by a small group of sisters and treated respectfully by the immigration and customs officials. However, there was one problem. The young novice from Poland who accompanied Mother Teresa was held up at the immigration as at that time Poland, a Communist country, had no diplomatic relations with Kenya. The Chief Immigration Officer could not be immediately contacted for special clearance. The Officer on duty suggested that Mother Teresa could proceed to her convent. The Polish sister, they assured her, would be well cared for while she awaited clearance. Mother Teresa stayed with the sister saying: "You have held back my daughter and I must stay with her".  The Chief Immigration Officer was finally contacted by 2 a.m. and an entry permit granted to the young novice. What a motherly gesture.

The next morning, despite a sleepless night, Mother Teresa was punctually present at 7 a.m. in the chapel, for the first meditation talk of the retreat. In fact, she participated prayerfully in all the liturgical services and listened attentively to the meditation talks, seated devoutly in the last row. Overwhelmed by her humble presence, I concluded each talk by sitting at her side and inviting her to share her own reflections on the topic. And she did so, very modestly. While I preached from a pedestal of theory, she preached from the pews and her sermons were not just words but real acts of selfless motherly love for the poor, the sick and abandoned.

Preaching in the presence of a saintly Mother Teresa whom I always held in high esteem, was quite a privilege, but also a nervous experience. And when she approached me in childlike simplicity for spiritual guidance followed by confession, my nervousness reached its climax. I just could not remember the prayer of absolution. Instead, Mother Teresa was one penitent who converted me into a repentant confessor.

At the end of the retreat Mother Teresa thanked me profusely and thoughtfully gifted me a rosary for my own Mummy. She even accepted my request to visit Don Bosco Boys Town in Nairobi the following day. Unfortunately, she fell sick with cold and fever. Nevertheless, motherly as ever, to assuage our disappointment, she sent me an apologetic regret note and a bus load of her sisters to spend some time with our poor youth.

In a world terrorised by destructive forces and hate crimes especially against women, let us resolve that the canonization of Mother Teresa will not only place her among the saints in heaven, robed in honour and glory, but inspire us all to recognise and respect God's "motherly" image in every woman who walks on our streets and lives in our homes.

May God's Word, "Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers/sisters, you do unto me," ring not only in our ears but find expression in our lives as it did in the motherly life of the great 'Missionary of Charity', the Motherly Saint Teresa.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Featured post

Rupnik, “E se l’evangelizzazione chiedesse una novità nella vita consacrata?” English summary

“EVANGELIZATION – DOES IT CALL FOR SOMETHING NEW FROM CONSECRATED LIFE?” MARKO RUPNIK, SJ “E se l’evangelizzazione chiedesse una novit...