Page 7, 12th September 1997

12th September 1997
Page 7
Page 7, 12th September 1997 — Working with Mother

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Organisations: Council of Cardinals
Locations: New York, Calcutta


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Working with Mother

Is there a fast track past the



ANDREW M. BROWN on the process of canonisation

THE TERM "living saint" which was often applied to Mother Teresa during her lifetime is meaningless as a technical term, because the Church does not start the process of canonisation until five years after a person's death.

A saint is someone whose life is considered to be so exemplary that he or she can be declared to be in heaven, where prayers to the person may be addressed.

Fr Le Joly, the 88-year-old Belgian priest who was the spiritual guide of Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity is convinced the nun will be beatified and later canonised.

And from the pulpit of St Patrick's Cathedral in New York, Cardinal John O'Connor agreed. "There is no doubt," he said, "that the Church will raise her to the honour of the altars." He was "certain", he added, that she was "already in heaven".

In the case of Mother Teresa, the formal process is likely to begin in 2002 with a diocesan committee in Calcutta gathering living witnesses and sending all documentation to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in the Vatican.

There, a Promoter of the Faith ("Devil's Advocate") tries to find fault with the cause. If he cannot, the cause then goes to the 20-strong Council of Cardinals. If the Council approves the cause, the pope declares the candidate to be "venerable" meaning that he or she has "heroic virtues".

Miracles are then required, but usually those worked after the person's death carry more weight, since a person might perform miracles in his lifetime but later become a heretic. Advances in modern medicine can prove the greatest stumbling block to sainthood.

The present Pope introduced a fast track to beatification, beatifying and canonising hundreds of — mostly uncontroversial — figures. The fastest was Jose Maria Escriva de Balaguer, founder of Opus Dei, who died in 1975 and became "the Blessed" in 1992. Opus Dei were comfortably able to afford the considerable expense of promoting a cause usually hundreds of thousands of dollars.


times marvelled at what Mother Teresa ad achieved. Physically, she was completely unprepossessing: very thin, with a lined face and enormous feet. Mentally, although she was quick witted and humorous, she had an almost childlike quality. She was no Einstein.

Those who remember her as a novice, when she was a Loreto nun, describe a straightforward, unremarkable woman, an appraisal which Mother would have accepted with a gentle smile.

But when I asked her: "Mother, why are you so successful?" She replied: "I haven't been successful. I have tried to be faithful to the will of God."

Mother's watchword was Christ's words: "I was hungry, I was thirsty, I was naked, I was sick, I was suffering, I was homeless and you took me." That was why she was always looking for the hungry, the naked, the poorest of the poor because, by giving her love to them, she was giving it to the dying Christ.

To drive through Calcutta with Mother and watch her watching the poor was a wonderful experience. Her dedication was total, because in every leprous beggar she could see Jesus suffering. Whenever she saw someone dying she would sit bolt upright in the car, determined to roll up her sleeves and get to work helping him.

There were no limits to where Mother would go for the poor, There are almost 4,000 of her Missionaries of Charity in more than 130 countries. "If there are poor people on the moon, we will go to the moon,"she said.

Yet Mother's love did not just extend to the poor. She was incredibly loving to everyone, because in every person she could see the face of Christ, no matter how disguised it might be by personal failures. Her gift was to make you feel as if you were the only person in the world. She always wanted to know that I was sleeping well and feeding well. She would make sure that lunch was prepared and would sit at the table peeling an apple or an orange for me. She was always asking about my family, my parents, my vocational work in England. It was humbling.

Those who criticised her for her involvement with power never understood that she treated everyone the same way. She loved Diana, Princess of Wales because she had suffered so much and she always prayed for her to be reconciled with the Prince, but she loved her in the same way that she loved "Jill Smith" in the street. If she had a wider concern it was that she realised that the Royal Family sets an example to millions of people about family life.

Similarly, Mother took no interest in international Affairs, beyond whether a political situation would alleviate or aggravate the condition of the poor. At the start of the Gulf war I helped Mother write letters to Saddam Hussein and President Bush, which made clear that her only concern was that people were going to be orphaned, crippled or killed.

She was on the best of terms with the Marxist chief minister of West Bengal who, when asked what he could have in common with a nun, replied: "We both share a love of the poor."

SHE NEVER preached against communism, although the could see how much evil had been perpetrated in its name. When the Iron Curtain came down she was into those countries like a shot. Now she has missions in Cuba, Romania, Russia and her birthplace, Albania. Only China remains closed to her.

Mother never used her access to the powerful to ask for grants or restructuring of international debt. She preferred to get on with things. She was an incredibly hard worker who did not need much sleep, whose huge, peasant hands were gnarled by the kind of physical effort you and I will never know. Even in the later days, when her time was increasingly taken up with administration, she would get down on her knees, scrub floors and feed people.

Such dedication did not always make Mother an easy person to be with. Saints are very often very single-minded and will not waste time in idle chats over cups of tea. Towards the end, those who had known her well for a long time said that she became so gentle and kind.

Her greatest inspiration came from her namesake St Therese of Lisieux and her call: "To do the little things of life with great love." Mother liked cleanliness, tidiness and order. If she was here now, in my untidy study, she would say: "Father, this is not the way to organise your life."

People have often accused Mother of imperialism but that was not true. Of course she was delighted if someone she helped decided to convert to Catholicism, but yet again she followed Christ's lead, reminding us that He gave total dignity to every human being, regardless of their faith.

From Mother, I learned that at the end of our lives, we are going to be judged, not only on how good a Muslim, Buddhist or Catholic we have been, but also on how much love we have shown.

In her own city of Calcutta, Mother did more than anyone to break down the barriers between Muslims, Hindus and Catholics. When she opened her first home for dying destitutes in Kalighat, rumours circulated that those who died there were given the last rites and buried as Christians. Crowds rioted outside the house. The city's chief medical officer come to investigate and found Mother extracting a maggot from the rotting flesh of a dying woman.

He heard her tell the patient: "You say a prayer in your religion, I will say a prayer as you know it."

The officer proclaimed that if anyone else was prepared to do Mother's work, he would send her away. Nobody was and the situation was defused. Today Mother's picture hangs in Hindu shrines and people vie to touch her feet.

In life, many people spoke of Mother as a living saint; in death, however, her canonisation depends not on the Church but on God who must choose to bless her in answer to our prayers.

Some worry whether the order she founded will slip into obscurity. Mother had no such doubts.

"If my work is God's work, then it will continue," she said. Now most of all we must thank God for her and what she has taught us and pray for her that she may be like Saint Therese: "I shall spend my heaven doing good upon Earth."

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