A Samaritan of Mercy
The Missionary and the Popes
Popes from Pius XII to Francis played an important role in the life and work of St Mother Teresa. In revisiting her life it seems clear that the Holy Spirit worked through her and through the Pontiffs for the good of the Church at the service of the poor. At times she even caused a change of heart in the Popes, as in the case of Pius XII. The Pastor Angelicus was undoubtedly convinced that there was no need to increase the number of religious congregations for men and women, but rather to give more space for the spirit of Christ and an evangelical service. “God called me to abandon everything so that I may dedicate myself to Him through the poor and the unloved”, Mother Teresa wrote in a letter. And thus on 12 August 1948 Pius XII gave her permission to leave the community of the Sisters of Loreto, remaining under the authority of the Archbishop of Calcutta. Two years later, in 1950, Pope Pius gave her permission to establish a new religious community, the Missionaries of Charity. Thus began God’s great work through Mother Teresa, first in Calcutta, India, and then around the world.
Her charism also struck the heart of John XXIII. In 2008, I interviewed the Pope’s private secretary, Msgr Loris Francesco Capovilla, created cardinal in 2014. He told me: “Pope John often spoke of Mother Teresa with me and with Secretary of State Cardinal Tardini, as well as with others, about this great and marvelous woman. Simplicity and love were her strength. It is beautiful that a small country had such a great Mother”.
An important turning point for Mother Teresa’s community came with Paul VI. They first met during his historic visit to India in 1964 for the Eucharistic Congress in Bombay. On that occasion, in order “to help her and for the good of the poor”, the Pope donated the Cadillac which he used during his official visits. Mother Teresa immediately set up a raffle and set the luxury automobile as the prize, then used the large sum of money it earned to help the poor. This story made headlines around the world and the following year, on 10 February 1965, with the Decretum Laudis, Paul VI recognized the Order of the Missionaries of Charity as a congregation of pontifical right. This allowed the sisters to expand in India and around the world. Three years later, on 22 August 1968, Pope Montini invited Mother Teresa to open the first house of the Missionaries of Charity in Rome. Less than a year later he approved the co-workers of Mother Teresa’s association. On 6 January 1971 the Pontiff awarded her the John XXIII Peace Prize.
On the world’s highways and byways, however, Mother Teresa and John Paul II were “God’s duo” par excellence. In 1980 the Polish Pope consigned to her the key to the home which was to welcome and take care of children and abandoned mothers. He subsequently donated the ‘Dono di Maria’ (Gift of Mary) home, which welcomes and aids Rome’s homeless.
When Mother Teresa died on 5 September 1997, John Paul II called her the “Good Samaritan” and remembered her as “a small figure, full of life and at the service of the poorest of the poor, with the strength of Christ”. In an extraordinary act, the Pope allowed for the opening of the Cause for her Beatification only five years after her death. Later her beatification coincided with World Mission Day, on 19 October 2003, when Pope John Paul II described her life as “a bold proclamation of the Gospel”.
Benedict XVI considered Mother Teresa a shining example of how prayer is an endless source of love for neighbour. In his Encyclical Deus Caritas Est Pope Ratzinger wrote: “In the example of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta we have a clear illustration of the fact that time devoted to God in prayer not only does not detract from effective and loving service to our neighbour but is in fact the inexhaustible source of that service. In her letter for Lent 1996, Blessed Teresa wrote to her lay co-workers: ‘We need this deep connection with God in our daily life. How can we obtain it? By prayer’”.
In addition to her example of active prayer, Mother Teresa — according to Benedict XVI — was an example of evangelical joy. On 16 December 2007, the Third Sunday of Advent, he said that “Christian joy thus springs from this certainty: God is close, he is with me, he is with us, in joy and in sorrow, in sickness and in health, as a friend and faithful spouse.... Was not Bl. Mother Teresa of Calcutta an unforgettable witness of true Gospel joy in our time?... She gave everyone God’s smile”.
Pope Francis and St Mother Teresa are spiritual “soulmates” because of their evangelical attitude and direction based on simplicity, humility, poverty and most of all faith and love. In the Encyclical Lumen Fidei Pope Francis writes: “Nor does the light of faith make us forget the sufferings of this world. How many men and women of faith have found mediators of light in those who suffer! So it was with St Francis of Assisi and the leper, or with Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta and her poor. They understood the mystery at work in them. In drawing near to the suffering, they were certainly not able to eliminate all their pain or to explain every evil. Faith is not a light which scatters all our darkness, but a lamp which guides our steps in the night and suffices for the journey”.
Weekly Edition in English
9 September 2016, page 7
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