Today, 26th August, marks the start of a yearlong centenary celebration of the birth of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. The diminutive, universally-loved nun whom John Paul II described as “one of the most important figures of our time” will be remembered and celebrated in many ways, both by her community, the Missionaries of Charity, and through various worldwide initiatives.
New publications about her life and writings are due to appear along with postage stamps and collector-edition coins bearing her image. An express train is to be launched in her honour on her birthday in India and the New York Peace Bridge will be lit up in the blue and white colours of the Missionaries of Charity. The anniversary will be marked liturgically and spiritually in Rome and throughout the world with Masses, prayer vigils and novenas and Mother Teresa’s relics will be displayed for veneration in the US and Canada.
Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, in her devoted outreach to the poorest of the poor in absolute love, has touched countless lives. The superior-general of the Missionaries of Charity, Sister Mary Prema, writes that “her life and work continue to be an inspiration for young and old, rich and poor from all walks of life, religions and nations” and she invites us to “…celebrate Mother’s birth centenary by sharing the joy of loving and being loved”. She further exhorts us to “pray to know better God’s love for us.”
There are many inspiring anecdotes, accounts and images from Mother Teresa’s full and fruitful life of love. In a recent Italian volume, Madre Teresa Mi Ha Detto from Ancora publishing house, journalist Renzo Allegri has compiled memories of his encounters with Mother Teresa. In the following excerpt, Allegri gives us a precious insight into her simple yet profound faith and holiness:
One day I asked her spontaneously: “Are you afraid of dying?”. I had been in Rome for some days. I met her a couple of times and had gone to greet her because I was returning to Milan. She looked at me almost as wishing to understand the reason for my question. I felt I had done wrong in speaking of death and tried to correct my mistake.
“I see you rested,” I said. “Yesterday, instead, you seemed very tired.”
“I slept well last night,” she answered.
“In recent years you have undergone some rather delicate surgical interventions, such as the one on the heart; you must take care of yourself, travel less.”
“Everyone says this to me, but I must think of the work that Jesus has entrusted to me. When I can no longer serve, he will stop me.”
And, changing the angle, she asked:
“Where do you live?”
“In Milan,” I answered.
“When are you going home?”
“I hope this very evening. I would like to catch the last flight so that tomorrow, which is Saturday, I can be with the family.”
“Ah, I see that you are happy to go home, to your family,” she said smiling.
“I have been away for almost a week,” I answered to justify my enthusiasm.
“Good, good,” she added. “It’s right that you are happy. You are going to see your wife, your children your dear ones, your home. It’s right that it be so.”
She remained again for some seconds in silence; then, going back to the question that I asked her, she continued:
“I would be as happy as you if I could say that I will die this evening. Dying I too would go home. I would go to paradise. I would go to meet Jesus. I have consecrated my life to Jesus. Becoming a sister, I became the spouse of Jesus. See, I have a ring on my finger like married women. And I am married to Jesus. All that I do here, on this earth, I do it out of love for him. Therefore, by dying I return home to my spouse. Moreover, up there, in paradise, I will also find all my loved ones. Thousands of persons have died in my arms. It is now more than forty years that I have dedicated my life to the sick and the dying. I and my sisters have picked up from the streets, above all in India, thousands and thousands of persons at the end of life. We have taken them to our houses and helped them to die peacefully. Many of those persons expired in my arms, while I smiled at them and patted their trembling faces. Well, when I die, I am going to meet all these persons. It is there that they await me. We loved one another well in those difficult moments. We continued to love one another in memory. Who knows what celebration they will make for me when they see me. How can I be afraid of death? I desire it; I await it because it allows me finally to return home.”
In general, in the interviews and also in the conversations, Mother Teresa was concise, gave brief and rapid answers. On that occasion, to answer my strange question, she made a genuine speech. And while she said those things, her eyes beamed with amazing serenity and happiness.
Amazing. This humble woman honoured on earth by a state funeral in the presence of presidents, prime ministers, queens and dignitaries from all over the world, rejoiced in heaven at being reunited with her divine Spouse and the countless, once destitute brothers and sisters whom she had loved to the very end.
Amidst her own physical and spiritual trials, she had found and lived out what she called ”the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.”
Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, pray for us!