THE DEATH OF MOTHER THERESA OF CALCUTTA
Angel of the Dying
We were used to hearing the alarm being sounded about the health of Mother Theresa and it would then be followed by the news that the crisis had passed. The announcement of her death came without warning. Nor was it heralded when she resigned last March - juridically, I would say - from the leadership of her 4,000 Missionaries of Charity electing the Hindu convert Sister Nirmala in her place and who had been predisposed until then to the Congregations contemplative side.
|Mother Theresa afterwards came to Rome, delighted to travel on her Italian
diplomatic passport given her the year before. It was June 30 and there had been another
chance then to share with her in the sisters Mass at their via Casilina community in
In a note of remembrance such as this, one is tempted to draw upon ones personal memories and letters of Mother Theresa but all too often in so doing we who remember cloud out the person we are remembering. I hold all these things in my heart, especially the emotion I felt in hosting her and Sister Monica on board the Italian Government aircraft from Rome to New Delhi on the occasion of Indira Gandhis funeral. Hastening back from the United States, Mother Theresa was in transit and had missed her Air India connection. You can imagine the joy at placing oneself at her disposition.
Alien to any kind of politicking, her sole aim was to extend the network of service to the poor and her proposal was to dot the world map with her holy standards flying in every country.
A total of 120 flags flying after just 37 years since the foundation of her order is more than extraordinary. Now further horizons should be reached more easily if the manifestations of mourning in all continents following the sad news from Calcutta are heartfelt and not just ephemeral. I think particularly of the Mothers tenacity in regard to China. In 1993 (she had already been there four years before), she believed she had attained her goal by travelling to Beijing at the invitation of the great Dengs disabled son in his capacity as President of the Chinese Handicapped Federation whose aim, however, is re-habilitation and education for the world of work, not assistance and institutionalization. So she was given nothing more than a courteous welcome. Indeed, her declaration that she wished "to help Chinas poorest people, people who have no one to look after them" offended Chinese institutions.
|There followed a significant statement on the illustrious Nobel
Laureates visit describing it as private. She had perhaps been harmed by a
piece of news of an equally private nature from Hong Kong linking the
Mothers visit with the wearisome - and still unconcluded - process designed to
establish relations between the Peoples Republic and the Holy See.
As the authoritative Archbishop of Shanghai Monsignor Jin suggested, the time was not yet ripe. But the Mothers approach did not allow for waiting games; taking advantage of a month-long sojourn in Rome to take part in the Bishops Synod on the Consecrated Life, she looked for diplomatic support to induce the Chinese to open up to her sisters.
And, independently of this specific problem, her intervention to the Synod (October 12,
1994) which was published as "Auditio sororis Teresa Bojaxhiu (India)"
was highly significant. Two years before Mother Theresa had lent her own voice to the
general desire that the Pope, forced to undergo treatment at Romes Policlinico
Gemelli hospital, would recover his health. She composed a prayer:
"Lord, once again it has been your wish to have our Pope John Paul II on the Cross with you to remind the world that only in the Cross is there Resurrection and life ... After the Cross, O Lord, comes the radiant dawn of the Resurrection. Our Holy Father had already encountered this dawn in May 1981 after conquering the dark night of that tragic event. Now as then, the Pope will again serve the Church having loved it yet again at the foot of the Cross".
And so it was. The Pope was there to hear her to his intense joy.
| The 30DAYS editorial staff will never forget the honor she bestowed on
us in May last year when she used our journal to send her greetings to the participants in
the Atlanta Olympic Games:
"I would like to wish peace and serenity to the thousands of athletes gathering from all over the world in Atlanta to compete in the 1996 Olympic Games.
"I pray God that this great and exceptional encounter of young people from the five continents will serve to strengthen the spirit of dialogue, understanding and friendship which the young in a special way must feel and cultivate.
"I remember the beautiful words John XXIII addressed to the athletes of the 1960 Rome Olympics. They were a hymn to concord and a great appeal for commitment so that peace would triumph over war, friendship over hatred, fraternity over violence.
"This is my greeting and, I repeat, my prayer".
the worlds press and television were broadcasting the news that, pending her
official funeral, an interminable line of people were queueing to pay their last respects
to the Mother, the Church in its Sunday liturgy meditated by a significant coincidence on
a passage of the letter of Saint James the Apostle. In it, the respect paid to the
well-dressed guest with a gold ring on is compared with the humiliation reserved for the
poor in shabby clothes. Now, it is certain that God "chose the poor to be rich in
faith and to be the heirs to the kingdom which he promised to those who love him".
But the obligation of everyone on this earth - Christians and non - to attenuate the
suffering of the less advantaged is what urged Mother Theresa on to heroic heights and
this is what remains to us - her active inheritance.