Angel of the Dying

Foto Andreotti

     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 Congregation’s 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 Rome.
     In a note of remembrance such as this, one is tempted to draw upon one’s 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 Gandhi’s 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 Mother’s 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 Deng’s 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 China’s poorest people, people who have no one to look after them" offended Chinese institutions.

Mother Theresa wrote one day:
"It is said in our constitution: ‘Accept anything that Jesus gives and give to Jesus with a great smile. This is the simplest way to true happiness’ "

There followed a significant statement on the illustrious Nobel Laureate’s 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 Mother’s visit with the wearisome - and still unconcluded - process designed to establish relations between the People’s Republic and the Holy See.
     As the authoritative Archbishop of Shanghai Monsignor Jin suggested, the time was not yet ripe. But the Mother’s 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 Rome’s 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".


     While the world’s 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.
     She wrote one day: "It is said in our constitutions: ‘Accept anything that Jesus gives and give to Jesus with a great smile. This is the simplest way to true happiness’."

Monsignor Luigi Giussani on Mother Theresa of Calcutta

Like Light in the Night

Mother Teresa saw in the faces of those around her - the most disinherited, the most wretched - the presence of the Mystery of Christ in His stricken humanity. For years she bent over the poor, as one bends over the suffering Jesus. This was her awareness as a woman and a nun. The love of Christ was the shape and reason of her place as a protagonist of this century, that made her like a light in the night. The Church and the world recognized in her a symbol of the construction of a lasting peace. Knowing that peace arises from a recognition of Christ, the complete answer to the needs of man, we wish to be a part of her witness, thanking God for having given to our tragic age - and yet one yearning toward the dramatic hope that endures in modern hearts as created beings - this saint, a sign of God's faithfulness to his covenant with all mankind through his exceptional presence in Christ in the history of his people.

Rev. Luigi Giussani
and all of Communion
and Liberation

Milan, 6 September 1997

From Osservatore Romano,
September 7 1997, page 2