Mother Teresa

This interview was done two years before Mother Teresa died. Obviously an amazing time I spent about 45 minutes with her at the Motherhouse.

We took a taxi to the Motherhouse as its known. Getting out at the entrance of the building a little sign was posted outside “Mother is in”. We walked up the stairs and turned left to her living quarters.

We sat and waited. Soon she appeared and sat down beside me. I was instantly impressed. Her staff had obviously done some research and they knew who I was, what I was doing. I had already been criticised by fellow Protestant Evangelicals about even going ‘near’ their work in Calcutta, (associating with Catholics), I marched ahead anyway. The Sisters of Mercy had recently been in the news over allegations of miss use of funds so despite being aware of the amazing opportunity to meet her and interview her I was not going to avoid ‘sticky’ questions. At some questions I felt she gave me her standard ‘media’ answers but overall she came over as a sharp minded intelligent woman and certainly knew how to put me in my place.

DG: Mother Teresa, thank you for meeting us today. You have an amazing ministry. Everyone has heard your story and about the work you do. The poverty and needs around you are so horrendous, how do you keep it up?

MT:  It would not be easy without a life of prayer and a spirit of sacrifice. I see Jesus in each and everyone that we meet, no matter how repugnant they seem to us. Jesus presents himself to us under every disguise: the dying, the leper, the invalid, the orphan. It is our faith that makes our work easy, or at least more bearable. Without Jesus we could not do this work.

But Don, what is poverty? Look at your own country, look at America. Poverty is not just in India. Look at the abortions that take place. People are afraid of children, so afraid that they decide unborn children must die. Look at the people who are lonely. We live in a world where there is hunger, not for a piece of bread, but also for love. People feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for. Why? We are too busy. We have no time even to smile at each other.

Nakedness is not only the need for a piece of clothing. Nakedness is the need for human dignity which people sometimes lose. We think they are useless and hopeless. That is the real nakedness of our world. Nakedness is being thrown away by society, unwanted, and deserted. That man, that woman, that child – it does not matter who they are unwanted and thrown away.

All over the world I have found lonely, unwanted people. That is a terrible form of nakedness to me, that is a homelessness of heart and spirit.

Why should one person feel unwanted? Why is there no one to take him in? He may be a drunkard, a drug addict, but he is my brother, abandoned, unwanted and uncared for. Maybe, just maybe he felt so lonely, so unwanted that he had to take something in order to forget. I see more poverty in the Western Countries than I see here in Calcutta.

Even in your own families, if a father, a mother, your wife, your child is lonely are you aware of that loneliness? They may feel unwanted, but you are so busy you have no time even to smile at your own child, husband or wife.

There is poverty right in your own family. If you want to change that, you must ask Jesus to show His love and see people through Jesus’ eyes and we need to love not with words, but with deeds.

At this point she grabbed my hand.

You remember what happened in Gethsemane. Jesus was longing for somebody to share in his agony. They same thing happens in our lives. Can He share His sorrow with us?

He comes to you in the hungry, in the naked, in the lonely, in the drunkard, in the prostitute, in the street person the one with Aids. He may come to you in the lonely father, mother, or sister or brother in your own family – are you willing to show love?

Let us pray that God will save all the beautiful countries of the world through his love. In every country, you will find great people among the poor. Love them. Pray for them.

I think the world today is upside-down. It is suffering so much because there is so little love in the home and in family life. We have no time for our children.
We have no time for each other. There is no time to enjoy each other.

Love lives in homes, and the lack of love causes so much suffering and unhappiness in the world today.
Everybody seems to be in such a terrible rush, anxious for greater development and greater riches, so that children have very little time for their parents.

Parents have very little time for their children and for each other. So the breakdown of peace in the world begins at home. People who really and truly love each other are the happiest people in the world. We see that with our very poor people. They love their children and they love their families. They may have very little, in fact, they may not have anything, but they are happy people.

Jesus did not say, "Love the whole world." He said, "Love one another." You can only love one person at a time. If you look at the numbers, you get lost. While you are talking about hunger, somebody is dying next to you.

If you want to do something beautiful for God, look at your own family and at the poor around you.
It is a gift from God for you to be able to serve him in your families and in His poor. Even if it is one person only, that one is still your brother or your sister.

Nationality doesn't matter. Colour doesn't matter.
Being rich or poor doesn't matter. That person is your brother or your sister. And how do we know this? Because Jesus said, "Whatever you do for the least of my brethren, you do to me" (Matthew 25:40).

We should never forget: love begins at home. Today we are having a terrible time, because we have so many broken, unhappy families. They don't pray together. There is no sharing. There is no joy of serving each other. Poverty is not the cause.
No, it is not poverty. What then is causing this?
It is unbridled ambition for things and for status, something that interferes in our lives, that we love more than our family.

That's why I very often tell young people, "It is very beautiful for a young man to love a young woman. And for a young woman to love a young man. But make sure you love each other with a pure heart, with a clean heart — more than money, more than any possession. The greatest gift you can give to each other is a clean heart and a virgin body." The loss of purity, of chastity, of virginity has affected so many lives.

I never tire of talking about family life and of expressing my desire for families to be holy and united, where love reigns among all family members.

DG: You have been criticised recently in media over the accountability of funds. What do you have in place to ensure that the money you receive is properly accounted for?

MT: We receive funds from all over the world and yes I am aware of the criticism. We do have people who look after the funds and there is proper accounting. If someone from the Sisters of Charity misuses the funds, we may never know who or how. I can not know of every situation. Also, the money that is given to us is given to Jesus and we use it for His work. If one worker misuses that money far worse for them to stand before Jesus and give an account than to stand before me.

None of us has the right to condemn anyone. Even though we see some people doing something bad, we don't know why they are doing it. Jesus invites us not to pass judgement. Maybe we are the ones who have helped make them what they are. We need to realize that they are our brothers and sisters. That leper, that drunkard, that sick person is our brother because he too has been created for a greater love. This is something that we should never forget. Jesus Christ identifies himself with them and says, "Whatever you did to the least of my brethren, you did it to me." That leper, that alcoholic, that beggar is my brother. Perhaps it is because we haven't given them our understanding and love that they find themselves on the streets without love and care.

I believe that we should realize that poverty doesn't only consist in being hungry for bread, but rather it is a tremendous hunger for human dignity. We need to love and to be somebody for someone else. This is where we make our mistake and shove people aside.

Not only have we denied the poor a piece of bread, but by thinking that they have no worth and leaving them abandoned in the streets, we have denied them the human dignity that is rightfully theirs as children of God. They are my brothers and sisters as long as they are there. And why am I not in their place? This should be a very important question. We could have been in their place without having received the love and affection that has been given to us. I will never forget an alcoholic who told me his story. He was a man who gave in to drinking so he could forget that he wasn't loved. I think we should examine our own consciences before judging the poor, be they poor in spirit or poor in material goods.

So they can say what they like. We know what we do. We are as careful as we can be and we always try to use the funds we are given wisely.

When I travel, we always book economy class; we travel just like everyone else.

(At this point in time she looked at me and smiled with a twinkle in her eye)

Last time I went to America we booked our tickets with Air India and when we went to the airport they refused to let us travel in economy. Even when we protested, so I had a little laugh the man said to us “No you are Mother Teresa we can not allow you to travel in economy.” So I know, when we fly we are looked after even when we pay for the cheapest fares. I think it is funny, but I never ask for special treatment. The same has happened when we travel by train.

DG: What will happen to the Sisters of Charity when there is no Mother Teresa? You must be aware that people readily give to “Mother Teresa” and not so much the Sisters of Charity.

MT: Lord willing the work will go on. It is not Mother Teresa’s work it is Jesus’ work. We have people in place so that everything can continue long after I have gone to be with Jesus.

Don, I want you to go around and see for yourself, please we will tell your driver where to go, you can do anywhere you like and see anything you want – Just tell them Mother sent you.

DG: Mother, thank you for you time. I will.

MT: Wait here for a moment.

Mother Teresa went to inside her office and came out with two pieces of paper with scripture readings on it. I asked her to sign my Bible – which she did. Looking at it she thumbed through it and said, “I’ve not seen one like this before” (A hard bound red covered NIV).

We left the Mother house, where everywhere we saw posters referring to scripture and Jesus. I visited a number of her homes in every instance the love and care and sheer weight of what they were doing in Calcutta hits you fairly hard.

I spent the rest of the day in her home with those who were dying of aids with no one to care you sat and held a hand as a fragile body passed from this life to the next – all that was required was a smile unconditional love and human touch.

Fact File:

Born: Agnes Gonxha Bajaxhiu on August 26, 1910 in Skopje, Macedonia

Died: Mother Teresa on September 5, 1997 in Kolkata, India (Calcutta, at the Mother House)

Received: Joined the Loreto Novitiate on May 23, 1929

First Profession: May 25, 1931 and was to be known as Sister Teresa after her patroness St. Therese of Lisieux

Final Profession: May 24, 1937 and was to be known as Mother Teresa following Loreto custom

Inspiration Day: September 10, 1946 on a train journey from Calcutta to Darjeeling, Mother Teresa received the "call within a call," which was to give rise to the Missionaries of Charity Order.

Founded MC: October 7, 1950 the Missionaries of Charity was officially erected as a religious institute for the Archdiocese of Calcutta.

Among the 124 Awards Received:
Padmashree Award (from the President of India) August 1962
Pope John XXIII Peace Prize January 1971
John F. Kennedy International Award September 1971
Jawahalal Nehru Award for International Understanding November 1972
Templeton Prize for "Progress in Religion" April 1973
Nobel Peace Prize December 1979
Bharat Ratna (Jewel of India) March 1980
Order of Merit (from Queen Elizabeth) November 1983
Gold Medal of the Soviet Peace Committee August 1987
United States Congressional Gold Medal June 1997

Missionaries of Charity:

In addition to the Sisters, Mother Teresa founded four other branches of the Missionaries of Charity family. On March 25, 1963, the Archbishop of Calcutta blessed the beginning of an active branch of Brothers. The contemplative branch of the Sisters began in New York on June 25, 1976, and the contemplative Brothers were established in Rome on March 19, 1979. The Fathers were founded in the Bronx, New York on October 13, 1984.

From the very beginning, Mother Teresa also involved lay people in her service to the poor. In March 1969, the Co-Workers of Mother Teresa were officially begun. On April 16, 1984, the Lay Missionaries of Charity were established.

At the time of Mother Teresa's death, The Sisters of the Missionaries of Charity numbered 3,914 members, and were established in 594 communities in 123 countries of the world. Her work continues under the guidance of Sister Nirmala, Superior General of the Missionaries of Charity Sisters. The order has grown over 4,000 members in 697 foundations in 131 countries of the world.