Mother Teresa's Successor on Nun's Legacy

Thursday Marks 100th Anniversary of Her Birth

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CALCUTTA, India, AUG. 25, 2010 ( Mother Teresa of Calcutta did not focus on conversions to Catholicism, but rather on loving Jesus and transmitting that love to those around her. Nevertheless, the current superior-general of her order affirms that many Hindus have changed their lives due to even fleeting contact with the saintly nun.

As part of the celebrations surrounding Thursday’s 100th anniversary of Mother Teresa’s birth, German-born Sister Mary Prema, superior-general of the Missionaries of Charity, spoke with the Fides news agency through the mediation of the Pontifical Mission Societies in Austria.

Sister Prema was asked if “mission” implied for Mother Teresa “conversion” to Catholicism.

“Mother Teresa wanted everyone to know and love Jesus,” Sister Prema replied. “She was convinced that every soul desires Jesus’ salvation, whether or not he realizes it. The work of conversion, however, remains a work of God. It is not our task. Only God can convert a soul. Mother Teresa dedicated her own life to the task of loving Jesus and transmitting this love to those around her. That was her only goal.”

Conveying this experience of Jesus is the legacy the nun left, according to her successor.

“Through her life, her work, her charisma, she brought those around her to God. She did not preach, but she testified with her own life,” Sister Prema said. “Even today, many people tell me of their first meeting with Mother Teresa. Perhaps they had seen her for five minutes on the terrace of our motherhouse. But that one moment changed their lives forever.

“Oftentimes a phrase, a kind word was enough. Many of these people are Hindus. They have not converted to Christianity since they met Mother Teresa. However, they began to see their lives and their work with different eyes and have become other people, living in a different way, based on love and mercy, within their own families. There are many examples.”

Ministry in suffering

Sister Prema was also asked to reflect on why God allows suffering, given that she is responsible for a religious order that cares for the poor and the sick.

The missionary contended that suffering can make us better people.

She explained: “Suffering cannot be a punishment. And yet, God allows it. We can take advantage of suffering to approach him and ask him for the grace to endure it and thus be able to live this suffering well. Suffering often comes as the consequence of our decisions. However, it is also a consequence of a passing world/nature that is fragile. […]

“But, I am convinced that God allows suffering because it can transform us into better and more profound people. Thus, we are able to understand that this world and this life are not the ultimate goal, but that there is something more: the life of the soul which — if one really accepts suffering — is purified.”

Sister Prema noted that from the very beginning of the novitiate, Missionaries of Charity learn to minister to the suffering.

But the greatest suffering they confront, she explained, is spiritual.

“Here in Calcutta, we see that it is much easier for us to care for physical needs, to carry out corporal works of mercy: wash dying people, provide medical care to the sick, and help the homeless in our homes,” the nun affirmed. “The services of spiritual charity require a much larger commitment.”

Prayer is important in this context, Sister Prema noted. “Every day we stop for an hour of prayer before the Eucharist. It is crucial for our work. In fact, our work is not a social commitment, but a missionary commitment.”

Future plans

As Sister Prema leads the Missionaries of Charity through the 100th birthday of the founder, she said there are no future plans for the order.

“We try to remain open to what God asks of us,” she said. “Only Jesus will tell me what is the next step. So, in the spirit of Mother, I’m not the one who controls things. God is the one who decides.”

In fact, the superior explained, Mother Teresa never gave any indications for future plans.
“Someone once asked her what would happen when she was no longer alive,” Sister Prema recounted. “Her answer was very dry: ‘Let me die in peace first!’ She never gave us any indications of future plans. Besides the fact that we should always strive to become more holy! This was her constant advice.”

Nevertheless, the superior-general suggested that the future of the order will respond to society’s needs, just as Mother Teresa did in her lifetime.

“In the 80s, for example, it was HIV/AIDS,” Sister Prema explained. “[Mother Teresa] opened a house in New York for the victims of this disease. […] At that time, medicines to control the virus did not even exist. What suffering! Mother Teresa listened to Jesus, but at the same time she also had an open ear to the world’s problems. So, we must listen to Jesus and be generous. She was very generous toward God and toward those suffering beside her. In this, we want to imitate her.”

And as to the canonization of the founder, Sister Prema reflected the following: “Everyone knows that she is a saint — both Hindus and Christians here in Calcutta and in most places where we are present — this is beyond doubt. Everyone expects a miracle … but Mother Teresa was that miracle for the world and humanity.”

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