Below is an interview of Wlodzimierz Redzioch with His Beatitude Baselios Cardinal Cleemis, the Major Archbishop Catholicos of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church in India, provided to ZENIT. Presently Cardinal Cleemis is the President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI).
What is the meaning of the Canonization of Mother Teresa for the Church in India?
His Beatitude Baselios Cardinal Cleemis: India is a fast developing country and we have a lot of varied realities in India:the cultures, the language, ethnicity and financial background, job opportunities and spiritual treasuries and so on… So in this varied, diversified, reality of India Mother Teresa , or the new Saint Teresa of Calcutta, brings a hope for the marginalized people, the poor, the poorest of the poor, that they have a hope that they will not be abandoned.
By the canonization of Mother Teresa the Church confirms that it is a mandate, it is a mission and it is a commitment of the Church to take care of the poor everywhere, not only in India, everywhere.
Mother Teresa looked at poverty only on the basis of poverty. She did not look into Christian poverty or Hindu poverty of Muslim poverty and so on…She looked at poverty as poverty, as poverty alone. Therefor her solution to the poverty was the same. Poverty should be addressed on that particular category alone, poverty, no more poor! So, she loved this poor and she tried to do whatever was possible through her to eradicate poverty and also she gave the experience of the closeness of God to these abandoned. This is all the more significant in India because India is a land of diversity. And Christianity, even with its history of two thousand years in India, it is a small community. So with the emergence of this small lady, which the government of India honored with the highest civilian award of “Bharatharatna”, that means the “Jewel of India”, then the Nobel Prize, and now a sainthood from above, from the Catholic Church. This is an affirmation of this little lady’s, little nun’s, work in India as a work with a secular mind.
A religious sister doing the service for everyone, going beyond cast and creed and language. So this is the beauty of Mother Teresa’s work in India. She meant her service for all and India needs such service, such people who can look at India as a secular India, meant to feel that everybody is same, everybody is in our land, everybody belongs to our land.
How India has changed in the last twenty years after the death of Mother Teresa?
Of course, there has been a considerable sign of growth in all aspects, especially India has been growing as a fast developing country in the world and as an economic power, and at the same time we should also see that the have-nots, the poor ones are also increasing in India in their own level. Poverty is not solved but poverty now is still seen in different ways on the basis of religious faith, cast, creed, ethnicity and also the classes and even in the so-called countries that say they don’t have a cast system, there are different class systems. It is equivalent to the cast system. Therefore India has been also having this reality. Poverty is seen in different areas now, and also, I must say, the poor are still there. Lots of poor people are in India even after the service of Mother Teresa and other many people and we have still poor people. But the sensitivity towards the poor is now felt need, a charism of everyone to feel that we need to do something good for the poor.
The state does not have the capacity to face the poverty?
The state cannot, alone cannot, solve the problem of poverty nowhere in the world. I think we all have to cooperate with the government and with the state to eradicate poverty. It is also our obligation to do something positive to solve the poverty. Hence the Church has more responsibility to take care of the poor.
Mother Teresa was criticized and attacked by the Hindu extremists because they have seen in the mission of Mother Teresa a kind of proselytism. The situation has changed because we know that now the Hindu party is in power and the Hindu extremism is growing. What is the reaction of the Hindus to the canonization of Mother Teresa?
Mother Teresa has been honored and at the same time criticized by a few people. And the model before us is Jesus. Jesus was criticized left and right by the Pharisees at his time. Not for doing anything bad but for doing something good. Jesus was criticized because Pharisees and scribes and many people at that time did not understand the meaning of his activity, the meaning of the power and spirituality behind all the good things done by Jesus.
Goodness, the service, the mercy, compassion these are always questioned in the history of humanity. Whatever is being done good, naturally, there will be some questions with a negative tone asking why?
Mother Teresa, after all her works in India, if you ask precisely, to those people who accuse Mother Teresa on conversion, how many did Mother Teresa convert? Check the baptism register, check the parish registers, before that, check your conscience before criticizing this lady who brought compassion and mercy to the people, the real “waste-box”. They were about to die, nobody wanted them. Their soul had no value at all. But Mother Teresa brought value to that soul by adding that boy or girl, man or woman to her own community, her own house where she was living. Why Mother Teresa being questioned and criticized? For doing such compassion, charity, or the people who criticized were afraid that Christianity would be spread fast because of such compassion and activities?
Ours is a democratic country. India is a secular country and all have their freedom to express pro or against. There is no doubt about it. But we hold our values on a secular base which nobody can take away. India is not a land of one religion. India is the land of many religions and India has had the presence of Christianity from the very beginning of Christianity itself. So for us Christianity is not a foreign religion to India. It is our own religion, religion of our own land. And if some people with a fanatic approach question these realities, well, they have the freedom to do so. But we never give up the freedom to live in India as a Federal Republic and as a secular country which always praises and cherishes the secular value, the diverse realities in religious faith, as well as, in cultures.That is our land.