Saturday, October 06, 2007

Mother Teresa's "Family Reunion"

She never left the public imagination, nor the private devotions of many, but ten years after her death and three years after her beatification, a resurgence of attention and curiosity has surrounded the figure of Bl Teresa of Calcutta.

Last month, the publication of the spiritual diary of the "Saint of the Gutters" was heralded on the cover of TIME and rocketed the book to the top of the best-seller charts. The prominence was but the tip of the iceberg for Come Be My Light, which was likewise explored (and mostly hailed) in acres of newsprint and hours of television, even on Comedy Central... reminding the church that genuine sanctity is still its greatest asset.

This weekend near Pittsburgh, Mother Teresa's closest collaborators, friends -- and even her lone surviving relative, a niece who lives in Italy -- have gathered for a conference at St Vincent College in Latrobe, now headed by one of her senior aides, Jim Towey, also a former director of the White House Office for Faith-Based Initiatives.

The Benedictine college's website features a video of yesterday's press conference -- featuring, among others, her successor as head of the Missionaries of Charity Sr Nirmala Joshi -- and Ann Rodgers' take runs in today's Post-Gazette:
Couples who need help getting pregnant would do well to ask for the intercession of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, according to the priest who is leading the cause for sainthood of the woman known to the world as Mother Teresa.
"Even in her lifetime, if she met couples who were having trouble [conceiving], she would give them a miraculous medal and tell them to pray, 'Mary, mother of Jesus, give us a baby.' Most often, a year later, they'd come and say, look at our baby," said the Rev. Brian Kolodiejchuk, a member of her Missionaries of Charity and the postulator of her cause for canonization.

She died in 1997 and was beatified in 2003.

He is at St. Vincent College in Latrobe this weekend, along with Mother Teresa's successor as head of the Missionaries of Charity, Sister Nirmala Joshi, for a conference on her life. It is the first time since her funeral that her closest friends and associates have gathered to share their memories of her, said St. Vincent President Jim Towey, who was Mother Teresa's legal counsel for many years.

Father Kolodiejchuk, who is seeking a second and final miracle to secure her case for sainthood, believes that she still maintains a special interest in anything having to do with pregnancy and babies. For the Vatican to accept a miracle for sainthood, however, it must involve the inexplicable cure of a medically hopeless case.

The miracle that led to her beatification was the sudden healing of Monica Besra, a Bengali woman who had a stomach tumor that made her appear six months pregnant. She was visiting the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta on the first anniversary of Mother Teresa's death, when the superior took a medal of Mary that had been touched to Mother Teresa's body at her funeral, and placed it on Ms. Besra's swollen abdomen.

"She said, 'This is your day -- your anniversary. You love the poor, so do something for Monica,' " Father Kolodiejchuk said. "At 1 a.m. she got up and discovered her stomach was flat."

Father Kolodiejchuk is best known as editor of "Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light," the bestselling collection of her private letters. In them she frankly admitted that, for the last 50 years of her life, she felt deep pain because she could not sense God's presence.

People should not be surprised, Father Kolodiejchuk said, because for centuries the church has taught that a journey through the "dark night" is necessary for those on the way to mystical union with Jesus.

"The way that she lived her union was through that darkness. ... Her joy and smile required heroic and blind faith, and especially great and heroic love," he said.

He believes her experience will be an encouragement to many who struggle with the same feelings of abandonment by God. It's important to understand that her inability to sense God did not mean she lost her faith in God's existence, he said.

"It seems like she's even being rejected by Jesus. But at the same time, she is saying, 'If this is what you want me to do, then I'll do it for all eternity,' " he said of her suffering sense of abandonment.

The Missionaries of Charity order that she founded has grown since her death, from 3,842 sisters in 120 countries in 1997 to 4,823 sisters in 134 countries today. Currently there are 257 novices and 425 women in the prenovitiate, Sister Nirmala said. She corrected a reporter who asked her what it was like to follow in Mother Teresa's footsteps.

"It is walking in the footsteps of Jesus, together with Mother Teresa, as a child of God," she said.