We are happy to post a beautiful and touching sharing of our dearest friend fr. Valerian, a Salesian Indian priest living in the State of Maharashtra, the the big city of Mumbai (Bombay) is located. He writes us on the occasion of the forthcoming and much waited for canonization of Mother Teresa of Kolkata, which will take place in St. Pietro next Sunday and will be presided by Pope Francis. this witness by Fr. Valerian ok one side makes us very grateful to him to have shared these direct experiences of knowing personally Mother Teresa, experiences that he keeps in his heart and as memories. On the other side we cannot but feel some regret for not being able – many of us – to meet this little yet big saint of our times. Let us pray that Mother teresa be closer to us with het maternal love and her intercession.
From India Fr. Valerian Pereira, sdb
Whoever said: to live with the saints in heaven is all honour and glory, but to live with the saints on earth is quite a different story, must be talking of pseudo-saints. Mother Teresa, who will be canonized by Pope Francis on 4th September 2016, to me was certainly no pseudo-saint, as a few biased critics make her out to be.
My first personal contact with this frail looking nun was at the Mumbai airport in 1987. As I walked through security into the departure lounge, I saw a crowd of passengers standing in awe and gazing at a person who was seated quietly, all by herself. As I got closer to the scene, I recognized Mother Teresa in her blue-bordered white sari and her simple wooden-handle shopping bag. Something within impelled me to approach her. With a gentle smile and a welcome nod, she invited me to sit down by her side and as I did, I introduced myself as a priest and a Salesian of Don Bosco. Right from the start of our brief conversation, she came across to me as very motherly. I told her I was in Pune and requested her for more than an “autograph” – a message for my community of young seminarians. This is what she wrote: “Teach your seminarians to find joy in sacrifice.” I was reminded of Mama Margaret’s words to her newly ordained son, John Bosco: “Remember, to be a priest is to begin to suffer.” Over the years, I have understood that “joy in sacrifice” is the essence of motherhood, just as it is of all true parenting. I have experienced its wisdom and have felt its challenge in my own attempts at being a Salesian priest and pastor.
Her precious time permitting, Mother Teresa attended the annual meetings of the CRI (Conference of Religious India). What impressed me was that though she sat through the sessions, mostly quiet and without pretensions, her humble presence and lively interaction with members of the assembly during breaks had a formative influence on us all.
But my best memory of Mother Teresa was a spiritual retreat I was invited to animate for the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta back in 1990. The retreatants were superiors of the many Missionaries of Charity communities in East Africa and Asia and their foundress was to attend as well. Mother Teresa arrived at the airport late night on the eve of the retreat. She was received warmly by a small group of sisters, and was treated respectfully by the immigration and customs officials. However, there was one problem. The young novice from Poland who accompanied Mother Teresa was held up at the immigration desk since, at that time, communist Poland had no diplomatic relations with India. The Chief Immigration Officer could not be immediately contacted for special clearance. The officer on duty suggested that Mother Teresa could proceed to her convent. The Polish sister, they assured her, would be well cared for while she awaited clearance. Mother Teresa remained with the sister saying: “You have held back my daughter and I must stay with her.” The Chief Immigration Officer was finally contacted by 2 a.m. and an entry permit was granted to the young novice. What a motherly testimony of “joy in sacrifice”!
The next morning, despite a sleepless night, Mother Teresa was punctually present at 7 a.m. in the chapel, for the first meditation conference of the retreat. She devoutly participated in all the liturgical services and listened attentively to the talks while seated in the last row. Overwhelmed by her humble presence, I concluded each talk by sitting by her side and inviting her to share her own reflections on the topic. She did so, humbly and reverently. While I preached from the front, from a pedestal of theory, she preached from the back pew with words incarnated in life-giving acts of selfless motherly love for the poor, sick and abandoned.
Preaching in the presence of a saint whom I always held in high esteem, was a privilege albeit embarrassing. Therefore, when she approached me with childlike confidence for spiritual guidance that was followed by her confession, my nervousness knew no bounds: I just could not remember the formula of absolution! Instead, Mother Teresa was one penitent who converted me into a repentant confessor.
At the end of the retreat, she thanked me profusely and graciously gifted a rosary for my own mother. She even accepted my request to visit Don Bosco Boys Town in Nairobi the following day. Unfortunately, she could not make it as she had caught the flu.
In a world terrorized and torn apart by forces of hate and destruction; in a society rife with crimes against the dignity of women the canonization of Mother Teresa on September 4 will stand out like a beacon of selfless motherly love. It will not only place her among the saints of the Catholic Church, but will inspire all people to recognize and respect God’s “motherly” countenance in the face of every woman who walks on our streets and lives in our homes.
May God’s Word, “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers and sisters, you do unto me”, find concrete expression in our lives as it did in the life of the great Missionary of Charity, the “Motherly Saint Teresa”.