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MOTHER TERESA
from issue no. 10 - 2007

In Father Sebastian’s house


Meeting with the Superior General of the Contemplative Missionaries of Charity, Father Sebastian Vazhakala. Ten years from the death of the Blessed of Calcutta a memory and small unpublished things


by Giovanni Cubeddu


The entrance of Casa Serena, the hostel for the poor, near Preneste square, in Rome, run by the Contemplative Missionaries of Charity

The entrance of Casa Serena, the hostel for the poor, near Preneste square, in Rome, run by the Contemplative Missionaries of Charity

The entrance of

The entrance of

«I arrived alone in Italy, Mother sent me. I came from Los Angeles, from the airport I went directly to Acilia, to a country house without water, without light or bathroom and toilet. The day after I wanted to go straight back to Los Angeles... and of the first “candidate missionaries” who presented themselves to me, little by little many of them left, one after the other. From Acilia I subsequently moved to a basement apartment near Termini station in Rome. Then I found this abandoned place, among the down and outs – there were then more than eight thousand – in Preneste square. In the beginning Mother wanted me to remain at Termini station, then once I managed to bring her here, she saw and was satisfied with my choice. The Cardinal Vicar Poletti was dubious, because the center in Preneste square was a ramshackle building... but I established myself there in any case, taking all the responsibility. It was 8 March 1979, and since then I have remained here. In the face of temptations and in moments of discouragement I have always tried to do as Mother advised me: “Look at the crucifix. Even if many have left, Jesus has never come down from the cross”. Mother persevered, in Jesus’ great love of her and in her great love of Jesus».
“Mother”, the simplest way to indicate Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Father Sebastian never uses another term – in very fluent Italian for a person born in India, in Kerala – while he gives a little of his time and his countless memories of the Mother. He heard her for the first time in March 1966, in Ranchi, as a philosophy student, and went to find her in Calcutta the following November. «We do the work that the Lord gives us», Mother Teresa still seems to repeat, in the memory of Father Sebastian, «it is not social work nor a humanitarian service: whatever we do for anyone, we do it for Jesus, we are called to serve the poorest among the poor. And also to lead a simple and poor life». Ten years have passed already since Mother, whose real name was Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, died, on 5 September 1997, and many have used the anniversary to recall her, having her so alive in their hearts. And so do we of 30Days.
Forty years ago Sebastian Vazhakala began his novitiate. Today he is the Superior General of the Contemplative Missionaries of Charity, an Order founded in 1979 by him and Mother Teresa herself. And in the house where Sebastian lives, with his fellow brothers, Mother Teresa also stayed, when she came to Rome to visit him. However her small room is now occupied by the many objects necessary to the daily life of the missionaries and above all of their guests, the poor, of no fixed abode. Who leave every morning to face the day as best they can, and in the evening re-enter one by one, for vespers, mass and the communal supper, before finding again, at least here, a place to lie down. The hostel of these poor people is called “Casa Serena”, and Sebastian still keeps the photo of Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa as they put their signature to the sheet on which this house was still only a beautiful project drawn in pencil. Mother Teresa not only signed, but also inserted a small blessing.
«Mother was a practical person, she did not “go round” but dealt with the things that occurred and at the same time comforted, always, those who had come to ask help of her. Once, accompanying me to the back of our Superior General’s house, where still today we Missionaries of Charity live in adoration of Jesus – Father Sebastian recounts – she said this phrase to me, that subsequently she composed as a prayer: “When I am suffering, send me one who is suffering more than me. When I am hungry, send me one who is hungrier than me. When I feel lonely, send me one who feels lonelier than me”. These meetings with the neediest were her comfort. They were the proof that the Lord, Himself, in person! was asking her to testify to His redemption». As happened in September of 1946, when – Mother Teresa recounted – the Lord asked her to leave the Order of the Loreto Nuns, to which she belonged, in order to care for the poorest among the poor, in Calcutta. That was her «call within the call».
The Missionaries of Charity received their first diocesan recognition as a Congregation in Calcutta in October 1950. Whereas Mother Teresa founded the male Order of the Missionaries of Charity later in 1963, (the Contemplative branch in 1979). «And the reason for its origin she herself explained very well», Sebastian who was an eyewitness resumes, «when she agreed to speak at the first General Chapter of the Missionaries in 1972. “We are not a Congregation set up to do great and important things”, she said, “but ordinary things with extraordinary love, simple things with great love. It is not success that counts, but our faith... I remember one of you who once came to me and said: Mother Teresa, my vocation is to serve the lepers. No, I answered him, your vocation is to belong to Jesus”».
Father Sebastian with Mother Teresa

Father Sebastian with Mother Teresa

In the chapel of the Superior General’s house, the same one where the guests of “Casa Serena” atttend mass, almost everything is the work of the patient and happy manual labor of the missionaries and their lay helper friends, they too founded by Sebastian with Mother Teresa in 1984. In the large square in front, a statue of Mary set on high, on a small iron turret, watches over the small corner of green and charity wrested until now from the aggressive advance of the surrounding buildings (and from the appetites of real estate agents). In the church, behind the altar, there is a crucifix, the same as in all the houses of the female and male Missionaries of Charity, where Jesus, at the culmination of his passion, says: «I thirst». Here everything reacquires sense and balance, even those painful letters of Mother Teresa on the distance of Jesus, on which lately some sectors of the press have concentrated. Father Sebastian comments: «I understand that it will perhaps take time to understand, but – may the Lord now help us to tell the truth – the truth is simple: Mother Teresa shared the poverty, material and spiritual, of each one of those that she met, because the Lord deemed it so for her. And the rich and the strong who do not have faith are just as poor as the derelicts of Calcutta. Indeed, even more so. There is such a terrible poverty in the West and in America, the frightful coldness and indifference of people, so self-centered and so proud... ». This is the coldness of the spirit, without Jesus, which she was asked to take on. And without Jesus there is only hell lying in ambush. «With my own eyes», Sebastian resumes, «I have seen powerful men approach her with moist eyes, or beginning to cry in front of her. Did they perhaps cry because moved in front of a woman lacking in faith? No, one is not moved in front of darkness. Mother Teresa wanted those who met her not to see her, but only Jesus, and, like Saint Teresa of Lisieux, Mother said she covered her own pains with a smile. And she smiled because one can be properly content also in the pains suffered for the Lord. And let’s close with all speculation here, because we can’t conceive of digging down down into her spirit: the joy of Mother Teresa, even in great suffering, suffered for the redemption of those who did not have faith, remains an unfathomable mystery, in the hands of God alone».
«Our poor are indeed great people. They give us much more than we give them» Mother Teresa once explained to a gathering of her followers in Los Angeles, in 1977. «And we must love them not by giving something which we have in abundance, but loving them until it hurts us». Then she illustrated well what she meant by “it hurts us”: the offering of a sacrifice, even small. Father Sebastian was also there and repeats what he heard from Mother Teresa: «Some time ago we didn’t have sugar in Calcutta and, I don’t know how, but everyone came to know that Mother Teresa didn’t have anymore sugar for her children! A small Hindu child, of only four years, went to his parents and said to them: “I won’t eat sugar for three days and I will give my sugar to Mother Teresa for her children”. His parents had never been in our house before then. I did not know them. They brought the child and he gave the sugar to me saying: “I haven’t eaten it for three days. Give this to your children”. That little one loved us with a great love, he loved us until it hurt».
«When I am charitable», Saint Teresa of Lisieux said – from whom Agnes Gonxha, taking her provisional vows in 1931 among the Loreto Nuns, decided to take her name – «it is Jesus alone who acts in me».
We have perhaps asked more than the due time of Father Sebastian. But to remember the Mother, however. Now he must resume his daily activity, that takes a Father General everywhere in the world in some measure. Meanwhile, in what was once an outlying district of Rome where he lives, the heads of household return in the afternoon, the poor that is, for whom the Eucharist must be celebrated and supper prepared. And so to appease the thirst of Jesus crucified.


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