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from issue no. 10 - 2003

The beatification of Mother Teresa of Calcutta

A pencil in the hands of God

An interview with Cardinal Saraiva Martins, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints: “Mother Teresa considered herself a simple tool in the hands of the Lord, or, to use a known expression of hers, “a pencil in his hands”. The merit is never that of the pencil, but of who writes: in this case, of God. From this deep conviction of hers sprang her boundless faith, the tenacious hope she put not in herself, her strength, but in divine grace”

by Gianni Cardinale

On Sunday 19 October Saint Peter’s Square will be filled with faithful from all over the world for the beatification ceremony of Mother Teresa of Calcutta. The event will be preceded by the celebrations for the 25th jubilee of the pontificate of John Paul II and will precede by two days the Consistory for the creation of thirty new cardinals announced by the Pope on 28 September.
The small Albanian nun will be elevated to the honors of the altars after one of the most rapid processes of beatification recorded. According to the rules in force, in fact, a cause of beatification can only begin five years after the death of the person in question. For Mother Teresa, instead, the Pope formally approved a dispensation that he had been asked for by the Prefect of the Congregation of the Causes of the Saints, Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, in his turn besought by many bishops and faithful throughout the world. Mother Teresa in fact died on 5 September 1997, so according to the rules her cause could not have begun before September 2002. Instead, at the end of 1998, after hardly more than a year, the Pope granted the dispensation, so permitting the start of the first phase of the process, the diocesan one. Meanwhile, on 5 September 1998, a miracle took place in India attributed to the intercession of Mother Teresa: the healing from a serious form of cancer of the young Monica Besra, an Animist by religion. The diocesan phase ended on 14 August 2001, when the then Archbishop of Calcutta, Henry S. D’Souza announced that the acts (76 volumes of 450 pages each) were being dispatched to Rome. In Rome then the process went swiftly ahead, until, between the end of September and early October 2002, in the space of a week, the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints approved the heroic virtues and the miracle. On 20 December 2002 then these decrees were solemnly promulgated in the Vatican, in the presence of the Pope.
On the cause for beatification and on the figure of Mother Teresa 30Days put some questions to 71 year-old Portuguese Cardinal Saraiva Martins, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints for the last five years.
Your Eminence, did you know Mother Teresa of Calcutta personally?
JOSÉ SARAIVA MARTINS: Yes, I met her several times. I remember the first time. I was Rector of the Pontifical Urbanian University and she came there on the occasion of the feast of Corpus Christi. Mother Teresa never made a mystery of her devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. Then I had reason to see her when I was Secretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education: she often came to visit us in our offices in Piazza Pio XII. My most intense memory perhaps goes back to when I had the pleasure of receiving the religious profession of a numerous group, they were more than a dozen, of missionary nuns of charity. The ceremony took place in San Gregorio al Celio and Mother Teresa herself was present, sitting on the floor, together with all the other nuns. Speaking with her was always a real evangelical lesson: her deep spirituality and her intense missionary spirit always emerged from her words.
José Saraiva Martins

José Saraiva Martins

What does the figure of the future saint represent for you?
SARAIVA MARTINS: Without doubt Mother Teresa is one of most eminent figures of the Church of our time. And she is a figure who exercised great fascination on believers, but also on the non-believers, throughout the world. At the basis of that fascination lay her extraordinary personality as woman and nun, her profoundly evangelic charisma, and the extreme relevance of her human and Christian message. A message that is essentially of love, of charity, toward her brethren, above all toward the poor, the young, the underprivileged. These were always her greatest treasures. To them she consecrated her whole life and energies. In all her intense apostolate among the poor, Mother Teresa never forgot the words of Jesus: “What you do to one of these my least brethren, you do unto me”. In the face of the poor and underprivileged she saw, sometimes disfigured, the face of Jesus Christ himself.
Mother Teresa woman of charity, but also of faith and hope…
SARAIVA MARTINS: Certainly. As well as charity a deep faith emerged in her, concrete, lived, existential. A faith that never faltered, not even in the long period of spiritual dryness with which God wanted to try her (on that point, however, it’s well to remember that other great mystical saints have had to face a similar ordeal). Mother Teresa, I said, had great humility and a total willingness to do the will of God. She considered herself a simple tool in the hands of the Lord, or, to use a known expression of hers, “a pencil in his hands”. The merit is never that of the pencil, but of who writes: in this case, of God. From this deep conviction of hers sprang her boundless faith, the tenacious hope she put not in herself, her strength, but in divine grace.
Stress has always been put on the fact that the family was dear to Mother Teresa’s heart
SARAIVA MARTINS: Certainly. She was very much aware of the extreme importance of the family for the Church and for society. In particular, as regards the Christian family, Mother Teresa stressed the need for the evangelical values to be lived within it. And she did so without an authoritarian and righteous tone. “A family that prays”, she said on the occasion of the first World Meeting of Families, “is a happy family”. These words of the Mother of the poor have kept all their force and urgency today. And they maybe have greater effectiveness than many pastoral schemes… Mother Teresa in fact said: “People must learn to pray together in the family: the fruit of prayer is faith, the fruit of faith is love, the fruit of love is service and the fruit of service is peace”.

The ceremony of the beatification of Mother Teresa will be celebrated in tandem with the 25th jubilee of the pontificate of John Paul II. Is it just a simple coincidence?
SARAIVA MARTINS: The television took the sublime tenderness of the figure of Mother Teresa along with that of John Paul II into every family, united in the celebration of life and among the crowds of young people packing squares and stadiums throughout the world. Mother Teresa in fact followed the pilgrim Pope through the streets of the world with that discretion and with that feminine silence that breed life. Who does not remember Paris, Denver, Rome… just to mention some of the stages in this shared passion for life and for young people? For that reason the fact that the beatification of Mother Teresa should occur in the 25th year of John Paul II’s pontificate is a providential fact, a gift of God to the Church. Personally, then, I’m very pleased for happy coincidence, and I can say that this Congregation has worked with particular effort to bring it about.
In effect the process of beatification of Mother Teresa has taken place in record time. Might the little Albanian nun be a saint with “pull”?
SARAIVA MARTINS: Immediately after the death of Mother Teresa, her fame for holiness washed over and animated the Christian world like a billow. A billow that in some way also washed into our Congregation, where significant witness to the holiness of the small nun of Calcutta arrived. Without cutting times and procedures, that require at least five years from the death of the servant of God, there was a dispensation in virtue of which it was possible to immediately begin gathering the documentation for the process, which followed the usual rhythms and procedures. Given the breadth and world-wide resonance of the cause, the Congregation provided the people bringing the cause forward with an official qualified with legal and linguistic experience; something that speeded up the passage to beatification. No “pull”, then. Simply that the department for the Causes of the Saints came to meet the “cry” of believers that rose up from every part of the world.
The media, and even the daily Avvenire (10 September), have hinted that “the notion of canonizing Mother Teresa on the very day of her beatification” was taken into consideration. But then – the daily of the Italian Bishops’ Conference said – the decision was “to follow the normal canonical procedure also for Mother Teresa”.
SARAIVA MARTINS: It’s certainly the case that during her earthly life Mother Teresa never sought privileges, or special treatment for herself.

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