September 4, 1998


A Year After Mother Teresa's Death, Her Order is Flourishing

By Neelesh Misra
ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER

CALCUTTA, India — "Mother Teresa: In," says a wooden board on the wall outside Mother House.

Inside the three-story, gray-washed building, nuns in the familiar blue-bordered white saris bow their heads at her marble tombstone, decorated with orange flowers and candles. Then they step out into Calcutta's traffic-clogged streets.

Mother Teresa may have died, but their mission remains the same: Rescuing the suffering, destitute and dying from Calcutta's nooks and alleys.

In homes the nuns run across the teeming city, volunteers flit around patients' beds tending worm-eaten limbs, festering wounds and leaking bladders. At orphanages and schools, children swarm around matrons, laughing and puffing at colorful balloons.

When Mother Teresa died last Sept. 5 at age 87, some people feared the Missionaries of Charity would shrivel without her dynamic leadership.

But the order is thriving and expanding under her successor, Sister Nirmala, a Hindu-born Indian convert to Roman Catholicism. The 4,000-nun order has added nearly 20 new centers since its founder's death and will have 614 homes around the world by year's end.

Charitable contributions and other donations have increased since Mother Teresa died, the order says, although its books are not open to the public.

"It's God's work," Sister Nirmala said in a rare interview at Mother House. "If it was Mother's work, maybe in course of time it would have happened, but since it is God's work, it is the same."

Sister Nirmala was elected superior general of the order six months before Mother Teresa, its founder, died. Despite Mother Teresa's support, she began her six-year tenure with several disadvantages.

She stepped into one of the most visible positions in the Catholic Church outside the Vatican, but few people except her nuns could even identify her.

There were fears she would be overshadowed by more senior nuns, several of whom had been seen over the years as possible successors to Mother Teresa and who handled most of the day-to-day administration.

Sister Nirmala, 64, has emerged with her own distinctive style, keeping the superior-general the pivot of the order but delegating powers to her four counselors.

"The order is going on in the same direction, the direction that Mother Teresa gave it," said the Rev. Edward le Joly, an 89-year-old Jesuit priest who worked with Mother Teresa for 40 years.

"The new superior-general does not have the gifts and graces which Mother Teresa had," he added. "But she does not need them, because the congregation goes on according to the laws of the Catholic Church and carries on in the spirit of Mother Teresa."

Sister Nirmala's toughness was tested in a controversy over the first anniversary of Mother Teresa's death.

A group of Calcutta devotees formed a Mother Teresa Memorial Committee. It opened a bank account and collected donations from corporations to mark the anniversary by erecting a statue and naming a street after her.

Sister Nirmala called a news conference and, in a statement packed with politeness as well as punch, slammed the fundraising in Mother Teresa's name.

"Mother belongs to everybody, but she has vested her name in the Missionaries of Charity," Sister Nirmala said in the interview. "We have lived the life she has lived — we are her sisters — so this name has to be protected from misuse."

But she knows the order cannot shield Mother Teresa's name from use across the world, either by well-intentioned admirers or by unscrupulous people seeking handouts.

"We are considering allowing the use of Mother's name by schools, colleges and institutions, provided they are ready to abide by certain conditions that will be stipulated," Sister Nirmala said.

She also expresses determination to be aggressive on issues that were close to Mother Teresa's heart, such as opposing abortion and birth control.

"We believe in the same way and whenever it is necessary, whenever there is an opportunity, we will surely" speak out, Sister Nirmala said.

The order has also begun identifying miracles attributed to Mother Teresa that will help the Vatican begin the process of canonization, the first step towards declaring her a saint. Documents relating to these miracles are being sent to the Pope for verification.

One of these miracles reportedly happened in the United States, the nun said. A French woman broke several ribs in a car accident, but her injuries miraculously healed when she wore a Mother Teresa medallion around her neck.

The Roman Catholic Church requires that two miracles attributed to the candidate be confirmed by the Vatican before canonization. The canonization process does not usually begin till five years after the candidate's death.

Some old associates of the order say it may evolve as years pass, with the rigid austerity identified with Mother Teresa becoming more flexible.

"After some years, it is always possible that they'll want to modernize certain aspects of their life and work," Le Joly said, noting that Mother Teresa herself "changed her ways and adapted the dress and the style of life of the poor Bengali people."

But the philosophy of the old, bent nun who became one of the best known women on Earth will guide the hundreds of orphanages, soup kitchens, homeless shelters and clinics she started around the world.

"The sisters are doing the job they were doing earlier, but the charisma of Mother Teresa was special," said an Italian volunteer cleaning a young boy's infected legs at one of the order's homes. "We miss Mother, but life goes on," he said.

 

MOTHER TERESA'S NUNS BEGINNING PUSH FOR SAINTHOOD

CALCUTTA, India (AP) - The Missionaries of Charity order have begun identifying miracles attributed to Mother Teresa that will help the Vatican begin the process of canonization, the first step towards declaring the revered nun a saint, a nun at her charity said Friday.

"We have received a number of miracle documents and we are processing these for submission before the Pope for verification," said the nun who did not wish to be identified.

One of these miracles reportedly happened in the United States, the nun said. A French woman broke several ribs in a car accident, but her injuries miraculously healed when she wore a Mother Teresa medallion around her neck.

The Archbishop of Calcutta, Father Henry D'Souza said this miracle would be documented and sent to the Pope. The case for canonization can be initiated by the bishop in the diocese where the candidate died, which is Calcutta.

The Roman Catholic Church requires that two miracles attributed to the candidate, in this case, Mother Teresa, be confirmed by the Vatican before canonization. Ordinarily, the miracles can come after the candidate's death, such as curing an ill believer or answering a supplicant's prayers.

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