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Mother Theresa By Those who Knew Her

Posted on September 1, 2016 By Fada Herbert in Interviews



Like many persons who never met Mother Teresa, the most I knew about her was obtained from books and documentaries. I still remember watching her funeral in 1999, and the inspiring homilies and quotes that became rife at the time. Ten years after, I read her inspiring biography Something Beautiful for God, by BBC Journalist Malcolm Muggeridge. I was moved as Muggeridge recounted the series of events that led a young Balkan girl to become a nun, found a new religious order, and become a heroic servant of the poor and dying, first in the streets of Calcultta, then all over the world. The fact that this biographer was a former atheist, made me know for sure, that Mother Teresa was not a saint for Catholics only! But my enthusiasm was nearly shattered when I watched another documentary in 2015, that tried to discredit Mother Teresa’s reputation, and her very love for the poor. One could almost ask a question: “Could the real Mother Teresa please speak up?” Then I secretly nursed the intention to meet someone who personally knew Mother Teresa, not for curiosity’s sake, nor to debunk the documentary which however, has largely been proven unreliable, but as some part of a faith journey. By some holy coincidence, the opportunity came last 17th July 2016, while on a short trip abroad. After celebrating Sunday Mass at St Margaret Mary Parish, Winter Park, Orlando Florida, Fr. Jarek…the assistant Pastor told me there was a sister in the neighbourhood who had served as Mother Teresa’s personal assistant. She was an Indian by name Kalyani Annamraju. Many things about Kalyani Annamraju liken her to Mother Teresa. In the mid 1970’s Annamraju was a privileged young Indian intellectual pursuing a doctorate in international political science in New Delhi. Then the writings of St Francis of Assissi and the life of Gandhi inspired her to give up her comfortable life. Speaking in another context, Kalyani recalls the beginning of her journey with Mother Teresa. “I saw Mother Teresa as a kindred soul to Gandhi. I read about her life. I wrote to her. I began to question my education. She responded. Her response was to come to Calcutta”. That was Kalyani’s call within a call, which made her drop everything, like over 5000 young people have done after her, to join the Missionaries of Charity in 1976, at the age of 25. She soon became Mother Teresa’s personal assistant, helping her manage correspondence. Driving with Fr. Jarek to Kalyani’s apartment felt like a short pilgrimage. Then one surprise led to the other. Kalyani relies on a wheelchair because of childhood polio and spinal injuries from a 1998 accident. This physical condition made her work in Calcutta’s steep slopes a difficult, and a scholarship offer brought her to the Orlando, USA. Her radiant smile that welcomed me was expressive of a certain inner joy, and the simplicity of her living room spoke volumes of a long life dedicated to evangelical poverty. Realizing I was from Cameroon, she quickly asked about the Missionary Sisters of Charity in Yaounde, and was consoled to hear that the terrorists attacks at the borders were under control. Though confined to a chair, her mind and prayers reached out to distant places. Lost in admiration, I had to be reminded that I had requested to interview her. I quickly picked out the first five questions. Her answers seemed to anticipate my next questions….

Fr Herbert: How are you awaiting the Canonization of Mother Teresa?

Kalyani: I want to prepare for the event in prayer, and make it an opportunity for a spiritual renewal. I will make a retreat, to begin with, because Mother Teresa’s example is so concrete and real for day to day life, especially the aspect of seeing and serving Jesus in every person we meet. Fr. Herbert: What will this canonization mean for the Missionary sisters of Charity? Kalyani: It is a call for Spiritual renewal. It is a chance for us all to look at our lives and to realize the example of Mother Teresa is an authentic way to live our christian calling, to belong to Jesus and be available to him, especially those who are suffering, spiritually and physically.

Fr. Herbert: While she was alive, Mother Teresa was careful about receiving awards, or receiving public recognition for the work she was doing. How do you think Mother Teresa (if she were alive) would have received this canonization?

Kalyani: To begin with, Mother Teresa she did not seek publicity or the centre stage. I remember especially that when was given the Noble Peace Prize. She publicly acknowledged that the award was not for her, but for who she represented – the poor. She took the award because she realized that it will help the cause of the poor, revealing them as examples of patience and fortitude. Besides, if Jesus in the poor was made better known, better loved, and better served, then she would take the award, despite the personal sacrifice it meant.

Fr. Herbert: Do you have some memoirs that can give more insight about this saint?

Kalyani: Mother Teresa and I had the same spiritual director, Fr. Vanixton, a Belgian missionary. When we were young novices, Fr. Vanixton used to tell us of Mother Teresa’s transforming call. Thinking of those days make me begin to miss her again. She used to be a very nervous or shy person. As a young novice, she sometimes had the duty to light candles on the altar before mass, and when everyone had gathered before Mass, she would be nervous or shy in doing that. Also, she didn’t like to be in the spotlight or take photos. When she allowed her pictures to be taken, she made a pact with our Lord to release a soul from purgatory for each photo taken! (smiling) This goes to show she was a very shy and humble person.

Fr. Herbert: How have things changed in the community since the death of Mother Teresa?

Kalyani: I believe they continue to live their lives as before, trying to be as very authentic and having as little for themselves as possible, so that they can give the most for the poor. But in terms of numbers, I won’t know if the recent world trends in drop of priestly vocations have also affected them, since I have not actively been in the community for a while.

Fr. Herbert Niba: Recently a whole community of Missionary sisters was wiped out by terrorists in Yemen.

What would Mother Teresa say to missionaries who live in a world that is increasingly more violent? Kalyani: “Continue to be faithful, continue to be with the people”. One of Mother Teresa’s priorities was being with people and suffering with them. She was not shy in taking risks like going to environments that were unsafe. Similarly, the sisters who were persecuted have not left that territory. That is why Pope Francis referred to the sisters who died as “martyrs”.

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Fada Herbert is a Roman Catholic priest of the Diocese of Buea. He is equally an author, songwriter and has written several articles in the areas of Philosophy, fiction, Religion and Society Follow him on Facebook, twitter and visit his website at www.mydailysong.net

Do you have any question for Fada Herbert? CLICK HERE or leave a comment below. Fada tries to answer every question he is asked
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