The Spirituality of the Missionaries of Charity
The Spirituality of
the Missionaries of Charity
In her ministry to the poorest of the poor, Mother Teresa came across many people who wanted to help and those who needed help. To get in touch or remain in contact, people would usually print business cards and have them available upon request. On one occasion a business man asked Mother Teresa for her business card. She had never had a business card printed, so she proceeded to print and carry business cards to give to those with whom she came in contact. Ordinarily, business cards contain information such as name, address, phone number and email address. Mother Teresa’s business card was unique and most unusual. It contained the following five lines:
These five lines on Mother Teresa’s business card clearly defined her goal and mission. In the eyes of the business people, the business card contains no useful information whatsoever. But not so to Mother Teresa, her business card provides full and complete information on how to reach God, not her. Mother Teresa hopes that through these five steps she will be able to quench Christ’s thirst in the persons of the poorest of the poor.
4.2 THE FRUIT OF SILENCE IS PRAYER
Mother Teresa did not have many secrets; but whatever secrets she possessed; she readily and freely shared them with others. “I will tell you my secrets,” she said, “my secret is a very simple one: I pray.” Prayer has always been the hallmark for all the saints. Mother Teresa honestly and candidly admitted, “I don’t think there is anyone who needs God’s help and grace as much as I do.” Reflecting on her small and petite physique, she proudly boasted the fact that she could not depend on her own strength. That is the reason why God used her. She was proud to say that she had a dependency on God twenty four hours a day. She went on to say that if the day has more hours then she would need His help and grace during those hours as well. She humbly admitted that, “Without prayer she could not work for even half an hour,” she continued, “I get my strength from God through prayer.” She implored her sisters and anyone who would care to listen to cling to God through prayer. As blood gives life to the body, so prayer gives life to the soul. It feeds the soul and brings the soul closer to God. At the same time, prayer cleanses and purifies the heart.
Living in a world that has become increasingly noisy, Mother Teresa always began her prayer with silence where she quieted herself and made herself present to God for God is always presents to us. She believed that it is in the silence of the heart that God speaks. In her prayer, Mother Teresa believed what God says to us is what mattered and not what we say to God. So we need to listen to God. We can listen only when we are silent. She further elaborated, “If you face God in prayer and silence, God will speak to you. Then you will know that you are nothing. It is only when you realize your nothingness, your emptiness, that God can fill you with Himself.” In silence, new energy and unity will be achieved. Since our heart is often filled with worldly things, we cannot hear the voice of God. But once we learn to silence ourselves then our heart is filled with God. To achieve the true inner silence, Mother Teresa suggested the following spiritual exercises: silence of the eyes by seeking the beauty and goodness of God’s creations; silence of the ears by selectively listening to the voice of God and the cry of the poor and less fortunate; silence of the tongue by praising and thanking God for having enlightened and inspired us to peace, hope and love; silence of the mind by pondering on the truth and revelations of God revealed in the Scriptures; silence of the heart by loving God as He has loved us with all our heart, mind, soul and strength.
4.3 THE FRUIT OF PRAYER IS FAITH
Through her devout prayer life, Mother Teresa could clearly see God in creations such as nature and especially people. She humbly professed, “I have never for one moment doubted the existence of God but I know some people do.” She suggested letting Jesus use us without our consultation. We belong to Jesus so let Him take what He wants. This ardent faith allows Mother Teresa to live with a carefree attitude and it reflects in her ministry. The sole purpose of her Missionaries of Charity is to help the poorest of the poor in whom she always sees the Christ who is in disguise. She would not accept payment for her ministry not even one rupee. Everything she did was for Jesus. She believed if Jesus wants something to be done, He will give the means. If Jesus does not provide the means then He does not want that work done. What a wonderful childlike faith in God.
Mother Teresa went on to say that God is always with the Church. The Church gives ordained ministers in the person of the priest and the sacraments which nourish and give her strength to do her work. The Church, she insisted, is our larger family. In the family of the Missionaries of Charity, Christ is the head and He makes all the decisions. The Church of Christ is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. By being faithful to God and the Church and living out our Christian life, we will grow in faith. There have been numerous saints who have gone before us and their shining examples are recounted for us to follow. But Mother Teresa had always liked the ones with simplicity of heart like St. Theresa of Lisieux, the Little Flower of Jesus. She chose her for her patron saint because she transformed her ordinary works by her extraordinary love. Another way of growing in faith is through studying of Scripture. As St. Jerome says, “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.”
4.4 THE FRUIT OF FAITH IS LOVE
Through her inspiration which she received while riding on the train, Jesus had given her a mission of charity and by this love she and the Missionaries of Charity would make Jesus’ love known. By becoming poor the sisters would make the poor rich with the promises of divine life. Mother Teresa had a way to simplify the most complicated thing. “Everything,” she said, “depends on how we love each other.” Love is at the heart of sanctity and holiness. Love is what makes life worth living. She used to remind her sisters, “At the end of our lives, we will not be judged on what kind of cars we drove, how much money we made, or how many degrees we earned. At the end of our lives, we will be judged on love – on how well we put our love into living action.” Mother Teresa often used story telling to make a point. The first mission outside of India for the Missionaries of Charity was Venezuela. She did not ask for it but the land was given by a rich family from Cocorote to build an orphanage. On the occasion of her visitation to South America, she made a point to visit and thank the family. During her visit, she noticed their first born son was terribly disabled. She asked what the child’s name was. “Professor of Love,” the mother replied. She went on to explain that this sickly child has never ceased to teach them how to express love in action.
In her ministry to the poorest of the poor, Mother Teresa had witnessed and experienced poverty in its worst conditions. However, this does not prevent her from seeing a different kind of poverty from the West. When she looked at the West, she saw neither tall buildings nor luxurious automobiles, neither progress nor prosperity; instead, she saw something that ordinary eyes would miss. She saw spreading poverty of the heart and spirit. We are smothered by our desire to accumulate possessions, our love of money and the things money can buy. Mother Teresa concluded that the greatest disease in the West today is not TB or AIDS but it is the feeling of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for. Physical ailments and diseases can be cured with medications and treatments but the only cure or treatment for loneliness, despair and hopelessness is love. Indeed, there are many poor in the world dying for a piece of bread and a glass of water but there are many in the West dying due to lack of love. Thus, the poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty. It is a spiritual poverty. There is a great hunger for love and for God.
The spiritual need of love can be met only by people who pray and have a deep spiritual life. Mother Teresa acknowledged that there is much suffering in the world. Material suffering is the kind of suffering from lack of food, shelter and sickness. But she still believed that the greatest suffering is being lonely, feeling unloved or just simply having no one to journey with in life. Mother Teresa came to the conclusion that being unwanted is the worst disease that any human can ever experience. This kind of need can only be met by people who are deeply spiritual. Before leaving for their apostolic works, the Missionaries of Charity would begin the day with the same prayer from the community prayer book.
“Dear Lord, The Great Healer, I kneel before you,
Since every perfect gift must come from you.
I pray, give skill to my hands, clear vision to my mind,
kindness and meekness to my heart.
Give me singleness of purpose, strength to lift
up part of the burden of my suffering fellow men,
and a true realization of the privilege that is mine.
Take from my heart all guile and worldliness
That with the simple faith of a child,
I may rely on you.”
4.5 THE FRUIT OF LOVE IS SERVICE
For those who are often mistaken her work as social service works, Mother Teresa took the time to clarify her works and that of the social workers. She insisted, “We are not social workers. We may be doing social work in the eyes of some people, but we do it for Jesus.” For Mother Teresa, her service to the poor is the result of her love in action and this love in action is possible only through prayer. She recounted the occasion when God called her to be a Missionaries of Charity, “I could not have been a Missionaries of Charity,” Mother Teresa told her sisters, “If I had passed by when I saw and smelt that woman who was eaten up by rat – her face, her legs. But I returned, picked her up and took her to the hospital. If I had not, the Society would have died. Feelings of repugnance are human but if I see the face of Jesus in his most distressing disguise, I will be holy.”
In order to show more of the fruits of love in action which is service, it is helpful to know the flavor of the work of the Missionaries of Charity. In the area of apostolic work, the sisters teach Sunday schools – catechism, lead bible study groups, visit hospitals, nursing homes and prisons. In medical care, the sisters run clinics for HIV/AIDS patients, homes for abandoned children and homes for the sick and dying destitute. In educational service, the sisters teach primary school in the slums. They also teach trades such as sewing, commercial and handicrafts. All these are done in response to Christ’s judgment of the nations:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did it for me.’” Matthew 25:31-40.
Mother Teresa reminded her sisters that while they lovingly help Christ in the poor; they are not merely performing a social service. Instead, they are doing it like contemplatives in the world. Not everyone agrees with Mother Teresa and her sisters’ way of helping the poor. When someone told her that what the sisters did was irrelevant, that they limited themselves to things that were little less then ordinary, Mother Teresa simply replied that even if her sisters helped only one person that would be enough reason for their work. One of her favorite and most famous response, which is often quoted by today’s Missionaries is, “God does not demand that I be successful. God demands that I be faithful. When facing God, results are not important. Faithfulness is what important.”
4.6 THE FRUIT OF SERVICE IS PEACE.
Peace is what Jesus gives to the Apostles on that first Easter. We too are recipients of this peace through the Holy Spirit, given at our baptism and confirmation. The peace of Jesus is unlike the peace of this world. The peace of Christ is not about an absence of war and conflict but a peace which can only be given by Christ. Governments of the world spend hundred of billions of dollars annually to attain and maintain a temporary peace; yet it is futile, for wars and conflicts are rampant in most parts of the world. It is not worldly peace that Mother Teresa was after but the peace that Christ gives to the world. She believed the works done out of love were indeed works of peace. When love is shared with others, there exists a sense of peace among people. Wherever there is peace, there is God. Peace is God’s way of touching our lives and showing his love for us by pouring peace and joy into our hearts.
Peace, according to Mother Teresa, is a natural born right along with happiness. God has created us for this very purpose to be happy. Happiness and peace can be found only in God. On this topic of peace, Mother Teresa shrewdly borrowed from St. Francis of Assisi his popular prayer – Make Me an Instrument of Your Peace:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to
be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Mother Teresa reflected that her works of love are merely works for peace. She went on to elaborate Christ’s saying at the judgment of the nations from the gospel of St. Matthew: “I was hungry.” Here Jesus is hungry not for food but for the peace that comes from a pure heart. “I was thirsty.” Jesus does not only need water to quench his thirst but for peace that satiates the passionate thirst. “I was naked.” Jesus talks not only about needing clothes but also about the beautiful dignity of men and women. “I was homeless.” Jesus refers to not only for shelter made of bricks and stones but for the heart that cares in loving actions. Mother Teresa concluded with one last message of peace and that is to love one another as God loves each one of us. Jesus came to preach to us the good news that God loves us and that He wants us to love one another. Throughout his earthly ministry, Jesus went about healing, curing and feeding the sick and suffering, the hungry and thirsty. We too must follow Jesus’ example to tend to the poor and less fortunate in our midst. Hopefully when the time for us to die and go home to God again, it will be wonderful to hear God say to us, “Come and posses the Kingdom prepared for you because I was hungry and you gave me to eat; I was naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you visited me. Whatever you did to the least of my brothers you did it to me.”
4.7 MOTHER TERESA’S DEVOTION TO THE EUCHARIST AND THE BLESSED SACRAMENT
Growing up in a devout Catholic family, Mother Teresa was faithfully taught the Catechism of the Church, the love of the Eucharist and the devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. For Mother Teresa, a total commitment to Christ can only be through the Church, its teaching and dispensing from its altars of the Blessed Sacrament. All three synoptic Gospels recount the events of the Last Supper. Jesus chose the occasion of the Passover to give his disciples his Body and Blood.
“When the hour arrived, he took his place at table, and the apostles with him. He said to them: ‘I have greatly desire to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. I tell you, I will not eat again until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.’ Then taking a cup he offered a blessing in thanks and said: ‘Take this and divide it among you; I tell you, from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the coming of the reign of God.’ Then, taking bread and giving thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying: ‘This is my body to be given for you. Do this as a remembrance of me.” He did the same with the cup after eating, saying as he did so: ‘This is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you.”
Thus, each day Mother Teresa and her sisters meet Jesus; first at Mass where they derive sustenance and strength; then in each anguish and suffering soul they tend to or care for. The day begins for Mother Teresa and her sisters with prayers and meditation at 4:30 am, followed by Mass. Mother Teresa attributed all the Missionaries of Charity is able to do what they do, commit themselves to Christ with undivided heart of chastity, through the perfect freedom of poverty, in selfless obedience and in total service to the poorest of the poor, to the Eucharist. Mother Teresa confidently prophesized, “I am convinced that as long as the Sisters are faithful to poverty and the Eucharist, and also to the poor, the Congregation will not run into any danger.”
Catholicism, according to Mother Teresa, has always been a religion of the God who hides in human form. His face is the face of our neighbors. He reveals himself in humble things and people such as a glass of water for the thirsty, a piece of bread for the hungry. Catholics believe that by the mystery of the Incarnation, Christ has forever joined himself to every human being who was born, is born or yet to be born. Mother Teresa continued to reflect on the beautiful opening chapter of the Fourth Gospel: “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.” The Christian story is simply and endless presentation of this process of the Word becoming flesh and dwelling gracefully and truthfully among us.” To put this in practical terms, Jesus is present in everyone we meet whether young or old, rich or poor. Thus in the poor, there is a special presence of Jesus. The Eucharist is the sacrament that clearly revealed to us the most visible presence of Christ. In the Eucharist, Jesus gives His life to us in His ultimate sacrifice. Here, Jesus shows us His love. In the poor, Jesus waits for us to give our lives to Him, to show how much we love Him. Mother Teresa explained there is an intricate connection between the presence of Jesus and the presence of Jesus in the persons of the poor, “In Holy Communion we have Christ under the appearance of bread. In our work, we find him under the appearance of flesh and blood.” There is but one and the same Jesus at the altar of praise and in the persons of the poorest of the poor in the slums.
Throughout the centuries, there have been countless saints who have gone before us and expounded on the miracle of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist and the mystery of Christ’s presence in the poor. Not often the saints connected the two. But Mother Teresa in her simple and humble way had made the connection between the two. “For her, our failure to see Christ in the beggar was a sign that we had lost our ability to find Him in the Eucharist…He comes in the rotting bodies of the poor…Jesus comes to you and me. And often, we pass by Him.” In the beginning, the Eucharist was intended: first, to create a communion between God and His people; second, to create unity within the body of Christ in sharing and giving between rich and poor. Mother Teresa wanted to reawaken us to the original intent of the Eucharist, to start living the Mass, to see the Eucharist as the sacrament of love between the Creator and His creatures and sharing our lives with each other and to find Jesus’ presence in the consecrated host and in the poor and suffering on the streets.
Mother Teresa put great emphasis on the devotion of the Eucharist because Jesus dwells in the form of bread and wine to meet and satisfy our desire and love for him. This is why Mother Teresa and her sisters need to be closely linked to the Eucharist. They begin their day with the holy mass and communion. At the end of a long day after serving and caring for Jesus in the persons of the poor, they conclude the day with holy adoration which unites them with Jesus and with the poor in whom they minister to. This is what makes them contemplatives in the heart of the world; for they are twenty four hours then in Jesus’ presence: at mass, in the hungry, naked, homeless, unwanted, unloved and uncared for. The life of contemplation must contain the following characteristics: “Being missionaries: by going out physically or in spirit in search of souls all over the world; being contemplatives: by gathering the whole world at the very center of our hearts where the Lord abides; being universal: by praying and contemplating with all and for all, especially with and for the spiritually of the poorest of the poor.”
4.8 MOTHER TERESA’S DESIRE TO SATIATE CHRIST’S CRY, “I THIRST!”
Jesus in his great love and immense desire to save us willingly suffered on the Cross. While suspending between heaven and earth and enduring the agony of the Cross, Jesus uttered seven last sayings. “I thirst,” is considered as one of the seven last words of Christ while dying on the Cross. To the unbeliever, they are probably mistakenly seen as a cry for water for a person who loosed a lot of blood and was often dehydrated. A thirsty person would naturally want water to drink. But to believers, the saying has a much deeper meaning. Archbishop Fulton Sheen eloquently expounded on this saying, “At the moment when Our Savior resumes His sermon, it is not a curse upon those who crucify Him, not a word of reproach to the timid disciples at the border of the crowd, not a cry of scorn to the Roman soldiers, not a word of hope to Magdalene, not a word of love to John, not a word of farewell to His beloved mother. It not even to God at this moment! Out of the depths of the Sacred Heart there wells through parched lips one awful word: “I thirst!” Christ who dies on the Cross for love has exhausted Himself. There is nothing more that Christ could do. Having poured all of his water of everlasting love, Jesus cries out for love of us.
When Mother Teresa read this word from St. John, she understood Jesus is parched with thirst in the persons of the poor. She felt the need to satiate Christ’s thirst. Mother Teresa readily admitted that this saying of Jesus is what defined her mission. Mother Teresa used the saying, “I thirst!” as a battle cry for the formation and existence of the Missionaries of Charity when she said, “For me it is so clear – everything in the Missionaries of Charity exists only to satiate Jesus.” In all the chapels where the Missionaries of Charity pray and worship, one of the walls would bear the inscription of the call of our Lord, “I thirst!” “In Yemen, “I thirst,” in English and Arabic. In Gaza, “I thirst,” in English and Hebrew. In Rome, “I thirst,” in English and Italian. In every house of ours, you enter the chapel and you see, “I thirst!” It is the call of Jesus. We exist to console Jesus, to quench His thirst for love. It is our function, our aim.
The many works which the Missionaries of Charity performs to satiate Jesus’ thirst are the direct testament to the spirituality of Mother Teresa: silence, prayer, faith, love, service and peace. Her spiritual insight that leads to the connection between presence of Christ in the Eucharist and the poor enables her to embrace the poorest of the poor that most people would avoid or feel repulsed by. Even with all the wonderful service she offers for the poorest of the poor, Mother Teresa still feels her love for God is inadequate comparing to God’s love for her. This sentiment is reflected in one of her favorite devotional song Only a Shadow:
The love I have for you, my Lord
Is only a shadow of your love for me,
Your deep abiding love.
My own belief in you, my Lord
Is only a shadow of your faith in me,
Your deep and trusting faith.
My life is in your hands.
My love for you will grow, my Lord.
Your light in me will shine.
The dream I have today, my Lord,
Is only a shadow of your dream for me,
If I but follow you.
The joy I feel today, my Lord,
Is only a shadow of your joys for me,
Only a shadow of all that will be
When we meet face to face.
The feeling of the need to respond to God’s love increases Mother Teresa’s desire to quench Christ’s thirst. Mother Teresa’s goal to quench Christ’s thirst might start in Calcutta but that desire has overflowed Calcutta to countries all over the world. The next chapter will highlight Mother Teresa’s presence in Vietnam.
Mother Teresa’s Presence
Mother Teresa’s ministry among the poorest of the poor has firmly taken its root in Calcutta. Some bishops in neighboring dioceses have either witnessed her works personally or by referral requested Mother Teresa to establish houses in their dioceses. This is not only true in India but also in many countries of the world. The first country Mother Teresa ventured to outside the walls of Calcutta was Venezuela. To her surprise the Holy Father invited her to open a house in Rome. This invitation excited Mother Teresa more than most. Gradually, the Missionaries of Charity were invited to Australia. She even sent the sisters to the Middle East to Asia such as China and Vietnam. This brief chapter will focus mainly on Mother Teresa’s invitation to Vietnam, the arrival of the Missionaries of Charity, the leave taking in 1975 and the eventual return of the Missionaries of Charity.
5.2 BEYOND CALCUTTA
According to Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity, Calcutta was their Jerusalem. Even with all its poverty and despair, Calcutta was the starting point for their apostolate. The seed of charity was planted there and the roots had taken a firm hold but the tree was to spread its branches and bear fruit in many parts of the world. Their Constitutions obligated them to bring the Good News to the poorest of the poor. This is the sign that the Kingdom of God is at hand. Once, Mother Teresa was asked, “Why do you go abroad? Don’t you have enough poor in India?” So she answered, “Jesus told us to go and preach to all the nations. That is why we go to all over the world and preach His love and compassion.” The first invitation beyond the wall of Calcutta was from the bishop in Venezuela. Mother Teresa was so thrilled that she promised to send the best of sisters to start the first foundation in Latin America. Mother Teresa had hoped to draw vocation from within the country itself, so that from Venezuela they could move into neighboring countries in South America.
Mother Teresa was not easily impressed by people for everything she did was out of love for God. But she was thrilled when the Holy Father extended an invitation for her Missionaries of Charity to open a house in Rome. However, after spending some time reflecting on this invitation, she saw it as a sacred duty imposed by the Holy Father, who had befriended the community. With renewed courage, Mother Teresa and her sisters ventured into hostile territory of the Middle East. But she did not see it as a deterrent; instead, she looked at it as an opportunity to tread on the land where our Lord has once treaded, preached and worked miracles. Christianity, reflected Mother Teresa, started from Jerusalem and had spread to every corner of the world. It is only natural now that the Christian faith returned to its source.
Having reached Jerusalem, Mother Teresa set her eyes on Asia, namely China and Vietnam. In March 1994, Mother Teresa set out for China in secret. She did not want publicity to jeopardize her mission. When she was in China someone asked her, “What is a communist to you?” Mother Teresa said, “A child of God, my brother, my sister.” She went on to explain, “And exactly that is what you and I are meant to be, brothers and sisters. If we have the joy of seeing God in each other, we will love one another. That’s why no color, no religion, no nationality should come between us for we are all the children of the same loving hand of God.” But her mission proved to be unsuccessful when China failed in its bid to host the Olympic Games; the government became less open to Mother Teresa and her mission. China was the primary objective for Mother Teresa and still is the main priority for the Missionaries of Charity today.
5.3 THE INVITATION, ARRIVAL, LEAVE TAKING AND EVENTUAL RETURN TO VIETNAM
Although Mother Teresa’s focus was in China, she has already made her presence felt in Vietnam. In the early months of 1972, Archbishop Paul Nguyen Van Binh who was the archbishop of Saigon at the time extended an invitation to Mother Teresa and her Missionaries of Charity to come to Vietnam and minister to the poorest of the poor in Saigon. On July 1972, Mother Teresa sent seven brothers of the Missionaries of Charity from India to Vietnam. Accompanied them was Father Andre who led the way. Archbishop Paul Binh purchased two homes on Cong Quynh Street for the brothers of Missionaries of Charity to reside in. Almost immediately, the brothers started their ministry to the homeless, the sick and suffering whom they found on street corners. Unfortunately on April 30, 1975, the Democratic South Vietnam fell into the hands of the Communist North Vietnam. Subsequently, fearing for their own safety, the brothers of the Missionaries of Charity had to flee Vietnam to Hong Kong.
The changing of the political face of Vietnam could not stem or tamper the flame of love Archbishop Paul Binh felt for the mission of Mother Teresa and her Missionaries of Charity. Patiently waiting until the political dust settled in Vietnam, Archbishop Paul Binh formed a group which made up of women with medical skills to continue the ministry of serving the poorest of the poor according to the spirituality of Mother Teresa. They would hold monthly or quarterly meeting to pray, read from the Constitution of the Missionaries of Charity and discuss their pastoral work among the poorest of the poor. They silently worked in the hospital to tend to the sick and dying. They secretly took communion to the sick and shut in. To those who could not afford to be in the hospital due to the desperate conditions after the war, the women anonymously gave out of their own pocket to buy medications for the sick.
In 1979, the close-knit group of women was officially formed and recognized as a religious society with about 20 members. Archbishop Binh was present when he received the vows of two sisters who vowed to minister to the poorest of the poor according to the spirituality of Mother Teresa. These two sisters are Sister Mary Frances Ha Thi Thanh Tinh and Sister Edward Doan Thi Bach Hao. These two sisters were originally from the sisters of Nazareth, today they are known as Servants of Christ’s Priesthood. Archbishop Paul Binh had intended that when opportunity presented itself, he would have them join the Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity. Archbishop Paul Binh wrote to Mother Teresa in Calcutta asking her to accept the 20 sisters into her society. Mother Teresa asked Archbishop Paul Binh to wait until she could come to Vietnam. It wasn’t until 1991 that Mother Teresa was granted a visa to come to Vietnam. However, she could not visit Saigon but only Hanoi (Capital of North Vietnam). Her trip proved productive for the North Vietnamese Government met with her and allowed her and her sisters to come to minister to the poor in North Vietnam. Two years went by before Mother Teresa could return to Vietnam. On the 5th of November of 1993, Mother Teresa came to Vietnam for a second time. Similar to the time when she went to China without fanfare, Mother Teresa came to Vietnam in secret. This time she was allowed to come to Saigon. Accompanying her were Sister Nirmala (Present day Superior General of the Missionaries of Charity) and Dr. Janette. Since she came in secret, nobody was there to greet her at the airport except for a consullate from India whose office is located in HCMC. The reason he was the only one there because no one else knew of Mother Teresa’s arrival to Vietnam except for his wife who told him about it. The consulate then informed his vietnamese secretary whose name is Nguyen Thi Thanh Nga to go to the airport with him. They took Mother Teresa to Doc Lap Hotel. Once she arrived at the Hotel, Mother Teresa handed him a note containing the name and address of Sister Mary Frances Ha Thi Thanh Tinh. She asked the consulate’s secretary Nguyen Thi Thanh Nga to find Sister Mary Frances Tinh and Sister Edward Hao to come and meet her at the hotel. Once sisters Mary Frances and Edouard arrived, Mother Teresa had a long conversation with them and told them how she wanted to come to Vietnam sooner but could not because of the instability within the country. After the meeting, Mother Teresa requested a meeting with Archbishop Paul Binh. However, he was not home at the time for he was resting in Vung Tau. Father John Baptist Huynh Cong Minh, the general vicar notified the Archbishop and he agreed to meet with her on the 7th of November.
Prior to her meeting with Archbishop Paul Binh, Mother Teresa and Sister Nirmala, who succeeded Mother Teresa as superior general, came to visit the 20 sisters who resided at 428 Huynh Van Banh, Ward 14, Phu Nhuan District. Mother Teresa joined the sisters in their daily Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. After adoration hour was over, Mother Teresa presided over the ceremony of giving the Constitution of the Missionaries of Charity, prayer books and rosaries to the 20 Vietnamese sisters. All 20 Vietnamese sisters were accepted into the Missionaries of Charity. Mother Teresa also announced the good news about how the immigration office had granted permission to eight sisters of the Missionaries of Charity to work among the handicapped and orphans in Vietnam. During their visit to Vietnam, Mother Teresa and Sister Nirmala spent most of their time with the 20 Vietnamese sisters to visit and dine with them.
The eight sisters of the Missionaries of Charity from India were divided into two groups. One group ministered in Hanoi and the other in Saigon. The four sisters in Saigon assisted at the orphanage at 38 Tu Xuong, District 3, Saigon. These sisters’ names were: Srs. Joya, Mary Lourdes, Brenda and Gloriana. They would come by and visit the 20 Vietnamese sisters at 428 Huynh Van Banh every Thursday to socialize with them. The Vietnamese sisters treated them to Vietnamese food as it was the only food available. The sisters from India seemed to like it; at least they did not complain. The other fours sisters from India worked with the handicapped children at Thuy An, Ba Vi District, Hanoi. The sisters’ names were: Srs. Collete, Lee Foong, Desiree and Homini. In accordance with the agreement, Mother Teresa requested the Vietnamese Government to provide a priest to offer daily Eucharist at least four times a week. But due to the shortage of priests, the government could not find any priest to offer daily mass for the sisters. The government; however, would try to accommodate the sisters by having a driver to take the sisters to Hung Hoa Parish but it was far in between. Mother Teresa expressed concerns about the lack of spiritual sustenance for the sisters.
She proceeded to ask the government for permission to open a house at 428 Huynh Van Banh, Ward 14, Phu Nhuan District, Hochiminh City by sending a letter to the Secretary of Religious Affairs in Hanoi. Mother Teresa also requested the government to recognize the 20 Vietnamese sisters as aspirants of her congregation. She asked permission for 7 Vietnamese sisters to leave for India where they could further participate in the formation of the Missionaries of Charity.
Surprisingly, the government which once receptive not only did they refuse Mother Teresa’s request to move the house at 428 Huynh Van Banh but also demanded Mother Teresa and the sisters of the Missionaries of Charity leave Vietnam immediately. Without any sign or explanation given, the Vietnamese government expelled Mother Teresa and her sisters from Vietnam. Having served the poorest of the poor in Vietnam for 20 months, Mother Teresa did not want to give up without a fight. On December 20 1995, Mother Teresa and Sister Nirmala flew to Hanoi to meet with government officials and request permission to stay. But the government did not sway from their previous decision. With a broken heart, Mother Teresa had to leave Vietnam. She and her sisters departed from Vietnam to India on December 23, 1995. A month prior, the government in China also refused to extend the visas for the Missionaries of Chariry to remain and minister in China. Perhaps, it was a mere coincidence that the government of Vietnam also did the same. Before leaving, Mother Teresa consoled the 20 Vietnamese sisters that perhaps it was God’s will. She added, “The seeds have been sown and one day you will reap the fruits.” In May, 1996 Mother Teresa sent a letter to the Bishop Nicolas Huynh Van Nghi (Apostolic Administraror) soliciting him to form a congregation for the Vietnam sisters which was belong to the Archdiocese of Sai Gon. Bishop Nicolas Huynh Van Nghi along with Mother Teresa gave the Vietnamese sisters a new name. They were to be called the Missionaries of Christ’s Charity.
Responding to the calling of Jesus in the Gospel to spread the good news to the ends of the world, Mother Teresa and her Missionaries of Charity saw Calcutta as their Jerusalem from where their ministry would flourish. From Calcutta, the Missionaries of Charity branched out to Venezuela, North America, Rome, Middle East, and Asia. Although, not all of her dreams were realized, the seeds of her ministry to serve the poorest of the poor were sown and awaiting the rain of grace to sprout up at the proper time. Vietnam was one of the many countries which benefited from Mother Teresa’s presence and ministry. Not wanting to leave the 20 Vietnamese sisters orphaned, Mother Teresa asked Bishop Nicolas Huynh Van Nghi (administrator of the Archdiocese of Saigon). Mother Teresa gave them her blessing to live according to her spirit. The Bishop Nicolas and Mother Teresa, they gave the Vietnamese sisters a new name which is known today as the Missionaries of Christ’s Charity. Renewed in the spirit of Mother Teresa, the 20 Vietnamese sisters proudly bore the name as Missionaries of Christ’s Charity. They went about searching and serving the poorest of the poor wherever they are found. The next chapter will dwell into the formation of the Missionaries of Christ’s Charity in Saigon, Vietnam.
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