When Mother Teresa came to small-town Canada

Posted by on Sep 4, 2016 in Brian's Blog | 0 comments

Many viewed Mother Teresa as a saint for her humanitarian work among the poor. Today, Pope Francis made it official. He canonized her in a public ceremony at the Vatican.

She died 19 years ago tomorrow. I did a column on her for the Calgary Herald, recalling a visit she had made to small-town Alberta in 1982. Copied below is what I wrote.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta; 1986 at a public pro-life meeting in Bonn, Germany. By © 1986 Túrelio (via Wikimedia-Commons),

Mother Teresa of Calcutta; 1986 at a public pro-life meeting in Bonn, Germany. By © 1986 Túrelio (via Wikimedia-Commons)

From deep within her wrinkled, nut-brown face, her dark eyes looked wisely and sadly out on a world which often does not care about the orphans, the refugees, the maimed, the dying, and the lepers to whom she dedicated her life.

All the honors the world could bestow would not take away for long that look of sorrow and compassion from the face of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, one of the most beautiful spirits of the 20th century.

When she received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, her comment was typical: “I am unworthy.” In her quiet voice, she left no doubt that care for the suffering and the dying was all that mattered to her. The Nobel Prize, she said, would serve as a bridge to help the poor. When a Calcutta beggar donated to her his entire day’s take – a few coins in a metal bowl – she said the gift meant more to her than the Nobel Prize. “He gave me everything that he had.”

Albertans got a once-in-a-lifetime chance to meet this saint for our times in June, 1982, when Mother Teresa came to the small northeastern community of St. Paul, population 5,000, to accept a cheque for $925,000.

Six years previously, a delegation from St. Paul had heard her speak at a Vancouver housing conference about ways to help the needy in lesser-developed countries. “Love until it hurts,” was her simple admonition. The St. Paul people took up the challenge, raffled off a house, and raised more money for Mother Teresa’s missionary work than any town or city in Canada. The tiny nun acknowledged the community’s effort by making St. Paul the only Alberta stop on her North American goodwill tour.

During her one-day visit to Alberta, Mother Teresa was swamped by well-wishers who wanted to kiss her, shake her hand, receive her blessing, or snap a quick picture. “I think this is the closest to a saint that I’ll ever get,” was the typical reaction of one admirer, Adele Dahrouge.

But, as Calgary Herald reporter Bob Bettson observed, Mother Teresa never seemed to be caught up in the adulation. She only went on international tours because the attendant PR helped her missionary cause, and raised money for her schools, foundations, mobile dispensaries and other humanitarian centres around the world. She would have preferred to spend all her time in Calcutta, working among the poor, with her beloved Sisters of Mercy.

Mother Teresa was once asked if she might ever choose a successor to run her Missionaries of Charity, the enormously successful religious order she started from scratch in 1948 to help the poorest of the poor in the slums of Calcutta. She shook her head. “If He can find someone as small as me,” she told biographer Navin Chawla, “then He can find someone even smaller.” Chawla could hardly believe his ears. “She actually believes she is so ordinary that anyone can replace her,” he wrote.

Her self-effacing humility exasperated biographers, and led cynics to wonder if her constant “write about the work” exhortations might serve to obscure some kind of hidden agenda. One critic, English journalist Christopher Hitchens, even went so far as to write a mean-spirited book accusing her of being an “anti-abortionist zealot parading as a conscience of the world’s wealthy.”

However, biographer Chawla, a non-Christian who spent five years researching her story, concluded that the only agenda in Mother Teresa’s prayer book was to find happiness in serving her God. All she ever wanted to be, as she repeatedly said, was “but an instrument, a little pencil in the hands of the Lord.”

“This is what is essential to her,” said Chawla, “not the power of her mission, nor the power others may perceive in her. In her life, she has exemplified that faith: faith in prayer, in love, in service, and in peace. How else can one explain her remarkable achievements?”

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Copyright 2016 Brian Brennan - Writer

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