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The Rediff Special

'Many people regard Mother Teresa as a good businesswoman'

A day before he leaves for Calcutta to attend Mother Teresa's funeral in Calcutta, Cardinal Simon Pimenta, Archbishop Emeritus of Bombay, remembers the Angel Of Hope.

Many people regard Mother Teresa as a good businesswoman. I think she had to become that way because of the nature of her work. She needed plots of land in different places to set up charitable homes. Such was her dedication that doors would open to her. She needed no credentials. She was not any mother X, Y, Z; she was Mother Teresa and people knew the money was going into safe hands.

I met her several times during her visits to Bombay. It was mainly for establishing some new branches, looking for new places. Her trips were brief and official. There was no time to sit and chat. I could not help her with plots of land but there were other generous people who helped her wholeheartedly.

One of Mother Teresa's greatest disappointments was not being able to start a home for AIDS patients in Bombay. I believe the government offered her a place in Malad (northwest Bombay), but she felt it was too far for the patients. Even though she was so wellknown, she followed procedure. She kept the local church authorities informed about her plans. It is a norm that the church should know the whereabouts of any such religious establishment.

She started six homes in the city, for the aged, orphans, lepers, and even opened a section in one of the homes for AIDS patients. People had so much respect for her charitable cause that they provided her land at nominal costs, sometimes at no cost. Even the government helped her a great deal in this respect.

One reason that accounted for the great faith the Sisters of Charity had in her was Mother Teresa's charisma. In a tribute, Prime Minister Gujral said that while the first half of the century in India was dominated by Mahatma Gandhi, the second half was dominated by Mother Teresa. Thousands and thousands followed Mahatma Gandhi, in the same way many nuns followed Mother Teresa. She had this special kind of charisma that inspired them to follow in her footsteps.

Any great person, good or bad, has a kind of charisma that draws people. Mother Teresa was an exceptional woman. She had so many nuns joining her order. No other congregation receives so many nuns as new entrants like the Sisters of Charity.

People who knew her well say she had a good sense of humour. It is true from what I have been told. One oft quoted incident is when she returned from the hospital after a serious illness. She told a wellwisher that she was nearly dead, but Saint Peter, who met her at the gates of heaven, told her that she was not needed there because Paradise had no poor and needy to be looked after.

I remember I first went to Calcutta in 1974 for a bishops meeting. It was then that I visited the home in Kalighat. Mother Teresa was not in Calcutta at that time but I was impressed with what I saw. It was very well organised and very clean. There are very few people who can and want to do this kind of service.

I would not subscribe to the view that her leaving the Loreto congregation was resented by the Catholic church at that time. Yes, there is some surprise and little opposition. If one is leaving the order to start another, there always exists a question mark. But Mother Teresa received her calling on September 10, left the comfortable life of a geography teacher and took on a hard life in the service of the poor. She was just an ordinary nun when she left the convent. It was difficult,but she had to fulfil her calling.

She was sometimes looked at with suspicion, that she was converting people to Christianity. I know she was not involved in any direct conversion work. She helped people become better, a better Hindu or a better Muslim. If people were influenced by her, by the example she set and wanted to convert to the religion she followed it was a different thing.

Her death came as a surprise. It was unexpected because she was not ill, not hospitalised. We were surprised by the way it happened. People were not prepared; had she been sick for eight to 10 days, it would not be shocking. But we have to accept her death. We have to accept that death has come to Mother Teresa too. Spiritually, I am happy for her. She has gone to her reward.

It is true that a Mother Teresa comes once in a long long time, but the work of God continues. Many people ask, 'After Mother Teresa who?' What should be understood is that God raises people. Like Mother Teresa herself said that people should not see the head of the organisation but the organisation itself. The Sisters of Charity are well known, their work and tradition will continue. It does not mean that in Mother Teresa's was the only direction. Sister Nirmala might have her own direction and charisma. So one should not be pessimistic with her death.

One must also remember that generosity lies in many hearts. People have the idea that if they cannot do some charitable service themselves, why not give it to someone else. The Sisters of Charity have done such good work that people will be ever generous with their contributions towards them.

I did not expect this rare honour the government has bestowed upon Mother Teresa by giving her a State funeral. The government has honoured her in death as in life. They gave her the Bharat Ratna while she lived and now a state funeral -- an honour she richly deserves.

I don't think the Church would have been able to organise the funeral. We couldn't have arranged security personnel for the many dignitaries who are coming to Calcutta. While we are away in Calcutta for the funeral, a mass will be held in the Bombay parishes simultaneously. But although Mother Teresa is no more, her work which had God's hand will continue.

As told to Archana Masih

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