Gutter to Altar! Local Priest shares his Memories with Mother Teresa
Gutter to Altar! Local Priest Shares his Cherished Memories and Lasting Impressions with Mother Teresa
Mangaluru: Ahead of Mother Teresa’s canonization tomorrow in Rome, where Pope Francis amplifying the power of compassion declares Mother Teresa a Saint, on September 4, 2016: to be more Ablaze in the Glory of God. While there are many who have been associated with Mother Teresa when she was alive in Kolkota, and also when she visited Mangaluru couple of times, there is one lucky Catholic Priest who had the greatest opportunity to meet Mother Teresa in Kolkota, where he describes as his inspiration. He is none other than Fr. Anthoni J. Kunnel MI., Camillian religious priest, Indian Province, who unwraps experiences of his days with Mother Teresa: on how Mother read the Gospel of Compassion and demonstrated universal value and dignity of life.
Fr Kunnel is the Former Superior of St. Camillus Care Home-Snehasadan, a care centre for PLHIV orphan and Vulnerable children. Team Mangalorean had met Fr Kunnel last year, and had done a exclusive report on Snehasadan- a Home for the Destitute and Elderly situated at Kinnikambla, Kaikamba, Mangaluru. It extends residential care and treatment to the aged and destitute. (Article link is published below). Presently Fr Kunnel is doing his further studies in Philippines, and has shared his memories with Mother Teresa to be incorporated in Mangalorean.com. Following is Fr Anthoni J Kunnel’s cherished memories and Lasting Impressions with Mother Teresa in his own words
“I thank God almighty and share with everyone all over the world the cherished memories and lasting impression of my interaction with Mother Teresa of Kolkata. I am a witness to the ‘angel of compassion’. When you walk with her, you walk differently because you know that MOTHER walked with the very deposit of God inside her soul, the very source of compassion. By words and in deeds Mother was a treasure of Compassion who has left behind us a milestone legacy. My long-standing yearning to see Mother finally arrived in the year 1994. I was blessed to work with Missionaries of Charity in Kolkata for six months from June to November in the same year. Looking back, I vividly recall those ineffaceable moments on July 4, 1994 when, together with my companions, Fr. Arlappa and Fr. Benny we climbed up the stairs to greet Mother at her residence.”
This is the Prayer Card, which Mother Teresa gave me on 4 July 1994 (during my first visit to Mother)
With Sr.Mary Prema Pierick, M.C. Present Superior General of the Missionaries of Charity Sisters, founded by Mother Teresa
“Face-to-face with Mother, I was dumb stuck by her radiant, glowing smile and gentle greeting. I leaned forward and kissed her palm. I never imagined how deeply and completely that event would shape the rest of my life after wards. The saint I kissed is my lifelong inspiration. Very gently, mother picked up some prayer cards from the window of her room and sat on the wooden bench on the veranda. She signed one of it and gifted that prayer card saying, “thank you for coming.” The prayer card reads: ‘Mary, Mother of Jesus, give me your heart, so beautiful, so pure, so Immaculate, so full of love and humility that I may be able to receive Jesus in the Bread of Life, love Him as you loved Him and serve Him in the distressing disguise of the poorest of the poor’. Amen.”
I hold on to this “treasure beyond measure.” The very words: ‘Mother Teresa,’ even today invoke an image of an amiable person, wrinkled and wearing a white and blue sari walking through the gutters of Kolkata meeting the needs of the poor. Mother became the champion of compassion to ‘the powerless band of homeless.’ Mother was one with them, washing and feeding the dying, embracing the leppers, and caring the starving children. In the days spent in different houses of Missionaries of Charity for six months caring for the sick and dying, I could see Mother’s extraordinary nature of expressing compassion had gripped the hearts of all. She rendered lifelong service to the poorest of the poor. Mother Teresa became an icon of compassion to people of all religions. One fine morning I accompanied a Missionaries of Charity brother to give out some medicine to a family under a bridge. As we walked along, brother noticed a very sick man almost taking his last breaths.
Truly, I had no courage to stay long there. However, to my surprise he told me to stay with that man until he returns with a vehicle to take the man to the home for the dying destitute at Kalhighat. I stood there helpless trying to avoid looking at the man. Shortly, thereafter, he returned in a car, we took the man in and placed him on our lap. This was my first ever such experience, just as the car stopped in front of the home for dying destitute he took his last breath on my lap. Thousands are the destitute women, men and children who have experienced a final fulfilment in the love of the extraordinary services by Mother and her associates. Mother was prepared to care for the sick, the dying, and thousands of others nobody would care for.
Star in the Galaxy of Saints:
With these and many more cherished memories in mind and heart, Mother to me is a “Gutter -to-Altar” saint, a shining star in the vast galaxy of holy women and men of God. Couple of times I saw her moving with sisters and children with the humility of a true servant of God. With generosity, and still greater humility she let the compassion fly over all around her. Mother was determined to head on and wrestle with God and people to bring the greatest happiness possible. No wonder that Mother has been recognized and acclaimed throughout the world. Her life is nobler for the sacrifices, and saintly to be a Saint. Today I am imbued with greater joy to see Mother being raised to the honours of the altar. Remarkable is the journey from the gutters of Kolkata to the Altar of God. I feel blessed among several to have seen face-to-face, my-“Gutter-to-Alter” Saint. Radiant face, feet committed to poor sick, and palms sanctified by the fresh touch of God have irrevocably overwhelmed me and changed the purpose of my life.
The fragrance of Mother’s heart full of love for the sick, I have no hesitation to say, is a sweet extension of God’s compassion. If anyone asked me who has been the greatest influence in the growth of your vocation, easily my answer would be my Mother Teresa. I was nineteen years old when I first met Mother face-to-face, since then I used to tell my companions and members of the family that there is something deeply divine in her. In my formation years as well as in the religious life whenever I found it difficult to nurture my vocation due to the challenges and uncertainties, Mother has always stood by my side to strengthen and move me forward. Thank God for the gracious woman and specially remember to thank late Fr. Ernesto Nidin MI, then superior who let me go to Kolkata. Life happened because of Mother. In the weeks that I spent recently in Ebola stricken Sierra Leone with Bro. Madhu, providing psychosocial services, I firmly felt Mother’s benign presence by my side to raise the prayers of many for safety and protection of the survivors and the bereaved kin of Ebola victims.
The Voice of God:
Many are the threads of hopes and despair that has knit the basket of compassion in Mother’s heart. Mother Teresa was the youngest child of a humble Albanian family in Skopje, Macedonia. Her father passed away when she was 8 years, and by the time she turned 12, she knew her calling was to be a missionary. She left home at 18 to join the Sisters of Loreto, in Ireland. She chose the name Sister Mary Teresa after St. Therese of Lisieux, and a few months later, left for Kolkata, India, to join the sisters of her community. Sister Teresa took her first vows as a nun and began teaching at St. Mary’s School for girls. In 1946, while riding on a train from Kolkata to Darjeeling, heard a calling from God, She says, “I heard the call to give up all and follow Christ into the slums to serve Him among the poorest of the poor. It was an order. I was to leave the convent and help the poor while living among them.”
Thereafter she set out to establish a community dedicated to serving the poorest of the poor. After two years of planning and prayer, devoted herself full time to her calling. She dressed in a white sari with a blue border—what would become her religious outfit for the rest of her life. Mother started the congregation of the Missionaries of Charity, in 1950 and now includes more than 4,500 members, in 125 countries and a vast number of volunteers across the globe. Her work with orphans, prisoners, the sick, the dying, the disabled—the unwanted—earned her international recognition, including the Pope John XXIII Peace Prize in 1971, the Nehru prize in 1972, and the Nobel prize in 1979.
Image of Abundant Life:
Open to the spirit’s call, Mother knew that it is offered in love and hope, with the same love and hope that led Jesus to ask, more of people than they thought they could give. Our Lord emphatically stated his purpose in the Gospel of John 10:10, “I have come that they may have life, and have it life abundantly.” For us Christians, to recognize the abundance of life which Jesus spoke is essential to our wholeness. For us the mode of abundant life is modelled after the person of Jesus by his message and the way he lived. Abundant life is characterized by the extension of compassion to all.
Transformation in life happens when one sees for oneself that there is a new way of life: Abundant Life. The genuine sacrifice on the part of Mother demonstrated the way in which compassion has proved to draw God to sick. Compassionate Giving is an important component of, and pathway to, that Abundant Life. It implies a compassionate approach to the life of the other. It means a conscious attention to the condition of the rest of the world. Here is where I see Mother’s spirituality of compassion related to people. In contrast to the general understanding of “good life,” it is difficult to create an image of abundant life, for we do not find it easily prevalent around us. Yet, all of us, on the grounds and tracks we walk and run on, experience hints of abundance – breathtaking moments that ring in our hearts and call us to be more fully alive.
The illuminated journey of Mother from the gutters of Kolkata to the Altar of God is a tapestry woven with the voice of God on a moving train amidst the roar and gust of daily grind. Visiting families living in slums, nursing those weak with hunger and dying of tuberculosis and leprosy, touched the hearts of “the unwanted, the unloved and the uncared for.” Mother Teresa believed no act of kindness too small to have impact. She encouraged people to look for the needy in their neighbourhoods, even in their own homes. She cried out, “There is a terrible hunger for love. Find them. Love them.” Hence, abundant life is the life of love, where the heart is full and relationships are rich. Abundant living is a life of greater simplicity and compassionate giving.
Greatness in Smallness:
I was born in a small village of Shimoga district, Karnataka, and grew up in very ordinary circumstances. I witnessed a genuine example of love, watching my own mother always cook food either for a regular beggar who approached her for food or set aside rice worth for an adult for a meal later to be given to a beggar/stranger who would walk up to our home. That characterized her relationship to God in the Poor. All those who knew her had this to tell on the day of her funeral three years back. The two names of holy men and women often I heard of at home were, Mother Teresa and St. Pope John Paul II, whose picture was placed in our family prayer room. One day I happen to read the following saying of Mother Teresa. Mother poured out her deepest longing in the following words: “If I ever become a saint, I will surely be one of “darkness.” I will continually be absent from Heaven – to light the light of those in darkness on earth.”
Further reflecting I began to see for myself, this righteous attitude determined the character of Mother’s engagement with the poor sick. Today as I see the saint I kissed, raised to the honours of Altar by Pope Francis on 4 September, I am reminded that abundant life includes valuing the worth of every individual irrespective of colour, creed, abilities, languages, and only way to honour this gift of life is to be seized-in compassionate giving. I was so captivated by the manner by which Missionaries of Charity sisters, brothers and volunteers cared for the needs of the poor sick. We began our day at 5am with Morning Prayer, and ended it with adoration. At the end of the day, it was really a very humbling experience. This shared experience mattered to me, and lead me to realize in the last ten years of living and working with people infected with HIV, that touching each other’s brokenness is where we find Consolation and Joy for the gutters of our life are the altar of God-experience.
Visit to Mother’s Tomb :
In February 2016, after twenty years, Fr. Joy MI and I went to pay our respect to Mother. Brother Mark MC, one of the general councilors of Missionaries of Charity Brothers accompanied us to Mother’s tomb to offer Holly Mass. Mother’s Tomb is a very special place to offer prayers and find moments of solitude. Mother is indeed exalting the God of Compassion. I Pray:
O Mother Teresa, To live in love and for love, To shower compassion in abundance, To bring the greatest happiness possible, To open up the pathway to God’s Reign, Live .. Live.. Live..!
O Mother Teresa, Strong-willed: walking on the gutters, Firm-faith: kneeling on the ground, Passionate-heart: feeling the pain, Holy-palms: healing the wounds, Live.. Live.. Live..!
O Mother Teresa, Gospel of the Land, Cry out for us your children, Un -to God raise our care, Mother in me no end, Live.. Live.. Live..!
We went up to visit Mother’s room and walked up and down the very same stairs and porch Mother has walked all her life. We said to each other, ‘There is no end for a good person.’ Looking back there is no other personal greater experience than the days I spent with Missionaries of Charity.
Come and Visit us from Heaven :
Living a life in love and for love Mother set a mark on millions to extend compassion. Despite difficulties of personal journey, Mother Teresa found the courage and dedication to continue her work with the poor. Even on days when she experienced deep despair and a crisis of faith, she got out of bed, prayed and went out into the streets to help those who needed her. Over the years, she came to believe that this inner struggle allowed her to more fully experience her convictions and empathize with those she wished to help.
This canonization of Mother Teresa in the Roman Catholic Church to be a Saint, will set a mark on us to recognize the significance, sacredness, and purpose of our call. . As Mother said, “you will find Kolkata all over the world if you have the eyes to see” and this is the biggest challenge for all of us. May Mother bless our pursuit of the abundant life through compassionate giving. May the abundant life of Mother inspire and be a road map to you as you make your journey. To hear those longings that call us all to the abundant life, I pray, O’ Mother, Come and Visit us from Heaven. Come, begin the Sacred Journey and seek the Abundant Life. We humbly beg Mother to empower us for compassionate caring. The saint I kissed is the champion saint, a shining star in the galaxy of saints. Life happens because of You!
Mother Teresa Bless us!
About Fr Kunnel :
Fr Kunnel is the Former Superior of St. Camillus Care Home-Snehasadan, a care centre for PLHIV orphan and Vulnerable children. Team Mangalorean had met Fr Kunnel last year, and had done a exclusive report on Snehasadan- a Home for the Destitute and Elderly situated at Kinnikambla, Kaikamba, Mangaluru. It extends residential care and treatment to the aged and destitute. (Article link is published below). Presently Fr Kunnel is doing his further studies in Philippines, and has shared his memories with Mother Teresa to be incorporated in Mangalorean.com.
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