When I was seventeen I watched a TV documentary about Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who was shown to respond to the needs of the poor and dying with a strong, practical love.
The documentary was called Something Beautiful for God and it changed my life. I became determined to work with Mother Teresa.
Thirty years later, tears of confusion welled up from within me as I stood at the back of St. Peter's Square in Rome amid the throng of flag-waving, hymn-singing pilgrims, who had traveled there to witness the beatification of Mother Teresa. Some distance away, at the front of the crowd, a sea of blue-and-white habits swirled as the sisters of the Missionaries of Charity (MCs) gathered together to celebrate the holiness of their founder. I had been one of them for eleven years and wondered what had gone wrong.
The assembly cheered as a giant, gold-bordered tapestry depicting the "Saint of the Gutters" smiling, wrinkled, and clothed in her iconic sari was unfurled from above the entrance to the Basilica.
Swept along by the crowd and the music, I was happy for Mother Teresa. All her life she strove to become a saint, and now, in 2003, six years after her death, she was on the verge of becoming one.
I had given all I had to live Mother Teresa's ideal of "serving Christ in the distressing disguise of the poor," but had left her order in 1984 disillusioned and far short of wholeness. My youthful beliefs and ideals had not withstood the realities of that life.
The square in front of the papal altar was a sea of festive color. A multitude of flags fluttered above the three hundred thousand people gathered to celebrate Mother Teresa's life: the Indian tricolor of saffron, green, and white; the black double-headed eagle of Albania flying in crimson skies; and the austere red and white flag of Poland were the most common. India and Kolkata (known as Calcutta until the Bengali pronunciation was reintroduced in 2001) had been Mother's home for sixty years, Albania the land of her birth, and Poland the country of her pope, who, now frail and inarticulate, struggled to beatify his friend before death also claimed him.
Chants, songs, and prayers rose in many languages -- Latin, Bengali, Arabic, Albanian, English, French...
"I thirst not for water, I thirst for love."
"It is Jesus who feels in himself the hunger of the poor, their thirst and their tears."
Mother Teresa's teachings have been seared into my spirit, and they cast both light and shadow over my life. In that square I decided to write my story. To have remained silent would have been dishonest.
Copyright © 2008 by Colette Livermore