Mother Teresa Speaks complied by Malcolm Muggeridge
The passages below are quotations of Mother Teresa from the book “Something Beautiful for God,” published in 1971 and complied by Malcolm Muggeridge.
MALCOLM–Mother Teresa, when did all this begin with you? I don’t mean just your house here. But when did the feeling that you must dedicate yourself to poor people come to you?
MOTHER TEPESA—It was many years ago when I was at home with my people.
MALCOLM—Where was that?
MOTHER TERESA—In Skopje in Yugoslavia. I was only twelve years old then. I lived at home and with my parents; we children used to go to a non-Catholic school but we also had very good priests who were helping the boys and the girls to follow their vocation according to the call of God. It was then that I first knew I had a vocation to the poor.
MALCOLM—That was when it all started.
MOTHER TERESA—Yes, in 1922.
MALCOLM—It was then you decided your life was not to be one of pleasing yourself, but was to be given to God in a very special way.
MOTHER TERESA—I wanted to be a missionary, I wanted to go out and give the life of Christ to the people in the missionary countries. At that time some missionaries had gone to India from Yugoslavia. They told me the Loreto nuns were doing work in Calcutta and other places. I offered myself to go out to the Bengal Mission, and from there they sent mc to India in 1929.
MALCOLM—When did you take your final vows?
MOTHER TERESA—I took the first vows in Loreto in 1931. Then in 1937 I took final vows in Loreto.
MALCOLM—Between the age of twelve and taking your final vows did you have any doubts, any hesitations about taking on this very difficult way of life?
MOTHER TERESA—At the beginning, between twelve and eighteen I didn’t want to become a nun. We were a very happy family. But when I was eighteen, I decided to leave my home and become a nun, and since then, this forty years, I’ve never doubted even for a second that I’ve done the right thing; it was the will of God. It was his choice.
MALCOLM—And this has given you complete peace and happiness.
MOTHER TERESA—The happiness that no one can take from me. And there has never been a doubt or any unhappiness.
MALCOLM—When you were in Loreto you were teaching. Did you like teaching?
MOTHER TERESA—I love teaching most of all. At Loreto I was in charge of a school in the Bengali department. At that time most of the girls that are now with me were girls in school. I was teaching them.
MALCOLM—And all this came to an end when you became aware of certain circumstances in the world outside.
MOTHER TERESA—It was a call within my vocation. It was a second calling. It was a vocation to give up even Loreto where I was very happy and to go out in the streets to serve the poorest of the poor.
MALCOLM—Mother, how did it happen, the second vocation?
MOTHER TERESA—In 1946 I was going to Darjeeling, to make my retreat. It was in that train, I heard the call to give up all and follow him into the slums to serve him among the poorest of the poor.
MALCOLM—So you took the decision—at least, in a way, it was taken for you but you accepted what the inner voice asked of you.
MOTHER TERESA—I knew it was his will, and that I had to fo1lov him. There was no doubt that it was going to be his work. But I waited for the decision of the Church.
MALCOLM—You had to get permission from the ecclesiastical authorities to come out of the Loreto convent; how long did that take?
MOTHER TERESA—I had first to apply to the Archbishop of Calcutta. Then with his approval the Mother General of the Loreto nuns gave me permission to write to Rome. I had to do this because I was a nun who had taken final vows and nuns cannot be allowed to leave the convent. I wrote to the Holy Father, Pope Pius XII, and by return post I got the answer on the 12th of April. He said that I could go out and be an unenclosed nun. That means to live the life of a religious, but under obedience to the Archbishop of Calcutta.
MALCOLM—How many years ago was that?
MOTHER TERESA—That was in 1948.
MALCOLM—In your letter to the Pope what did you say you wanted to do?
MOTHER TERESA—I told him that I had a vocation, that God was calling me to give up all and to surrender myself to him in the service of the poorest of the poor in the slums.
MALCOLM—I have seen your Loreto convent and it is lovely. It must have been hard to walk out of that beautiful garden, out of that quiet peaceful place into these terrible noisy streets.
MOTHER TERESA—That was the sacrifice.
MALCOLM—What did you do then?
MOTHER TERESA—I left the Loreto convent and I went first to the Sisters in Patna to get a little training in medical work so that I could enter the houses of the poor; up till then I was only a teacher and I could not start on work with teaching. First I had to go into the homes and see the children and the sick. At the first little school I started on the first day there were five children. Slowly after that we had more and more children. At present in that place we have got over five hundred children who come daily to school.
MALCOLM—In the place where you started?
MOTHER TERESA—Yes, where I started, out in the compound of a family in the slums.
MALCOLM—When I think of Calcutta and of the appallingness of so much of it, it seems extraordinary that one person could just walk out and decide to tackle this thing.
MOTHER TERESA—I was so sure then, and I’m still convinced, that it is he and not I. That’s why I was not afraid; I knew that if the work was mine it would die with me. But I knew it was his work, that it will live and bring much good.
MALCOLM—You presumably just taught kids off the streets. What did you teach them?
MOTHER TERESA—I began with teaching them their alphabet because, though they were all big children, they had never been to school and no school wanted them. Then we had practical lessons on hygiene; told them how to wash themselves. Next day two or three girls came from the school where I had taught, they helped me with the children. Gradually the work started to grow and some ladies from Calcutta who had been teachers in the school where I had been teaching also came. And so the work started growing.
MALCOLM—I suppose you must have had some money; where did that come from?
MOTHER TERESA—At first I had only five rupees, but gradually, as people came to know what I was doing, they brought things and money. It was all divine providence because right from the very first I didn’t ask for money.
MALCOLM—The money had to be voluntary contributions.
MOTHER TERESA—It was all a gift. I wanted to serve the poor purely for the love of God. I wanted to give the poor what the rich get with money.
MALCOLM—You’ve got your school going, and it’s growing; you’ve got a few helpers, and you’ve got a bit of money and gifts coming in. What happened then?
MOTHER TERESA—The Sisters started coming in 1949; the first Sister who joined our congregation was Sister Agnes. She is my assistant now.
MALCOLM—She was a schoolgirl in Loreto, wasn’t she?
MOTHER TERESA—Yes, and the first ten girls who came were all students that I had taught in the school. One by one, they surrendered themselves to God to serve the poorest of the poor. They wanted to give their all to God. Then other helpers came; doctors and nurses came on a voluntary basis to help us. In I952 we opened the first Home for the Dying.
MALCOLM—When you say Home for the Dying, you mean that these are people on the streets who have been abandoned and are dying.
MOTHER TERESA—Yes, the first woman I saw I myself picked up from the street. She had been half eaten by the rats and ants. I took her to the hospital but they could not do anything for her. They only took her in because I refused to move until they accepted her. From there I went to the municipality and I asked them to give me a place where I could bring these people because on the same day I had found other people dying in the streets. The health officer of the municipality took me to the temple, the Kali Temple, and showed me the dormashalah where the people used to rest after they had done their worship of Kali goddess. It was an empty building; he asked me if I would accept it. I was very happy to have that place for many reasons, but especially knowing that it was a centre of worship and devotion of the Hindus. Within twenty-four hours we had our patients there and we started the work of the home for the sick and dying who are destitutes. Since then we have picked up over twenty-three thousand people from the streets of Calcutta of which about fifty per cent have died.
MALCOLM—What exactly are you doing for these dying people? I know you bring them in to die there. What is it you are doing for them or seeking to do for them?
MOTHER TERESA—First of all we want to make them feel that they are wanted, we want them to know that there are people who really love them, who really want them, at least for the few hours that they have to live, to know human and divine love. That they too may know that they are the children of God, and that they are not forgotten and that they are loved and cared about and there are young lives ready to give themselves in their service.
MALCOLM—What happens to the ones who don’t die?
MOTHER TERESA—Those who are able to work we try to find some work for them, the others we try to send them to homes where they can spend at least a few years in happiness and comfort.
MALCOLM—Who brings them to you, Mother? I mean who, as it were, delivers them to you?
MOTHER TERESA—At the beginning the Sisters used to find them in the streets and pick them up.
MALCOLM—As you did this first woman.
MOTHER TERESA—Yes. But as the work became more and more known, more and more people came to hear that there was a place where these people could be cared for. They telephone for the municipal ambulance and it comes and picks them up and brings them to us. But under one condition, that they have first to take them to the nearest hospital.
MALCOLM—You only want people who cannot get in anywhere else; for whom this is the last refuge, is that right?
MOTHER TERESA—Yes, the home is meant only for the street cases and cases that no hospital wants or for people who have absolutely no one to take care of them.
MALCOLM—As this work developed from the school to looking after sick people, you needed more and more hands to help. Did they come along?
MOTHER TERESA—God has been very wonderful to us because as the work kept growing, our vocations also kept growing. In 1950 in October, the Holy Father made our little community into a diocesan congregation. Fifteen years later he raised it to a pontifical congregation; that means that we are now directly under the Holy Father. This has been the biggest miracle of all because as a rule congregations are not raised to the pontifical order so fast. It takes most of them many years, thirty, forty years sometimes, before they become a pontifical. This shows the great love and appreciation the Holy Father has for our work and for the congregation.
MALCOLM—What did the numbers of your Sisters go up to in the first few years?
MOTHER TERESA—When the congregation became a diocesan congregation we were only twelve; that was in 1950. Gradually the numbers kept on increasing. For ten years we did not move out of Calcutta, because we had to train our Sisters for the work. In 1959 when we opened the first house in Dranchi and then one in Delhi, the numbers of Sisters started increasing and we began getting girls from the very places where we had opened houses.
MALCOLM—What sort of girls were they for the most part?
MOTHER TERESA—Mostly middle-class, but some were of the richer and higher class. There were quite a Dumber of Anglo-Indian girls who joined the congregation at that time.
MOTHER TERESA—Very well educated most of them.
MALCOLM—Wasn’t it a rather terrible experience for educated girls, from middle-class or upper-class homes, suddenly to be mixing with the poorest, the most wretched and most ill from the streets?
MOTHER TERESA—These girls wanted to give their best, because in our society we have to make a total surrender to God; this is the spirit of the community. They wanted to achieve this fulfillment in their own lives by giving all to God, giving up their position, their home, their future and dedicating all of it wholly to the poorest of the poor. They thought they couldn’t give enough to God who had given them this beautiful vocation of serving the poorest of the poor.
MALCOLM—How do they find the strength to give this?
MOTHER TERESA—From the day they join the community we spend a very good deal of time in training the Sisters, especially in the spirit and the life of the society which is beautifully defined in the constitution. This is the written will of God for us. Also, side by side with the spiritual training, they have to go to the slums. Slum work and this meeting with the people is a part of the noviciate training. This is something special to us as a congregation because as a rule novices do not go out, but to be able to understand the meaning of our fourth vow, which promises that we give our whole hearted free service to the poorest of the poor—to Christ in his distressing disguise. Because of this it is necessary that they came face to face with the reality, so as to be able to understand what their life is going to be, when they will have taken their vows and when they will have to meet Christ twenty-four hours a day in the poorest of the poor in the slums.
MALCOLM—Did many find it too much, Mother?
MOTHER TERESA—Very few, very, very few have left. We can count them on our fingers. It’s the most extraordinary thing that so many of our Sisters have been so faithful right from the very first.
MALCOLM—Although it was such a severe test, they found fulfilment in it.
MOTHER TERESA—It was a Challenge for them. They wanted to give everything, and they wanted the hardest. We have to live this life, this hard life, to be able to continue the work among the people. The work is only the expression of the love we have for God. We have to pour our love on someone. And the people are the means of expressing our love for God.
MALCOLM—Spending a few days with you, I have been immensely struck by the joyfulness of these Sisters who do what an outsider might think to be almost impossibly difficult and painful tasks.
MOTHER TERESA—That’s the spirit of our society, that total surrender, loving trust and cheerfulness. We must be able to radiate the joy of Christ, express it in our actions. If our actions are just useful actions that give no joy to the people, our poor people would never be able to rise up to the call which we want them to hear, the call to come closer to God. We want to make them feel that they are loved. If we went to them with a sad face, we would only make them much more depressed.
MALCOLM—Even though you took them things they needed.
MOTHER TERESA—It is not very often things they need. What they need much more is what we offer them. In these twenty years of work amongst the people, I have come more and more to realize that it is being unwanted that is the worst disease that any human being can ever experience.Nowadays we have found medicine for leprosy and lepers can be cured. There’s medicine for TB and consumptives can be cured. For all kinds of diseases there are medicines and cures. But for being unwanted, except there are willing hands to serve and there’s a loving heart to love, I don’t think this terrible disease can ever be cured.
MALCOLM—And that is the disease you’re looking after?
MOTHER TERESA—This is what we are aiming at, to bring to the people the willing hands to serve and the hearts to go on loving them, and to look at them as Christ.
MALCOLM—Besides the sick people, you’ve got a lot of children, haven’t you?
MOTHER TERESA— Yes.
MALCOLM—Where do they come from?
MOTHER TERESA—Many of those children are unwanted by their parents; some we pick up, some we get from hospitals: they have been left there by their parents. Some we bring from the jail, some are brought to us by the police. By whatever means they are brought to us, up to now we have never refused a child.
MALCOLM—Somehow you fit them in, however many may come?
MOTHER TERESA—We always have one more bed for one more child.
MALCOLM—So you’ve never had to turn one down?
MOTHER TERESA— No.
MALCOLM—Some people say that there are too many children in India, and yet you’re saving children many of whom would otherwise die.
MOTHER TERESA—Yes, many would die, especially among those children that are unwanted. Quite possibly they would have been either thrown away or killed. But that way is not for us; our way is to preserve life, the life of Christ in the life of the child.
MALCOLM—So you wouldn’t agree with people who say there are too many children in India.
MOTHER TERESA—I do not agree because God always provides. He provides for the flowers and the birds, for everything in the world that he has created. And those little children are his life. There can never be enough.
MALCOLM—Then what about the lepers? How did your work for them begin, Mother?
MOTHER TERESA—In 1957 we started with five lepers who came to our home because they had been thrown out from their work. They could get no shelter, they had to go begging. With them a doctor soon came to help us and he’s still with us, Dr Senn. He has also been training our Sisters for the leprosy work, because he’s a specialist in leprosy work. Among the lepers there are many well—educated people, many rich and capable people. But owing to the disease, they have been thrown out of society, out of their homes, by their relations, and very often even their own children do not want to see them any more. They get isolated from their own families and have no alternative but to turn to begging. Very often you see people coming up to Bengal from the south and the Bengal people going to the furthest north just to be far away from the people and from the places where they have been known and served and loved. We have among our lepers here in Calcutta very capable people who have had very high positions in life. But owing to the disease, they are now living in the slums, unknown, unloved and uncared for. Thank God our Sisters are there to love them and to be their friends and to bring the rich closer to them.
MALCOLM—This is a terrible disease and there are many lepers. What can—what can the Sisters do for them?
MOTHER TERESA—Most of our Sisters have been specially trained for the leprosy work. And with the new drugs that we are getting from the States and from England, we are able to stop the disease if the people come in time. That’s why, though we have so many in Calcutta—we have nearly ten thousand people that are under our care—still we are very happy because that’s a sign that the lepers are beginning to know about this disease and to want to be healed. If they come at once, as soon as they realize that they have got a patch of leprosy on their body, they have every opportunity in two years’ time to be completely cured.
MALCOLM—And what about the ones that are past curing?
MOTHER TERESA—We are trying to build a town of peace on the land that Government gave us some years back, thirty-four acres of land. This place is called Shanti Nagar. We are building a rehabilitation centre there so that those lepers who have been healed can be trained for ordinary works and be able to have small industries in their own homes and so be able to live an ordinary citizen’s life when they come back to their places. Then they won’t have to go round and beg.
MALCOLM—Your community is growing and spreading, is this going to go on; are you going to spread all over the world?
MOTHER TERESA—At present we are in twenty-five cities in India, and outside of India we are in Ceylon and Tanzania, in Venezuela and in Rome. As long as God gives me vocations, it’s a sign that God wants us to spread, and wherever there are poor we shall go and serve them.
MALCOLM—So the process is likely to continue?
MOTHER TERESA—Well, if he gives vocations it’s a sign that he wants us to go out to the poor.
MALCOLM— He’s given you a good lot, hasn’t he?
MOTHER TERESA—Yes. Thank God this year has been an extraordinary year, and we are expecting many more to join us in June and also next January.
MALCOLM—A girl hears of your work amongst the very poor and feels this to be her vocation. What happens next?
MOTHER TERESA—When these girls come, they join the aspirants. They spend about six months in seeing our work. They have to see if this is what God wants for them. And we have to see if they really have a vocation for this kind of life and work. At the same time they have to learn English because that is the language of our community, and as we do not have enough spiritual books in Indian languages we have use English books. Also, in India we have so many languages, and the Sisters come from all over India, so it would be very difficult to train them in spiritual life if there are so many languages being used in one community; so because of all this we have accepted to use English. After that they have to spend six months in postulancy where they begin to learn the rudiments of spiritual life. After these six months they join the noviciate for two years. During that time they have an intensive spiritual training in theology, Church history and the Scriptures, and especially in the rules and the constitution of our community. Because the Sisters are going to bind themselves by vows, they must know exactly what these vows are going to mean to them. The vow of poverty is very, very strict in our congregation because to be able to love the poor and to know the poor we must be poor ourselves. We take the vow of chastity, of giving our hearts complete and undivided to Christ—an entire dedication to Christ. We have also the vow of obedience and we take all the other vows according to obedience. We have to do God’s will in everything. We also take a special vow which other congregations don’t take, that of giving whole hearted free service to the poor. This vow means that we cannot work for the rich; neither can we accept any money for the work we do. Ours has to be a free service, and to the poor.
MALCOLM—That is asking a lot, isn’t it? You ask these girls to live like the poorest of the poor, to devote all their time and energy and life to the service of the poor.
MOTHER TERESA—That is what they want to give. They want to give to God everything. They know very well that it’s to Christ the hungry and Christ the naked and Christ the homeless that they are doing it. And this conviction and this love is what makes the giving a joy. That’s why you see the Sisters are very happy. They are not forced to be happy; they are naturally happy because they feel that they have found what they have looked for.
MALCOLM—But one thing that would strike, I think, anybody looking on is the magnitude of what you’re tackling and, apart from your own extraordinary faith and the marvellous faith of your Sisters, the smallness of your resources. Don’t you ever feel discouraged? Some people believe that these things should be done by great state organizations, they feel that a few loving souls trying to tackle such a thing is absurd. What do you think about all that?
MOTHER TERESA—If the work is looked at just by our own eyes and only from our own way, naturally, we ourselves we can do nothing. But in Christ we can do all things. That’s why this work has become possible, because we are convinced that it is he, he who is working with us and through us in the poor and for the poor.
MALCOLM—The stimulus, the fire, the strength of what you’re doing comes from that?
MOTHER TERESA—It comes from Christ and the Sacrament.
MALCOLM—Which is why you begin each day with Mass?
MOTHER TERESA—Yes. Without him we could do nothing. And it is there at the altar that we meet our suffering poor. And in him that we see that suffering can become a means to greater love, and greater generosity.
* * *
MALCOLM—Sister Joseph, when did you take your final vows?
SISTER JOSEPH—I took my final vows in 1964 on the 14th of April.
MALCOLM—That’s five years ago. It’s a terrific step to take, isn’t it? Many people would think it’s an absolutely lunatic step. You leave a world full of interesting things and exciting things and you come to this austere life which is the life of the poor. You adopt the standard of life of the poor, and you spend all your time with the poorest and lowliest people. Isn’t this rather a mad thing to do?
SISTER JOSEPH—That is precisely why I came here; I came because I wanted a very hard life. I wanted to be able to give up something.
MALCOLM—And has it made you happy?
SISTER JOSEPH—Happy? Very happy. Because I feel I can give so much to help others.
MALCOLM—But this business of spending your time with people who are dying, with lepers, with unwanted children. The other day I saw you with these people and they were all clamouring for help. Doesn’t it make you sometimes want a different sort of life?
SISTER JOSEPH—No. I am sometimes dead tired, but dead tired, and also very very happy that I’ve been able to do something for someone else.
MALCOLM—Why this sort of life?
SISTER JOSEPH—I had heard about the hardships of this congregation, and I felt that I wanted to give so much to God and that’s why I particularly came here. It was a challenge to me.
MALCOLM—How old were you?
SISTER JOSEPH—I was twenty—four when I came here.
MALCOLM—So you knew all about the world?
SISTER JOSEPH—Yes, I knew. I had been working in an office for eight years, also I was a music teacher. And I have no regrets.
MALCOLM—Your life here is a fulfilment and it brings you happiness.
SISTER JOSEPH—Absolutely. Not a day’s regret, not a moment of regret.
MALCOLM—Although it has deprived you of the only things which, particularly in this age, people think make life worth living.
SISTER JOSEPH—I think happiness for me is that I’m able to help others, and with others; of course there are many things that we miss.
SISTER JOSEPH—Music. I love to play the piano. Now I don’t. But I’m happy I was able to give up something.
MALCOLM—But you can sing, I’ve heard you.
SISTER JOSEPH—I try.
MALCOLM—You sing very beautifully.
SISTER JOSEPH—I try.
* * * *
MALCOLM—Mother Teresa, after I met you in London, the only thing I wanted to do was to come and see you and your work here and now I’ve seen it. It’s a shining light. But behind the work, which is wonderful and needed, as you keep saying and I’m sure you’re right, there’s something else, which is your faith. Tell me about that because I think you will agree with me it’s something that’s rather lacking in the world today.
MOTHER TERESA—Faith is a gift of God. Without it there would be no life. And our work, to be fruitful and to be all for God, and beautiful, has to be built on faith. Faith in Christ who has said, ‘I was hungry, I was naked, I was sick, and I was homeless and you did that to me.’ On these words of his all our work is based.
MALCOLM—How are people to have this faith that is lacking in the world today?
MOTHER TERESA—It is lacking because there is so much selfishness and so much gain only for self. But faith to be true has to be a giving love. Love and faith go together. They complete each other.
MALCOLM—How are people to find this? Our fellow men, or many of them, perhaps including myself have lost their way. You have found the way. How do you help them to find the way?
MOTHER TERESA—By getting them in touch with the people, for in the people they will find God.
MALCOLM—You mean that the road to faith and the road to God is via our fellow human beings?
MOTHER TERESA—Because we cannot see Christ we cannot express our by him; but our neighbours we can always see, and we can do to them what if we saw him we would like to do to Christ.
MALCOLM—You don’t think there’s a danger that people might mistake the means for the end, and feel that serving their fellow men was an end in itself. Do you think there’s a danger of that?
MOTHER TERESA—There is always the danger that we may become only social workers or just do the work for the sake of the work.
MALCOLM—That’s what I was thinking of. Isn’t it a danger?
MOTHER TERESA—It is a danger; if we forget to whom we are doing it. Our works are only an expression of our love for Christ. Our hearts need to be full of love for him and since we have to express that love in action, naturally then the poorest of the poor are the means of expressing our love for God.
MALCOLM—I understand that, and even in this short visit I’ve sensed it as never have before. These lepers and these little children that you get off the street, they’re not just destitute people, to be pitied, but marvellous people. Anyone who’s well can pity a man who’s sick. Anyone who has enough can pity someone who hasn’t enough. But I think what you do is to make one see that these people are not just to be pitied; they are marvellous people. How do you do this?
MOTHER TERESA—That’s just what a Hindu gentleman said: that they and we are doing social work, and the difference between them and us is that they were doing it for something and we were doing it to somebody. This is where the respect and the love and the devotion come in, that we give it and we do it to God, to Christ, and that’s why we try to do it as beautifully as possible. Because it is a continual contact with Christ in his work, it is the same contact we have during Mass and in the Blessed Sacrament. There we have Jesus in the appearance of bread. But here in the slums, in the broken body, in the children, we see Christ and we touch him.
MALCOLM—Beautiful is almost your favourite word, isn’t it? You were saying, even when we asked you to do this programme—and I know you were very reluctant to do it. Well let’s do something beautiful for God! But what I want to say is how do you—how do we —how can you make other people see this, that it’s not just to pity, it’s not just to meet physical needs, material needs which are desperate and should be met, but that there’s something more that gives it its reality?
MOTHER TERESA—In our work we have many people whom we call Go- Workers, and I want them to give their hands to serve the people and their hearts to love the people. For, unless they come in very close contact with them, it is very difficult for them to know who the poor are. That’s why here in Calcutta especially we have many non-Christians and Christians working together at the Home for the Dying and other places. We have groups who are preparing the bandages and medicine for the lepers. For example an Australian came some time ago, and he said that he wanted to give a big donation. But after giving the donation, he said, ‘That is something outside of me, but I want to give something of me.’ And now he comes regularly to the Home for the Dying, and he shaves the people and talks to them. He could have spent that time on himself, not just his money. He wanted to give something of himself and he gives it.
MALCOLM—In other words this other part is really in a way a greater gift.
MOTHER TERESA—It is the harder part.
MALCOLM—The harder part. But you of course influenced him to do that; he sees you, and everybody who sees you or talks to you would to some extent feel like he does. But I am thinking of the Western world where I live and which you sometimes visit. This world also is in a different way a very unhappy place, Mother. There are rich people there who have surplus wealth and kindly impulses. What they lack is this spark, this personal feeling, which faith gives and which could suddenly make it possible for them to do all the things that should be done. How would you take that faith to them?
MOTHER TERESA—By doing work with them. I always insist on people doing the work with us, and for us, and for the people. I never speak to them of money or ask for things from them. I just ask them to come and love the people, to give their hands to serve them and their hearts to love them. And when they come in touch with them, then their first impulse is to do something for them. And next time they come, they’re already involved. When they have been for some time in Calcutta or in any other place, they feel that they are part of the people. Once they have realized how lovable these people are, just how they are and how much they can give to them.
MALCOLM—Shouldn’t the churches be influencing people in the West in this way, perhaps more than they are?
MOTHER TERESA—I do not know so much the situation in the West because I have been away for such a long time—forty years. But now more and more there’s this Lenten raising of money to help the poorest. It’s growing, and people are beginning to be more and more conscious that there are in the world people who are hungry and who are naked, and who are sick and who have no shelter. And the rich want to share the hardship in some way just a little bit sometimes; the difficulty is that they don’t give until it hurts. The new generation, especially the children, are understanding better. The children in England are making sacrifices to give a slice of bread to our children, and the children of Denmark are making sacrifices to give a glass of milk to our children daily, and the children of Germany are making sacrifices to give one multi—vitamin daily to a child. These are the ways to greater love. These children when they grow up, they will have faith and love and a desire to serve and to give more.
MALCOLM—Would you agree that one of the troubles is that twentieth-century man always thinks there must be some collective solution. He would say, there is Mother Teresa, she saves so many people, she helps so many people, she saves so many children. But this is just a fleabite; this is nothing; there must be some other way of doing it. And his feeling about this makes him less inclined to throw himself in the way that you want into the sort of work that you’re doing.
MOTHER TERESA—I do not agree with the big way of doing things. To us what matters is an individual. To get to love the person we must come in close contact with him. If we wait till we get the numbers, then we will be lost in the numbers. And we will never be able to show that love and respect for the person. I believe in person to person; every person is Christ for me, and since there is only one Jesus, that person is only one person in the world for me at that moment.
MALCOLM—I’m sure that’s right, but the difficulty that I see is how to make these people whose minds had been formed in the circumstances of today realize this. Even the churches, who should understand this since it is the gospel on which they’re based, fail to inculcate this particular feeling of person to person.
MOTHER TERESA—I believe the people of today do not think that the poor are like them as human beings. They look down on them. But if they had that deep respect for the dignity of poor people, I am sure it would be — it would be easy for them to come closer to them, and to see that they, too, are the children of God, and that they have as much right to the things of life and of love and of service as anybody else. In these times of development everybody is in a hurry and everybody’s in a rush, and on the way there are people falling down, who are not able to compete. These are the ones we want to love and serve and take care of.
MALCOLM—And do with them beautiful things for God.
MOTHER TERESA—We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But if that drop was not in the ocean I think the ocean will be less because of that missing drop. For example, if we didn’t have our schools in the slums—they are nothing, they are just little primary schools where we teach the children to love the school and to be clean and so on—if we didn’t have these little schools, those children, those thousands of children, would be left in the streets. So we have to choose either to take them and give them just a little, or leave them in the street. It is the same thing for our Home for the Dying and our home for the children. If we didn’t have that home, those people we have picked up, they would have died in the street. I think it was worth while having that home even for those few people to die beautifully, with God and in peace.
MALCOLM—I agree with you. To me one of the most wonderful things about your work is that you make one see that these poor people are wonderful people, that these children are exquisite children, this and the fact that you have the principle that no one must ever be refused. That there is no qualification, no selectivity. You have now got Brothers also, haven’t you? How did that come about, Mother?
MOTHER TERESA—In 1963 the Archbishop gave me permission to start the Brothers. We felt a need for men who would take care of the boys in the school and the men in the Home for the Dying. And there are other things that we as women cannot do for the men in the docks and so on. His Grace gave the permission and now for the last two years their congregation is a diocesan congregation. Father Andrew who was a Jesuit got permission from the Holy Father to join the Brothers. And he’s their Superior now, he takes care of them.
MALCOLM—How many of them are there, Mother?
MOTHER TERESA—At present there are ninety—two.
MALCOLM—And they go and pick people up and so on?
MOTHER TERESA—They do exactly the same kind of work and they live the same life as we do.
MALCOLM—But specialize in those parts that are more appropriate for a man than a woman?
MOTHER TERESA—Yes. They also work for the women in the slums, but much more for the boys and for the crippled men.
MALCOLM—So they too have been roped in to doing something beautiful for God.