Filling in for Mother Teresa

Sister Nirmala Joshi, a Hindu convert of Nepali origin, has big shoes to fill.

She has headed the Missionaries of Charity congregation since March 1997, when she was chosen as the uperior general six months before the death of Mother Teresa, who founded the congregation. Sister Nirmala recently was re-elected as superior general for another six-year term.

Sister Nirmala spoke to Register correspondent Anto Akkara about the concerns of the Missionaries of Charity congregation and preparations for the Oct. 19 beatification of its founder.

How is your congregation getting ready for the Oct. 19 beatification of Mother Teresa?

We are preparing for the beatification of our mother, Mother Teresa, in a spirit of joy and thanksgiving, with much prayer and reflection on the charism entrusted by God to Mother and to each one of us.

Oct. 19 will be observed in all our convents around the world with holy Mass and other prayers. At a later date, the Archdiocese of Calcutta and many of the dioceses where our convents are located will have their own thanksgiving celebrations.

We are also planning special treats for the children and people under our care.

Even the Communist government of West Bengal, the Indian state under which Calcutta falls, will join the beatification celebrations in Calcutta. Can you elaborate on the interest the non-Christian public is showing in Mother Teresa's beatification?

Since Mother was mother not only to the Christian people but also to all, regardless of religion, creed or nationality, her children everywhere are eager to express their joy at the recognition being given to the mother.

Some of the ways in which they are sharing in the joy are by prayer, song, music, exhibitions and treats for the poor, sick and suffering.

Recently your congregation won copyright protection for “Mother Teresa” and the congregation logo. Some have criticized this action, saying that saints are “universal property” of the Church and cannot be “reserved” for a congregation. How do you respond to this?

Mother had expressed on a number of occasions her wish that her name not be used by individuals or organizations without permission.

We have obtained a copyright for our logo and are seeking ways to protect Mother's name. It's our duty to ensure that the use of the logo and Mother's name does not conflict with Mother's firmly held principles and religious beliefs.

Mother Teresa had a keen desire to open a home in China. Have you been able to realize that dream?

We have houses in Hong Kong and Macau that have become a part of China. However, we do not yet have any house in mainland China, which was Mother's real dream. We are sure that Mother is praying much for this intention.

What is the present strength of the congregation — the number of “tabernacles,” as the Mother called the homes, and the number of countries you are in now?

At present, we are at about 4,500 sisters in 710 “tabernacles” in 132 countries.

You have been re-elected the Missionaries of Charity superior general for another term. What are your goals and targets for the coming years? Are you trying to bring in steps to make the Missionaries of Charity mission more effective?

‘Our goal is holiness for ourselves and for the people we serve.’

Our goal is holiness for ourselves and for the people we serve. We want to make the love of God real in our own lives and in the lives of all we come in contact with — our co-workers, volunteers, benefactors and the poorest of the poor.

Rather than introducing changes to the congregation, we have been trying to nurture, develop and deepen what our Mother started. More and more our sisters are receiving training in spirituality, medical work and in the care of the handicapped so we can give wholehearted and free service to the poorest of the poor, making even better use of our God-given talents and resources.

You belong to the contemplative wing of the congregation. Is this wing growing stronger now? Could you elaborate more on the present structure of the congregation, including the Missionaries of Charity brothers and fathers?

By the grace of God, the contemplative branch of the Missionaries of Charity is growing.

The Missionaries of Charity family now includes the active and contemplative sisters and brothers, the fathers and the Corpus Christi Movement for Priests — a movement that seeks sanctification of priests in their ministry through prayer, fraternity and joyful living of their priestly ministry in union with their bishops and in spirit of the Missionaries of Charity.

We also have our co-workers, persons of all faiths and nationalities who wish to share in our service to the poorest of the poor spiritually or actively. The Lay Missionaries of Charity are Catholics, married or single, who, after undergoing formation under the direction of a priest, take vows.

Anto Akkara is based in New Delhi, India.