O padre Brian Kolodiejchuk com a Madre Teresa e o Papa João Paulo II
This is a full transcript of my interview with Fr. Brian Kolodiejchuk, postulator of mother Teresa's cause of canonization. The news feature, in Portuguese, can be found here. Transcrição integral, no inglês original, da minha entrevista ao padre Brian Kolodiejchuk, postulador da Causa de Canonização de Madre Teresa de Calcutá. A reportagem pode ser lida aqui. Mother Teresa will
be canonized on September 4th, in Rome. Why not in Calcutta? Would it not have
made more sense?
I understand why the bishops asked, and wanted, to
have it in India, it would have been a big event for India, a shot in the arm,
so to say, but I think the Holy Father chose Rome because now they went back to
the older system where the beatification is in the local place and the
canonization is in Rome, because canonization is presenting the person, in this
case Mother Teresa, to the whole church.
So in that sense it is more appropriate to have it in
Did the current
Indian government, which is Hindu nationalist, have anything to do with it?
I don't think so. I saw the other day that there was a
delegation of the bishops asking Prime-minister Modi to come and lead it, but I
don't know if that will happen.
There might have been practical difficulties of where
to put such a big crowd, and security would have been a challenge.
As it is, I think the Holy Father and Archbishop
Fisichella of the New Evangelization, wanted to have it in the Jubilee Year and
as one of the major events of the Jubilee Year. Because thinking about her
possible canonization, they put the Jubilee of the volunteers and workers of
Mercy on that weekend because of Mother's feast-day the next day. It wasn't the
other way around, they were assuming and hoping there would be the canonization
and they made the jubilee of the workers and volunteers. So I think part of the
event is that Mother will be, in a sense, the saint of the Jubilee and as the
actual apostolate of the Missionaries of Charity are the works of mercy...
How close were you
to mother Teresa?
I first met her in 1977 when I was a very young fellow
and from there, at her invitation, I joined that first group of the
Contemplative brothers and in 1983 I was at the beginning of what is now the
Missionary of Charity Fathers. So during those 20 years I happened to be either
in Rome or New York and then later in Tijuana, Mexico, so I would see her
often. And having been one of the first I would be able to have a chance to see
her, and talk to her.
Who asked you to
become the postulator?
The postulator is named by the Missionaries of Charity,
because he is the actor, the one who is presenting the person and so it was
kind of a joint venture of the four branches. The active sisters, the active
brothers, the contemplative brothers and the fathers...
Would it not have
made more sense to have somebody who was perhaps not so close to her
personally? Or was that something which made your work easier?
Actually, at the beginning, when I was doing the
course... Because every year the congregation of saints offers a course, and at
the beginning one of the sisters and I went and asked who could take on the
cause, because I was young and inexperienced, then we went to the Jesuits, to
father Molinari and father Gumpel, who are the main men in Rome for this, and they
said that it should be one our own, because we were presenting somebody who
lived a particular charism, so they said it should be somebody who shares in
it, so they really understand.
My obligation was to present as best I can, as
objectively as I can, but the actual process was not conducted by me. The
diocesan inquiry in Calcutta was done by another episcopal delegate, notary and
promoter of justice, and then in the Congregation itself I couldn't even be in
when the witnesses were speaking, because if I was sitting there they might
think that since I was going to hear... So it was just the person and the
tribunal so they would have maximum freedom to speak.
Mother Teresa had
her critics. But it seems that these were mostly in the West. Did you ever see
the poor she served criticize her or the work the Missionaries did?
Not among the poor, no. Most of the critics were
famously Christopher Hitchens and some others. As we were preparing the official
material to be presented, on the basis of which the judgement would be made, we
watched the film Hitchens had made, “Hell's Angel”, because I wanted to see
what the criticism was. And we said there was really nothing there, as long as
you know the facts.
So for example he shows Mother Teresa in Tirana,
Albania, at Enver Hoxha's tomb, and says she was honouring him. The fact is
that she asked to go to the burial place of her mother and her sister. So that
is where she thought she was going, but they took her there first. Then they
wanted her to put a flower on his tomb, but she said no, so she stood there and
after, when she met his wife, she said she had prayed for her husband. Then she
realized what the situation was and asked if she could please go to her
A person from Albania, who was also involved in
relating this story, said that everybody in Albania knew that was the protocol.
So either the facts were twisted around, like that one, or his opinions came
from a different perspective. Hitchens says he went to India and Mother was
showing him around and he said that he really felt positively about the work
until she took him to the children's home and said that they fought abortion
through adoption. So you might not agree, but then it is a matter of opinion.
There was some
criticism of the fact that she received money from people who were perhaps not
very recommendable. What do you make of that?
When she would know who the person was, then she would
refuse. There were cases where she refused... One I think was from a
discotheque or something... When she had a sense that it wasn't well gained
money she had the courage to refuse, even if it was a large amount.
One of the criticisms was that she had received money
from Duvallier in Haiti, but she didn't receive any money from Duvallier, the
only thing that was given was one one cheque for 1000 dollars from Mrs.
Duvallier, the wife. So that is another one which is said, and it's not even
You mention that a
dying man once said that all his life he had lived in the street like an
animal, yet thanks to her he was dying like an angel… Does this story sum up
That is another one of the criticisms... Why don't you
have a big clinic? But her purpose was that these people were really the dying
in the street and the aim of the sisters is immediate and effective help.
Exceptions are for things like leprosy, they have leprosy colony and the people
live there, work there... The Saris are made by the lepers near Calcutta, so
her aim is what we can give today.
She knew very well that you need to change the
structures and work for more social justice, and those things, but her
vocation, or the Missionaries of Charity vocation is the needs of today, the
person who needs to eat, or who needs shelter, in the present moment.
But this idea of
giving dignity to those who were marginalized... Does that sum up her mission?
I don't know if I'd say it sums it up completely, but
that is certainly a very important part of it, human dignity. She would say my
brother and my sister, and no matter what religion, no religion, colour... In
this sense we are all children of God.
In Portugal we are
currently in the middle of a debate about euthanasia, with proponents arguing
that this is a necessary measure for people to be able to die with dignity. Few
people are as close to misery, suffering and dying as the Missionaries of
Charity, with that in mind, how do you respond?
I think Mother would say, as we say, from natural
birth to natural death. And there is a way of dying with dignity which is not
the easy solution, which would be to “pull the plug”, but it also involves the
value of suffering and the Christian meaning of suffering, because that is
another criticism that is made, as if she glorified suffering... Not at all!
The whole work is to relieve suffering in whatever way, but at the same time I
think she had that supernatural sense that if we give meaning to that
suffering, then it has value. It doesn't have value in itself, but from a
Christian perspective, especially, it does have value and meaning if it is
lived and offered with love.
This idea of
giving a meaning to suffering is a language that we are used to as Christians,
but she was not working in a Christian atmosphere... Most of the people she
served were Hindus, probably some Muslims... Did they manage to relate and
understand this aspect?
The work in the home for the dying is to relieve that
suffering, and now things are better in Calcutta, so more than half of those
who come into the home for the dying don't die. And there are doctors that come
so that immediate, basic, medical care is given. And if they get better then
they move to another house the sisters have in Calcutta, or whatever they need
to do. So the home for the dying still has the purpose of immediate help for
somebody who really is dying or, more and more, the chance to get better.
But is this
concept of giving meaning to suffering something they can understand?
I don't think the sisters go around saying to all the
patients to offer up their suffering. No, it's the relief and helping them to
die with dignity and at peace, so for example in New York, when they began work
with the AIDS patients, at the beginning there was no hope of living too
long... Now it's different. But one of the important things they did was lots
of reconciliation with families. One of the men, he wasn't dying, he wasn't
dying, until his father came and they had reconciliation and then he was free,
so to say, to die. So that is one of the things they do, to die peacefully and
worked in a heavily Hindu society, with a large Muslim minority and only a very
small Christian minority. Also, she was an ethnic Albanian, a country which is
majority Muslim. What was her stance on inter-religious dialogue?
Mother Teresa had a very great respect for other
religions. There was no explicit aim to convert anyone and most of the
co-workers, the helpers, in India, or certainly in Calcutta, were Hindus. There
was one woman I know who used to go every morning to Kalighat, the home for the
dying, for over 25 years. And she was, and is, Hindu. Mother Teresa would say: “It
is not for me to convert”, so that her first reaction would be to say to those
who were involved, “I hope you become a better Hindu, a better Muslim, a better
Christian”. Some of her doctors were Hindus and she would never invite them to
convert, it had to be something which came from the people. She'd say she
couldn't, God had to do that work in them.
Pope Francis has
criticized aggressive proselitism. Could you say that she was a good example of
what the Pope recommends nowadays?
Yes. That is what Pope Francis says now, but it was
also what the Church was saying then. Service was given without any
consideration of background, faith... It was my brother and my sister. From our
perspective, we see Jesus in each person, but there was never a distinction
made between those who were of one religion or another.
You have said that
there was a special relationship between Mother Teresa and Fátima… Could you
When she was a Loretto sister, in India, then
especially in the 40s, there was a special emphasis in the church in general,
among the Jesuits in Calcutta who were doing a lot of promotion. At the very
beginning, as they began their work, they set up a little shrine to Our Lady of
Fatima, and they would go on processions.
Our patroness is the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The
daily rosary. In the visions Mother Teresa had (interiorly, in the
imagination), Our Lady says “pray the rosary and all will be well”. So there is
the rosary, also the sense of living and accepting sacrifices that come with
our daily life. So there are many elements which are the same.
In 1947, when she was waiting for archbishop Perrier
of Calcutta to give his OK for her to begin her work in Calcutta, in one of the
letters she spoke of Our Lady of Fatima and said “we will do Her work in the
So it was very explicit that they would take the
message of Our Lady of Fatima, at least amongst the Catholics in Calcutta, to
promote that message.
You told a story
about how she once placed an image of Our Lady facing the window on a train
trip through Russia, saying that she needed to see outsider, since she hadn’t
been there for a while… We associate many things to Mother Teresa, but a good
sense of humour is not something that springs to mind…
Oh very much so! She had a very good sense of humour!
She wasn't a great joke teller, but she was able to tell funny stories and if
you were in the mother house and there were 300 sisters – and they had
recreation together from 8h30 to 9h00 – and so if you happened to be there you
would hear all this laughing and giggling and it was really very joyful.
Sometimes she would bend over in laughter, so maybe publicly she didn't give
that sense, but when you were one on one, or in a little group, she was very
free and they used to enjoy these funny stories.
“dark night of the soul” is something that many people have a difficult time
relating to. In fact I remember that when the news broke, some media claimed
she had been an atheist… How do you explain this phenomenon she suffered?
I think it was paradoxically experiencing her union
with Jesus by not experiencing it. Or maybe better, living her union with Jesus
without experiencing the consolation of that union.
She is a woman who is passionately in love with Jesus,
for her Jesus is her spouse. Very explicitly, she said, she wants to love him
as he has never been loved before. And then – probably women will understand
this better than us men – but then to be passionately in love and then is seems
that she is rejected, that Jesus is not loving her. It seems that she could not
love as she would like to love, and so that is kind of the trial, and there is
this aspect of being so united to Jesus that he can share with her his deepest
suffering in the Garden of Olives and on the Cross, and his sense of
abandonment – we are talking more at the feeling level, because at the same
time she would say that she knew that she was united heart and mind – but even
if you know it and believe it, that doesn't make the experience any easier.
And then what is unique more to her is that, when she
went out into the West of India, she discovered that the greater poverty is
this poverty of being unloved, unwanted, and uncared for, which could be rich
people, any class of people can suffer this. And she was living that same sense
of being unloved, unwanted... So we live poorly and simply so as to be
identified with the materially poor, and now we discover that she was living
that spiritual poverty, again, identified with all those who didn't....
Especially in the last years, whenever she would travel,
even in Calcutta, people would be coming every day and in the mother house
there is a chapel and a balcony which goes into the offices, that is where she
would meet people, one of our priests called it the balcony apostolate.
People would come from wherever they were, from India,
or outside, and tell her their stories... There must have been some horror
stories... And so she would have been able to relate to those difficulties,
because she wasn't up in the mystical clouds, experiencing this great consolation,
on the contrary, so she had that real sense of being identified with those who
were suffering spiritually as well.
You quote mother
Teresa as saying that she wanted to love Jesus like he had never been loved
before. Considering Jesus is first loved by God, as part of a Trinity of love,
one could almost say this was blasphemous…
Well, it was something she had heard from Saint
Therese, who had the same desire, but it was a way of saying that she really
wanted to love Jesus that much, more than Saint Francis of Assisi, John of the
Cross, the big saints... To take that really seriously was quite daring. But
humanly speaking, she had a strong character... One of the priests I know, who
was a psychologist as well, said that the purification, especially before she
experienced the union, was so difficult because there was a lot to purify,
because she had a strong character.
Would you like to
see her become Patron Saint of something? Any idea?
Oh, that's a good question!
One of the things she was known for, even in life, was
for those couples who had difficulty conceiving. So even while she was alive
people would come and ask her to pray because they were having difficulty
having a child, and she would take a miraculous medal – she liked giving
miraculous medals to everyone – she would kiss it and say simply, here is the
prayer “Mary mother of Jesus, give us a child”. And sometimes she would even
say “You will have a child”. And then, almost always, one year later, people would
come back and show her the children.
Maybe another one would be travellers, maybe with John
Paul II too, they were both big travellers, but she put on many miles every
year. So there are those two at least.
Both of those are
examples I associate very much to John Paul II as well. There was a very close
bond between them, wasn't there?
You can see in some of the pictures when she went to
visit John Paul II, and they are very human, very tender. He was taller and she
was quite short, so he might be kissing her forehead, and she had her hands
clasped, because in her own culture, in India, men and women don't touch in
public. So normally, at the very end, she might let us men give her a little
embrace, but otherwise if people tried, naturally for another culture, she
would back away and give the Indian greeting, “Namaste”, with her hands
This because she
was so well integrated into the Indian culture, or was it part of her Albanian
culture as well?
It was amazing how well she understood the Indian culture.
One of our priests, who was actually from Canada, he was the superior of our
house in Calcutta in those last years, and that was something he explained,
that she had a real grasp of the culture.
We are currently
in the year of Mercy, of which confession is a central aspect. How important
was confession to Mother Teresa?
Very much so! She and we, and the sisters also, have
the practice of going once a week. So in the first years she had more of a
spiritual director, whom she saw regularly, usually the confessor of the Mother
House. But when she travelled she would just go to the regular... They used to
have Thursday as their day in, as they'd call it, and so the priest would come
at Holy Hour and hear confessions, and she would just take her turn.
She liked to say that we go into the confessional
sinners with sin, and we come out sinners without sin.
It was very important to her, and that was one of the
reasons she wanted the fathers to begin, because she wanted that priestly
aspect which the sisters and brothers couldn't give them. One is the mass, the
other is confession.
This vision Pope
Francis has for the Church as a field hospital seems to be so much in line with
Mother Teresa's mission...
Oh yes! Very much so.
What do you think
she would have made of his papacy?
Oh I think she would have loved to see this emphasis
on the poor, on the peripheries, because in a sense that is where the
Missionaries of Charity already are, with the poorest of the poor, and that is
one of the effects of the work, even in India – and the World, she would also
say – but also in India, is a greater sense of the poor, and she would accept
awards only in the name of the poor. She would go and have a chance to speak
because this was a way of drawing attention to the poor. So I think she would
be very much in line with, and very pleased with, this emphasis on being
attentive to and going out towards the poor.
Of all the things
you experienced with mother Teresa, some surely are very personal, but of those
you can share, which one struck you most?
There are a couple maybe... My sister is a Missionary
of Charity sister and after her final vows she was sent to Poland to be the
novice mistress and just a few years later they found melanoma cancer on her
skin, in a few places.
Her superior brought her to Rome, where they examined
her, and mother was there as well. And at that time I was in with the fathers
in New York, and she knew my parents, and there were only the two of us
siblings, so she knew she had both of their children, and I think out of
consideration for my parents, especially, that she decided that she would take
my sister from Rome, change her whole schedule, because going to New York was
not part of the plan, and so she changed and came from Rome to New York. Typical
of her, if it could be done now it will be done now.
So we picked her up at the airport and went straight
to the doctor and one of our postulants who used to work at the hospital there,
at one of the major hospitals in New York, and so we arrived and mother met
this doctor and said to him: “I have a gift for you. That you make my sister
So she turned it around, that her gift was that he had
a chance to do some good work and please make her sister alright.
Another story is a time we were in San Diego and
mother had to go to a clinic and she saw one of the doctors there. And she
visited the doctor, who asked her to go and see some of her patients. And she
needed to eat, because of the medication she was taking. But the sisters knew that
if they told her that she had to stop and eat she wouldn't have done it. But
our superior was also on medication so the sisters said that Father Joseph
needs to eat.
So we stopped at a Carls Junior, which is like a McDonalds
or Burger King type of thing. I was the driver and mother was in the front
seat. I and another lay woman went into the store to make the order. I was
wearing my clerical collar, and many people in San Diego are Mexican or Mexican
American in San Diego, you can live in San Diego and not even speak any English
if you wanted too.
So he asked where we were coming from, and we said
Tijuana and that I was a priest in Mother Teresa's order, and he said “Oh,
Mother Teresa!”, and I was just thinking, if we had just told him, “By the way,
this order is for Mother Teresa, who happens to be in the car over there...”
So we got the food and brought it back and distributed
it. And Mother was eating her hamburger and French fries and I guess it was too
much, so she asked if anybody wanted more French fries... It was just
completely normal... And I was thinking how many people would love to have a
chance just to see Mother Teresa and here we are having a hamburger and French
And did your
sister get well?
Yes she did. She is cancer free.
It can't have been
easy for your parents...
No. Mother used to say sometimes that we, the
children, make our parents make the sacrifice. It's our call, we respond, but
no, it's not easy, especially in this case, because there are no other
children, so there are no grand-children.
No! Thankfully they were very happy. They always told
us to do what we wanted to do, and even though it did involve sacrifice for
them, they were very happy. Until they couldn't anymore they would visit us
once a year. We couldn't go home very often, but they came.