Mother Teresa’s Work Lives On In the Streets

Sisters of the Missionaries of Charity, the religious congregation founded by Mother Teresa in 1950, receiving communion during Mass at a motherhouse in Rome last week. (Credit: Gianni Cipriano for The New York Times)
Sisters of the Missionaries of Charity, the religious congregation founded by Mother Teresa in 1950, receiving communion during Mass at a motherhouse in Rome last week. (Credit: Gianni Cipriano for The New York Times)

With their blue-trimmed white saris, the sisters are a discreet but distinctive presence on the streets at night, offering solace to the destitute and, when possible, a place to stay.

But these sisters with the Missionaries of Charity, the religious congregation founded by Mother Teresa, who is to be declared a saint by Pope Francis on Sunday, are not assisting the poor of Kolkata, India, where the order began in 1950. They are tending to the indigent and abandoned in Rome.

“Mother used to call it a drop in the ocean, but without that drop, it would not be the same,” Sister Mary Prema Pierick, the superior general of the congregation, said in an interview in a former chicken coop turned into spare living quarters for some of the sisters in Rome.

Active in 139 countries, the sisters and the affiliated brothers and fathers that form what is known as the Missionaries of Charity family are continuing the work begun by Mother Teresa nearly 70 years ago, caring for those she called “the poorest of the poor.” Regardless of where the poor might be.

In the 19 years since Mother Teresa died, her legacy has continued to grow, drawing men and women to the congregation, which now numbers more than 5,800 around the world.

Considered a saint by many yet criticized by others, Mother Teresa, an ethnic Albanian Roman Catholic nun who gained celebrity status for her work with the poor in India, was beatified in 2003. Her canonization will be one of the fastest in modern times.

Rome always had a special place in Mother Teresa’s heart, those who knew her say, and the city became a frequent stop on her travels. That is partly because she met often with Pope John Paul II, himself canonized in 2014, who told her to visit him whenever she was in Rome.

That was “one obligation she happily obeyed,” said Sister Prema, a soft-spoken woman whose English has a light German accent, a nod to her roots in Essen. The Italian capital was also the first European city where Mother Teresa opened a home for members of the mission, in 1970.

She chose an area in the outskirts called Tor Fiscale, then a shantytown inhabited mostly by postwar refugees, some living in makeshift homes in the arcades of the ancient Roman aqueducts that still crisscross the countryside there.

“Here’s a photo of Mother next to a Fiat 600; here’s another of the sisters building the house at Tor Fiscale,” the Rev. Brian Kolodiejchuk, the postulator — or main promoter — of her case for sainthood, said during an interview in the home. He pointed to photographs on a wall outside a tiny room where Mother Teresa often stayed.

In one, half a dozen sari-clad sisters are mixing cement and laying bricks for a wall in what would become one of the congregation’s first European formation houses, for aspiring sisters to live and study.

“Sisters go to where the poor are, so they just came here,” he said.

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SOURCE: The New York Times
Elisabetta Povoledo