On Tuesday, February 25, 1986 a 4.7 scale earthquake shook the Western seaboard of Nicaragua which resulted in the immediate destruction of hundreds of thousands of structures and the deaths of many people. Mother Teresa, whom we commemorate today, traveled to Managua with many of her sisters, the Missionaries of Charity, in order to help relieve the suffering.
Daniel Ortega was the communist dictator of the nation, and he did everything he could to be seen in public with the diminutive Albanian woman who was an international hero for her work with the poor in Calcutta, India. At an event in Managua, he had Mother there in front of a crowd. He gave a long speech, going on about the evils of America and its President, about the evils of capitalism, about the glory of communism and its work. He then handed the microphone over to Mother Teresa who said, “President Reagan really needs prayers, doesn’t he.” Ortega agreed vigorously. “He needs prayers, but so do you,” she said. “I was just talking with your wife, and you are a Catholic.” Ortega’s face changed color. Mother was being polite. You see, the woman he had been living with and with whom he had had several children was his wife by common law, but they were never married in a Catholic Church. She went on:
“You are a Catholic, but you don’t have your children baptized. I want to be their godmother. Your wife told me you haven’t had them baptized. Let’s go baptize them right now, because if you can’t run your family, you can’t run the country.”
St. Teresa of Calcutta was beautiful in so many ways but certainly one of them was the way her authentic witness of love could cut through a lot of – ahem – pleasantries and just give us the truth. A friend of mine years ago was a volunteer at a homeless shelter in New York when Mother visited them. One of the other volunteers said aloud in front of everyone, “Oh Mother, everywhere you go, you bring peace.” Mother looked right back at the young lady and said, “Everywhere I go, I bring work.” That work, the work of telling the truth of the dignity of the human person through action and word, that work was the way that St. Teresa of Calcutta lived in fidelity to Jesus, who was the source and summit of all that she did.
Telling the truth, sometimes when it is the hardest thing to do, is a way of honoring the dignity of the human person. St. Teresa did it all the time. Whether it was telling it to the Indian society that threw away those who suffered or telling it to politicians’ faces about the horror that is legalized abortion. Whatever the situation, she could do it because, well, no one doubted that she lived her life in authentic obedience to Christ Jesus.
Last year, the Ortega government expelled the Missionaries of Charity because they told the truth about the human rights abuses by Ortega’s government and dared to care for those who spoke out against him. I’m betting that Mother is interceding for all involved at this moment. Let’s join her and pray for them, for all those who suffer, and for our own courage to tell the truth in love when we are given the chance. St. Teresa of Calcutta, pray for us.