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Salesian priest recounts his kidnapping in Yemen, imprisonment

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Catholic News Service

ROME — Salesian Father Tom Uzhunnalil was sitting in a room in an unknown location, one of several he had been relocated to during his 18-month imprisonment, when he received some unexpected news.

Salesian Father Tom Uzhunnalil, who was released Sept. 12 after having been kidnapped 18 months ago in Yemen, kneels at the feet of Pope Francis during a Sept. 13 meeting at the Vatican. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano)

“Those who kept me came to where I slept (and said), ‘I bring you good news. We are sending you home. If you need to go to the bathroom, go. Take a shower, but quickly.’” Father Uzhunnalil told reporters Sept. 16 at the Salesian headquarters in Rome.

The Salesian priest from India was kidnapped March 4, 2016, from a home for the aged and disabled run by the Missionaries of Charity in Aden, Yemen. On that day, four Missionaries of Charity and 12 others were murdered in the attack by uniformed gunmen.

Seeing a group of Missionaries of Charity sisters seated at the news conference in Rome, Father Uzhunnalil expressed his condolences. However, the memory of the four sisters’ martyrdom still proved too difficult to bear.

Silence filled the room as the Salesian priest covered his eyes, tears streaming down his face while doing his utmost to hold back emotions that he thought he could contain.

“I thank God Almighty for this day, for keeping me safe, healthy, clear minded; my emotions were in control until now,” he said after regaining his composure. 

“I don’t want to speak too much about the sisters because I get too emotional,” he said.

Although reports following his kidnapping suggested the attack was carried out by the so-called Islamic State, Father Uzhunnalil said his captors never identified themselves.

Knowing very little Arabic, Father Uzhunnalil said he spoke to the militants with the few words he knew: “Ana hindiin” (“I am Indian”). To this day, the Indian priest still wonders why he was the only one spared in the slaughter.

“Why they did not kill me, why they didn’t tie my hands, I don’t know,” he said. “Perhaps they wanted some ransom or whatever it is. I only believe that maybe God had put that into their heads when I said, ‘I am Indian,’ and they made me sit there while they killed the others, the sisters.”

After leaving him in the trunk of the car, the militants ransacked the chapel taking the tabernacle, wrapping it with the altar linen and placing it near the kidnapped priest. With his hands unbound, Father Uzhunnalil carefully moved the linen and found “four or five small hosts,” which he kept to celebrate the Eucharist the first few days of his capture.

After his short supply ran out, he said, he continued reciting the Mass prayers when alone despite not having bread and wine.

“I peacefully was able to say my Eucharist all from memory, although bread and wine wasn’t available. But I prayed to God to give me those items spiritually,” Father Uzhunnalil said.

He spent most of his days praying for the pope, his bishop, his Salesian brothers, and “certainly those sisters, all those persons whom God had called” on the day of his abduction.

Father Uzhunnalil said he found consolation in the words of a hymn, “One day at a time, sweet Jesus.”

“Just give me the strength to do every day what I have to do. Yesterday’s gone, sweet Jesus, and tomorrow may never be mine. Lord, help me today, show me the way, one day at a time,” he would sing to himself in the solitude of his room.

On Sept. 11, Father Uzhunnalil was given the news of his liberation. After traveling for hours blindfolded, the priest along with two of his captors waited in the car.

Several hours later, his captors told him “some arrangements weren’t done” and they headed back.

Not understanding the church’s teaching on the Holy Trinity and the “unity of God in three persons,” Father Uzhunnalil recalled, one of his captors said, “You might have prayed to the third God, now you must pray to the second God so tomorrow can go well.”

Returning to his cell, he slept briefly when he was rustled out of bed in the middle of the night Sept. 12 and taken on the same long ride, his head once again covered. He was then moved to another vehicle where a person pulled up his picture on a cell phone and asked the priest, “Is this you?”

After confirming his identity, the driver drove for more than a day through the desert and told him: “Now you are free, now you are safe.”

Father Uzhunnalil was then taken to the Omani capital of Moscat where he received medical treatment, fresh clothes, and a shaving kit.

While he knows few details about arrangements for his release, Father Uzhunnalil expressed his gratitude to those who helped secure his liberation, including Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said of Oman, the government authorities of India, and the Vatican, including Pope Francis whom he met the day after his release.

As Pope Francis entered the room Sept. 13, the Salesian knelt before him and kissed his feet. Visibly moved by the gesture, the pope helped him up and kissed his hands.

Before blessing Father Uzhunnalil, the pope embraced him and said he would continue to pray for him as he had done during his imprisonment.

“In that meeting, the pope kissed my hand. I never deserved it,” he said. “I’m only grateful to God for his blessings, I’m sure he prayed much for me.”

Even his captors, Father Uzhunnalil said, knew of the pope’s efforts and inadvertently gave him a reason to hope.

“One of the captors told me, ‘The pope has said you will be freed soon but nothing is happening still.’ From that, I knew that the whole world was there, the whole church was there, the world was worried for me. So, I am grateful,” he said.

 

Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

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On St. Teresa’s Sept. 5 feast day, cardinal praises her defense of unborn

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Love for those society considers “useless” or even a bother led St. Teresa of Kolkata to a courageous defense of the unborn, said Cardinal Pietro Parolin.

Sister Clare, left, one of the first 12 members of the Missionaries of Charity, attends a Mass of thanksgiving for the canonization of St. Teresa of Kolkata in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Sept. 5. At right is Missionaries of Charity Sister Therese Marie. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Sister Clare, left, one of the first 12 members of the Missionaries of Charity, attends a Mass of thanksgiving for the canonization of St. Teresa of Kolkata in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Sept. 5. At right is Missionaries of Charity Sister Therese Marie. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Like prophets and saints before her, Mother Teresa would not “kneel down before anyone but the Almighty” and would not bow before “the fashions or idols of the moment,” said Cardinal Parolin, Vatican secretary of state.

On the 19th anniversary of Mother Teresa’s death, Sept. 5, her feast day, the cardinal presided over a Mass in St. Peter’s Square to give thanks for the canonization of the founder of the Missionaries of Charity.

With hundreds of Missionaries of Charity gathered on the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica and several thousand pilgrims in the square, Cardinal Parolin held Mother Teresa up as “a gleaming mirror of God’s love and a marvelous example of service to one’s neighbor.”

Her example, the cardinal said, is a call to all Christians “to convert from being lukewarm and mediocre to allow ourselves to be set alight by the fire of Christ’s love.”

While Mother Teresa became famous for her care of the poorest of the materially poor, he said she knew the worst form of poverty was to be unloved and unwanted.

“That led her to identify as ‘the poorest of the poor’ children who were not yet born and whose existence was threatened,” Cardinal Parolin said. “An unborn baby has nothing of its own; its every hope and need is in the hands of another.”

The unborn, he said, “ask to be welcomed and protected so they can become what they already are: one of us.”

Like every human being, the cardinal said, the unborn have one basic mission in life: “to love and be loved, as Mother Teresa liked to say.”

“The heroic exercise of charity and the clear proclamation of truth” were found in Mother Teresa, he said.

At the end of the Mass, Missionaries of Charity Father Brian Kolodiejchuk thanked Pope Francis for canonizing Mother Teresa. The priest served as postulator or chief promoter of her sainthood cause.

“We really cannot thank God enough for all he has done for us through St. Teresa,” he told those in the square. “Following her example of faith and love, may we even more generously and faithfully love God with all our hearts and see and love God in our neighbors, especially the most unloved, unwanted and uncared for of our brothers and sisters.”

Recognizing all those involved in making the celebration of her sainthood a joyful and prayerful experience, he also said, “We thank the poorest of the poor in whom Jesus is loved and served.”

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In Kolkata, joy, prayers and testimonies as Mother Teresa becomes saint

By

Catholic News Service

KOLKATA, India — At Shishu Bhavan, children, the destitute, Missionaries of Charity nuns and novices sat silently, glued to the TV screen for the live telecast of the Vatican canonization ceremony of Mother Teresa.

While many prayed at the new saint’s tomb, the nuns and the children of Shishu Bhavan (Children’s Home), preferred to stay indoors and celebrate the historic moment all by themselves, as Pope Francis declared Mother Teresa to be St. Teresa.

Spanish volunteers help a man at a home for the dying in Kolkata, India, Sept. 4. The women were working during Mother Teresa's canonization in Rome. (CNS photo/Anto Akkara)

Spanish volunteers help a man at a home for the dying in Kolkata, India, Sept. 4. The women were working during Mother Teresa’s canonization in Rome. (CNS photo/Anto Akkara)

“It is a day of feast for us. Brothers and sisters of the Missionaries of Charity are watching this in all the establishments of the MOC, but many of the sisters are visiting the headquarters for the special thanksgiving Mass after the ceremony in the evening,” said Missionaries of Charity Sister Benoy, who had come from the home in suburban Dum Dum to help the sisters with the large number of visitors.

Earlier, outside the gates of Shishu Bhavan, the poor, the sick and the old had gathered like they do each Sunday, hoping for a meal. Like any other Sunday, the nuns and cooks filled their plates.

“This has been our home. What would you call someone who provides you food, medicine and shelter?” asked a woman who identified herself only as Amina, who regularly visits for food and medicine. After the meal, she and her mother waited to watch the ceremony. She sang hymns and prayed silently near the saint’s statue.

In the narrow lane leading to the headquarters of the Missionaries of Charity, hundreds of people had gathered together not just to witness the live ceremony for the “saint of Kolkata” but also to invoke her in their prayers. Special arrangements outside the home had been made for live viewing, and devotees gathered with their little memories of the “blessed” one. Some were carrying pictures, some flowers and some photographs declaring their love and devotion. Hymns were sung by the visitors and the nuns, but also commoners who gathered outside. Souvenir shops had come up and people went around buying little artifacts being attributed to Mother Teresa.

Mohammad Ahsan, 62, had come to visit the nuns and pray at the tomb. He had carried his photographs with Mother Teresa that he had taken in 1994.

“My association with her is more than two decades old. These pictures are my prized possessions. My life is much peaceful now, and I owe it to the saint of Kolkata,” he said gleefully.

Diana Silvester, a television producer from the Indian state of Kerala, came carrying a poster of Mother Teresa.

“I came to witness a historic moment,” she said. “Mother Teresa was and will be the icon of love, compassion and service to humanity for all days to come.”

Sister Babita, 20, from the Indian state of Orissa, chose to sit with other postulants at the convent to watch the ceremony. “For us it was sheer the call of the saint of Kolkata,” she said of her vocation.

“If not a saint, then why would the world follow her footsteps 19 years after her death? Her life, through her humanitarian work and her healing touch, is the everyday miracle that keeps us going,” said Sister Adelica, who came from Bangladesh for the ceremony and will spend a month working in India.

Before leaving for Vatican, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who was part of the 40-member official delegation from the state, said: “Mother was the mother of humanity. Her love for the ailing, the needy, entire humanity was unbounded. Bengal is more proud as Mother lived and worked here and showered us with her abundant love and care.

“Bless us, Mother, so that we can continue to serve the people,” she prayed.

Nearly 250 miles away from Kolkata, in Nakor village, Monica Besra, whose healing from a tumor was Mother Teresa’s first miracle recognized by the Vatican, sat and prayed at the nearby cathedral.

“I miss not being at Vatican. But I was there for the beatification ceremony,” she told Catholic News Service by telephone. “For me she was a saint always, and I invoked her always in my prayers. Today the world recognizes her and prays to her.

“I was dying,” she said. “Mother had a healing touch and she healed me. That is enough for us. We are much better and a happy family now.”

— By Saadia Azim

 

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St. Teresa of Kolkata will always be ‘Mother’ Teresa, pope says

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By Junno Arocho Esteves and Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY — With a large tapestry bearing the portrait of the woman known as the “Saint of the Gutters” suspended above him, Pope Francis proclaimed the sainthood of Mother Teresa of Kolkata, hailing her courage and love for the poor.

Missionaries of Charity nuns present a relic of St. Teresa of Kolkata as Pope Francis celebrates the canonization Mass of Mother Teresa in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Sept. 4. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Missionaries of Charity nuns present a relic of St. Teresa of Kolkata as Pope Francis celebrates the canonization Mass of Mother Teresa in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Sept. 4. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Despite the formality of the occasion though, “her sanctity is so close to us, so tender and fruitful, that spontaneously we will continue to call her ‘’Mother Teresa,’” Pope Francis said to applause at the canonization Mass Sept. 4.

“Mother Teresa, in all aspects of her life, was a generous dispenser of divine mercy, making herself available for everyone through her welcome and defense of human life, those unborn and those abandoned and discarded,” the pope said in his homily during the Mass in St. Peter’s Square.

An estimated 120,000 people packed the square, many holding umbrellas or waving fans to keep cool under the sweltering heat of the Roman sun. However, upon hearing Pope Francis “declare and define Blessed Teresa of Kolkata to be a saint,” the crowds could not contain their joy, breaking out in cheers and thunderous applause before he finished speaking.

The moment was especially sweet for more than 300 Albanians who live in Switzerland, but came to Rome for the canonization. “We are very proud,” said Violet Barisha, a member of the Albanian Catholic Mission in St. Gallen.

Daughter of Divine Charity Sister Valdete, a Kosovar and one of the Albanian group’s chaplains, said, “We are so happy and honored. We are a small people, but have had so many martyrs.”

Born in 1910 to an ethnic Albanian family in Skopje, in what is now part of Macedonia, Mother Teresa went to India in 1929 as a Sister of Loreto and became an Indian citizen in 1947. She founded the Missionaries of Charity in 1950.

Mother Teresa, Sister Valdete said, is a shining example of how “Albanian women are strong and our people are hardworking.”

In his homily, Pope Francis said God’s will is explained in the words of the prophets: “I want mercy, not sacrifice.”

“God is pleased by every act of mercy because in the brother or sister that we assist, we recognize the face of God which no one can see,” he said. “Each time we bend down to the needs of our brothers and sisters, we give Jesus something to eat and drink; we clothe, we help and we visit the Son of God.”

Like Mother Teresa, he said, Christians are called not simply to perform acts of charity, but to live charity as a vocation and “to grow each day in love.”

“Wherever someone is reaching out, asking for a helping hand in order to get up, this is where our presence — and the presence of the church which sustains and offers hope — must be,” the pope said.

Mother Teresa, he said, lived out this vocation to charity through her commitment to defending the unborn and bowing down “before those who were spent, left to die on the side of the road.”

She also “made her voice heard before the powers of this world so that they might recognize their guilt for the crime of poverty they created,” Pope Francis said. “For Mother Teresa, mercy was the ‘salt’ which gave flavor to her work, it was the ‘light’ which shone in the darkness of the many who no longer had tears to shed for their poverty and suffering.”

For all Christians, especially volunteers engaged in works of mercy, the life of the saintly nun remains an example and witness to God’s closeness to the poorest of the poor, he said.

“Today, I pass on this emblematic figure of holiness,” Pope Francis said. “May this tireless worker of mercy help us to increasingly understand that our only criterion for action is gratuitous love, free from every ideology and all obligations, offered freely to everyone without distinction of language, culture, race or religion.”

As she made her way through the tight security and past several closed streets to St. Peter’s Square, Maria Demuru said, “I couldn’t miss this. Even if there’s no place left for me to sit.”

The small Italian woman said, “Mother Teresa is a sign of the times. In her smallness, she revealed the calling we all have. She said we are all saints by our baptism and we must recover our original holiness. She lived in humility and simplicity like the poor of the earth and was never ashamed of that.”

Mother Teresa’s simplicity did not keep the powerful away from the Mass, though. Some 20 nations sent official delegations to the Vatican for the canonization. Queen Sofia of Spain led a delegation. The president and prime minister of Albania attended, as did the presidents of Macedonia and Kosovo and the foreign minister of India.

President Barack Obama sent a delegation led by Lisa Monaco, his assistant for homeland security and counterterrorism. The U.S. delegation also included Ken Hackett, ambassador to the Holy See; Carolyn Woo, president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services; and Dominican Sister Donna Markham, president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA.

The first reading at the Mass was read by Jim Towey, who served as Mother Teresa’s legal counsel in the United States and Canada from 1985 to 1997, and as director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, 2002-2006.

After the Mass, 250 Missionaries of Charity Sisters and 50 Missionaries of Charity brothers served pizza to about 1,500 poor people who had come to the Mass from shelters, dormitories and soup kitchens the order runs throughout Italy.

Pope Francis, through the office of the papal almoner, funded the lunch, which was prepared by a team of 20 pizza makers, who brought three ovens with them from Naples and cooked behind the Vatican audience hall.

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New portrait of Mother Teresa unveiled in Washington

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — On the eve of her canonization as a saint, Mother Teresa of Kolkata, who famously disliked being photographed, was immortalized with the unveiling of a dramatic portrait at the St. John Paul II National Shrine.

Artist Chas Fagan, assisted by two members of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity congregation, unveiled his oil painting, “St. Teresa of Calcutta: Carrier of God’s Love,” Sept. 1.

Sisters from the Missionaries of Charity admire the official canonization portrait of Blessed Teresa of Kolkata just after its unveiling Sept. 1 at the St. John Paul II National Shrine in Washington. The image will be displayed during her canonization at the Vatican Sept. 4. (CNS photo/Jaclyn Lippelmann, Catholic Standard)

Sisters from the Missionaries of Charity admire the official canonization portrait of Blessed Teresa of Kolkata just after its unveiling Sept. 1 at the St. John Paul II National Shrine in Washington. The image will be displayed during her canonization at the Vatican Sept. 4. (CNS photo/Jaclyn Lippelmann, Catholic Standard)

The painting was chosen as the official canonization portrait. It was commissioned by the Knights of Columbus.

A reproduction of the portrait was unfurled earlier the same day as a large tapestry on the facade of St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican. It was to serve as a backdrop for Pope Francis’ Sept. 4 canonization Mass for Mother Teresa.

In Washington the sight of the portrait drew excited gasps and smiles from the 17 members of the Missionaries of Charity attending the ceremony.

“She’s our mother. Now she’s the mother of the whole world. She’s a saint for the church. She’s not just our own. We’ve given her to the world,” said Sister Tanya, superior of the Gift of Peace home in Washington, where the Missionaries of Charity serve elderly, poor, sick and homeless people.

The Knights of Columbus printed more than 1 million prayer cards with the official portrait. They will be distributed at the canonization Mass and given to Missionaries of Charity and the people they serve around the world.

Fagan smiled and said artists dream of seeing a positive reaction to their work like the sisters offered, but that he thought “the credit lies more with the subject than the painting.”

The artist said that he, like millions of people around the world, admired Mother Teresa for her loving service of the poor and her humility. Fagan, who has painted and sculpted portraits of U.S. presidents, said capturing the essence of the nun known around the world was a daunting task.

He explained that he found his “hook” with a simple quote of the saint-to-be that someone shared: “Joy is strength.” He said the phrase helped him feel like he knew Mother Teresa and guided the composition and the expression that he painted on her face.

“Every time I lifted up the brush, that quote was going through my head. Mother Teresa lived that. She was a diminutive, yet earthshaking figure,” the artist said.

Fagan said he spent about a month on preparatory sketches before beginning the portrait, which took about six weeks to complete. “Mother Teresa brought joy to my studio, to my home. Now I will miss her company,” he said.

The painting shows Mother Teresa smiling warmly and looking to the side, with a subtle halo over her head. She is wearing her community’s trademark white sari-styled habit with blue trim. A member of the Missionaries of Charity serving in Charlotte, North Carolina, posed for the artist so he could capture the folds of their distinctive habit accurately.

The painting was to be displayed at the Knights of Columbus Museum in New Haven, Connecticut, for several weeks except for events in New York Sept. 8-9, and a Sept. 10 Mass of Thanksgiving at St. Patrick’s Cathedral celebrating the canonization. It eventually will be given to the Missionaries of Charity.

A second painting depicting Mother Teresa and St. John Paul II also was unveiled at the shrine Sept. 1.

The painting by Russian-born artist Igor Babailov, depicts St. John Paul II and Mother Teresa standing together in front of 22 young children of different races and cultural backgrounds. The girls are wearing white first Communion dresses and the boys also are in white. A toddler is similarly attired.

The pope offers a blessing and Mother Teresa’s hands are folded in prayer. The painting, donated to the shrine by the artist, is called “Credo,” the Latin word meaning to believe and follow.

The unveiling followed a Mass of thanksgiving for the canonization of Mother Teresa celebrated by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the apostolic nuncio to the United States, at the shrine’s Redemptor Hominis Church.

 

Zimmermann is editor of the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington.

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Indians gather to celebrate birthday of Blessed Teresa, soon-to-be-saint

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Catholic News Service

KOLKATA, India — They came from all around to celebrate the birthday of Blessed Teresa of Kolkata, the founder of the Missionaries of Charity who will be become a saint Sept. 4.

Kolkata Archbishop Thomas D’Souza celebrated Mass at the order’s motherhouse Aug. 26 for the woman “who knew everyone and touched many lives.” Hymns were sung in Hindi and English.

Members of the Missionaries of Charity pray Aug. 26 near the tomb of Blessed Teresa of Kolkata, India, in celebration of her birthday. Mother Teresa, founder of the Missionaries of Charity, will be canonized at the Vatican Sept. 4. (CNS photo/Piyal Adhikary, EPA)

Members of the Missionaries of Charity pray Aug. 26 near the tomb of Blessed Teresa of Kolkata, India, in celebration of her birthday. Mother Teresa, founder of the Missionaries of Charity, will be canonized at the Vatican Sept. 4. (CNS photo/Piyal Adhikary, EPA)

Sister Lysa, deputy head of the religious congregation, repeated Mother Teresa’s words: “We are not social workers; what we are doing for the people is, in fact, doing something for God, in the path of God.” Then the nuns, priests and faithful prayed for Mother Teresa and reiterated their commitment to carry forward her humanitarian work.

Missionaries of Charity Sister Mary Prema Pierick, who was in Rome to lead the celebrations for the canonization, sent a message, saying the canonization “will be a moment when, gathered around Mother, we shall have an experience of universal family of the children of the one heavenly Father. The difference of caste, creed, color, rich, poor will not prevent us from rejoicing together in the honor bestowed on Mother. Mother is with God and, as she promised us, she continues to light the light of hope and peace in everyone’s heart.”

All over the state, on what would have been Mother Teresa’s 106th birthday, churches held special prayers for her and also to commemorate her journey to sainthood.

The state-run multiplex began a four-day Mother Teresa International Film Festival, which included 23 films on her or inspired by her work.

A cathedral in the outskirts of Kolkata at nearby Baruipur will named St. Teresa, and statues have been erected around the area, including at the archbishop’s house.

“It is a moment of celebration, not just because she will be canonized as a saint, but that her work and philosophy will be propagated more now,” said Missionaries of Charity Sister Asharita.

Margaret Frank, a teacher, said she prayed to thank Mother Teresa.

“Mother had a healing touch,” she said. “For me I have been praying to her posthumously, but when she was alive, I was her regular visitor. She was a guide, friend and philosopher … she touched the lives of many.”

— Saadia Azim

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Missionaries of Charity stop adoptions after India imposes new rules

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Catholic News Service

KOLKATA, India — Seventeen-month-old Anirban Mukherjee playfully touches his mother’s face with his fingers at Shishu Bhavan, the Missionaries of Charity children’s home.

Anirban Mukherjee and his wife, Sampa, pose May 2 with their 17-month-old son Anirban at Shishu Bhavan, the Missionaries of Charity children's home in Kolkata, India. The parents adopted Anirban from the home in April 2015 and call him "the gift from the saint of Kolkata, Mother Teresa."  (CNS photo/Saadia Azim)

Anirban Mukherjee and his wife, Sampa, pose May 2 with their 17-month-old son Anirban at Shishu Bhavan, the Missionaries of Charity children’s home in Kolkata, India. The parents adopted Anirban from the home in April 2015 and call him “the gift from the saint of Kolkata, Mother Teresa.” (CNS photo/Saadia Azim)

Anirban’s parents brought him to visit and play with his old housemates. He was adopted in April 2015 by Abhay and Sampa Mukherjee, a childless couple from Asansol, an industrial township in West Bengal. Anirban’s biological mother could not afford to pay for his postnatal treatment, so just a few weeks after his birth, she abandoned him. Shishu Bhavan became his home, where he was treated for severe malnourishment until he was put up for adoption.

Abhay and Sampa Mukherjee were unable to conceive and called Anirban “the gift from the saint of Kolkata, Mother Teresa.”

“I am very keen on adopting a girl child now, so that our family could be complete. But within a few months after we adopted Anirban, this home has stopped their adoption services. We do not rely on other centers,” said Abhay Mukherjee. “It is good that while visiting here, Anirban gets to meet his friends, who are like family.”

Although the sisters continue to keep and care for abandoned, destitute and sick children, they have stopped putting children up for adoption. The nuns said they made the decision because new government rules were “contrary to our Christian values.”

The decision was made after the Indian government’s Union Ministry of Women and Child Development issued new guidelines allowing “single or unmarried parents, men or women, the right” to apply for and adopt children. The nuns concluded their pending adoptions, then on March 31 wrote to the ministry that they had closed their adoption centers.

The Central Adoption Resource Authority centralized the adoption process through an online application system, creating a database for prospective adoptive parents, which also makes it easier for single, divorced, gay couples or couples from abroad to adopt children in India in accordance with the new guidelines. But many nongovernmental organizations have expressed concern that making it easier for adoption opens up a Pandora’s box in India, where child labor, human trafficking and pressure on unwed mothers to give up their children are serious challenges.

In the statement sent to the ministry, the nuns wrote: “If we were to continue the work set up by Mother Teresa, complying with all the provisions would have been difficult for us.”

Sister Joan of Arc told Catholic News Service: “We trust that God will take care of all the children in need of love from parents. We will continue to serve wholeheartedly, and free of charge, unwed mothers, children with malnutrition and differently abled children in all homes/centers run by us, irrespective of caste, creed and religion by God’s grace.”

Sister Ita explained: “We believe in God’s will, and there are certain values that need to be upheld. The idea to provide homes to children is to give them security and love. And if governmental guidelines in some way interfere with our principles, we have little option but to stop the services.” She said they could continue to ensure that children who are “malnourished, weak, sick and destitute and in need of compassion and love find (a) home here.”

Mother Teresa’s quotes hang in bold at Shishu Bhavan: “Families that pray together stay together. Unless you stay together, you cannot love one another, and unless you love one another you cannot love anyone else.”

“We believe in Mother’s words and as she professed that the goal is to get the children families, we would not want them to get in further difficulties in life,” said Sister Karita Mary.

Anne, 12, and Bess, 8, are from Kerala and came to visit Shishu Bhavan. One of them was adopted, but their parents will not tell them which one. The parents said they do not want to discriminate between the children.

“They know that one of them is from Mother’s Home but are growing as equals. It was Mother Teresa’s wish that I had decided to adopt a girl child much before I got married. Later I adopted the child, with support from my family,” said Christine, the mother of the two girls.

Volunteers from abroad and India work part time with the children and help them in their studies at the Missionaries of Charity centers. But with limited space now and children having little option of finding parents through the adoption process, it is difficult for the sisters to provide their services to newer special-needs children.

Another couple, Soma and Joydeep Mukherjee, also wanted to adopt a child.

“As parents we seek the most reliable center that can facilitate a smooth development of relationship between the parent and the child,” said Soma Mukherjee. “There are thousands of children wanting homes in India, and they should not be excluded from family life.”

Shishu Bhavan currently houses 35 differently abled children. They are fed, taught and given the medicines they need.

“We have volunteers to take care of these kids. They will live here and grow up,” said Sister Felomina. “The mission intends to make them independent. It is true that most of the times children are left out because of their disabilities by their biological parents. Now when we are serving them, we would do so for their entire life.”

— By Saadia Azim

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Pope Francis calls nuns killed in Yemen ‘martyrs of charity’

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The four Missionaries of Charity murdered March 4 in Yemen “are the martyrs of today,” Pope Francis said. “They gave their blood for the church.”

After reciting the Angelus with thousands of people gathered in St. Peter’s Square March 6, Pope Francis publicly offered his condolences to the Missionaries of Charity and prayed that Blessed Teresa of Kolkata would “accompany to paradise these daughters of hers, martyrs of charity, and that she would intercede for peace and a sacred respect for human life.”

Yemeni pro-government fighters guard outside a Missionaries of Charity elderly home March 4 after unidentified gunmen targeted the home in Aden, Yemen. Four Missionaries of Charity and 10 to 12 other people were killed in the attack. (CNS photo/EPA)

Yemeni pro-government fighters guard outside a Missionaries of Charity elderly home March 4 after unidentified gunmen targeted the home in Aden, Yemen. Four Missionaries of Charity and 10 to 12 other people were killed in the attack. (CNS photo/EPA)

The four Missionaries of Charity and 12 other people were killed by uniformed gunmen, who entered the home the sisters operate for the elderly and disabled in Aden.

The superior of the Missionaries of Charity at the home survived by hiding, according to the Vatican’s Fides news agency. Father Tom Uzhunnalil, an Indian Salesian priest who had been living at the home since Holy Family Parish in Aden was sacked and burned in September, was missing after the attack.

Although the sisters would not make news headlines, Pope Francis said, the martyred sisters “gave their blood for the church.”

The sisters and the 14 others killed “are victims of the attack by those who killed them, but also (victims) of indifference, this globalization of indifference that just doesn’t care,” the pope said.

Yemen has been experiencing a political crisis since 2011 and is often described as being in a state of civil war with members of the Shiite and Sunni Muslim communities vying for power; in the midst of the tensions, terrorist groups have been operating in the country, including groups believed to be associated with the so-called Islamic State and al-Qaida.

Although most Christians have fled the country, a handful of Salesian priests and about 20 Missionaries of Charity chose to stay and continue their ministry.

In a condolence message released March 5 by the Vatican, Pope Francis described the Aden murders as an “act of senseless and diabolical violence.”

The pope “prays that this pointless slaughter will awaken consciences, lead to a change of heart, and inspire all parties to lay down their arms and take up the path of dialogue,” the message said. “In the name of God, he calls upon all parties in the present conflict to renounce violence, and to renew their commitment to the people of Yemen, particularly those most in need, whom the sisters and their helpers sought to serve.”

Bishop Paul Hinder, head of the vicariate of Southern Arabia, which includes Yemen, told AsiaNews, a Rome-based missionary news agency, that at 8:30 a.m. March 4, “persons in uniform” broke into the Aden compound, killing the guard and all employees who tried to stop them. “They then reached the sisters and opened fire.”

Two of the sisters killed were Rwandan, one was from India and one was from Kenya, the bishop said. Father Uzhunnalil apparently was kidnapped, he added.

“The signal was clear: This has to do with religion,” Bishop Hinder said.

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Gunmen kill nuns, elderly and disabled; priest missing in Aden, Yemen

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Four Missionaries of Charity and 10 to 12 other people were killed March 4 after uniformed gunmen entered a home the sisters operate for the elderly and disabled in Aden, Yemen.

Several news outlets reported 16 people were killed, including patients.

Four members of the Missionaries of Charity were killed March 4 along with elderly residents of a home the sisters operate in Yemen, a Middle East country just south of Saudi Arabia. March 4 in Yemen, by gunmen ( CNS file photo)

Four members of the Missionaries of Charity were killed March 4 along with elderly residents of a home the sisters operate in Yemen, a Middle Eastern country just south of Saudi Arabia. March 4 in Yemen, by gunmen ( CNS file photo)

The superior of the Missionaries of Charity at the home survived by hiding, according to the Vatican’s Fides news agency. Father Tom Uzhunnalil, an Indian Salesian priest who had been living at the home since Holy Family parish in Aden was sacked and burned in September, was missing after the attack.

Yemen has been experiencing a political crisis since 2011 and is often described as being in a state of civil war with members of the Shiite and Sunni Muslim communities vying for power; in the midst of the tensions, terrorist groups have been operating in the country, including groups believed to be associated with the so-called Islamic State and al-Qaida.

Although most Christians have fled the country, a handful of Salesian priests and about 20 Missionaries of Charity chose to stay and continue their ministry.

Bishop Paul Hinder, head of the vicariate of Southern Arabia, which includes Yemen, told AsiaNews, a Rome-based missionary news agency, that at 8:30 a.m. March 4, “persons in uniform” broke into the Aden compound, killing the guard and all employees who tried to stop them. “They then reached the sisters and opened fire.”

Two of the sisters killed were Rwandan, one was from India and one was from Kenya, the bishop said. Father Uzhunnalil apparently was kidnapped, he added.

“The signal was clear: This has to do with religion,” Bishop Hinder said.

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Brazilian priest recalls prayers to Mother Teresa, possible miracle

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Catholic News Service

SAO PAULO — Although some may say it was by chance, Brazilian Father Elmiran Ferreira Santos believes that God’s hands were leading him when he arrived late one afternoon at his Our Lady of Aparecida Parish and found, waiting for him, a grief-stricken parishioner, whose husband had been diagnosed with several brain tumors.

Blessed Teresa of Kolkata, founder of the Missionaries of Charity, is pictured in a 2002 photo. Brazilian Father Elmiran Ferreira Santos, pastor of Our Lady of Aparecida Parish in Sao Paulo, believes prayers to Blessed Teresa for a parishioner with brain tumors led to a possible miracle. (CNS photo/Thomas Cheng, EPA)

Blessed Teresa of Kolkata, founder of the Missionaries of Charity, is pictured in a 2002 photo. Brazilian Father Elmiran Ferreira Santos, pastor of Our Lady of Aparecida Parish in Sao Paulo, believes prayers to Blessed Teresa for a parishioner with brain tumors led to a possible miracle. (CNS photo/Thomas Cheng, EPA)

“The husband’s condition had deteriorated and he had been placed in the ICU,” Father Santos told Catholic News Service.

“The wife just didn’t know who to turn to,” he added. Father Santos said he asked the woman to sit and pray with him to Blessed Teresa of Kolkata, founder of the Missionaries of Charity.

“I had just returned from a Mass with the nuns at the Missionaries of Charity and even had a little medal that was given to me by the sisters in my pocket,” said the priest, who added he gave the medal to the patient’s wife and asked her and her family to pray to Blessed Teresa even more fervently in the days to come.

Father Santos said that, with the grace of God and the prayers to Mother Teresa, the patient improved, was taken out of the intensive care unit and, in a period of two days, was given a clean bill of health and discharged.

“When a complete recovery of his health was seen and the doctors could not explain how, I understood that Blessed Mother Teresa had helped,” said Father Santos. He said he reported the occurrence to the sisters, who in turn told their superior. The priest also said the doctor who took care of the patient was the doctor on call for Pope Francis during his visit to Brazil in 2013 for World Youth Day, and that the doctor had spoken to the pope about the patient.

The word about the patient’s recovery soon spread throughout the parishes, the diocese and beyond Father Caetano Rizzi, the judicial vicar who oversaw the case at the Santos Diocese, said the entire diocesan process occurred very quickly.

He said he received a telephone call in mid-June 2015 from a friend in Rome telling him that the Vatican was looking at a possible miracle attributed to Mother Teresa and that two Vatican representatives would be flying to Brazil in a week’s time to look at the evidence. The vicar said that, a week later, Vatican representatives were there to hear testimony from witnesses, medical experts and theologians. There were four sessions per day during four days. On June 26, the process ended, and the representatives returned to Rome with all the evidence gathered by the Santos Diocese.

After a diocesan investigation into a potential miracle yields positive results, the case goes to the Congregation for Saints’ Causes. A panel of physicians is convoked by the congregation to study whether the healing is authentic and lasting, and that there is no natural, medical explanation for it. With the doctors’ approval, the files are passed on to a panel of theologians.

The theologians study the events, especially the prayers, surrounding the alleged miracle and give their opinion on whether the healing can be attributed to the intercession of a particular sainthood candidate.

If the theologians give a positive opinion, the cardinals who are members of the congregation vote on whether to recommend that the pope recognize the healing as a miracle and set a canonization date.

Father Santos says that the experience reinforced his belief of just how merciful God is and “confirmed the Gospel, which states that we are all called upon to be saints.”

In 2000 Josephine Bakhita was declared a saint; one miracle attributed to her intercession involved a Catholic in the Santos Diocese.

Contributing to this story was Cindy Wooden at the Vatican.

 

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