Amidst all of the celebrations connected with Mother Teresa’s recent canonization, there emerges this recollection of her initial visit to Los Angeles.
In 1983 I was asked to give the keynote address at a luncheon commemorating the 350th anniversary of the founding of the Daughters of Charity. The title of the talk was “Heroines of the Centuries”.
The gala affair, staged at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, was to be attended by local and ecclesial dignitaries. It demanded an intense preparation both in content and presentation.
Marjorie Fairbanks, the chairperson for the affair, startled me with her announcement that she was inviting Mother Teresa of Calcutta as the honored guest. Initially, I discouraged the whole idea, explaining that Mother Teresa would likely not journey around the world for such an occasion.
However, I did suggest that her invitation include two first class tickets, explaining that nuns never travel alone. Marjorie did that only to later discover that Mother had exchanged them for two “steerage” tickets. But she would come!
The event sold out almost immediately. Even three decades ago, Mother Teresa’s presence ensured an overflow turnout.
I recall meeting her just prior to the gathering. She was exceedingly gracious and anxious to thank the ladies for their works of charity over the years. The local press turned out in great numbers hoping for an interview.
In her simple but masterful presentation, Mother Teresa pointed out that there was no need for anyone to travel across the globe to follow Jesus. “Stay where you are in your own Calcutta. Find the sick, suffering, the lonely right there where you are in, your homes and your families, in your churches and schools.”
She further said: “In the Eucharist, I see Christ in the appearance of the bread. In the slums, I see Christ in the poor. Sometimes we meet Jesus rejected and covered in filth in the gutter. Sometimes we find Jesus stuffed into a drain, or moaning with pain from sores or rotting with gangrene, or even screaming from the agony of a broken back. The most distressing disguise calls for even more love from us.”
My own presentation went relatively well. Midway through the presentation, I glanced over at Mother Teresa. She was propped up on a pillow for height, her eyes were closed and she was praying the rosary, totally oblivious to the Old Country Priest and his talk!
I recall being humbled, but deeply impressed. Once more, Mother Teresa had stolen the show.
It was that incident that motivated me to organize and lead seventy-five people from Los Angeles to her beatification in October, 2003 later in Rome’s Piazza di San Pietro.
The recently canonized Mother Teresa was a remarkably dedicated person. She appeared to be single-minded and completely oblivious to anyone or anything unrelated to her immediate objectives.
Great people are like that. Rarely if ever are they distracted by the mundanities of everyday life.