The great strength of the powerful new documentary Mother Teresa: No Greater Love is that while it traces St. Teresa of Calcutta’s biography, it focuses vigorously on her living legacy: the Missionaries of Charity around the world. The feature-length film, produced by the Knights of Columbus, takes us to visit the Missionaries in Brazil, Kenya, Haiti, India, the Philippines, New York City and Washington DC. We hear from several Sisters about how Mother taught them to see and embrace their mission, and we see them ministering to those they serve—people ravaged by extreme poverty and neglect, drug addicts, disabled children abandoned by their families, and the dying. Though the suffering we see is heartbreaking at first, the love and joy that the Sisters bring transform the scenes into something beautiful.
Interspersed with these contemporary visits are re-enacted scenes from Mother’s early life as well as photos and films of Mother herself through the years and interviews with some of those who knew her. I was moved to see clips from the black and white 1969 BBC documentary, Something Beautiful for God, through which (and the book of the same name) the great British journalist and pundit Malcom Muggeridge—who later became a dear friend of the Human Life Review—introduced Mother to the world. Especially this famous scene: Mother is with Muggeridge in India, showing him the abandoned newborn babies, all lined up in a crib, and he asks if they are unwanted, and Mother says: “Nobody claims them, they are brought here mostly by teenagers, school girls and boys.” Muggeridge says “look at that tiny one, that’s the tiniest baby I’ve ever seen.” Mother Teresa lovingly scoops up this terribly fragile little girl and says, “she’s two weeks old … still, there is life in her! And the life of God is in her.”
As Muggeridge describes the scene in the book, Mother’s “face is glowing and triumphant; as it might be the mother of all of us glorying in what we possess—this life in us, in our world, in the universe, which, however low it flickers or fiercely burns, is still a dying flame, which no man dare presume to put out, be his motives ever so human or enlightened.”
The film also looks back to the ’80s, when Mother Teresa opened the first hospices for AIDS patients, in NYC and in Washington DC. This was at the height of fear and panic, and she faced enormous opposition, including from Catholics. But Mother understood, said a Sister, that AIDS victims were the new lepers of society. She and the Sisters and volunteers started caring for these dying men. 91-year-old volunteer Gen Principe, who started volunteering with Mother in 1983 (and still does, in Harlem) said of his time at the first AIDS hospice: “Some of the people who had AIDS told us that, in the hospital, they would leave the food at the edge of the door (and they couldn’t get out of bed) they were so scared … but with us? … We bathed them, washed them, changed their diapers, etc.—that was Mother.”
It all seems so heroic and beyond our capabilities, but Mother Teresa famously said “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” It didn’t matter to Mother who a person was: his religion, politics, sexual orientation, addictions—as she said, some were Jesus in a very “distressing disguise.” But they were all Jesus to her, and she did what she could for them, even if it was holding them as they died.
These are small glimpses into a film bursting with the joy and divine light surrounding Mother Teresa and her miraculous legacy. It is playing in selected theaters across the country for two days only, October 3rd and 4th. Go see it!