Aware that it has been 25 years since Mother Teresa passed away, the creators of a new documentary are seeking to make her life and labors known to a generation for whom she may be an unfamiliar saint on the calendar (September 5). Mother Teresa: No Greater Love, produced by the Knights of Columbus (and playing in select theatres in all 50 states on October 3rd and 4th), provides a personal and comprehensive look at St. Teresa of Calcutta’s life and mission as well as her “call within a call” to serve the poorest of the poor. Using historical footage of the tiny, sari-clad nun intertwined with interviews of her closest associates and dramatic reenactments of key events in her life, the film gives the viewer a moving introduction to the saint of the streets whose witness to God’s love in our modern world touched the hearts of millions.
Since I work for the Knights of Columbus, a review of the movie might not be appropriate. So perhaps the best endorsement would be for me to recount my own brief meeting with Mother Teresa, which bears a hint of the miraculous. For more stories like mine, go and see the movie, which is filled with similar amazing encounters with the nun who turned the world’s attention to a preferential care for the poor.
I was a reporter for Catholic New York in 1993 when word came that Mother Teresa would be visiting the church hall near the Missionaries of Charity’s homeless shelter and soup kitchen in the South Bronx. I had written about Cardinal O’Connor’s work with her religious community but hadn’t met Mother Teresa in person, so I rushed by subway to get there.
It was early in the morning, but already there was a long line of devotees winding around the block, with hundreds waiting patiently to enter the church hall. Along with residents of this poor neighborhood were people from other areas of the city and Westchester County, shedding their social status for a morning to stand shoulder to shoulder with the poor, just as Mother Teresa would have it.
Inside the hall, a sea of people moved this way and that, inching slowly toward the stage where Mother was hidden in the crowd. One step, two steps, three steps . . . suddenly I found myself pushed forward into the mix of humanity and onto the stage. Two wrinkled, warm hands embraced mine and pressed something into my palm. “God bless you,” a comforting voice pronounced, and I realized I was standing in front of Mother Teresa. She was tiny, bent, and obviously tired from her recent travels, but her eyes and smile evoked energy and conveyed a simple message: “Peace be with you!” Hardly knowing what had happened, I felt her hands release mine and move to the next person. Finding my way down from the crowded stage, I left the hall, not sure where to go but certain that life from now on would be a little bit different. I opened my left hand. In it was a Miraculous Medal—Mother Teresa’s trademark gift to those who sought her counsel and prayers. I attached it to the string of the brown scapular I wore around my neck and then, catching sight of friends, joined them for the subway ride back to Manhattan.
On the crowded train, I found a spot to stand near where a woman and her preschool son were sitting. The boy was speaking in Spanish to his mother, pointing at the scapular, which I had forgotten to place back under my shirt, and the medal attached to it. When his mother made eye contact with me and smiled, I said to her, “I just got this from Mother Teresa. Have you heard of Mother Teresa?” She nodded and made the sign of the cross to show that she was Catholic. “Would your son like the medal? I could give it to him as a gift.” When the boy reached out his hand, I took the Miraculous Medal from the string and placed it in his palm. “But what about you?” asked his mother. “In the spirit of Mother Teresa, I am giving to you what she gave to me. God will always provide.” I had a feeling of spiritual satisfaction yet also an earthly panic over the loss of something that was precious to me. How God would provide, I had no idea.
The next day, I was heading to a religious bookstore to buy a Miraculous Medal for consolation. As I crossed the street, a voice called out my name. An older woman from my parish approached. “I saw Mother Teresa,” she told me, “and for some reason, she gave me two Miraculous Medals. I tried to give one back, but she said I would know what to do with it.” She held out the medal to me. I took it and recounted how I had given mine away. As Mother would say, God is never outdone in generosity.
To find out where Mother Teresa: No Greater Love is playing in your area, visit: motherteresamovie.com/