On December 13, 1979, Mother Teresa went to the Iranian embassy in Rome. America was concerned with the fate of the hostages taken when the American embassy in Iran was seized by Islamic revolutionaries led by Ayatollah Khomeini.
“I have come to see you about the American hostages,” Mother Teresa said. “I come as a mother who longs for her children. I am willing to go to Iran or to talk to the Ayatollah on the telephone.”
“I will look into the matter,” the man said. Mother and her sisters kept praying about the hostages, but there was no response from the embassy of Iran. While she was in Rome, Mother attended a Mass celebrated by Pope John Paul II in his private chapel.
She presented her proposal for a new Coworker organization of priests. He asked, “May I be the first priest to volunteer, Mother?” She returned to India, and learned she was the first naturalized Indian to receive the Bharat Ratna, the Jewel of India.
President Neelam Sanjiva Reddy said, “She embodies compassion and love of humanity as few in history have done.” Prime Minister Indira Gandhi said, “To meet her is to feel utterly humble, to sense the power of tenderness and the strength of love.”
She was raising the consciousness of the entire world, helping people realize that works of mercy, feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, caring for the ill, clothing the naked are truly works of peace—indeed the foundation of a peaceful world.
Can I Get Your Autograph?
People everywhere asked for her autograph. She wrote, “God bless you. M. Teresa M.C.” A sister asked, “Don’t you get tired of writing your signature, Mother?” “For me, it is praying,” Mother said. “When I write ‘God bless you’ I pray for the person.” The Holy Father gave her the keys to the Primaville building, a mansion on Vatican property. “Now you have a place where every child, every homeless mother awaiting a child will be welcome.”
In 1980, Mother took some sisters to Skopje, Yugoslavia, her birthplace. In May 1981, she celebrated the 50th anniversary of her life as a nun with a special Mass at the Motherhouse. On June 4, 1981, President and Mrs. Ronald Reagan invited Mother Teresa to lunch at the White House. She took Sister Priscilla and Violet Collins.
Mother told the president, “Your suffering from the attempt on your life has brought you closer to Jesus and to the poor who suffer so much.” Afterward, when reporters asked him what he told her, President Reagan said, "I listened.”
Later that month, when she was awarded the Discovery Medal at Marquette University, reporters asked, “Have you made any discoveries, Mother?” “I am too small to discover anything. Yes, I suppose it is a discovery for some that the poorest of the poor, the rejected, the throwaways are Jesus in his disguise.”
She had passed her 70th birthday. Someone asked, “When will you retire, Mother?” She said, “The poor cannot retire.”
Her brother, Lazar, died of lung cancer at his home in Italy on July 3. When Mother got the news, she went into the chapel and said her rosary. Later she said, “My mother must be rejoicing now. She must have been longing for him to join her, Papa, and Aga. She’s with her only son, whom she loved more than her life. Now it only remains for our Father to call me and the whole family will be united once more.”
Responding to Critics
Some people criticized Mother for not trying to change the structures of society. One reporter felt that she made it too easy to dump one’s guilt about poverty and homelessness by a donation without confronting the problem. Mother always said, “Giving should not be confined to money or material goods. I want people to give their hands and their hearts.”
In many interviews she explained, “We give fish to the poor instead of a fishing rod because our people are too weak from hunger, too diseased and disabled, too old or too young to fish for themselves. When they are strong enough, you give them the rod and show them how to catch fish.”
Some people felt Mother should not have run homes for the sick and dying if she couldn’t offer modern medical care. Perhaps they failed to realize that Mother cared for people who were too poor or too sick to be cared for in traditional medical settings. Many people would rather die surrounded by Mother's loving nuns than in a sterile hospital attached to life-support machines.
She was criticized for socializing and accepting help from people like the widow of Enver Hoxha, communist dictator of Albania (the same man who would not allow her mother and sister to leave the country), Baby Doc Duvalier, the ruthless dictator of Haiti, and several questionable businessmen, including Charles Keating.
Journalist and author Christopher Hitchens, a vocal critic of Mother Teresa, accused her of spending millions of dollars on convents rather than building new hospitals. It’s safe to say he was never inside one of Mother’s convents because less money was spent on them than on most of the poor huts, shacks, and houses around them.
Seeing Christ in Everyone
In El Florido, Mexico, Mother refused washing machines and dryers for her orphanage. The sisters washed all the babies’ clothes and diapers by hand with a wash board and hard soap. Mother would shake hands with a convicted murderer, a leper, or someone who saw themselves as her enemy.
To her, everyone was Christ in his various masks. If one understands Mother’s theology, it can be seen why she did this. She forgave everyone. She followed the Bible literally. “Love God with all your heart, all your strength, all your soul and love your neighbor as yourself.” Mother didn’t see borders and frontiers. She saw the world as one and she loved us all.
“Judge not, lest you be judged,” she said. In 1981 and 1982, polls showed she was the most admired woman in the world. At the end of 1982 she saw a copy of the London Times with a photograph of an elderly man on his knees receiving the Eucharist from the hands of a priest.
It was Malcolm Muggeridge, the author of Something Beautiful for God. She had prayed for Malcolm to know Jesus in the Eucharist ever since they attended Mass together more than a decade earlier. She had a difficult time understanding Malcolm’s resistance to full participation in the Mass since she noticed his great devotion during the liturgy.
Now, years later, Malcolm and his wife had come to know Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. Mother Teresa rejoiced. God had indeed heard her prayers.