Mother Teresa of Calcutta
Mother Teresa of Calcutta Pays Tribute to Francis of Assisi

Mother Teresa
A government critic once told Mother Teresa she would do better to give people rods and teach them to fish than to give them fish. “The people I take care of—they are disabled, they’re hungry, they’re sick, they’re rejected by society, they have forgotten what love is. They are completely broken. I will give them the fish to eat and then when they are able to stand and hold the rod, I will hand them over to you and you give them the rod to catch the fish.”

Archbishop Joseph Bernardin interrupts the news conference to suggest that Mother Teresa consider bringing her sisters to Cincinnati. “You have to have the poor,” she replies. “That is the only condition we make, to have the poorest of the poor to serve.”

Photos by
Lawrence Zink

This is the introduction to St. Anthony Messenger’s photo-story account of Mother Teresa’s visit with the Franciscans in Cincinnati 18 years ago. She had come to Cincinnati on June 7, 1981, to help the Franciscan community there launch a year-long celebration of the 800th anniversary of the birth of St. Francis of Assisi.

VERY DAY after Holy Communion, Mother Teresa of Calcutta and her community say the Peace Prayer of St. Francis. The 70-year-old foundress of the Missionaries of Charity carries with her a small reproduction of an old painting of St. Francis in which the weeping saint holds a cloth to his eyes. “He’s wiping his tears,” she says, showing the picture to the Franciscans around her. “I think he’s crying after receiving the Stigmata.”

She treasures this keepsake, remarking that it is different from other items given to her—which her sisters and friends sometimes “steal.” “I would never give this away,” she says, smiling.

Mother Teresa, winner of the 1979 Nobel Peace Prize, is talking with a small group of Franciscans who have picked her up at the Greater Cincinnati Airport on Pentecost Sunday and are driving her into the city for a special visit.

Why does she admire St. Francis? And why does she think that he has had an impact on her life? “I suppose it’s because St. Francis of Assisi tried to imitate the poverty of Christ so closely,” responds the nun who has spent 35 years caring for the poor and dying in the slums of Calcutta.

The incident in the life of St. Francis that most appeals to her is his kissing of the leper. One day St. Francis had passed a leper on the road—too repulsed at first even to greet the man. “But then he came back and embraced him,” Mother Teresa relates. “That was the beginning of St. Francis. That act of surrender made St. Francis.... After that he was ready to give anything!” Today in India, Mother Teresa and her followers care for 93,000 lepers.

Some of Mother Teresa’s fascination with St. Francis is more lighthearted: “I love St. Francis of Assisi,” she says, breaking into her famous smile, “because he had a great love for animals. He used to talk with them and play with them—and scold them if they did harm to anybody. I love animals, too. Animals are such simple creations of God’s beauty.”

Mother Teresa also recalls with some delight how St. Clare of Assisi was inducted into the Franciscan family. Clare had stolen away from her wealthy family one night and come to Francis and the friars to have her beautiful golden hair cut off as a sign of her new commitment. “They cut her hair quickly, quickly,” Mother Teresa says with mischievous enjoyment—snipping her fingers in the air, “so nobody would want to take her back home!”

And so with wit and earnest affection for a saint who also served the poorest of the poor, Mother Teresa came to Cincinnati to help the Franciscans mark the 800th anniversary of the birth of St. Francis.Return to "Paying Tribute to Mother Teresa of Calcutta"

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