Indian-born priests filled with pride

by Marc and Julie Anderson
mjanderson@theleaven.org

HOLTON — It’s official. Mother Teresa of Calcutta is now St. Teresa of Calcutta, but it might take a while to get the new name right.

“We may have some difficulty in calling her Saint Teresa. Her holiness is so near to us, so tender and so fruitful that we continue to spontaneously call her Mother,” Pope Francis said.

For Father Marinand Mendem — pastor of St. Dominic Parish in Holton, St. Francis Xavier in Mayetta and Our Lady of the Snows Shrine on the Potawatomi Reservation — and Father Reginald Saldanha, associate pastor of the Church of the Ascension in Overland Park, the saint touched their lives earlier than most archdiocesan priests.

Both priests were born and raised in India. For them, the new saint represents the pride of their country of birth, as well as holiness and maternal love.

“Everyone looked at her with a great regard,” said Father Mendem.

As a teenager, Father Saldanha remembers homilies during which priests encouraged people to imitate her, something many took seriously. For example, in his parish of 300 families, 50 women became religious Sisters.

Ordained Sept. 10, 1997, just five days after her death, Father Saldanha remembers the time as bittersweet.

“I was saddened by her passing and yet joyful in preparing for my ordination,” he said. “The way people showed their love and honor and respect to her — that was a great spiritual moment, a moment of inspiration for not only me, but also for those who went to the convent.”

Her funeral is also a vivid memory for Father Mendem.

“She was given the highest state funeral India has,” he said. “That’s how much she was esteemed.

“We could see the whole nation mourn Mother Teresa as one of its own family members.”

Father Mendem never personally met the saint, but his sister did, and she often extolled the saint’s virtues.

“She had been telling me how wonderful [Mother Teresa] was and how influential she was on her [own religious vocation],” he said.

“[Mother Teresa] was always grateful that she had the opportunity to serve,” said Father Mendem.

“If you can feed one, then feed one,” is one of the sayings of Mother Teresa that Father Saldanha often shares in his homilies.

“To be faithful is more important than to be successful,” is another of his favorites. He went on to explain that the saint followed the will of God wherever it led and to whomever it led her, often daring to go where no one, not even popes would go.

“Her whole life was a reflection of saintliness,” said Father Saldanha. “My ministry definitely has been inspired by her mission. She is one of my favorite saints.”

“I find great strength and inspiration from the darkness and spiritual emptiness she experienced,” he continued, “as revealed from her letters and journals.

“In spite of all that, she held on and remained faithful to God, and God never abandoned her. She inspires a great hope in my life.”

In reaching out to the poor, no matter color or religious creed, both priests said Mother Teresa was the face of Christ to the world.

“What a symbol of love. What a symbol of compassion,” Father Mendem said, adding her greatest legacy is that she taught a simple truth.

“All of us are loved by God, and all of us are children of God,” he said.

But for those not feeling that way, St. Teresa is the perfect patron, said Father Saldanha.

“I celebrated Mother Teresa’s canonization,” he said, “by preaching a homily . . . inviting people to seek her intercession especially in life’s dark moments, when we feel lonely and abandoned, when we feel we are in the gutters.”

But he, like Pope Francis, expects to call her “Mother” rather than “St.” Teresa for some time to come.

“I believe she certainly wants to be called Mother Teresa rather than St. Teresa as she was someone who was not fond of any titles or honor,” said Father Saldanha.

“And I can relate to her as ‘Mother’ better than ‘Saint,’” he added. “All of her actions were actions of love — motherly love.”

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