An Interview with Sister Nirmala, successor to Mother Theresa of Calcutta.

Born into a wealthy Hindu family, she had all the makings of a natural leader. She studied to become a professional lawyer to prepare herself to help those who couldn't help themselves, and graduated wearing the blue and white sari of the Missionaries of Charity.
    Mother Theresa herself who told her to complete her law studies. But today, unlike most lawyers, she doesn't like to talk much or be recognized in public. For many years now, her most eloquent speeches do not consist of words, but deeds at the service of the poorest of the poor.
    Sr. Nirmala Joshi, superior general of the Missionaries of Charity, is currently in Rome, where she participated in the World Encounter of Volunteers together with the Pope. After the closing Mass, where an estimated 40,000 persons who give their lives to charity attended, the Vatican newspaper "L'Osservatore Romano" took advantage of the occasion to ask her a few questions.
    Born a Hindu, she converted to Christianity and opted for the contemplative life.

SR NIRMALA: I come from Hinduism, and it is there that you find my family roots," she explained. "I retain some splendid Hindu values. I think that there is also a partial truth in other religions, thus, also in Hinduism. But only Christ is the Truth.

Q: What is the importance of prayer life and contemplation?

SR NIRMALA: We cannot be Missionaries of Charity if we leave out the Eucharist. My day, our day, begins before the Eucharist and there it ends. Who can give us the strength to live our entire existence with the poor, except Jesus? If we didn't have the Eucharist, it would be senseless to serve the poor with our lives.

Q: Is it hard to carry on the legacy of Mother Theresa?

SR NIRMALA: If I only think of myself, I am afraid, but if I gaze on God, at his love, and entrust myself to prayer, I see that everything is possible. When I was given the job of superior general of the Missionaries of Charity, I felt an enormous responsibility. I recall the day that Mother Theresa blessed me. I know that Jesus will help me and that Mother Theresa will intercede for me before him. Mother was at my side with her prayers and counsels when she lived with us. Now I feel her presence in a stronger and more effective manner.

Q: Today's youth experience a great openness and sensibility for volunteerism, to help the poor and those who suffer. But Sr. Nirmala wants to clarify this point.

SR NIRMALA: We believe that every action of service has sense and value only if it is rooted in Christ. Otherwise, it runs the risk of becoming an end in itself and especially of being a fleeting experience. There are many people, especially youth, who come to us - as well as many other Christian institutions - to be volunteers. Some come for one day, a few hours. We don't ask for anything, we don't ask 'why.' The important thing is that they have decided to come and help the poor. I repeat that the meaning of true charity is found in Christ. Without him, there is no true charity, there is no true love.

Q: Mother Theresa was sometimes accused of alleviating the suffering of persons, but not combating the causes of poverty.

SR NIRMALA: By alleviating the poverty of a human being you are already giving a remedy to the cause of poverty itself. The fact of being able to help these persons constitutes in itself a way of eliminating poverty, because we offer the possibility of sharing poverty. In fact, poverty is caused in many cases by egotism and ignorance: the people don't know how or don't want to share anything with others. Nonetheless, working with us gives the possibility of sharing.

12:59pm 18/5/99 / Zenit


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