Blessed Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity-Contemplative
Yesterday, today and tomorrow
We are the fourth Branch on the M.C. Tree, which is the contemplative dimension and expression of the M.C. Charism. Our branch came into existence in Rome, in Via S. Agapito 8, on Monday 19th March, 1979, on the fifth centenary of the great feast of St. Joseph, the patron and protector of the universal Church. It was on 19th March, 1479 that the feast of St. Joseph was extended to the universal Church. Since then the feast is always celebrated on 19th March.
St. Joseph, no doubt, was the greatest and most beloved of all the saints of the Catholic Church next only to Mary. His greatness and that of Mary is measured by their closeness to Jesus Christ when he came to earth over two thousand years ago as the Word made flesh, the Emmanuel, God with us, to impart eternal life to all who believed in him. Little wonder, then, that Pope Pius IX on 8th December, 1870, in response to the petition of the over 300 bishops assembled at Vatican Council I (1869-1870), proclaimed Joseph the patron saint of the Universal Church.
On 8th December, 1993, on the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception our Society was erected into a religious institute in the diocese of Rome by his Eminence Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the vicar of St. John Paul II (1978-2005).
Some of the reasons for the slow growth of the Contemplative Branch.
Although our Contemplative Branch sprouted out on the M.C. Tree on 19th March, 1979, its growth and expansion has been considerably slow, due to various internal and external factors.
First of all, the first candidates did not have any clear idea about their vocation. They just wanted to serve the poor like Bl. Teresa M.C., who by then had become a world hero, a universal mother, a Mahatma. Many people admired her for the work she and the Missionaries of Charity did; many came to share in the work and join to some extent from the outside in their prayer life and saw the captivating smiles of the Sisters. But when there was a question of living the life every day it became a problem. Many candidates started comparing our little Society with the Sisters. But the outsiders have never lived the life of the Sisters in the community, which is always not only demanding but many a time a martyrdom. St. Berchmans used to say: “Community life is my greatest penance”. Many thought and still think that they were deceived by coming to the Brothers. Le us not forget that religious life is a substitute for martyrdom.
Secondly, the M.C. Sisters by then were well established with a definite structure and way of living, while the new Branch was just sprouting out with no form or strength. There was no one properly trained Brother with experience to guide the so called candidates, who one by one came and left also one by one. There was and there is still the perennial temptation to compare with the M.C. Sisters, whose life from the outside is very attractive and admirable.
Thirdly, there weren’t any proper Statutes or Constitutions or well defined guidelines to follow. Listening to God in prayer, contemplation and prolonged hours of adoration and sharing the fruits of prayer with others, especially with the poorest of the poor and with the LMCs, helped us to form slowly the kind of institute that we have become.
Externally speaking we did not have a proper place or a house of our own, except an abandoned shed in the village of Acilia, in the middle of a vast field for temporary use. The few young men who came to see the new way of life were more confused and confounded and the alternative for them was just to leave after the initial enthusiasm and novelty.
From Acilia to Via Carlo Cattaneo.
Ever since I came to Acilia on the outskirts of Rome, I was in search of a better and more convenient place, which could be more conducive to our way of life and apostolate, as we are contemplative missionaries and missionary contemplatives for the poorest of the poor.
One of the kind of apostolate we started doing on every Sunday of the week was to come to Carlo Cattaneo, near Termini Station , where the M.C. Sisters were running a night shelter for homeless men. Upon enquiry I found, very close to Termini Station, a flat in Via dei Mille with seven rooms for sale. The price, too, was rather reasonable, I thought. Sr. Frederick from San Gregorio al Celio, Rome telephoned me, giving the good news of the arrival of Bl. Teresa M.C. in Rome on 30th September night, 1978. She told us to come to San Gregorio al Celio for holy Mass at 6.30 a.m. of Sunday 1st October, 1978, the feast day of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, which was Bl. Teresa M.C.’s patronal feast.
So we came to San Gregorio al Celio for the feast day Mass. During our breakfast as usual Bl. Teresa M.C. stayed with us for a while and spoke about various things. She also wanted to know how the Brothers and I were. I was really waiting for a chance to speak to her about the idea of moving from Acilia to Rome, which she also thought was better in every sense. She also said that Acilia was too far for her if she wanted to spend some time with the Brothers.
I spoke of the flat in Via dei Mille, near Termini Station. She said: “We should go and see. Do one thing: you finish your breakfast, and I too will have mine, and then we will go and see the place”.
So we got ready quickly and came to the place. When Bl. Teresa saw the place with seven rooms, she said: “No, it is too big for you, plus the cost”. So we decided to look for a house elsewhere. Then I spoke of Via Carlo Cattaneo where we could stay. “Let us go and see it,” she said. So we came straight away to Via Carlo Cattaneo no. 24 and walked around. They had a small Chapel, a small kitchen, washing place and a room with a separate entrance. All was in the basement of the building, in the underground like a kind of catacomb.
So we decided to move to Via Carlo Cattaneo no. 24.
The following day we went to see archbishop Agostino Mayer SDB and spoke about our new move and the change of name from Brothers of Word to Missionaries of the Word. He was very happy to hear this. We invited him to come to celebrate the holy Mass and bless the house and our new beginning on 4th October 1978.
For me it was the Bethlehem cave. Years later, when I saw Bethlehem of Judea, where the Saviour of the world was born, it was even poorer than Via Carlo Cattaneo. The M.C. Contemplative Society was born in the modern Bethlehem cave of Via Carlo Cattaneo. It was God who wanted that sort of affinity with the Saviour’s birthplace.
On Tuesday 3rd October 1978 Bl. Teresa M.C., Sr. Mala M.C. and Fr. Sebastian M.C. went to meet his Eminence Cardinal Ugo Poletti, who was more than happy with all the suggestions that were presented to him in writing:
- moving from Acilia to Via Carlo Cattaneo no. 24;
- the changing of the name of the Pious Union from “Brothers of the Word” to Missionaries of the Word;
- Fr. Sebastian M.C. to be fully in charge of the Pious Union.
In the afternoon of the same day we had our first exodus from Acilia to Via Carlo Cattaneo no. 24. Mr. Luciano Grossi (R.I.P.) helped us to transport all our household things. Needless to say that by night all were overtired and went to bed after praising and thanking God for his tender care.
On Wednesday 4th October 1978, on the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, at about midday, Archbishop Mayer, the general secretary of the Congregation for Institutes of consecrated life and Societies of apostolic life, came to celebrate the holy Eucharist with us. Bl. Teresa M.C. and a couple of M.C. Sisters were also there. Archbishop gave us a very beautiful homily in which he stressed the importance of prayer and contemplation and service, not only to the poor, but to the poorest of the poor. After the holy Mass we had a cup of tea together. In the afternoon the candidates went to participate in the funeral Mass of Pope John Paul I. Bl. Teresa M.C. and Fr. Sebastian M.C. sat together in Via Carlo Cattaneo to discuss certain things.
The following day Bl. Teresa M.C., Fr. Sebastian M.C. and the Brothers went to San Francesco parish, in Acilia, to express our gratitude. The people were happy to see and hear Bl. Teresa M.C., but were sad and upset for our moving to Rome. They begged us to return to Acilia.
We said that although we moved from Acilia in order to be closer to the poorest, they would still be part of our family and they would be very much in our prayers. But we could not prevail over their reasoning and shoutings. What we wanted to do was the will of God, which alone matters at the end.. “Here am I , Lord, I come to do your will”.
During the day the dormitory was free and we were the only ones in the house, except that two M.C. Sisters who came to cook. They also cooked for the Brothers. In the first month there were three young men and myself. Every evening we went to the Chapel at Termini Station, where we had an hour of adoration, Rosary, etc. On Fridays we had non-stop adoration, i.e. from 7.00 a.m. to 7.00 p.m. It went on for a few months. In the meantime we lost one of the promising candidates, whose mother, a Jewish woman from U.S.A. came with determination to take him back, which she did. The remaining ones also were shaken.
Don Alberto Canusi.
One very cold evening, after the adoration at the station Chapel, Don Alberto Canusi from Viterbo, who used to join us in our holy hour, asked me how he could help me. I told him to find a place for us, if possible. “Anything else?” he asked me. I said that it was our primary need, since we did not have a proper place for our community. Don Alberto, who, although he said to me that it was impossible for him to find a place in Rome, came to me a few weeks later saying that he had found a place, but he said that he was not sure that I would like it. One evening, after the usual holy hour, Don Alberto took me in his car. When I mentioned to the two of the remaining candidates about it, their answer was: “For whom are you going to look for a place? We both will be going home soon”.
Without paying much attention to their words, I went with Don Alberto, who took me to the famous “Borghetto Prenestino”. It resembled Kolkata a lot. So many people were living in small huts. My heart rejoiced in the Lord for bringing me to the poor. For me it was like discovering a new world, the world of the poor in Rome. In the heart of my heart I said to myself: finally I have found my place. Don Alberto took me to a worn-out shed, the “asilo”, which since 1975 was closed by the authorities of the city corporation of Rome, declaring it “dangerous”. It was sealed and no one was supposed to enter.
Pope Paul VI.
It was in that shed that Pope Paul VI celebrated the holy Mass on 25th December, 1969 at 8.00 a.m. Of course then the “asilo” was in better condition. Thanks be to God, we still have the vestments he used to celebrate the Eucharist, especially the white chasuble with his papal emblem. For us it is a gift of God and a precious relic. God willing, Pope Paul VI will be beatified on Mission Sunday 19th October 2014. Pope Paul VI was a great pontiff and a saint. When I could not find a place in Rome I prayed to him: “Dear Pope Paul VI, during your life I could not meet you personally. I could only visit your lifeless body in St. Peter’s Basilica, where your mortal remains were exposed. I also concelebrated your funeral Mass. Now help me to find a place for us to start our community, our Society. Please, Pope Paul VI, help me”. I am convinced that Via S. Agapito 8, Rome, where we are now, is the gift of Pope Paul VI, as he had a very special love for both the place and the poor people. That was the very reason why that very cold Christmas morning he decided to come to the Borghetto Prenestino to celebrate the Eucharist and meet not only with the people in the slums, but he also paid visits to the sick and the old ones in their huts who were unable to join the Mass. It was a very historical morning, a very wonderful Christmas experience for the people of the “Borghetto Prenestino”.
Pope Paul VI’s letter to the Mayor of Rome
Returning to the papal palace he straight away wrote a moving letter to the Mayor of Rome, His Excellency Mr. Clelio Darida, which I would like to quote here:
‹We wish once again to thank you for Your presence at the moving and intimate Christmas celebration that this year we wanted to spend with the beloved faithful of Borghetto Prenestino, in the parish of St. Agapito. While having still before our eyes the image of the painful conditions in which this beloved part of the City and of our Diocese is living, we make a warm appeal to you, the Mayor of Rome, on this very day of the earthly nativity of the Son of God. He ennobles human nature by bringing into the world the new commandment of love in action and good will and, as we ask you, with the noble use of your responsibility and applying all the forces honestly and willingly sensitive to the lamentable problem of those living in the huts, that solution which, in its urgent seriousness, the human and Christian conscience compels us to seek.
This we ask you on the very day of the Birth of Jesus Christ, whose consoling presence we brought among those dearest and suffering sons and daughters and, in His name, we bless you, together with your generous co-workers in the city of Rome.› (Vatican, 25.12.1969)
Cardinal Ugo Poletti.
After our visit to the place Don Alberto and I went to his Eminence Cardinal Ugo Poletti of happy memory, who asked us to get two letters: one from the parish priest of St. Agapito in Via della Venezia Giulia 21, Rome, and the other from the Christian Brothers of Piazza di Spagna as it is called.
The following morning Don Alberto and I went to Don Isidoro del Lungo, who was the pastor of St. Agapito parish. He was then staying in a small hut like the poor people. I was really impressed by the way he was living, his simplicity and his poverty. Today there stands a memorial cross blessed by St. John Paul II on Sunday 1st March, 1998. To Don Isidoro, who was having his breakfast, we told the purpose of our visit. The answer was quick and was negative. “I do not want two parishes”, he said. I tried to explain to Don Isidoro that I had no intention to start a parish, but a community of prayer, adoration, contemplation and work with the poor.
Don Isidoro’s letter.
Finally, Don Isidoro wrote the following letter to his Eminence Ugo Cardinal Poletti in Italian. The following is the English translation of the same letter.
Fr. Sebastian M.C. of the Missionaries of the Word came here saying that he is interested in taking over the “ex-.-asilo” (ex nursery school) of the Sisters of the Borghetto Prenestino as a residence for his community.
I am happy that there will be the presence of a prayerful community in the parish.
But if they have any intention of doing pastoral work and administering sacraments, then it would be better that you do what is required to make the Chapel autonomous and erect the rectory.
Isidoro Del Lungo priest.›
Don Isidoro del Lungo later confided to me that two or three persons, including the founder of the Neo Catecumenale, had been to him for the same purpose. But to all of them he had said “no”. But to us he said “yes”. How can we thank God for all his goodness to us? What can we give him in return? “I will offer a thanksgiving sacrifice and call upon the name of the Lord” (cf. Ps 116).
Bro. Nicolino Anzini’s letter.
We also went to the Christian Brothers and Bro. Nicolino Anzini was extremely happy to give the letter. He said he would bring the letter himself to our house, which he did. Here I would like to quote his letter as well. These are historical documents.
‹00187 Rome, 28.2.79
Tel.6701.710 – 0701.534
The undersigned Bro. Nicolino Anzini of the Christian Brothers, having been for many years in charge of the “Centro Assistenza” (Care Centre) of the Borghetto Prenestino give the “nihil obstat” for the Brothers of the Word of Bl. Teresa of Calcutta to take over the “ex-asilo” (ex nursery school) and the surrounding courtyards for their fruitful work and apostolate.
They can also transform the rooms and the courtyards according to the need to fulfil their noble aim. With grateful greetings.
Fra. Nicolino Anzini
To His Eminence Cardinal Vicar UGO POLETTI›
With heart-felt joy I wrote to Bl. Teresa M.C. whose reply, to my great surprise was negative. Here I quote from her letter:
‹My dearest Bro. Sebastian, regarding the house, I think as long as you are such a small number you should stay in Carlo Cattaneo. I have asked the Holy Father for a house in the Vatican. Then we will have a big place. You will be able to use the whole Carlo Cattaneo. Anyway le us go slowly and do his will day by day, step by step. I hope to be in Rome on 27th February 1979 for the Balzan award. I will try to be with you and the Brothers as much as possible.
I have not been very well due to a very heavy cold, but I am already much better.
I hope you and the Brothers are alright and that the cold is not too much for you.
Keep the joy of Jesus in your heart and give it to others…Bro. Andrew is here. All is well with us. Thank God.
Let us pray.
God bless you. Mother (Teresa M.C.)
Bl. Teresa’s visit to “Borghetto Prenestino”.
Bl. Teresa M.C. arrived in Rome on February 27th, 1979 as she had written. From the airport she straight away came to visit us before going to her Sisters in San Gregorio al Celio. I reminded her of the place in Prenestina. She said: “Tomorrow morning all of you come to San Gregorio for holy Mass. We can talk about it after the holy Mass”. We did as she said and after the holy Mass while we were having our breakfast she stayed with us and spoke much. Once more I reminded her of “Borghetto Prenestino” in Via S. Agapito 8, in Largo Preneste. She said that as soon as she was free we would go and see. She had to go and receive the Balzan award first. Once again she came to Carlo Cattaneo in the evening and she said: “Let us go and see the place”. It was already dark, but she still wanted to go. So we went.
Meeting with Cardinal Ugo Poletti.
We came to Largo Preneste and then to the famous Borgetto Prenestino. She went around everywhere; she said: “Tomorrow morning we go to Cardinal Poletti. Bring also with you the Constitutions you have written. So on Monday, 5th March, 1979, we went to his Eminence Ugo Cardinal Poletti and presented the copy of the Constitutions, which was still incomplete. Bl. Teresa wrote the following note to the Cardinal while we were waiting for him:
‹Missionaries of Charity
5th March 1979
With God’s blessing we have been able to put together a small Constitutions for the Missionaries of the Word. I do hope it will answer the need.
I am most grateful for all the love and care you have for the Pious Union and I hope in time it will be a Diocesan Congregation.
Please pray for us. Yours in Jesus.
M. Teresa M.C.›
With the unfinished copy of the Constitutions and the little introductory letter we met the Cardinal and spoke about the new place. I already had the letters he had asked for from the parish priest and from the Christian Brothers. He saw everything. Everything we had asked for was OK with his Eminence. For the house, he sent us to the office of Msgr. Ratti, who received us. We told him about the place, the “asilo”. He said he had no power to give the “asilo” to us, because it had been declared dangerous by the city of Rome. Bl. Teresa M.C. said to Msgr. Ratti that she wanted the whole place. Since there were three nuns of the Adoration Order who were studying in Rome, who wanted to live a simpler life and were staying in the adjacent house, the so-called convent, Bl. Teresa M.C wanted the nuns to leave the place for good. She insisted it with Msgr. Ratti, who became rather apprehensive. Before we reached home, the news had come to the nuns of the adoration convent. They became more cautious and said that they had no intention of moving out of the place. With much pleading and discussion Msgr. Ratti told us that he had no objection for us to go to the “asilo”, even though he had no power to officially grant us the permission. He said that he would speak with the Cardinal and then let us know. As the matter was rather urgent, I told him that I would come back on Wednesday 7th March 1979.
Msgr. Giulio Salimei.
The papers were not ready on Wednesday 7th March 1979, but upon requesting again and again Msgr. Ratti left to my responsibility to move to the “asilo” as he could not officially grant permission to do so. In the afternoon of the same day Bl. Teresa M.C. and Fr. Sebastian M.C. went to see Msgr. Giulio Salimei, the bishop for the eastern Sector of Rome (Settore Est). He was overjoyed first of all to see Bl. Teresa in his own house, where his 96 years old mother was still living with him. He was so happy to know that we were going to come to the famous “Borghetto Prenestino” which was under his jurisdiction. With his blessing we decided to move to the “asilo” on the following day.
Exodus to the “Borghetto Prenestino”.
On Thursday 8th March 1979, once again the big exodus began. The seminarians of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary (OVM) came with their van. Our telephone rang at 8.00 a.m. Bl. Teresa M.C. was on the phone. “Where are you?” she asked me, ”The Tertians and the first year novices are all waiting here”. “Yes, Mother, we are on our way”.
By 5.30 p.m. a part of the “asilo” was ready for holy Mass. I wanted by all means Don Alberto Canusi from Viterbo to be the main celebrant. With much difficulty we got him. So Bl. Teresa M.C., Sr. Sylvia M.C. (R.I.P.) and the second year novices, some of the seminarians of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary, Renato Ponarsi (R.I.P.) and some others together had the holy Mass. Bl. Teresa chose the songs for the Mass and sang with all her strength. Her melodious and gentle voice resounded for the first time in the same “asilo” where the Servant of God Pope Paul VI of happy memory had celebrated the holy Mass about 10 years before, on 25th December 1969. Now from heaven he joined us in the celebration and sang with us all the Te Deum Laudamus.
We all went to bed filled with joy and gratitude to God for the gift of the new place after an hour of thanksgiving adoration for the unforgettable day. Our last song was “Thank you Father, thank you Jesus, thank you Spirit, thank you Mother, thank you, Joseph”. It was very spontaneous.
On the following morning, i.e. 9 March 1979, Bl. Teresa M.C. left Rome to go to Kolkata via Beirut, Lebanon. In the afternoon of the same day we paid a short visit to our parish priest, Don Isidoro Del Lungo.
Bl. Teresa’s letter from Beirut.
Bl. Teresa wrote a long letter from Beirut on 11th August 1979:
‹My dearest children, Br. Sebastian and all in Prenestina. This brings you Mother’s love and blessing and also deep gratitude for the love and joy you shared with Mother. God did such great things for all of us – especially for you – you already have the “Mother House” before you have the congregation. If we only let him do it; he does it so beautifully. With some help I am sure you will make it into a real Nazareth. where Jesus can come and rest a while with you. I am really happy for you. The difficulties that you had were mostly due to Carlo Cattaneo building. The sunshine breaks all darkness, even spiritual darkness. I saw your faces full of smiles already. Thank God.
I don’t know if I mentioned it to you, when the “Come and sees” come, please do not take them right in. They can come for all the prayers, but not in the refectory and dormitory. Keep this strictly private. Keep the joy of poverty, only for Jesus. Keep cleanliness with special care. Poverty must become more and more your joy, freedom and strength. Get Brother Gino’s brothers to help you with the garden.
I am on my way to India. May the joy of Jesus be your love and your strength.
God bless you.
Mother (Teresa M.C.)›
In spite of the new place and all the new and wonderful adventures and in spite of Bl. Teresa’s encouragement and very challenging letter, two of the candidates left one by one, one on 11th March and the other on 16th March 1979, leaving just two of us, Bro. Brian and myself. Bro. Brian took the name of the new pope, John Paul, and struggled through for a couple of months more and said good-bye on 4th September 1979, leaving me all alone. But Jesus remained very close to me, Jesus in the tabernacle and Jesus on the Cross.
Bro. Piet’s arrival.
No doubt our life was rather hard and demanding. A few candidates came and went until the arrival of Bro. Piet M.C. from Tokyo, Japan, on 24th April, 1980. I knew Bro. Piet M.C., from Kolkata since April, 1974 and who finally joined the Brothers in Los Angeles on 7th December, 1976. He started his noviciate again on 1st May, 1980 in Rome and took his vows on 8th September, 1982. His Grace, Rt. Rev. Giulio Salimei of happy memory graced the occasion by celebrating the holy Mass.
The olive tree.
When I reflect on our M.C. Contemplative Branch what comes to my mind is one of the olive trees in our garden. This olive tree is very special. It was planted in April, 1979, less than a month after our coming to live in Casa Serena. This tree has been and still is a big lesson for me. I have learnt much from it as it is very similar to the story of the Missionaries of Charity Contemplative.
In what sense is the olive tree similar to our Contemplative Branch? I planted in our garden an olive tree which did not have proper roots; besides, it was not the time to plant trees.
The olive tree right from the beginning received plenty of water every day, together with many “Memorares”. As days went by practically all the leaves of the little olive tree dried up. There was not much hope left. Mr. Enzo, one of our closest neighbours and friend, felt pity, and so he gave a little cypress tree with proper roots and plenty of mud around to plant in the place of the olive tree. For some reason I felt that I should continue to give water to the olive tree, while praying the “Memorare”. So I planted the cypress tree a few metres away from the olive tree, while continuing to give water to the olive tree and praying much, especially the “Memorare” prayer.
Not only was it one of Bl. Teresa’s favourite prayers, but she obtained many favours and miracles through the quick novena of “Ten Memorare”. I have seen with my own eyes how she obtained many impossible things. Of course, we have to pray with much faith and never use it as a magic formula. Miracles take place only in the context of faith. Bl. Teresa used to pray an extra one with the nine “Memorare” to thank Our Lady in anticipation for granting the favour she was asking from the heavenly Queen.
Here too the miracle took place. Within a few weeks’ time the olive tree began to sprout new leaves. Mr. Enzo, who gave me the cypress tree, brought several of his friends to show the miracle of the olive tree. Since then the people from the tennis club began to ask for prayers.
This was not all; another miracle took place as well. Trusting in Jesus’ words: “Ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find and knock and the door will be opened to you” (cf. Mt 7: 7-11), I asked the Lord to give me at least one olive on the tree that year. By now the tree was full of new leaves. One day Mr. Gaetano Marano, our friend and co-worker, was looking around and saw just one olive on the tree.
This olive tree has much to teach us. First of all the power of prayer; even when everything around us is dry and hopeless, we must still continue to pray more fervently. Prayer alone is not enough; the olive tree needed sufficient water as well. So “Ora et labora” becomes inseparable.
God is our Father. He grants even our childish desires. In this case he granted one olive I asked for. For me, then, the olive tree is very symbolic.
There is something more to this olive tree. The growth of the olive tree is very slow, but very steady. The olive tree lives very long. Our Society is very small still. Its growth is considerably slow but steady. We must trust Jesus more lovingly, trust him more blindly, pray more fervently and work more untiringly. Then all will be well.
Over the years our Society has gone through many trials; some of them were considerably serious. There were times when I was alone, all alone, but of course, Jesus was there with me, beside me, in front of me. At times it was easier to see his hand leading and guiding through many good and generous people, and at times everything around us seemed dry and sterile.
Life in the “asilo” was very tough, demanding and quite uncomfortable. The first months were very cold. We had almost nothing. We had few friends, and we didn’t know the language of the people. Our M.C. Contemplative way of life was very informal and on experimental basis. The stability and perseverance was a big problem. Everything was a kind of “thohu wa bohu”, formless waste. Our only help were Jesus, Mary and Joseph.
We worked hard, prayed harder and the good Lord heard our cry and saw our affliction. “God hears the cry of the poor”.
One of the questions was whether it was possible for us to use the Chapel and the place around the “asilo”. But then our parish priest, Don Isidoro del Lungo, brought some of his things with the intention of moving here. It became clear that we could only use the “asilo” with its separate gate. Besides, Don Isidoro del Lungo brought an elderly Rosminianian nun and kept her in the “convent”. Everything was going from bad to worse. I lost all hope.
We went to His Eminence Cardinal Ugo Poletti, whose consoling words were: “Padre Sebastiano, please do not worry. I will see what is best for Don Isidoro and for you. Give me a few more days. In the meantime we pray much. Prayer will enable us to know God’s will and will give us the courage to accept his will. You pray much for me so that I may make the decision according to God’s will”.
Handing over the key of St. Agapito.
It was Saturday 15th November 1980. Don Isidoroo gave us the good news that His Eminence Cardinal Ugo Poletti decided to give us the whole place. We sang many “ alleluias” and offered an hour of thanksgiving adoration, thanking the Holy Trinity and the Holy Family and also Cardinal Ugo Poletti. On Tuesday 18 November 1980 Don Isidoro came and handed the key of the gate to Fr. Sebastian M.C. Once again we sang “Te Dem Laudamus” and had a thanksgiving hour of adoration.
On the following day, i.e. 19th November 1980 the Brothers started cleaning the place and started making some changes in and around the house. Our joy grew to fever pitch. On Saturday 22nd November 1980 Bro. Piet and Fr. Sebastian M.C. went to express our heart-felt gratitude to His Eminence Cardinal Ugo Poletti. Words were inadequate to express our gratitude. His Eminence was very happy and told us that he decided to buy an apartment for the priests of the parish of St. Agapito. In fact, he said that they already had done the negotiations and it was very close to S. Agapito Church.
St. Agapito is on rent.
So by now we received the approbation from the Vicariato. It took some time for me to realize that the place did not belong to the Vicariato. The land was on rent. Still I did not know to whom we had to pay the rent. Already one of the co-workers of Bl. Teresa M.C., who was a “Comune” engineer, had told me that it was of no use of going to the “Borghetto Prenestino”. “It would be impossible for you even to put one brick over there. It is one of the most problematic places in the whole city of Rome. Otherwise by now many things would have been realized there”. There is a huge project for the entire area since 1960. But nothing could ever be realized. He had advised me not to go to Via S. Agapito.
Engineer Renato was right. I realized it slowly. Our help is in the name of the Lord. Nothing is impossible with God. With time, through prayer, penance and hard manual work, much had been realized. We needed patience, perseverance, endurance in trial.
One of the first things we wanted to do was to do something with the “asilo”, which was going to collapse. The foundation was the problem. There were so many big splits in the floor. If we fell into one of them, we would even have lost our lives.
From the very beginning of our existence as Missionaries of the Word, Bl. Teresa M.C. and I had tried to have the canonical status for our contemplative Branch. A new born baby is to be born again in Spirit and in truth in baptism in the bosom of the Mother Church. It is similar with a newly-founded religious group. We wanted the Church to give us the canonical status. The main problem was the number. Every time Bl. Teresa M.C. came to Rome, invariably we went to meet His Eminence Cardinal Ugo Poletti if he was in town. At times, because it was on Sunday or out of time, we went to his residence. His Eminence’s question was always the same: “How many are you?”. The answer wasn’t much different either. The present rule, his Eminence explained, is that a new Congregation should have a minimum of forty professed members. So we were not all qualified to apply for canonical status.
Priest Brothers in our Society.
One of our main intentions during our novena to St. Thérèse of Lisieux was regarding priest Brothers in our Society, as there was a felt need in our Community and for our apostolate. I consulted his Excellency Rt. Rev. Agostino Mayer, SDB, the secretary of the Congregation for Religious, who happily gave his consent. I contacted the Rector of Beda College who had an interview with Bro. Piet M.C. and said that Bro. Piet could start frequenting the school. So as the academic year began, Bro. Piet started going to Beda by bicycle. In the meantime I wrote to Bl. Teresa M.C. about it. The following was the reply, written on 23rd November 1981.
‹Missionaries of Charity
54A, Lower Circular Road
My dearest Brothers, Br. Sebastian and all in Rome,
Thank you for all beautiful letters which bring so much good news.
Br. Andria has gone home to God—will do and grow into a real M.W. near Jesus. So we have only to ask him to pray for us.
Re. Holy Father—since I am coming we will talk it together.
Thank you for the gifts of God. So now that you are five, each one hide yourself in one of the wounds of Jesus.
I am very happy and thank God for the light God had given you re. the priest Brother.
I am happy to know Br. Piet is at Beda’s. Please let us pray together and then speak about it to Card. Poletti and others for God will speak in the silence of the heart and we can speak then from the fullness of our hearts.
In 2 weeks time I will be with you, please God. In the meantime let us pray.
God bless you. M Teresa M.C.›
Of course it was not easy for Bro. Piet M.C. to take up studies again, as he was already in his mid-forties and his background study and job did not help him much. He somehow managed for two years and then from both sides the decision was to discontinue, which was done for a few years. Years went by. I contacted the new Rector, who was very open to give Bro. Piet another chance. Bro. Piet was encouraged to try once more in the same college. By now all his classmates had finished their studies and were priests already.
In any case Bro. Piet M.C. was ordained deacon in St. Agapito parish on 19th May 1988, in the presence of Bl. Teresa M.C., many M.C. Sisters and people.
On 2nd February 1989 Bro. Piet M.C. was ordained priest in the “Addolorata” parish by his Excellency archbishop Giuseppe Mani, who was our bishop and friend.
Before ordaining Bro. Piet M.C. archbishop Giuseppe Mani fasted for the whole day. He was extremely happy, as it was the first time he ordained a priest as a bishop. A week later all of us were able to concelebrate the holy Mass with St. John Paul II in his private chapel. After the holy Mass Bro. (Mr.) Mark garlanded him. He was overjoyed, so much so that he took the garland from his neck and put it on me. We have pictures of such events. A sinner like me was garlanded by a saint-pope, John Paul II. God’s ways are mysterious.
The Holy Father had all that time to spend with us, I thought. With immense joy and heart-felt gratitude we knelt for his blessing, which he so willingly imparted on us. It was on 9th February 1989. “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his mercy endures for ever”.
We decided to try in another way. As we are just a Branch in the big family of the Missionaries of Charity Sisters, who came under “Propaganda Fidei”, Bl. Teresa M.C. wrote again to his Eminence Cardinal Ugo Poletti the following letter:
Our Society, the Missionaries of Charity (Sisters and Brothers) are recognized and dependant upon the S.C. of the Propagation of Faith. Therefore it is my prayer and desire that the Contemplative branch of the Missionaries of the Word (Brothers) be recognized and dependant on the S.C. (Sacred Congregation) of the Propagation of Faith. As the residence of the Pious Union of the Missionaries of the Word is in Rome, I humbly request that the Vicariate in Rome grants the “Nulla Obstat” and the “Testimonial letter” in view of the recognition of the Missionaries of the Word as a religious Congregation by the S.C. of the Propagation of Faith. I humbly beg your Eminence to kindly present this same petition to the S.C.
My gratitude to you will be my prayer for you and the people you serve. Kindly pray for me, our Sisters and Brothers and the poor we serve.
Yours in Jesus.
M. Teresa M.C.›
His Eminence, Cardinal Ugo Poletti, very happily wrote a very beautiful letter in favour of the Pious Union of the Missionaries of the Word to the Congregation of the Propaganda Fidei. With his Eminence’s letter in hand Bl. Teresa M.C. and I went to the Congregation of the Propagation of Faith. They received us with great love, joy and respect. Bl. Teresa spoke at length about the great work of God the Missionaries of Charity is doing in different parts of the world. It is all a miracle of God’s gentle love and tender care.
God wants to show to the world that he really is, that he not only exists, but to show the world that he still wants to love. He is in need of you and me. He cannot go alone to the dark holes of the poor. He wants to enter through us. He wants to love the poor through us; he wants us to serve without counting the cost, without seeking rest or reward.
“Yes, Mother, you are doing it, your Sisters and Brothers are God’s gift to the Church and to the world”.
“Now I want to ask you one favour”. Bl. Teresa M.C. spoke of the Pius Union of the Missionaries of the Word. She said that it is part of the same family of the Missionaries of Charity, sharing the same Spirit and Charism. Besides, we also try to lead a very simple and poor life. It is our choice. We want to be poor; we choose to live the poverty of the Cross, obedience of the Cross, charity of the Cross..
“It sounds so wonderful, Bl. Teresa”.
“Now I want the Pius union to be part of the Missionaries of Charity and then they could have the canonical status”. Straight away the answer of the authorities of the S.C. of the Propagation of Faith was negative:
“No, Mother Teresa. Let the Pius Union, as it is founded in Rome, grow here under the Congregation for Religious. Let us have much patience. God has his time, God has his way. Let us all pray much that we may learn to know God’s will and accept God’s will with courage and humility. Let them wait. Yes, Father, let us wait. God’s ways are not our ways. God’s time is not our time. The appointed time will come; then you will become a diocesan institute here in Rome. So we wait in hope”.
We thanked everyone and left their office not at all disappointed. We decided to offer more sacrifices and pray more fervently for holy and fervent vocations and for their perseverance. Sr. Priscilla M.C., who was the Regional Superior in New York, called me and said there were many young men who wanted to try our way of life. So some of them came and saw and went. Hardly anybody really returned. Some of them expressed their desire to continue with the Missionaries of the Word if we had started a house in the Bronx. Days went by. We passed through many good and bad experiences. Sr. Priscilla M.C. tried again and again to send candidates who came to the Sisters in the Bronx for summer camp with the boys and girls of the Bronx area. As they finished the summer camp some of them came to Rome with the experience they had with the Sisters. One of the biggest temptations for them was to compare us with the Sisters’ life and work.
Bl. Teresa M.C. had a heart attack while she was in Rome in May-June, 1983, and she was admitted in the “Salvator Mundi” hospital in Monte Verde, Rome. One afternoon Sr. Sylvia M.C., the Superior of Tor Fiscale, Rome, called me and said that Bl. Teresa M.C. wanted me to celebrate the holy Mass in her hospital bedroom, where she already had the tabernacle, daily adoration with the Blessed Sacrament exposed, Rosary, morning and evening prayer and holy Mass. So I went to “Salvator Mundi” hospital. After the holy Mass I sat near her and we talked. Among the many things we discussed, I talked to her of our idea of moving our community from Rome to New York. She straight away said that his Eminence Cardinal Cook of New York should be extremely happy to welcome us. Bl. Teresa M.C. from her hospital bed wrote the following letter to his Eminence Cardinal Ugo Poletti of Rome:
‹Missionaries of Charity
54A, Lower Circular Road
I am sorry I am not able to come to see you and give you the good news.
Card. Cook of New York has very kindly offered a house for our Brothers in New York. As we hope to get a good number of vocations in U.S. we have accepted – so Br. Sebastian with Br. Martin is going, – and Br. Piet with the others will remain in Prenestina. I hope and pray we have your prayer and blessing for this new move.
Please pray for me and all our Brothers and Sisters and our Poor.
God bless you.
M. Teresa M.C.›
On 9th June 1983 I travelled to New York. The M.C. Sisters in New York had made an appointment with the cardinal, who received me so kindly and so happily. He straight away called the one in charge of property and buildings in the archdiocese of New York. There was a vey big empty convent in the Bronx, which he said I could use.
The following day we went to see the empty convent. It was a vey big building. I felt that it was too big for us to take as we did not have yet many vocations. So I had to refuse the offer.
Our Contemplative Sisters in Brooklyn contacted Fr. Joseph Nugent, who offered a few rooms on the 4th floor in his rectory of Our Lady of Victory parish on Throop Avenue. So with one candidate I began our life there. We began our day at 4.00 in the morning with adoration. One priest, Fr. Richrd Figiliosi from Long Island, came to have an experience with us. I was there from June to September 1983. Bl. Teresa M.C. in the meantime got well and came to New York. Together with Bl. Teresa M.C., Sr. Nirmala M.C. and Sr. Priscilla M.C. several days we went around in the Brooklyn area to look for a house. We also met the bishop, who too had several convent buildings which were empty. Although we had seen many of them, nothing really was suitable to our style and our need af the time.
It was during this time that Bro. André Marie M.C. from Canada, (Konrad Kuzmiski), contacted me over the phone in Brooklyn. He began to call me twice a day. In the morning he would tell me that he was going to quit his job in the pharmacy, but then in the afternoon he would say that his friends were totally against the idea and were discouraging him to leave everything. I also mentioned to him our new venture of transferring our little community to Brooklyn. Bro. André Marie advised me not to do that, as Rome is a very important and unique place. He thought that it wasn’t proper to leave Rome for New York. In any case I returned to Rome without making any proper decision.
Don Isidoro’s letter to Cardinal Ugo Poletti.
Bl. Teresa M.C. also returned to Rome. One day Bl. Teresa came and said, “Let us go to our parish priest Don Isidoro and ask his opinion of our transfer to New York”. He did not want us to move, but wanted us to establish our community here. He wrote a simple letter to his Eminence Cardinal Ugo Poletti. Here is the translation of the letter which he wrote in Italian.
‹Rome, 9 September 1983
St. Agapito Parish
Viale della Venezia Giulia 21
Tel. 06/ 29.88.24
It is four years since the Missionaries of the Word have established their house in our parish.
They were given for use the Church of the ex Borghetto Prenestino and the abandoned shed of the Sisters of the Precious Blood. This made it possible to keep this place a place of worship, which for many years has been the presence of the Church among the poorest of the poor of the city of Rome.
The little Church of the Missionaries of the Word is now a centre of spirituality and prayer, both for our parish and the parishes close by.
Many parochial groups go to the Church for retreats, prayer meetings, who are always welcomed by the Brothers to their solid spirituality.
Besides, the Brothers are involved in the work of evangelization outside our own parish by visiting the sick, the prisoners and the poor, especially in the night shelter in Via Carlo Cattaneo, near Termini Station.
But then the most important apostolate is the prayer and the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, which I think is very greatly needed in our Church.
Your devoted child,
Don Isidoro del Lungo, parish priest›
Msgr. Giulio Salimei’s letter to Card. U. Poletti
We also went to our bishop, Msgr. Giulio Salimei, who also did not want us to move from Rome. He also wrote a letter to his Eminence Cardinal Ugo Poletti requesting him to erect our Pius Union into a religious institute in the diocese of Rome. Here is the translation of the letter written in Italian.
To Your Eminence
Cardinal Ugo Poletti
Vicar General of His Holiness
Vicariate in Rome
The Brothers of the Pious Union of the Missionaries of the Word, recognized in the diocese of Rome as a Pious Union on 19th March 1979, ardently desire to erect their Pious Union into a diocesan religious institute.
Having their actual residence in the eastern sector of the diocese of Rome, I earnestly recommend your Eminence to erect the Pious Union into a religious institute.
In the many contacts I had with the Brothers of the Pious Union, I witnessed their actual form of apostolate, which is to pray and to help people to pray, to invite them to do penance by the example of their life, to proclaim the Word of God and to live the spiritual works of mercy. Their apostolate is not only limited to where they live, but their prayerful apostolate is extended to places where people live and suffer. I could see the fruitfulness of their presence during my pastoral visits.
In spite of the inadequate place where they live, the lack of proper rooms and the dispersed atmosphere of the place, in a short time the place has become a centre of spirituality and prayer, to which young people and adults freely make reference.
I believe that in our time, in the city of Rome, we are greatly in need of signs, which remind us of the primacy of spiritual values, help us to appreciate and live them, as basis and foundation of any undertaking, qualifying any work of charity.
I hope and trust that the Lord wants from this little seed to be born centres of spirituality, capable of opening and developing new horizons of faith in places like ours.
They are still a small group, but I believe that this fact is due to the severity and austerity of their life. I also think, as they do, that if they have the canonical status in the Church responding to their Charism, it will help them to grow in number and to improve their apostolic work.
I will be grateful to Your Eminence for the care and attention you will give to the request of these Brothers and for all what you may do for the growth of this work of God.
Msgr. Giulio Salimei
(The auxiliary bishop of Rome, Eastern sector(Settore est)›
So we decided not to go from Rome, but to stay where we were and try to renovate the “asilo” and make it liveable and free from danger. We went to see the Mayor of Rome, who was not in the office. So Bl. Teresa M.C. wrote a short note to the Mayor. The following is the copy of her letter to the Mayor of Rome:
I am leaving for India today. I have been trying to get in touch with you.
I hope you are well as I have been praying for you much.
I have a few things to ask you regarding our Poor people. I will be grateful if you could send somebody to S. Agapito 8 (Largo Preneste) – 00177 Rome (tel. (06) 291771. This is our place. We need your permission like in Casilina.
I will pray for you.
God bless you.
M. Teresa M.C.
Restoration of the shed – Asilo
A few months went by. I went to our municipal office in Via Capua, close to Via Casilina, and talked with “geometra” Mela, who was a very kind and understanding man. I invited him to see the condition of the “asilo”. He agreed to come when Bl. Teresa M.C. was in Rome. One fine morning at 8.00 a.m. he came to see the place. Bl. Teresa M.C. came with architect Simone Salini. “Geometra” Mela told us that we could start the work slowly. Architect Simone Salini said that he had a second-hand prefabricated shed in Aprilia, which he could donate to us. He would do all the work free of cost. It amounted to sixty million liras. He said that the Brothers’ work is to demolish the existing shed.
In the meantime his workers started working on the split floor to close the huge holes with real concrete work as deep as three meters. Three of our Brothers climbed on top of the roof of the “asilo”: Bro. André Marie M.C., Bro. (Mr.) Mark and Fr. Sebastian M.C.. Bro. Piet M.C. took care of our meals and other errands. The “asilo” consisted of four hundred square meters, i.e. 40 meters long into 10 meters wide. We had to leave the last part of the “asilo”, about fifty square meters, untouched. It took over a month to bring down all the asbestos roof and dispose of it. Those days we were much more free to do the work by ourselves. Bro. Mark M.C. was more expert than anyone of us. We worked together as a team. Mr. Renato Ponarsi (R.I.P.) from Via Carlo Cattaneo came to help us. Franco Coletti, Antonio Serangeli, Dr. Giancarlo Santi, the oculist, and others came to help us periodically. In fact the whole prayer group joined us to bring the “asilo” down, including the floor. Except the brick wall, everything else was demolished.
Our neighbour, Mrs. Corinna Bertolotti, many times a day would come out of her little house to see how the work was progressing. Her house was joined to the “asilo”. She was a bit afraid that some damage could take place to her little house, which was not that strongly built either. Her husband, Mr. Paolo Bertolotti, had gone home to God on 2nd February 1982. We had his funeral celebrated in our Chapel.
Architect Simone Salini appointed “geoemetra” Amelio Buscherato to supervise the work. One of the main problems was the precarious state of the foundation. Finally we decided to reinforce with a very heavy concrete structure, which was done, and somehow the problem of collapsing the house was solved. The prefabricated house was thirty meters long and eight meters broad. So two meters open veranda built on pillars gave an added beauty to the house. As we finished the work of the prefabricated house, we began demolishing the remaining part at our own expenses to build it on brick wall. As the building was almost ready, the municipal police came and filed the case.
Blessing by Card. U. Poletti.
His Eminence Cardinal Ugo Poletti came to bless the new house on Wednesday 7th November 1984. It was a wonderful experience of God. All were overjoyed. Many dignitaries were present. The Cardinal was extra happy. “I never thought”, he said, “that this place would look so beautiful, neat and in order”. Thanks be to God. It was the work of God.
Condono Edilizio – building permit
Of course the house had no building permit. In January 1985 a new law was passed in Italy: all the buildings built without proper permit could apply for “condono edilizio”. It meant a lot more work. We had to measure everything accurately. Since the land was on rent, we were supposed to have the permission of the land owner as well. Geometra Buscherato worked very hard for about nine months. I went office after office to get all necessary papers to present before the expiry date and pay the penalty for whatever has been built since 1936. It was said that 40% of the buildings in Rome had no proper building permit. The office in EUR was over-crowded. I stood in line from 7.30 a.m. to 4.30 p.m. to submit the application for “condone edilizio”. All the papers were examined and two million four hundred thousand liras was paid, which according to their calculation was directly half of the penalty. The other half could be paid later in the office.
It was 31st October 1985, which was the last day to submit the application papers. That was also the reason of the big crowd of people standing in line. All was like a nightmare. But it was done.
While all that was taking place I received a court order to present myself in front of the judge Albamonte, in Piazzale Clodio. I had three months’ time. I contacted a lawyer with the help of Mr. Franco Panacchia, who was a friend of the lawyer. I had a few meetings with the lawyer, who promised me to be present on the court audience day. I took with me Bro. Mark M.C., Sr. Stella M.C and Sr. Mariolina MC., who now is a M.C. Contemplative Sister. There were a number of people before me, whose family names were interesting: Paternoster, Bonapasta. Salsicci and others.
About 10.30 a.m. the judge Albamonte called my name. My lawyer had promised me to be there, but I did not see him. I was really nervous. The judge asked me about my lawyer. I told him that he was supposed to be there, but I did not see him. The judge asked me: “What abuse have you committed?” I told him the story of our “asilo” and the installation of the used prefabricated house. The police inspector, Enzo Fonte, who had denounced me, was standing next to me. He had an electric look while I was trying to defend myself.
Lost of all hope, I suddenly remembered the fact of the “condono edilizio”. So I said that I had already done the “condono edilizio”. “Then you bring the receipt of the penalty paid. That is enough”, he said. I was at peace. The following day I made all the necessary photocopies and submitted them to the court. But there was still some problem remaining.
Condono edilizio is granted.
So after some months I again appeared before the judge who told me that I had only paid half of the penalty. But the “condono” office had told me that I had already paid too much, as the “geometra” had made a mistake in calculating. So I had to get a hold of another “geometra” and do the “condono” papers all over again, which took over a month, and then submitted the receipt. With that the court annulled my case. It took about eleven years to get the “condono”. So on 10 February, 1997 I received the “condono”.
Origial copy of “Condono” (2011).
But then another problem came with Casa Popolare, A.T.E.R., as they were the owner of the property, both the land and the buildings. So they had to give a “nihil obstat” letter to get the certificate of “condono”. It took another month to go to the various offices of I.A.C.P. Finally “geometra” Giueseppe Tartaglia gave me the “nihil obstat” on condition that I bring the original copy to Piazza Navigatori, in Via Cristoforo Colombo. As I received the original copy of the “condono”, I made a duplicate copy and authenticated the copy, with the hope of keeping the original with us. This time “geometra” Filippo Tomeo was in the office. I fought with him unsuccessfully for the original copy, but to no avail. At the end I surrendered and could only have the duplicate authenticated copy. The original certificate of “condono” we now have, because we acquired the land and the building. Fifteen years later I managed to get the original after much search and going around. Now we have the original one.
All this meant a lot of time, money and above all a lot of prayers and penance. Of course if these things were not done, we wouldn’t be where we are now. It was all a miracle for me…God’s unfailing love and fidelity to his promises.
Casa Serena land.
Our entire complex of land is 11.204 square metres, which was on rent until when it was purchased on Wednesday 22nd June 2011.
The first part of the rented land was an area of 2,634.50 square metres, on which is built the big Chapel, all the constructions around the Holy Family Chapel, including the Brothers’ house. All buildings except Gianna’s office and the adoration Chapel, which are now gone to “condono edilizio”, are all in order and belong totally to the Missionaries of Charity Contemplative.
The part of the land where Casa Serena is was rented on Wednesday 2nd September 1987 from “Casa Popolare, I.AC.P.”, which is now known as A.T.E.R.
The third part of land was rented on 1st November 2002, where we intend to build “Blessed Teresa memorial”, which with God’s help will be realized in God’s own time. There is a big story about the third part of the land and the adjacent land, which Mr. Massimo Lazzari has purchased, and was supposed to be part of our property, as the “Delibera” was done in our name. But we take it as God’s will. God wants us to be grateful and humble; he wants us to know he is our Lord and King. The place we have is his gift. He worked the miracle. If his mighty hands and outstretched arms were not there we could never have dreamt of such an enviable place in Rome.
This place where our Mother House and Generalate is located is a gift of God, a great gift and a blessing. We have him present in the form of Bread. He is loved and adored ceaselessly with the many angels of God. He is loved and served in the poorest of the poor unceasingly, not only by the Brothers of the community, but by so many of our generous and committed Lay Missionaries of Charity, volunteers and benefactors. Words are inadequate to express our heart-felt gratitude to one and all. May the good Lord bless and reward each one of them abundantly.
The Lay Missionaries of Charity (LMC).
On Friday evening in the year 1982 or thereabout a group of young people came to our house saying: “We want to belong to the Church of Mother Teresa of Kolkata”. It was about 8.00 p.m. and I had just closed our whole-day adoration and was almost ready to retire. We greeted and I made them to sit down. We talked at length. I said to them that I knew Mother Teresa M.C. founded a religious order in the Church and for the Church, but I never knew she founded a Church. I realized that those young people were in need of proper catechesis. So we decided to meet every Friday for about two hours in our Chapel. Mr. Franco Coletti, who by profession was a carpenter, brought small stools to sit on the floor. As a few weeks went by, I saw always new faces and the number was always on the increase. We studied the papal document “Familiaris Consortio”, which had come out some months before. We spoke about prayer, yoga, meditation and we also prayed the Vespers. It went on for almost a year and a half.
One day one of them, Mr. Franco Coletti, asked whether he could as a married lay man make M.C. vows. I said spontaneously, why not? But let us pray about and discern the will of God. I also told him to write down in his own words what he thought about. We prayed, we discussed and asked a few others who would like to do the same.
I also spoke with Mrs. Paradisa Orlandi, who used to come to me for confession and spiritual direction. It was on Palm Sunday 15th April 1984. Mrs Paradisa gave me a ride to Rebibbia prison, where I used to go on Sunday after Sunday for over thirteen years. I spoke to her about what some married lay persons were going to do. She had a few questions to clarify. Finally she agreed to follow the Lord more closely through the Nazareth Family Movement, as it was called in the beginning up until Pentecost Sunday 26th May 1985, when the title was changed into Lay Missionaries of Charity.
On Monday in holy week, 16th April 1984, in the presence of Bl. Teresa M.C., Mr. Franco Coletti, Mr. Antonio Serangeli and his wife Annarosa Santi and Mrs. Paradisa Orlandi, made their vows for one year in the Nazareth Family Movement.
On 16th June, 1993, Bl. Teresa M.C. wrote to the Holy Father St. John Paul II:
‹The very beautiful gift God has given to the Brothers is to begin the Lay Missionaries of Charity Movement for the families. They have already 500 families throughout the world, who have consecrated their lives to live their lives through prayer and the vows of poverty, chastity, obedience and whole-hearted free service to the poorest of the poor, as per their married life permits. This consecration has been a very great gift of God for the families. So please, Holy Father, pray for them and bless them.›
As LMCs are God’s special gift to our Contemplative Branch we are duty bound to help them to grow in holiness and increase in number, and the LMCs may do the same for us (cf. Rule 10, 193-197).
Gianna, the General Secretary of the LMCs, has prepared a very elaborate report of the LMCs of the world, which can help us to understand more in detail the origin, growth, development, the positive and negative aspects, and how we can work together and better, how to help the members of the Society and the Movement to grow in holiness, increase in number and persevere in one’s respective vocation, and finally how we can make our M.C. Contemplative Branch and the LMC Movement something more beautiful for God (cf. Rule 231/d).
Besides, much has been written about the LMC Movement, its origin and history, so I wouldn’t like to repeat it again.
Missionaries of Charity Brothers-Contemplative.
On Pentecost Sunday 26th May 1985 Bl. Teresa wrote to the Brothers:
‹26.5.85, Pentecost Sunday
My dear Brothers,
As the gift of the Holy Spirit on this day of grace, His Eminence Cardinal Poletti has renamed the Missionaries of the Word into the Missionaries of Charity. Henceforth they – you will be known as part of the Society – Missionaries of Charity Brothers-Contemplative.
I am most grateful to our Lord for this beautiful gift, and I hope our Lady will in a special way bless and protect and help grow into a fruitful branch of the vine Jesus.
I have but one prayer today that we may all grow and be humble like Mary and holy like Jesus. Let us bless the Lord.
God bless you.
M. Teresa M.C.›
Like the Church was born on Pentecost Sunday, our tiny little Society was renamed on Pentecost Sunday. It was a new Pentecost for our Society. Bl. Teresa kept on saying: “Now you are really part of the M.C. Family, now you are more one with us also by name”.
So two big events took place on Pentecost Sunday 26th May 1985: The Nazareth Family Movement was renamed into “Movement of the Lay Missionaries of Charity” and the Missionaries of the Word into “Missionary of Charity Brothers-Contemplative”. And Via S. Agapito 8, 00177 Rome was their birth and rebirth place. So Via S. Agapito is the Mother House and Generalate of both the M.C. Contemplative Brothers and the LMC Movement.
Bl. Teresa also wrote a short letter to Sr. Frederick M.C. and the Councillors about the change of name from Missionaries of the Word into Missionaries of Charity Brothers Contemplative.
‹LDM Rome, 3.6.85
My dearest Sisters, Sr. Frederick and all the Councillors,
On the feast of Pentecost I felt that Jesus wanted the Missionaries of Charity Contemplative Brothers to be part of the family. So we talked with Cardinal Poletti who was very very happy and gave the full blessing as per letter. Tank God all is well with them
God bless you. M. Teresa M.C.
Missionaries of Charity Sisters
Universal Brothers of the Word Contemplative, completely separate, yet of the same spirit›.
This was part of the first letter of Pentecost Sunday. Here she claimed all the five Branches of the M.C. Vine grafted into Jesus. Jesus is the true Vine and we all are Branches. Without him we can do nothing (cf. John 15: 5).
That Pentecost Sunday brought great joy and unity in the M.C. Family through Bl. Teresa M.C., our foundress and our mother, and Fr. Sebastian M.C., the co-founder with Bl. Teresa M.C. How important for us to grow in unity and in understanding love among the various Branches of our Society. Lord, pray again, I implore, for more unity, that we all may be one (cf. Jn 17: 21). May we be one so that the world may believe that we are yours. May we be completely one as you Jesus and the Father are one (cf. Jan 27: 28). You want us to live in the heart of the world. “I do not ask you, Father, to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one” (Jn 17: 15). The lotus spirituality: the lotus roots go into the mud, the lotus grows in the water, but the beautiful flower stands out untouched by water or mud. We live in the world like the lotus…
It may be very helpful for all our Brothers to pray with Jesus the very same prayer of Jesus, found in the seventeen chapter of St. John’s Gospel. Let us desire, let us hunger and thirst for unity in our Society that we all may be one as Jesus and the Father are one.
The two little flocks of Jesus, the M.C. Contemplative Brothers and the LMC Movement were very slowly growing under the shadow of the Cross, without having a proper Constitutions and Statutes respectively, both of which were very necessary for our growth and expansion.
As the co-workers in different parts of the world began to hear about the Movement, they wanted to know what exactly was “Lay Missionaries of Charity” and how does it differ from the Co-workers of Mother Teresa, which by now had become an international, world-wide organization.
The LMC Statutes and its approval.
The next step then was to prepare a Statutes, which would give some basic notions and guidelines for the lay faithful who may feel a “call within a call” to follow Jesus more closely through the vows of Chastity, Poverty, Obedience and Whole-hearted free service to the poorest of the poor as per married people can live.
Before starting to compile the Statutes of the Lay Missionaries of Charity not only did I pray very intensely to the Holy Spirit for inspiration and guidance, but I also read many of the documents of the one, holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church since the second Vatican Council on the vocation and mission of the Lay faithful in the Church. This was prior to the publication of the apostolic exhortation of Pope St. John Paul II Christi Fideles Laici.
For me it was a big surprise and a new discovery. The Church no longer considers lay people as third class citizens of the kingdom of God. Our mother Church wants lay people to know that they too have a sublime vocation from God to be holy and beloved of God. There are well-defined and clear teachings on the call of lay people to be aware of the sublime beauty of their call and their mission, which is a gratuitous gift of God in his inscrutable mystery. Their mirror and model is the Holy Family of Nazareth. Mary and Joseph were married people and so they were consecrated lay people who were very specially chosen by God to live with Jesus and serve him in love. The Holy Family, then, can be said to be the first LMC couple. The LMC Statutes contain many official teachings of the Church, especially on conjugal chastity and the moral responsibility of the couple who become parents and eventually grandparents.
The LMC Statutes were ready by January 1987. It took about six months to prepare them. The Statutes were submitted to his Eminence Ugo Cardinal Poletti and the religious office in the diocese of Rome for study. Finally, on 25th February 1987 his Eminence Cardinal Ugo Poletti approved the Statutes and Way of Life of the Lay Missionaries of Charity.
Here I would like to quote the English translation of the letter which was written in Italian:
‹Vicariato di Roma
Ufficio Istituti Religiosi
Rome, February 25, 1987
Very Reverend Fr. Sebastian,
I have received the copy of the Statutes and Way of Life of the Lay Missionaries of Charity, and I am very happy to say that I cannot but be pleased with the basic aim of the Movement which intends to restore the domestic sanctuary of the family through prayer, dialogue and personal consecration.
I sincerely wish and pray that with God’s grace the journey already begun may always be enriched with numerous and generous followers so that this work, so beneficial and Christian, may continue to spread, in communion with the universal Church and in a particular way with our beloved diocese of Rome.
Finding comfort in the fruits of the spiritual benefits it displays to me, and it is right to thank our Lord, for the religious testimony and the generous apostolate of the members of this “Lay Missionaries of Charity”, I hereby most willingly adhere to your desire that it be affiliated to the Association of the Missionaries of Charity, founded by Rev. Mother Theresa of Calcutta, according to the norm of the Statutes and Way of Life presented to the Vicariate of Rome with protocol number 193/ 87.
I implore divine assistance and the grace of the Holy Spirit upon all of you with the wish that it might be abundantly fruitful in your lives and in the work which the Lay Missionaries of Charity will undertake for the greater glory of God.
Ugo Cardinal Poletti Vicar of His Holiness for the diocese of Rome›
Restoration and reconstructing of the Holy Family Chapel in Rome.
Our little prefabricated Holy Family Chapel, in Rome, installed in 1936, was falling into pieces. It was not only in need of a thorough repair but had to be totally reinforced and renovated. New walls, new and more doors and windows were installed, as well as the ceiling and the floor. The sanctuary was widened. The roof too was replaced, a complete reform.
Most of the work was done by the Brothers, LMCs and volunteers. The work began towards the end of May 1987 and concluded by November of the same year.
We had a group of young scouts camped in our compound, who came twice from Cassino. We must know that there was no Casa Serena. We had no access to the land, as we did not have the road or entrance. We replaced the old roof of the church with new asbestos, which then was very much in use for roofing; also water tanks were made with the same material. Today the asbestos has become a real problem and is no longer in use as it can apparently cause cancer.
While the work on the church building was going on in full swing, the contract on the second part of the land on rent where Casa Serena is built was signed on Wednesday 2nd September 1987, as I have already mentioned.
It took more than a year’s work, going to the “Casa Popolare” office in Via Valle dell’Aurelia. Many a time the person in charge of renting the land was not in the office. Finally I came in touch with a very gentle and kind geometra, Mr. Marcello Giustiniani, who came in person and measured the land and gave me a copy of the plan of the land. In the meantime I came in touch with the director of I.A.C.P. for the Roman province in Lungo Tevere Tor di Nona, where their main office is located. It is here finally that we signed our contract. The director, the lawyer Bertuccelli, was a man of good heart. In winter, when we started our night ministry, the director also started coming with us. So we became friends and he invited me to his house to meet his sick wife, to whom I started bringing holy Communion on a regular basis.
Divine providence always opened in many mysterious ways the doors and continually led through many trials. But trying without giving up, trusting all the more in the power and wisdom of God, one travels on the roads of divine providence, which most times can be extremely demanding, tiring and even discouraging. Time and time again one can feel like giving up. But then there begins to appear a twinkling star of hope. That is the time we have to offer more sacrifices, pray more fervently and hope against hope. The temptation to give up must be overcome by unfailing trust in the good, merciful and loving God, who is almighty; but above all he is our Father. “Can a woman forget her sucking child, the fruit of her womb; even if she forgets, I will not forget you” (Is 49: 15). They are not promises made by the so-called politicians but by our God and Father. He not only makes the promise but also fulfils it. Jesus wants us to trust him lovingly, trust him blindly.
As religious, and especially as Missionaries of charity Contemplative, the idea of giving up the call and mission to love and serve the poor is out of question. The painful plea of Jesus: “I have absolutely no one for my very poor” must continuously resound in our ears, especially when temptations to discouragements come on our way. We must be convinced that “Nothing is impossible with God” (Lk 1: 37). In other words, there is nothing that God cannot do.
In the year 1987-1988 we had a very severe winter. I came to know about eight homeless men had died on the street in Rome of cold, as they had no proper shelter. I spoke with some of our friends who showed great readiness to come with us to go at night around Piazza Vittorio Emmanuele, Termini station, Tiburtina etc. All these places were much more simple than now. With the years many changes have taken place. All open markets from Piazza Vittorio have been completely transferred. Also both stations Termini and Tiburtina have gone through a metamorphosis. There is no comparison now with what they were before.
To our great surprise we found many homeless people who were not only homeless, but hungry and very poorly clad. We had taken with us coffee, tea, sandwiches, some winter clothes, blankets, etc. They were all gone within minutes. We came to realize that there was a great need to continue with that sort of night apostolate. We took more things the following day.
We started our night ministry on the streets of Rome six nights a week, from 8.30 to 10.30 p.m. or thereabout. All of us felt that it was not possible for us to continue for six nights a week. We reduced it to Sunday, Wednesday and Friday of the week. We also came to know that there were a few other volunteers who were doing similar ministry on Tuesdays and Thursdays on the streets of Rome.
As days went by our group rose to forty. We divided the group into three and covered the whole city of Rome. Group number one went to Tiburtina station and around, not only with coffee and tea, but a very hot and good soup. Another group went to Tuscolana station, Ostiense, and Trastevere and Forlanini, St. Peter’s side and Colle Oppio.
This form of night ministry went on for about six years. In our group there were priests, nuns, doctors, Bishop Giuseppe Mani, the Director of I.A.C.P., lawyer Bertuccelli and several others. It became a big apostolate. Some parishes asked us whether they could join us. So Padre Sergio with the Holy Family of Centocelle parish people, San Frumenzio parish in Monte Sacro with their parish priest, Casal Palocco parish, San Vito Romano parish near Tiburtina station, all were very actively involved in the night ministry on the streets of Rome. Some of these parishes are still continuing, especially the Holy Family parish in Centocelle. Msgr. Giuseppe Marciante, who as very active in the parish of San Vito Romano of Tiburtina, is made bishop of our sector (Sector East).
Even though we were able to reach out over 500 street cases, I felt that our ministry was still incomplete. Because the people, mostly men, were not only hungry, but they were homeless and were desperately in need of a bed. It took not only a few years to obtain the necessary permissions, but also much suffering, insults, humiliations and other obstacles. But they were all worth having them in the name of and for the sake of the poor (cf. Casa Serena Origin and History).
As we opened Casa Serena on 4th September 1993, we discontinued our night ministry, although some others still carry on with it. I am extremely grateful to God for so many of our LMCs, volunteers, benefactors and co-workers. God never gets tired of hearing the cry of the poor, the downtrodden, the last, the least and the lost, and also of those who take care of them.
God blessed us not only with a lot of volunteers but also with giving us whatever we needed to help the poor. Some of our volunteers still ask us to continue with our street ministry as the number of street cases is always on the increase.
Now we have not only Casa Serena, our night shelter, but also we have perpetual adoration at our place. It became impossible for us to continue our night ministry in Rome on a regular basis. We are desperately in need of more beds for the homeless people. We are anxiously waiting for permission to enlarge Casa Serena house. We are in need of much prayer, sacrifices and sharing.
Casa Serena Origin and History.
It was about 8.30 a.m. of Thursday 11th May, 1989. I rang the door bell of the M.C. Sisters of San Gregorio al Celio, Rome. Lo and behold, the person who opened the door for me was Bl. Teresa M.C. herself. With a big smile she said: “Good morning Fr. Sebastian, I have been thinking of you”. “Thank you, Mother, for thinking of me”, I said. She continued: “Listen,” she said. “Yes, Mother”, I answered. “I am in need of a place in Rome to build a house for AIDS patients. Can you find a proper place for me?” she asked. “We have space at our property at Prenestina. All that we need is the required permission to build the house,” I said. “Do one thing”, she said, “At 5.30 p.m. today we have a meeting in Carlo Cattaneo, near Termini train station. Bring a rough plan and we can show it to the people who are going to be there”. I went home and quickly made a rough plan with the help of an architect from South Africa, Mr. Kevin (R.I.P.), who had been staying with us for some time.
I joined them in the meeting, and I showed them the rough plan made in the form of the big letter L. There were important people present: Mrs. Maria Pia Fanfani, Dr. Bilottta, Ing. Renato Tililio and several others whom I had not met before. Bl. Teresa told them of her desire to go to our place, to which they all agreed. For them, the words of Bl. Teresa were like the word of God. They were ready to do whatever she would ask of them.
They saw the place and reviewed the rough plan again. Bl. Teresa was excited. She said. “By Tuesday 14th November, 1989, I want the house to be ready. One of them said: “Mother Teresa, it is impossible to have the building ready by 14th November, with the burocracy in Rome”. Mrs. Maria Pia Fanfani came forward and said: “If Mother Teresa wants it by then, we will do it by then”. Some of them simply looked at one another and smiled.
St. John Paul II blesses and signs the project.
Bl. Teresa also stated that the following morning she was going to have Holy Mass with St. John Paul II, and she would take the rough plan we had made to be blessed and signed by him. And she did it. She took the plan with her and, after the Holy Mass in his private chapel, Bl. Teresa M.C. explained to the Holy Father her desire and showed him the plan. St. John Paul II very happily blessed it and put his signature on it. The date was 12.05.1989.
Meeting with the Mayor.
We planned to meet the following week again at our place with a proper plan. The project was ready. It was signed by the architect Caloisi, the same architect who built the Olympic stadium in Rome. With the project plan, the engineer, Mr. Marco, and others approached the Mayor of Rome, his Excellency Giubilo, whose group did not agree with the idea and so did not approve the project.
The Mayor came to meet Bl. Teresa at our place and expressed his regrets and told her that his “giunta” was trying to throw him out, which they eventually did.
Blessed Teresa gives up the idea.
Bl. Teresa M.C. returned to Kolkata with hope that the home for the AIDS patients would be ready by 14th November 1989. Mrs. Maria Pia Fanfani gave the impression that it was possible and that I had to go to their office, where she spoke of meeting regularly with one of her secretaries, which I did for a while. In the meantime Bl. Teresa M.C. was informed of the impossibility of having the house ready by the date she had in mind. Coming to know about it, she wrote a letter to all those concerned that she had no more interest in the matter and so to forget about the project. All those who were trying to help to get the project approved drew back and had no more interest, as Bl. Teresa M.C. had clearly expressed it in her letter.
From AIDS victims to Night shelter.
I discerned with God’s help the need to continue, trying no longer for the same purpose, but to have a night shelter for homeless men of the streets of Rome.
After about three years of going around, meeting numerous people, with much prayer and sacrifice, finally on Tuesday 10 March 1992, we received the permission to build a prefabricated house for our homeless men.
I cannot thank God enough for all the graces and blessings he has bestowed on us for his beloved homeless men. God gave us some simple and generous souls who helped us to meet certain people in the offices, one of whom was Mrs. Isa Gai and others like her.
It was about this time that a man came, asking me how he could help us in our night ministry. This was God’s providence, as I came to know that he was an architect. I explained to him about what was going to take place, to which he said that he was more than happy to direct the work once the project had its final approval. So architect Marino Valletta kept his word. He spent his time and energy for the realization of “Casa Serena”. Although he had not made a fourth vow of whole-hearted free service, he practiced it. May God bless him for his great, indispensable and timely help. “God still hears the cry of the poor”.
Choice of a name.
To choose a name for our night shelter was necessary. I prayed a novena and wrote twenty different names. From twenty names I picked out three. I prayed again and from the three I cast lots again and the lot fell on the name “Casa Serena”. This was done in Albania during our annual retreat in May 1993, preached by Fr. Pitrie S.J. from Malta.
The house was still not quite ready. So when the house was more or less ready, we had its first blessing and inauguration on the eve of Pentecost Sunday, 29th May 1993 with Msgr. G. Mani and Bl. Teresa M.C. The house was not ready yet to take the people in. So on Saturday 4th September 1993, His Eminence Cardinal Camillo Ruini finally blessed the house, which by then was ready to receive our homeless men. “Casa Serena” was the silver jubilee memorial of two of the first persevering members of the M.C. Family: Bro. Damien M.C. (R.I.P.) and Fr. Sebastian M.C. “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, his love endures forever” (Ps. 136: 1).
Our volunteers, LMCs, benefactors.
Casa Serena was built with the help of innumerable small and great benefactors to whom we owe so much gratitude. Even the trees in the garden were donated by various people. Some donated a door, another a window, etc. ”Little drops of water, little grains of sand, make a mighty ocean”. That was how Casa Serena was built!
Right from the beginning many generous and devoted volunteers came forward, offering their hands to cook and serve and their hearts to love and help our men. Our heart-felt thanks go to God for all our generous co-workers, volunteers, LMCs, benefactors and others who have remained faithful up to this day. Words are really inadequate to express our gratitude. Each single one of them is in our daily prayers and sacrifices. The good Lord, who sees them in secret, will reward them in abundance.
Blessed Teresa Birth Centenary Memorial
Casa Serena can accommodate only 76 men in all and is practically full all the time. There are five to ten telephone enquiries a day for a free bed, which most times we have to say ”no” to, as the house is full. On 27th December 2010 the first memorial stone was blessed by his Eminence Cardinal Angelo Comastri, in the presence of Gianni Alemanno, the Mayor of Rome, Sr. Prema M.C., the Superior General of the Missionaries of Charity Sisters, and many other distinguished persons for Bl. Teresa Birth Centenary Memorial. Up until now the final project for presentation to the administrative offices is not yet ready. We are faced with so many different kinds of obstacles that the project so far has not gone forward. We are in need of more fervent prayers and generous sacrifices, to prevent the evil one from putting stumbling blocks in the way of its realization.
The initial project.
The rough plan signed by Bl. John Paul II on 12th May 1989 was framed and kept for a long time at the main entrance of Casa Serena. Unfortunately, because of humidity, dampness and severe cold the signature of the Holy Father is hardly visible. Right now we have the original framed, together with one of the photocopies taken before it was blurred. The signature of Bl. John Paul II and the date on it are very clear on the photocopy.
It was a very big surprise for me to see the photograph of Bl. John Paul II putting his signature on it in the presence of Bl. Teresa M.C. in her tiny little room in Kolkata, where she stayed from 1953 to1997. A framed photograph of the same can also be found on the Sisters’ floor in “Dono di Maria” (“Gift of Mary”) in the Vatican. The logical conclusion, though wrong, is that Bl. Teresa M.C. and some of the Sisters thought, and perhaps still believe, that the signed project by Bl. John Paul II is that of Dono di Maria in the Vatican. For us it is a real relic of two of our contemporary saints, both of whom had much to do with our Contemplative Branch (cf. Bl. Teresa’s letter to Bl. John Paul II, 16th June 1993).
Why Casa Serena is built in “L” form?
Casa Serena is built in “L shape”, and the original project too is in that form. Why is it in “L” form? To express the twofold commandment of love. The vertical line stands for God’s love for his poor, and for all those who take care of them, and for their love for God. The horizontal line stands for our love for our neighbour, especially our love for our poor people. “Love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength and love your neighbour as you love yourself” (Lk 10: 27) is the first and most important commandment.
Casa Serena is the house of God for his poor, the homeless men who are fifty years old and above, who are willing to live according to the Statutes of Casa Serena.
Casa Serena is not simply a dormitory, nor is it simply a feeding centre, but it is where our people are helped to realize their human dignity and worth. Their dignity does not depend on their status in life. The dignity of a person is based on the fact that the person is created by God in his own image to know him more clearly, to love him more dearly and follow him more closely. In the Gospels we will never see Jesus concentrating on the body alone, nor only on the soul, but he takes the person in his totality, body and soul. The body should not become an obstacle to the soul. This is also in line with what Jesus said to Bl. Teresa from the Cross in her third vision: “Will you refuse to do this for Me, to take care of them (the poorest of the poor), to bring them to Me?” (cf. Bl. Teresa’s letter, 3rd December 1947).
Make us worthy, Lord, to love and adore you in the Bread of Life and make us worthy, Lord, to love and serve you in the poorest of the poor.
On Pentecost Sunday 30th May 1993 some of the senior Brothers went to our Sisters’ house in Via Casilina to speak with Bl. Teresa. Bl. Teresa was in a very joyful mood and there were no other visitors. We sat together and she started speaking about going to China. In the course of her conversation she said that “We have to use ways and means to God’s message to come to people, especially to the people of China”. “Yes, Mother, that is why we have come to see you. Is it possible for us to ask for the canonical erection of our still small Society?” I asked her.
She straight away said: “Yes, we should”. She said: “Listen, I am going to Poland tomorrow early morning, but I should be back on Wednesday evening. We can meet again here in Casilina and write the letters together to the Holy Father and the Cardinals concerned. In the meantime we all should pray more fervently and do double penance. Pray much to our Lady. She hears the cry of the poor and afflicted children”.
Bl. Teresa returned from Poland as she had said. It took a few days to prayerfully compose the letters to most important persons as far as our Society was concerned. They were mainly: the Holy Father Pope (St) John Paul II, his eminence Cardinal Eduardo Somalo Martinez, the Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of consecrated life and Societies of apostolic life in the entire Church, and his eminence cardinal Camillo Ruini, the vicar of Pope (St.) John Paul II for the diocese of Rome. I would like to quote here all the three letters, in which Bl. Teresa M.C. explained in simple terms what the Contemplative Branch is all about and what was the purpose of the letters.
Meeting with Cardinal Eduardo Somalo Martinez.
Among the three, the meeting with his eminence Cardinal Eduardo Somalo Martinez was the most dramatic and considerably positive one.
As soon as Bl. Teresa M.C. spoke of the Contemplative Branch of the Missionaries of Charity, his eminence went almost into an ecstasy and said that it was the answer to his prayers that Bl. Teresa M.C. founded also a Contemplative Branch. When he found out that our Branch was founded on 19th March 1979, he took a little statue of St. Joseph from his pocket and showed it to us. He spoke of his special devotion to St. Joseph. He was overjoyed to know that our Contemplative MCC Brothers was founded on 19th March. He spoke at length with Bl. Teresa M.C., Bro. Damien M.C. and myself about the primacy of prayer in the life of a consecrated person. “Contemplation of divine things and assiduous union with God in prayer is the first and primary duty of all religious” (Canon 663 § 1).
We spoke about how many we were. Bl. Teresa M.C. wanted his eminence to know that we were just only 24 members. To which his eminence said, “You are double the number of the apostles Jesus had. He only had twelve. I will tell the cardinals that the Brothers are double the number of the apostles of Jesus when they would have the ‘Congresso’ to decide whether the Missionaries of Charity Contemplative should be erected into a diocesan religious institute or not”. He also asked us to present the Constitutions and testimonial letters of the bishops where the brothers have houses. Bl. Teresa read the letter to the Cardinal and then left the letter with him.
‹Missionaries of Charity
Dear Cardinal Martinez Somalo and Counsellors,
I come to you with deep love and gratitude for all you have done for our Society. My gratitude is my prayer for you.
I come to you with another gift which I want to offer to God together. I do this after much prayer, reflection and sacrifice. The gift is Missionaries of Charity Contemplative Brothers and Priests.
After some years I was convinced that our M.C. family could not be complete if we do not have contemplative Brothers as we have Sisters.
In Father Sebastian I found the answer to the request of Jesus. Jesus used him as co-founder and from that time the Society has grown fulfilling the will of Jesus to have contemplative branch.
The Church in Rome gave its approval on the 19th March 1979 to begin the Pious Union.
I feel now that the time has come to raise the Pious Union into a proper religious Institute with a diocesan approval.
At present the Pious Union has four houses – 1 Rome, 2 in Albania, 1 Brazil and 24 members.
With God’s blessing the Contemplative Brothers have been a special gift of God to the families – who are known as Lay Missionaries of Charity and are in 20 countries spreading the word of God by their lives and good example. All together they are over 500 families. They too like us have a deep prayer life and are bound by the same vows of Poverty, Chastity, obedience, and whole hearted free service to the Poorest of the Poor, as per the married people can live.
Therefore I come to you with deep trust in our Lady and your love for our Society, that you will grant our humble request and help us to fulfil God’s holy will. Pray for us that we do all for the glory of God and the good of souls.
Yours in Jesus through Mary.
Mother Teresa M.C.›
That was not all. He called out all those priests, nuns and lay people who work in the Congregation for religious of the world from their offices, telling them that Bl. Teresa M.C. had started a Contemplative Congregation of the Missionaries of Charity. Bl. Teresa was surprised. He led all of us to the Chapel and asked Bl. Teresa M.C. to offer a prayer. But she insisted that his eminence should lead the prayer and give his blessing.
“O.K., Mother Teresa. But after me I want you to offer a prayer also for all of us”. So the cardinal prayed the “Our Father” prayer, gave us his blessing, followed by Bl. Teresa Teresa’s prayer.
Meeting with St. John Paul II.
The next person we visited was the Holy Father Pope (St.) John Paul II. Bl. Teresa M.C. read the letter to him.
‹Missionaries of Charity
Our Dear Holy Father,
It was a real gift of God to be present at the Holy Mass with you to pray with you and receive Jesus from you.
Today I come together with Fr. Sebastian my Co-founder, with good news to offer you a gift.
As you know Missionaries of Charity keep growing with God’s blessing – We now have Sisters active and contemplative, Brothers and Priests.
Since March 19th 1979 we have a Pious Union known as Missionaries of Charity Brothers Contemplative in the diocese of Rome. After much prayer and sacrifice I feel this is the time for the Brothers to become a diocesan Religious Institute. For this I appeal to you to help us that the Church will grant us this gift.
At present there are 24 Brothers working in Rome, Albania and Brazil.
The very beautiful gift of God has given to the Brothers is to begin the Lay Missionaries of Charity movement for the families. They have already 500 families throughout the world who have consecrated their lives to live their lives through prayer and the vows of Poverty, Chastity, Obedience and whole hearted free service to the Poorest of the Poor, as per their married life permits. This consecration has been a very great gift of God to the families. So please Holy Father pray for them and bless them.
Father and I come to you with our whole heart and profound humility, with the help of Mary, our Mother to help us become a diocesan Religious Institute, since this branch is still only a Pious Union.
Please Holy Father bless your devoted Missionaries of Charity that they may become true Contemplatives, fully consecrated to God and His Church so that whatever they do be done for the glory of God and the good of the Church.
Please Holy Father pray for Fr. Sebastian and for me.
Your devoted children in Mary.
Fr. Sebastian M.C. and Mother Teresa M.C.›
The Holy Father was extremely happy and told that all would be well if we pray. It was a very encouraging visit with the Holy Father, the meeting of two saints together representing the Institutional and the Charismatic aspects of the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church. It was a sacramental and ecclesial encounter.
Meeting with Cardinal Camillo Ruini.
We also went to meet his eminence Cardinal Camillo Ruini with another letter, which Bl. Teresa read to him.
‹Missionaries of Charity
Your Eminence Cardinal Camillo Ruini,
As per our conversation regarding the Pious Union of the Missionaries of Charity Brothers Contemplative – I come to you with a humble request to help me and Fr. Sebastian my Co-founder – to raise the Pious Union to a diocesan Religious Institute.
The Pious Union began with the blessing of Cardinal Poletti who has been a real father to us, on 19th March 1979. Since then we have 24 members in Rome, Albania, and Brazil, under the full direction of Fr. Sebastian.
The very beautiful gift of God that has been given to the Brothers is to establish the movement for Lay people known as Lay Missionaries of Charity.
They have already 500 families who have consecrated their lives, to live their lives through prayer and the vows of Poverty, Chastity, Obedience and whole hearted free service to the Poorest of the Poor as their marred life permits. This consecration has been a very great gift of God to the families – so please pray for them, that they may persevere in their Consecration.
I am sure with God’s blessing and your help – the Brothers to grow into a fruitful Contemplative Institute in the Church and in the family of the Missionaries of Charity.
I take this opportunity to thank for all the great help you have given me each time I came to you.
My gratitude to you is my prayer for you that you be only all for Jesus through Mary.
God bless you. Fr. Sebastian M.C. and Mother Teresa M.C.›
He repeatedly said that the decision to erect our Pious Union into a diocesan religious institute did not depend on him. He said that unless we already had at least forty members with vows he would not try, because he tried once with a pious Association in Rome with thirty-nine professed members, but the Congregation for Consecrated and Apostolic Life told him that they had to wait until they had forty professed members.
Bl. Teresa M.C. tried her best to convince the cardinal that if a Pious Association had a proper canonical status it would have grown faster in holiness and increased in number. The cardinal did not want to discuss it any more, but he told us to pray more fervently. God has his time, he has his way. We have to have much faith. If it is God’s will and if God wants it, he will send vocations. Let the Brothers very fervently pray and ask the prayers of others, especially some contemplative cloistered orders.
Presenting the Constitutions and the related documents.
Cardinal Eduardo Somalo Martinez, the Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, had asked me to present six copies of the Constitutions, together with the testimonial letters. The Constitutions we were following until then could not be submitted. So I decided to begin immediately to prepare the new Constitutions. Every single rule in the Constitutions is written before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament exposed. It took about two and a half months, working day and night. In the meantime, I also got the necessary testimonial letters from the archbishops of Albania, where we had two houses, and from San Paulo, Brazil, where a small group of Brothers was trying to join us since 1987. The letters of both the bishops were positive.
On Monday 6th September 1993 all the required letters, together with six copies of the Constitutions were submitted to the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life in the Vatican. We also submitted the list of the name of the brothers with the letter of request to erect the Pious Union of the Missionaries of Charity Contemplative into a diocesan religious institute. I wanted to do this before going to the Holy Land to give the retreat to our M.C. Sisters. Besides, one of the main intentions I had was to pray very fervently in the holy places for the erection of our Society into a diocesan religious institute, if it was God’s will.
Returning from Holy Land, one of the first things I did was to telephone the Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for Religious and Secular Institutes. He was so gentle and sweet over the phone and told me to ask the Brothers to pray more ardently and contact him in a few weeks’ time. We did both. We prayed many Memorares and asked the Holy Spirit to inspire all those concerned to make the right decisions. We waited in patience in the upper room of S. Agapito, Rome, praying constantly with the Holy Family to fill everyone concerned with the Holy Spirit. And it happened. On Friday 22nd October 1993 six of the cardinal prefects of the various Congregations in the Vatican met and decided that, if the Cardinal Vicar of the Pope of Rome, his eminence Cardinal Camillo Ruin,i thought it opportune to grant the request of erecting the Pious Union of the Missionaries of Charity Contemplative into a religious institute in the diocese of Rome, he could do it. The cardinal Eduardo Martinez Somalo told me over the phone that it was up to the cardinal Vicar of Rome to grant the required permission, and all the documents were sent to the Vicariato, including the corrected copy of the Constitutions.
Without delay I went to meet with Msgr. Zagotto, the Vicar for religious for the diocese of Rome. I communicated to him what his eminence cardinal Eduardo Martinez Somalo had told me. But the meeting wasn’t that easy or positive. Whatever was sent from the Congregation for Religious regarding the Missionaries of Charity Contemplative from the Vatican has gone to the archives, he said. I spoke of trying to see Cardinal Camillo Ruini, together with Bl. Teresa M.C. So I made an appointment to meet our cardinal on Monday 6th December 1993.
Meeting with Cardinal Ruini – Hope without hope.
Bl. Teresa M.C. arrived in Rome a few days before our appointment with the Cardinal with a heavy cold and cough. It looked like it was impossible for us to go to the Cardinal because her health was very precarious. But in spite of it she wanted to go. As I reached the Vicariate I went straight ahead to the elevator, which was now ready for us. But Bl. Teresa M.C., to my great surprise, said: “We are not going to take the elevator; as we are going for an important matter, we will go up by the steps”. But I said: “Mother, you are not at all well, and there are more than a hundred steps”. “No”, she said, “we go up by the steps”.
The battle now had begun. More surprise, this time as she started to climb, she said: “We will have a quick novena of Memorares to Our Lady”, and she began: “Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your help or sought your intercession, was left unaided. Inspired with this confidence, we fly unto you. O Virgin of Virgins, our Mother, to you we come, before you we stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word incarnate, despise not our petitions, but in your mercy hear and answer us. Amen”.
Along with her, I became breathless. After each Memorare she would stop and take some breaths. We completed the 10 Memorare Novena as we reached the second floor. It took more than twenty minutes. But she made it!
We went straight to the Cardinal’s office. Bl. Teresa M.C. told the Cardinal what His Eminence Cardinal Eduardo Martinez Somalo had told me. We spent a little more than half an hour with the Cardinal. The Vicar of St. John Paul II did not give us much hope. At the end of our serious conversation the Cardinal told us that we could go to the Pope if we wanted. We thanked the Cardinal, asked for his blessing and then Bl. Teresa M.C. said: “Yes, we go to the Holy Father”.
The fruit of prayer and sacrifice.
Msgr. Zagotto had told me that if ever Bl. Teresa M.C. came to the Vicariato, to bring her to his office. So I told Bl. Teresa M.C. about it. She straight away said: “Yes, let us go to him”. As we knocked at his door, he told us to come in. He was busy writing something. He greeted us and told us to take our seats, which we did, and he continued to write.
He said that he was preparing the Decree of Erection of our Society into a diocesan religious institute as the Cardinal had asked him to do so over the phone. As soon as he finished writing, he read it to us. We were taken by surprise. Our eyes were filled with tears, our hearts with joy and gratitude to God. The work of the Almighty. What is impossible with man is possible for God. God saw Bl. Teresa’s sacrificial offering by climbing the steep steps of the Vicariato building praying the Memorare. Bl. Teresa stressed and more loudly articulating the words: Our Lady could not refuse her. Years ago our Lady had promised that Jesus and she would be with her and with her children. Now once again she was fulfilling that promise.
Msgr. Zagotto told us that the decree should be ready by the following day, which would go into effect from Wednesday 8th December 1993, on the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. The decree was ready, but with substantial changes in the wording. We had our rite of erection on 8th evening in the M.C. Sisters’ Chapel in Via Casilina 222.
Decree of erection.
Bl. Teresa read out the English translation of the original decree written in Italian. Bl. Teresa was upset because it was not what we had heard from Msgr. Zagotto on 6th December 1993. She told me to make an appointment straight away with the Cardinal. “We must go to the Cardinal”, she insisted. I went to the secretary of the Cardinal, who said that it was not necessary that Bl. Teresa M.C. should see the Cardinal. So it remained the way it was. No change was made. Here is the Decree of erection:
of the title of St. Agnes outside the Wall
of the holy Roman Catholic Church CARDINAL RUINI
Vicar General of His Holiness
For the diocese of Rome
Decree of erection of the Religious Congregation of the
“Missionaries of Charity Contemplative”
- Considering that in our diocese of Rome there exists from 1977 the public Association of the faithful known as the “Missionaries of Charity Contemplative”, founded by Mother Teresa of Kolkata, with the main house in Rome, in Via S. Agapito, 8, approved as Pious Union by His Eminence Cardinal Vicar Ugo Poletti with the Decree of 19 March 1979;
- considering that the Association has already grown, increasing in number and in works in Italy and other countries;
- having carefully examined the Charism and the Constitutions that support it;
- trusting that the work could always produce greater fruit in abundance for the glory of God and the growth of holiness in the Church;
- having seen the consent of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life on 22nd October 1993, with protocol DD. 2321-1/93, according to Canon 579 of Code of Canons and in virtue of the faculty proper to the Diocesan bishop
the erection of the Association of faithful “Missionaries of Charity-Contemplative into a diocesan religious Congregation with the same name “MISSIONARIES OF CHARITY-CONTEMPLATIVE”.
With the present Decree one intends to approve the Constitutions of the “Missionaries of charity-Contemplative”, corrected according to the proper observations formulated by the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.
Given in Rome, at the Lateran Apostolic Palace of the Vicariate, on 8th December 1993, the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Prot. No. 1380/93
Fr. Filippo Tucci Camillus Card. Ruini
Why was Bl. Teresa M.C. upset with the decree of erection? I leave the answer to posterity to give. For me what was important was that the church officially recognized our existence as a diocesan religious institute. The rest was not absolutely necessary. But for Bl. Teresa M.C. it was not the same. Several times she mentioned during the course of her conversation about the how and why of it. It was hard for her to understand how they could leave out the name of the co-founder from the decree of erection. Bl. Teresa M.C. did not know how to solve the problem. For me, if we tried again, we could have even lost what we had already received. So I kept telling Bl. Teresa M.C. that we should be happy and grateful to God with what we had received. Besides we often say: “Accept whatever God gives, give whatever he takes with a big smile”. So we expressed our hartt-felt gratitude to God and continued with our everyday life.
Official erection and the vows for life.
The next step was to erect our Society officially in the diocese of Rome by His Eminence Cadinal Camillo Ruini, who delegated his Excellency Msgr. Giuseppe Mani. So it was done on Friday 31st December 1993 at 5.00 p.m. in our Holy Family Chapel, in Rome. On that occasion six of us made our vows. Fr. Sebastian M.C. made his vows for life in the hands of bishop Giuseppe Mani first (cf. the vow formula), after which he received the vows for life of five others: Bro. Piet M.C., Bro. André Marie M.C., Bro. Damien M.C. (R.I.P.), Bro. (Mr) Mark and Bro. Subash.
The work of God through the work of man.
Our institute is still very small and our growth is considerably slow like the olive tree in our garden (cf. pg. 24). But when we look back we see that ours is the story of the amazing grace. Miracles after miracles have taken place. God’s unfailing providence brought so many generous and loving people to cooperate with the work of God. They were from all walks of life, belonging to various categories. Their help was always timely, as we heavily depend on divine providence, which will never fail if we remain faithful and humble. We can easily say: “Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth”.
Of course, there is the other side of the coin. We have to do our part. “Ora et labora”, plus sacrifice and penance. God uses people not because .of our gifts but in spite of what we are. God can write straight with crooked lines. He will continue to use us as long as we try to remain faithful, loyal and humble. Love never gets old. Love never gets tired of loving and giving, because the source of love is the Heart of the Trinity.
To summarize the whole story in few words. let us pay attention to the following:
“Amazing grace, how sweet you are,
that used a wretch like me!…
Through many dangers, toils and snares,
we have already come.
It was grace that brought us safe thus far,
and grace will lead us on…”
God bless you.
Fr. Sebastian Vazhakala M.C.
Just a word.
This is an attempt to put into words a few important historical factors connected with the Contemplative Branch of the Missionaries of Charity.
To be honest one has to go back as far as Tuesday 10th September 1946 up until 3rd December 1947. It was during that period that Bl. Teresa of Kolkata M.C. received the incredible rich and wonderful M.C. Spirit and Charism of the Missionaries of Charity through many locutions and visions.
It was further inspired in the jubilee day of the Missionaries of Charity of Kolkata, on 7th October 1975. It was on that day that Jesus in his goodness and mercy chose one of the most unworthy servants, Fr. Sebastian Vazhakala M.C., to collaborate with the world renowned Bl. Teresa M.C. to found the contemplative Branch of the Missionaries of Charity, which became a reality in Rome on 19th March 1979. Incidentally it was the fifth centenary of the feast of St. Joseph, the foster father of our Lord Jesus Christ, as it was on 19 March 1479, the feast of St. Joseph was instituted in the Church for the first time. For us it was a very happy and providential coincidence.
The following pages give just a glimpse of the founding years of the Missionaries of Charity Brothers Contemplative, with the many trials and challenges, and how the little Branch has not only survived, but also has reached certain form, stability and maturity with God’s unfailing help.
I conclude these few lines with the words of Mr. Ken Lipe, the grammarian, who went through the manuscript of the present volume: “I must tell you how wonderful and privileged I was to read this exciting history! Our Lord has truly blessed all of us throughout the world with your obvious persistence through so many trials”.
My heart-felt gratitude goes to God for all those who have helped us in whatever way over the years alive or dead for he growth and development of the Missionaries of Charity Contemplative. May the good Lord bless and reward each and every one of them and also all those who may continue to help us to help our poor people, remaining faithful to our “Ora et labora” way of life to grow in holiness and increase in number.
God bless you.
Fr. Sebastian Vazhakala M.C.