in ACN International, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Aid to the Church in Need Canada, Father Werenfried van Straaten
“The Bacon Priest”
Father Werenfried recounts a trip to India and his meeting with Mother Teresa
This text is an excerpt from the book ‘They call me the Bacon Priest’ first published in 1961. In this book which has been republished many times, Father Werenfried van Straaten recounts the beginnings of the Work he founded which would later become Aid to the Church in Need. He also speaks of the challenges he faced, as well as some of the journeys he took around the world which marked him in some way or other. One such encounter was with Mother Teresa of Calcutta, in the early 60s.
Below is an excerpt from this wonderful book, our way of highlighting the Canonization of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, this coming Sunday, the 4th of September. We hope you enjoy the read!
1961: Meeting Mother Teresa would be A meeting that would stay with Father Werenfried .
“The only one who is concerned about the people is Mother Teresa”
“Then came Calcutta. A million homeless people live, sleep and die in the scorching streets of this metropolis. A hundred thousand others, mostly refugees from Pakistan, live on the pavements. They have built tiny huts, strung together for miles, leaning against the walls of the houses. The greatest height of their slanting roofs is four feet. Past these kennels flows the brown, muddy water of the gutters. There is no food and no work nothing. Of the four hundred million Indians, three quarters are undernourished. Only the sacred cows are better off-it is said there are two hundred million of them. They wander unhindered through the streets, block the traffic, devour the contents of greengrocers’ shops; they may not be chased away or killed. And the people are starving. There are homes for aged cows, but not for aged people.
The only one who is concerned about the people is Mother Teresa. She cares for the foundlings she fishes every morning out of the dustbins for the sick and the dying. I visited her in the house for the dying. The house is quite near the Temple of Kali, and it used to serve for temple prostitution. Now it is a last home for lonely dying people. Above the door stand the words Home for Dying Destitutes. Mother Teresa’s nuns and helpers go through the streets and look for the dying; they carry them on litters to their home. When I visited, there were one hundred and twenty-seven in that house: six long rows of litters next to each other. Withered skeletons lay and waited for death: dark feverish eyes stared at me. But Mother Teresa and her helpers stay with them, and, perhaps for the first time in their lives, these dying people experience selfless love. Mother Teresa is an Albanian nun from Yugoslavia who has lived for thirty-seven years in India. About fifteen years ago she founded a congregation for the purpose of looking after only the poorest and most destitute. There are already one hundred twenty-five nuns, of whom six are European.
“It is not so much the sari or the bowl of rice, but the motherly care that illumines their last days like a miracle.”
There was a girl from Freiburg there. Four years ago I had preached in Freiburg, and after the sermon she had come to the parlour and told me she wanted to dedicate her life to God in the service of the very poorest, and could I tell her where to go? I honestly did not know. I promised that I would pray for light and advised her to discuss the matter with someone who knew her intimately: then God would certainly show her the way. I never heard anything more of her. But in Calcutta I recognised her in the house of the dying, and she recognized me. She had been working there for a year and a half. In the last few years they have been able to show a little love to more than twelve thousand dying persons. It is not so much the sari or the bowl of rice, but the motherly care that illumines their last days like a miracle.
Blessed Mother Teresa, bringing Father Werenfried through the streets of Calcutta
In Calcutta I baptised a dying child in the arms of its sixteen-year-old Muslim mother-for I am not only a beggar, but first and foremost a priest, who is glad if he can baptise a child. Nobody noticed I gave the child the name Werenfried. Ten minutes later little Werenfried was dead. When the men came to take him away, I went with him. We arrived at a fenced-in place close to the Temple of Kali, There were seventeen trenches in the ground with wood fires burning in each one. For each corpse, forty rupees’ worth of wood must be bought. Those who are rich buy a can of petrol as well-it takes less time. Without petrol it takes at least three hours. The child was laid with the other dead people on the ground until a trench was free. A man who had been run over by a tram had just been thrown on the fire.
The relatives waited patiently and chatted with one another. Children were playing with bones that had escaped the fire. A sacred cow wandered among the burning trenches and snuffled at the dead child. From time to time there was a muffled bang: this was a skull exploding. Every time a body was ready, the ashes were gathered in a pot and thrown into the river ten yards further along, where children in the water were splashing and playing with mud and ashes…In this macabre scene human beings are nothing more than a scrap of flesh, a piece of bone, a heap of ashes.”
“Let us therefore, in the name of God, restore love, which opens doors and hearts to Him. We human beings are one race. All of us. Even the most primitive peoples of the underdeveloped countries and the millions of starving people in our present-day world. The foundling in the dustbin and the weeping mother of little Werenfried, whom I baptised; the old Chinaman with his bottle of gin and the refugee on a barge in Hong Kong. The knowledge-hungry girls of Korea, who sleep with the Americans out of sheer poverty, and the little ragpickers who have stopped stealing: they all belong to us, and we to them. We must love each other and help each other.
Like St. Martin: he was riding his horse; a beggar cried for help; but St. Martin had nothing left to give. So he took his cloak, cut it in half and gave one half to the beggar. Half, reader! The beggar was Christ. Every poor man is Christ!”
From THEY CALL ME THE BACON PRIEST –
HORROR IN ASIA (Excerpts Pages 175 – 182)
(First edition 1961, second edition 1965, third 1981, fourth 1991, this one 1997)
Aid to the Church in Need continues to support projects related to: construction, religious formation, subsistence support and aid for means of transportation all across Asia. Visit our website on a regular basis and you will discover the variety of ways Aid to the Church in Need supports local Churches in over 145 countries. In 2015 alone, 6,209 projects were funded, for a total of a little over 137 million dollars.
Under construction in Pristina, Kosovo: a cathedral dedicated to Mother Teresa. Aid to the Church in Need contributed to it’s construction.