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For Indian nun, Saint Teresa of Ávila relives in Pope Francis

Oct. 15, 2013

Saint Teresa of Ávila, whose liturgical memorial falls today, and Pope Francis share several things, such as their call to reform the "battered " Church; union with God "only through prayer"; and the simplicity, humanity and "filial devotion to Mary". On AsiaNews Sister Gemma, mother prioress of the Discalced Carmelites in Mumbai, looks at the similarities the two figures have, despite their difference in time and roles. Both were called by God to "revitalise the Church through their personal holiness," not by the sword and hammer. The Indian nun's reflection follows. Ahead of the feast day of Saint Teresa of Ávila on 15 October, AsiaNews spoke to Prioress Mother Marie Gemma OCD, of the Cloistered Carmelite Monastery, Mumbai, about Pope Francis, who is walking in the saint's footprints.

Celebrated on 15 October, the feast of Saint Teresa of Jesus (Ávila, Spain) is a universal day of rejoicing for the Discalced Carmelites who claim her as Mother and Foundress. Called to reform the Order of Carmel, she founded a convent in Ávila in 1562 with a small group of ardent young women who like her wished to live a stricter life. Asked by AsiaNews about what relevance Saint Teresa - a woman of the 16th century - could have for us today, Prioress Mother Marie Gemma OCD said, "The fact that her first little convent has spread to over 90 countries all over the world, says a lot. And more than that, what delights me is that we find much of her persona mirrored in Pope Francis, a man of and for our times. Going into greater detail, the Prioress explained, "Take for instance her call to reform the Carmelite Order to which she belonged. The Church in her day was in a sorry state of decimation and decadence and God raised up holy reformers. Today too, the Church is battered from within and without by scandals, exodus of members and a general state of hopelessness and God gave us Pope Francis to revitalise the Church. But God does not arm His reformers with sword and hammer. He endows them with gifts of nature and grace. Through their personal holiness, they bring about reform and so it is with Saint Teresa and Pope Francis.

You may well wonder how Saint Teresa was able to achieve so much. Well, the only driving force that spurred her on was her passionate love for God in Jesus. Once she knew His Will, she was unstoppable. Her convents were to be houses of prayer, silence, solitude and self-denial; steeped in faith, hope and love; all directed to the needs of the Church and the salvation of souls. Hence, she, who all her life suffered from atrocious health, criss-crossed Spain from chilly Castile to simmering Seville, in fair and foul weather, travelling in enclosed mule-carts, meeting with many mishaps on the way. Pope Francis, also driven by a passionate love for God in Jesus heeds no obstacles to get God's Will done and visit God's people in the most unlikely places like the favelas of Rio for instance! Saint Teresa knew of no other way to reach union with God, but through prayer, which she said was nothing but a 'frequent and solitary conversation with the One Who we know loves us.' She herself was brought to the highest state of spiritual marriage, receiving innumerable mystical graces. She felt impelled to share this treasure of prayer with others who longed to know how to pray. And when asked under obedience, she wrote the Interior Castle, which is her testimony to the spiritual graces she received. It is so edifying to see our Pope Francis on his knees in prayer. He exhorts everyone, especially the youth, to pray and asks them too to pray for him.


Saint Teresa's simplicity, her utter disregard for pomposity, her passion for truth, authenticity, her disarming way of uncovering masks made her fearless. Never overawed by titles of nobility, she could relate with great ease to others, be they children, peasants, or nobles and great ladies. Pope Francis kissed babies and the presidents of Brazil and Argentina as well! More importantly, he does not hesitate to call a spade a spade and openly speaks of the plague of careerism prevalent among his priests and urges them to make "the cause of the Gospel" their priority. When he met with seminarians and novices, he said, 'There is no holiness in sadness; pursue the joy of the Lord.' Saint Teresa too told her daughters that in Carmel there was no place for 'sad-faced saints.'

Asked by AsiaNews what makes Saint Teresa very appealing today, Prioress Mother Marie Gemma OCD said, "What makes St Teresa appealing today is her humanness. She had a deep respect for every human person, rich and poor, and it was well known that one's reputation was safe when Teresa was around. She detested gossip as does Pope Francis. He has often made the statement that gossip is the greatest evil today. This quality of humanness permeated all aspects of her life and her relationship with her Lord Jesus. Once on her travels, the cart overturned and spilled its contents (the nuns) on to the ground. An exasperated Teresa complained to her Lord asking how He could allow this when it was His work they were doing. He replied, 'that is how I treat my friends,' to which she retorted, 'No wonder you have so few!' Her relations with people - they knew they were loved and cared for by the interest she took in their lives, helping whenever possible - is so very much like Pope Francis' who even makes phone calls to those who suffer.

Her extraordinary intelligence, common sense and astuteness, which contributed to her success in all she was called to do, even business concerns, places her among the topmost successful women today. A true Carmelite, her filial devotion to Mary was expressed in so many ways. She taught her daughters to look upon Mary the Contemplative as Mother, Sister, model and constant companion. Today there is a move in the Church to give Mary her proper place in the history of Salvation. Pope Francis makes no apology for his obvious love for Mary, entrusting his pontificate and all his endeavours to her. Finally, Saint Teresa - the great mystic and Doctor of the Church - never forgets or allows others to forget what seems now to be an ever recurring refrain of Pope Francis: 'I am a sinner,' and a beloved child of God. Even as she was dying, Saint Teresa repeated, 'I am a daughter of the Church,' Sr Marie Gemma, OCD, said in concluding.


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