St. Teresa of Calcutta and the Priest of Kali

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The Kalighat Home for the Dying

A middle-aged priest from Calcutta was celebrating mass at my church several years ago. His homily centered on a short story about Mother Teresa with whom he seemed to be close. I remember the homily because it deeply moved me.

Calcutta is named after the important Hindu goddess Kali and means “the city of Kali”. She is worshipped as the “Mother of the Universe”. The priest recounted that when Mother Teresa began her service to the poor she and her few sisters had very little money or resources. Every day they would go to a nearby temple of Kali and serve the sick and dying on its doorsteps; it was where they congregated. The head priest of the temple resented the Christian nuns and stirred up the anger of the locals to the point that they would throw rocks. But the numbers of the sick kept growing so the Kali priest complained to authorities. Teresa, however, was able to convince them to give her the old abandoned temple that was on the same grounds; they knew that her work was badly needed by the people of Calcutta. She called it the Kalighat Home For the Dying.

The Kali priest continued stirring up opposition, trying to convince the police to get rid of her and her sisters. Then there was an outbreak of leprosy and in a panic people fled the area (the priest said it was cholera, but one of her biographers said it was leprosy). Teresa had found out that the Kali priest was still in the temple and had contracted the disease. She went in and found him suffering alone and treated him as she did the others, keeping him clean and fed. Some days later he was waking out of a deep sleep after his fever broke. He had a look of astonishment and exclaimed to Mother Teresa “I have seen Kali! I have seen Kali! He kept repeating it until he finally declared, “it’s you, you are Kali!”

He recovered and became a friend and benefactor. Catholics are blessed with a new saint, whose work will continue.

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…rjt

 

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