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Blessed Teresa brought people close to God by loving them, says priest

Msgr. Leo Maasburg, spiritual adviser and confessor to Blessed Teresa of Kolkata, speaks about her life at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, Sept. 16. Pilot photo/Christopher S. Pineo

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SOUTH END -- Blessed Teresa of Kolkata felt a calling to bring people to God by simply loving them, and her own longing to be close to God through Jesus Christ was like a thirst, said an Austrian priest who for many years was her spiritual adviser.

Msgr. Leo Maasburg, in a talk Sept. 16 at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston, described his experiences traveling and working day-to-day with Mother Teresa in her ministries.

After beginning a friendship with her in the 1970s, he accompanied her as spiritual adviser, translator and confessor on the travels between 1984 and 1991 where she came face-to-face with a Marxist dictator and his armed fighters in Nicaragua, cared for children in Soviet states, and ministered to the dying in Kolkata, India.

Later, in an interview with The Pilot, he said he took care in his 2011 book about Mother Teresa and in his talk to demonstrate the personal humanity of the woman sometimes called "the most powerful woman in the world."

"The talk was an attempt to depict Mother Teresa from a side which she was not so well known in the media, because the media -- maybe rightly -- focused on her social aspects, on the way she treated the poor, her engagement with the poor and what she did," he said.

"I wanted to center on the mystical experience she had, explaining in the first place her personality, which was Albanian. She was ethnically Albanian, and her personality was that of a very strong, fiery person. She was not a softy-softy or a goody-goody," he said, adding that she was also witty and quick in a humorous way.

Msgr. Maasburg pointed to her very direct way of answering questions, using as few words as possible.

Once asked what the Church could do better, she answered, "We could change you and me."

He said she asked him to run a retreat for sisters of her Missionaries of Charity as a recently ordained priest. He told her he had never run a retreat and asked what he should speak to the sisters about.

"Talk about Jesus. What else?" she replied.

The priest also spoke about Mother Teresa's views on abortion.

"She said that abortion was the biggest threat to world peace. I remember at that moment I did not understand her very well because I thought, 'Well how can abortion be a threat to world peace?'" he said.

He said she saw the moral gray area created by allowing abortion as a threat to the world on a fundamental level.

"She said if we are allowed to kill the baby in our womb, who will keep us from killing each other? That is true. That is such a realistic view of human nature. Human nature is that way," he said.

He compared Mother Teresa's longing to be close to God through Jesus Christ with a thirst, emphasizing the point with two of the savior's final words on the cross "I thirst."

"She had such a deep experience of the 'I thirst,' of the thirst of Christ for love and for souls. But, love is always free, you cannot force someone to love you," said Msgr. Maasburg, who also gave a talk about her in New York Sept. 17.

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