Mother Teresa To Doctors And Nurses In Japan

Anthony Zimmerman
Published in Catholic World News
October 30, 1997
Reproduced with Permission

When Mother Teresa addressed mixed audiences of Christians and non-Christians in Japan, she pulled no punches. She spoke, as she said, as Jesus prompted her to speak. Audiences love it. Her awesome power somehow bridged the language barrier. In the more than twenty major addresses that I attended with her, the audience response was always intense: eyes shone, faces lifted, tears flowed, hopes soared. Earphones carried translations, but attention was fixed on her earnest face. Her melodious voice by-passing the ear-phones put magic into the Japanese translation.

Her interview on national television, April 22, 1981, brought tears to the interviewer, which he was not supposed to show. The address was at prime time but that caused problems: some wanted to see the major league baseball game, others wanted Mother Teresa. Frustrated women complained in droves, so NHK obliged with a second transmission at a convenient afternoon hour for women. She thus reached an estimated 20 million audience. Telephone lines to NHK went hot, many women asking for prayers because they had done an abortion.

At news conferences, she unerringly controlled the situation. She would accept loaded questions, even hostile questions, and decide on her own method of response. Refusing to be drawn into enemy territory, she used such occasions to evangelize. She could speak with Olympic serenity, in melodic, rhythmic, almost poetic English. Here is a sample of her disarming response to a challenging question from a journalist about an alleged need of abortion and contraception because of world overpopulation.

But I think
yesterday is gone;
tomorrow has not yet come;
and we have only today
to be busy
and to take care
and to love
and to be loved.
So tomorrow may never come;
we do not know how much there will be,
or how little there will be;
for the future is not in our hands.
And so, let us not spend much time
in the tomorrow which may never come.
But let us love God
and let us love one another
and respect and love every possible life today;
because yesterday is already gone,
and tomorrow may never come,
and we have only today to love and to be loved.

Cicero, I think, could wish to have said that. No journalist felt the least inclination after that to argue with her for contraception and abortion. They changed the subject.

On her second tour of Japan Mother Teresa made a memorable address to doctors and nurses at the Nagasaki National University School of Medicine. The date was April 26, 1982. It is one of the ten addresses published in a Japanese translation. That book has recently gone into its 24th reprinting for a total of 109,000 copies. If the number of abortions continues to decrease in Japan, whereas the number of couples using natural planning has increased to over a million, surely much of the credit goes to Mother Teresa. She spoke as follows to the doctors and nurses gathered at the Nagasaki School of Medicine:

I am very happy to be with you, because yours is a very delicate, a very beautiful profession. But remember, it is not only a profession, it is a work of consecrated love; because you are dealing with life; you are dealing with life that is created in the image of God.

And that is why, when you touch life, how clean your hands must be; how clean your eyes, your heart must be, to be able to see God, to see Jesus in that person; because Jesus said, "Whatever you do to the least of these - to that unborn child, that little child, that disabled child, that cancer case, that mental case - you did it to me." And why is your life, your work, your profession, a work of consecrated love? Because people come to you with great trust, with great hope. How terrible it is if you are not there.

If your hand - instead of touching with love and compassion - destroys, kills, like that abortion; if your hand, which has been created, which has been given the joy of loving, of compassion, if that hand uses means to destroy the image of God, that little unborn child - how terrible it is. It is a sin that remains there; that remains there. And that is why you people who are dealing with medical work - you are dealing with suffering, you are dealing with people who come to you bearing great pain, great suffering, and with great hope that you will do something, that you will give them something, the joy of being relieved of the pain - how terrible it is if they come to you with fear - with fear that you will destroy something in them. There is a group of doctors and nurses who came to me and said, "Please help us to make our life, our work, to be consecrated, something holy, something beautiful for God." So that group have in themselves the determination that through their work, doing this beautiful medical work, they will heal the wounds, they will heal the suffering, to give joy.

And so it is very important for you, before you touch the patient, to pray; to pray because you are unworthy; and yet you have been given that beautiful gift of touching Him. Jesus said, "You did it to me. I was suffering, I was hungry, I was naked, I was sick. I came to you and you did not take care of me; you did not want me; you did not relieve my pain. Go, I do not know you." This is going to be for us, for you, especially for medical people. Open your eyes and see the terrible danger you are causing, terrible suffering you are causing, mentally and physically, to people if you do that terrible abortion. There is no need - no need - for abortion, because there is a beautiful way. As our people told me one day, "By learning natural family planning, we have grown to love each other much better than before."

We teach natural family planning to the family, husband and wife together. They tell me, "Our health is much better now than before. We are healthy now and also we still have the power of having a child whenever we want."

So there are the beautiful sentences of real life given by poor people, the people of the street, the beggars, the lepers, the slum dwellers. "We are more united, we are healthy, and we can have a baby whenever we want."

In your country, in Japan, like in India, the government is very anxious about overpopulation. And we have helped our government. In India, in Calcutta specially, in ten years, we have had over a million babies not born - more than a million fewer babies in ten years. So we have helped the government.

And that is why our government has fully recognized natural family planning; and our sisters are doing that all over India. And I hope someday, some of you will come to India, learn there, and come back to your country and teach it, teach them that very beautiful way. You can plan your family without destroying anything, without committing sin. And that is not very difficult. If our poor people, our beggars, can learn it, how much more people who are better in life, who are better educated.

Abortion destroys conscience. Lately a Hindu lady came to our house and told her great sorrow. She was rich, she had everything, but was in great sorrow. She said, "I just saw a child of eight years old. Eight years ago I did an abortion; and as I saw that child, immediately my heart was so painful, my conscience hurt me so much. My child would be eight years old today if I had not killed it."

And if you do not want the child, give me the child. I want it. I will find a family and give the child to them. Do not kill. Do not destroy.

So I will pray for you that your heart remains clean; that you may learn to pray before you touch; that you remember you are touching the Body of Christ; that you do not destroy; that you do not kill. Keep your hands clean; keep you heart clean; and that clean heart and the clean hands will help you to grow in holiness.

I ask you one thing. When I spoke to the Diet in Tokyo, I asked them to change the law of abortion. And I ask you also to get together and never allow, in this beautiful country, that regular killing which destroys not only the life of the child but destroys your very heart. You will never again be the same person. God forgives; but deep down in your heart the pain of having destroyed some life remains always. So get together and ask the government to change the law to respect and to love life that is created by God.

Question: We know that Jesus, the Son of God, offered His life and died for us on the cross, and that we are here because God loved us. But there are many people in the nursing profession who are not Christians. How can they do the work with the realization that they are doing it with love?

Mother's answer: there is a natural law which says, "Thou shalt not kill." Therefore whether you are a Catholic, or whether you are a Buddhist, or a Hindu, or a Moslem, inside of you, you know that you cannot kill. Therefore you have to learn that presence. Each one of us knows. It does not matter what religion you are, deep down in your heart you know that God has made you and God has made the other person whom you have to love, to respect.

For us Catholics it is easy to understand, because Jesus said, "You did it to me." For others - it is by your love, by your compassion, by your purity that you must each others. You must help others to feel that presence of God; to learn from you that peace and the joy of loving by seeing how you love, how you serve, how you protect life. There will be a wonderful spirit in the world today if you nurses and doctors give that living example of love.

Question: Having studied about regulation of conception, we know that the Sympto-Thermal Method is the best and is the natural way, but it is very difficult to practice. Pills and contraceptives are easy to use. How can people actually apply natural family planning in everyday practice?

Mother's answer: That is why it is necessary to teach natural family planning properly, which is nothing but self-control out of love for each other. And that is why it is necessary to take the husband and wife, and explain to them that there days of conception, and there are days when they cannot conceive. Still they can remain faithful to each other, still they can love each other, because they have been created for that.

Therefore it is a false excuse to use contraceptives or sterilization because anything that destroys the life of the unborn child, or destroys the power of life in the man or the woman, is sinful. It is wrong. It is killing.

It is easy to take a drug, it is easy to have sterilization; but what it would bring to their future is that they will never be able to have a child; and that is another form of killing - killing the man and the woman's power of giving life.

Make sure that you do not accept a drug or sterilization; and try to learn about the ways of natural family planning. And help the sisters who can teach it, so that it will spread. Natural family planning is the way of family planning without committing sin, without hurting the power to give life, in every man, in every woman. We all have that power in us. We religious give it up for the love of God. We consecrated it through the vow of chastity.

But you people who are in the world and live a married life, you cannot destroy that life, you cannot destroy that power; it is God's power in you, to bring life into the world together with God. Destroying the power of giving life, or destroying the unborn child, is equally evil.

Let us end this gathering together by thanking our parents for wanting us, for loving us, for giving us life so that we are together here today. And we can put that love of God which is in us, that love in which God loves us, into a living action. How? By living action, by serving others as God loved each one of us.

My prayer for you is that you grow in the love of God, by growing in the love for one another, by putting your love for God in a living action as a nurse or as a doctor, whatever calling God has given you for your life. Especially thank your parents for having been so loving to you by giving you the joy of life. God bless you.

Let us say the Our Father together:

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil. Amen.

Transcribed by Fr. Anthony Zimmerman who was at the time Executive Director of the Japan Family Life Association, which sponsored two tours of Mother Teresa in Japan, 1981 and 1982.