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The day Mother Teresa kept the Pope waiting ...
12 August, 2012 |
As a former Confessor for Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, American Mons John Esseff recalled the day she was late for an appointment with Pope John Paul II in Rome because she was tending to a dying man on the street.
|DOUBLY BLESSED: Mons John Essef was confessor for Blessed Mother Teresa and had St Padre Pio as his spiritual director.
“Mother Teresa was to meet the Pope as she was looking to establish a home for the poorest of the poor in the Vatican,” said the 84-year-old priest, who is in Australia to run spiritual retreats and workshops for the Missionaries of Charity Sisters.
“As we were driving down the avenue leading to the Vatican there on the street lay a dying man.
“She asked one of the Sisters to stop the car.
“Mother Teresa then got out of the car and she is tending to him, holding his hand and wiping his face.
“The Sisters get a little nervous because she is with him for an hour and a half, kneeling by him and praying with him.
“Finally the Sisters say to her that she is going to miss the appointment with the Pope.
“She said: ‘You go and take my place. I am with Jesus. Tell the Pope that I am sorry, but I’m here with Christ.’ So she saw Jesus in the poorest of the poor.”
Mons Esseff says Mother Teresa was “loved by the communists” and retold the story of her meeting with Nicaraguan leader Daniel Ortega.
“One day she was with Daniel Ortega, who was the head of the Communists in Nicaragua, and he hated US President Ronald Reagan,” he said.
“She was there with some of the Sisters who had come to Nicaragua to help out following an earthquake, and Ortega was canvassing his political views about Ronald Reagan. He was giving a Communist manifesto.
“Mother Teresa was just standing there and listening. She then said to him: ‘President Reagan really needs prayers doesn’t he?’ Ortega replied: ‘He sure does.’ She then said: ‘And you do too because I was talking to your wife and you’re a Catholic aren’t you?’
“He said: ‘Yes, I am.’ She said: ‘But I understand that you haven’t had your children baptised. You really can’t run a country unless you can run your home. Let’s have your children baptised and I will be their godmother and we will get that done right now’.”
A priest in the diocese of Scranton, Pennsylvania, Mons Esseff met Mother Teresa in Beruit in 1984 and worked alongside her in Calcutta, Lebanon, West Africa and Haiti.
“I was stationed in the Middle East for some years,” he said. “I had a bishop in Scranton – John O’Connor – who then became the Cardinal Archbishop of New York.
“He knew I spoke Arabic and came from a family that had connections with the Middle East. He also knew that I worked with the poor because I worked with him in my diocese. A mission opened up in Beirut called the Pontifical Mission for Palestine.
“It was an office that was in his archdiocese, and so the post in Beirut needed someone to direct it. The director of the Pontifical Mission for Palestine had gotten quite ill and there had been quite a few years of war at that time, and so he was asked to recommend someone for that post.
“At this time he was the Archbishop of New York and he asked if I would take that post. That was in 1984.
“When I went there Mother Teresa had a mission there in a section of Beruit called Sid el Bouchrieh. I got to offer Mass for her Sisters there and I got to know her.
“What made her such a remarkable woman was her complete and total trust in God. While on a retreat she heard from God that there were millions of people who were on the streets of Calcutta, and they were suffering and dying.
“God came to her actually in this cry to take care of them. She was teaching geography to a wealthy group of students in Calcutta as a Loreto Sister. God said to her: ‘I love them, and I want them, and I don’t have a way to get there. You, your hands, your feet and your heart will reach out to them.’
“She heard that cry of Jesus, and when she heard that she wanted to fulfil that cry.
“Not for the poor, but for the poorest of the poor and that began her journey.
“She left the Loreto Sisters and formed the Missionaries of Charity.
“She lived just like they lived. She radically lived that life which means that she totally trusted in God.
“Pope John Paul II called her the greatest missionary of the 20th century. She died in 1997 but her spirit is continuing.”
Apart from Mother Teresa, Mons Esseff also had the privilege of having a special relationship with Padre Pio, who became his spiritual director in 1959.
He was favoured by St Padre Pio and thus has been blessed with special charisms in the confessional.
“Padre Pio is well loved, admired and looked up to in the world today, but he wasn’t always,” said the monsignor.
“In 1959 he was banished from Rome, sent to the furthest monastery they had – San Giovanni Rotondo – which has now become world famous.
“He was silenced; he couldn’t preach because his bishop said his stigmata were self-induced.
“They put him through all kinds of examinations because they thought his bleeding of his hands and feet were done by himself, so they made him go to a hospital.
“They measured every output of his body and put him through humiliating experiences.
“I heard about Padre Pio so I took a bus from Rome to the Adriatic Coast, where San Giovanni Rotondo is, and there was a woman there, Mary Pyle, who really believed in him.
“I didn’t speak the southern dialect of Italian, but I remembered her name when I got off the bus.
“And they indicated the cottage that was hers. Another priest and I had supper with her that night.
“And then Padre Pio comes and he is standing there. He starts talking to me and asks me why I came – was I a curiosity seeker?
“He was very confrontational, he was right in my face. So I told him that I really believed in the stigmata and that I wanted to celebrate Mass with him.”
Following that first meeting, Mons Esseff says Padre Pio had a profound impact on his life and faith.
“Every Mass I have offered since is completely different,” he said.
“When I saw him at the altar with his hands bleeding, blood running down his sleeves. There were people dabbing up the blood from around the altar. Blood was pouring out of his feet.
“The contemplative look he had on his face as he contemplated Jesus on the cross. The Mass is the re-presentation, not like representation, but actually he was there on Calvary and you were there with him as Jesus was on the cross. And his whole body was a sign of that. His whole mind was completely with the crucified Lord.
“Padre Pio told me he would be my spiritual director and that all I had to do was send my angel to him and he would help me, especially in the confessional.
“His ministry was to hear confessions – 15 or 16 hours a day. That was really his greatest gift, outside of his celebration of the Eucharist.
“He actually had a power of seeing souls. The influence that I have through him and with him, is to help people find that union with Jesus again, and the remission of their sins.”
Currently Mons Esseff travels the world leading retreats for religious and teaching bishops and priests about exorcism.
He believes issues such as pornography, abortion and same-sex marriage are a result of the world being under the “satanic influence of obsession and oppression”.
“Every Christian is under the power of Satan, and Satan’s normal activity is temptation,” he said.
“Now there are other times when the evil one has a power over souls. I will call this the extraordinary, the ordinary is temptation.
“In the extraordinary it’s increasing more and more not only in Australia, but in every place in the world.
“Satan has a power to obsess people. Billions and billions are being spent on pornography today.
“Satan’s main activity is to separate souls from Jesus. Jesus, the captain of the army of light and truth, is also the king of light and love.
“They’re on a head-on course in every soul, and also in the world today. The violence of war and its consequences are horrible.
“The abortion industry and the killing of the unborn are destructive forces. The creeping power of Satan to darken the minds and hearts of people with regard to same-sex marriage – how that destructive force is coming more and more into the world. I believe much of that darkness is under satanic influence of obsession and oppression.”
Mons Esseff is buoyed by the fact that not only in his diocese of Scranton, but throughout the US the Church is “experiencing an attempt at evangelisation”.
“The baptised who are already Christian – maybe one third of them - go to Mass, but there’s an entirely new desire on the part of the Church to re-evangelise those who have received so-called baptism and the Gospel,” he said.
“And there’s also a new desire to evangelise, to tell people who haven’t heard anything about Jesus.
“And so when you look at the world one third of the whole population have heard about Jesus Christ, but two thirds have not yet heard about him.
“I think there’s awareness in Scranton as well as in every other place in the world to evangelise. To have people from my diocese not only go to their neighbours in Scranton, but to go out to the whole world and talk about Jesus Christ as the saviour of the world.”
Born in 1928, John Esseff came from humble beginnings in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.
He and his brother George, born 1929, have travelled different paths in life: George as a successful scientist, entrepreneur, and philanthropist with a wife, children, and grandchildren; John as a priest whose life has been spent mostly with the poor.
But their lives have been very much intertwined which they share in an autobiography titled Brothers and Fathers.
“George and I grew up together almost like Irish twins,” he said. “We are only a few months apart so our remembrances were very much like each other.
“We went to Catholic school from first to 12th grade and when we gradated I went to the seminary and he went to college to become an engineer.
“He went on his way and got married and has children and grandchildren. I’m now a priest of 59 years. Being a priest for me is falling in love with God, and wanting to have the whole world as a family.
“So my spouse, if I am Christ to the world, is the Church. And my children are everyone I meet wherever I go to bring about the Kingdom of God into souls.
“My brother and I are following different paths, but actually following those teachings that we had from our Catholic faith.”