An exceptional journey in a world of secret and silence
Tuesday, September 24, 2013
Mary Johnson

If I had not seen and read Mary’s book I would probably never have dared to talk about my own experience with the Co-workers of Mother Teresa. You were brave to hang on for 20 years but you have also been very brave to talk about your story.

I never considered becoming a nun. I became aware of Mother Teresa shortly before she received the Nobel Prize. I was in my last high school years, and I came in contact with the association of French co-workers. My sister, Isabelle, was disabled, and someone suggested I join a group of suffering co-workers. [The Sick and Suffering Co-Workers support the Missionaries of Charity by praying for and offering their suffering for members of the Order.] They had a meeting once year, there was a Mass and then we had a quite convivial lunch together. So I joined them, with mum and my sister. Mum and I noticed some of the people we met seemed to be quite ultra-traditional, but after all everybody was kind to us and my sister was not looked at like a wild person.

After I began my social work studies I continued meeting with the suffering co-workers. Then in the middle of my studies I became seriously ill and needed major surgery. After a while I began attending the suffering co-workers meetings again. At this time I was told about the spiritual link between a nun and a suffering co-worker. Isabelle was seriously disabled, unable to speak or write; and I was not in a good health at that time. As my sister and I were very close I thought I could be her voice; we could communicate non-verbally as we were very strongly connected spiritually. So I asked to be part of the suffering co-workers. I thought it would help Isabelle, that maybe the nun I was linked with would pray, not for Isabelle’s recovery as it was impossible, but at least for her well-being and for her to have less suffering. So I was shocked to read in Mary’s book that the suffering co-workers were told that the more they suffer, the more they are united with Jesus, so the better it is. I think I didn’t stay long enough with the co-workers to be aware of this notion.

To oblige others to suffer and let them believe it makes them nearer Jesus is awful. I don’t remember Jesus saying that avoidable sufferings is necessary , I am sure he would have avoided all the sufferings he went through if he could have. I don’t see anything in Jesus’ teachings saying; “you must suffer on purpose. And do nothing to get better” And I am really shocked to read of Mother Teresa saying, “Love, to be real, has to hurt.” No, it is not a sign of love to let our loved ones suffer.

When I got better, and after I finished my studies, I told to the co-workers I was leaving the family home to lead my own life. At that time I was still thinking that religion and faith meant tolerance and support. Instead, many persons made me understand it was like I was betraying Jesus to leave my parents and sister. Though the nun I was linked with didn’t tell me that; she only said I should get married. Though I don’t have a bad memory of that nun, it was more the co-workers and some other religious persons who displayed what to me seemed to be intolerance. I quickly stopped all links.

Many people in the world idealize Mother Teresa and can’t imagine that she could be as Mary describe her, but because of my “Journey“ with the co-workers, I believe her. In France there has been a revival of ultra-traditionalism, and there is a great devotion to Mother Teresa. By speaking of Mother Teresa in real terms, Mary has broken a taboo. But I am very grateful to Mary's French editor for publishing this book in France. Even if it doesn't please everybody, the world must know what really happened and who Mother Teresa really was.

We must not forget that Mother Teresa prevented thousands of homeless persons from dying in the street. We must thank her for that. At least they died like humans and not like animals. Still I have always wondered (even before reading Mary’s book) why she didn’t also offer better living conditions to those who could have survived. Donations could have also been used to provide lodging, supplies for children, schooling and clean water. And what was the “psychological price” paid by the nuns to help the poor?

I found it very shocking to read how isolated the nuns are, obliged to leave and cut all contacts with their friends and are allowed to see their families only once in ten years. Where on earth did Mother Teresa find the concept that physical contact (even shaking hands) has a sexual meaning?

I was also shocked to learn of the obligation the nuns felt toward self-mortification. I knew this existed in some very strict, ultra-traditional organizations, as Opus Dei, but until I read Mary’s book I could never have imagined it existed in the Missionaries of Charity. To love and help others we must first love ourselves and respect our own bodies, how can we respect others if we don’t respect and treat ourselves well? I can’t understand how suffering can be a way to be nearer Jesus.

Many other events in my life made me think more deeply about my own spirituality, and now I am very far from Catholic and more generally Christian beliefs. I turned towards Buddhism, and I show others what I didn’t find in Catholic religion: tolerance and open-mindedness.

Christine Verrier lives near Paris with her partner Bernard and her cat Oscar. Due to health issues she has had to give up her career in social work and works as an administrative assistant. She loves reading, art, embroidery and writing letters.

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