Why do you like taking pictures of ugly women?”
Mother Teresa was exasperated with Jaime Cardinal Sin’s “unofficial” photographer.
On one of her visits to Manila, Noli Yamsuan insisted on taking candid shots of the founder of the Missionaries of Charity without her consent.
“Actually hindi naman siya galit. She would say it in a nice way. She didn’t want her picture taken. Alam mo naman si Mother Teresa, she was so humble. But then Mr. Noli would not take ‘no’ for an answer. So every chance I got, kukunan ko siya ng litrato,” recalled Yamsuan, who now follows Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle with his camera.
Unlike publicity hounds who would even bring along their own media team (or badger someone else’s) to document their moves, Mother Teresa shunned cameras during her time, preferring to work quietly in caring for what she called “the poorest of the poor.”
But what was apparently unknown to the nun fondly called “The Living Saint” was that Cardinal Sin was the one alerting his photographer to her whereabouts.
“Cardinal Sin always addressed her with that greeting. ‘The Living Saint,’ he would say. But she would always remain humble,” the photographer noted.
The Vatican’s Jubilee calendar dedicates this day to Mother Teresa. Today also marks her canonization, the ceremonies of which will be presided over by Pope Francis in Rome.
Mother Teresa made several visits to the Philippines from 1976 to 1995. Those who saw her still remember her with awe, fondness and admiration. Her humility always remains foremost in their minds.
Liturgical designer Antonio “Tony” Adriano had just finished his fine arts degree in the 1980s when he saw Mother Teresa by chance while attending Mass at Ermita shrine (Archdiocesan Shrine of Nuestra Señora de Guia) in Manila.
“She would sneak in na parang daga. By the time I noticed her, she would already be seated in a pew. Walang fanfare,” he said. Adriano said the priest that time celebrated “a Mass for the poor. Some bishops and priests were there.”
Adriano recalled that during her visits, Mother Teresa would stay in what they referred as “the Mother House” at the foot of Del Pan bridge, less than a mile from the posh Manila Hotel.
Yamsuan knew the place well. He said that when Mother Teresa and Cardinal Sin met in 1977, the Cardinal mentioned the need for a house where dying indigents can rest and leave with dignity.
“They had water and soda crackers during that meeting,” he said.
Yamsuan added that not long after, then Manila Mayor Ramon Bagatsing offered a venue in Tondo called Peñarubia House. Yamsuan said it was the first house of Mother Teresa’s religious order in Manila. (The place was formally called Alay Ng Puso or Home for the Sick and Malnourished.)
“Eventually they were able to get a bigger place at the back of Tayuman Cathedral,” he added. (The Missionaries of Charity transferred to Immaculate Heart of Mary/ Home for the Sick and Dying Destitutes in Tondo, Manila.)
Adriano also recalled that when he began regular sojourns to Europe as part of his job, he would chance upon Mother Teresa and her nuns, especially during a stint at the Philippine Embassy there.
“Our office was just across their formation house. We would see their group, always working. She was hardly noticeable kasi hindi nagpapapansin. And her subordinates sometimes walked barefoot,” Adriano said.
Fr. Jacob Gomes, a Bengali missionary currently assigned to the Ermita shrine, said he had encounters with Mother Teresa in 1980 when the nun came to Bangladesh.
“She asked for my blessing. For me, it showed her humility. I asked her to bless me first,” Gomes said.
After seeing Mother Teresa several times in his home country, the priest added he is now inspired to dedicate a chapter on the nun in the dissertation on compassion he is working on.
Paing and Mely Hechanova were appointed as Mother Teresa’s aides by the president of Rotary Worldwide during her 1984 Manila visit. She was keynote speaker for a conference of Rotary International.
In an e-mail sent to us by their daughter Raissa Hechanova-Posadas, the couple said they remembered “a person who was holy and dedicated to her vocation.”
“We had a close opportunity to talk to her and just be with her while ferrying her to and from the airport,” they said. The Hechanovas accompanied Mother Teresa to Tondo and to the conference venue at Philippine International Convention Center.
“We will never forget her saying: ‘It is not how much we do, but in how much love we put in the doing; it is not how much we give, but in how much love we put in the giving.’”
Real estate developer Annabelle “Annie” Osmeña-Aboitiz said Mother Teresa visited Cebu thrice from 1979 to 1987—first to open the Missionaries of Charity home in Pasil; next, for the blessing of the home donated by Ramon Aboitiz Foundation Inc.; and, third, for the inauguration of Gasa sa Gugma (home for the aged) in Mabolo.
In 1987, the nun paid a visit to Aboitiz’s mother-in-law Maria Montenegro-Aboitiz “to thank her for the help she extended” to the Pasil home and Gasa sa Gugma.
Aboitiz said Maria at that time suffered greatly from ALS or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a crippling neurological disease that attacks the nerve cells and renders a patient immobile.
Aboitiz recalled that, at one point, Maria questioned Mother Teresa on why she was suffering so much, having been bedridden for three years.
Mother Teresa, who reportedly had her own long-term bouts with spiritual “darkness,” replied, “This is your purgatory.”
Aboitiz said the family admired Mother Teresa’s work so intensely—“her caring for the sick and the aged, that we continued to support her charities.”
Yamsuan said he still gets goosebumps whenever the image of Mother Teresa’s gnarled hands and feet crosses his mind.
“They were working hands and feet. Naka-sandals pero ang paa, grabe! Parang luya! She walked the streets of India picking up the sick and the dying, which would explain why her hands and feet looked that way. She worked. Siya ang nagpapaligo, Naisip ko pa lang siya, kinikilabutan ako kapag naaalala ko. Hindi ko maalis ang mata ko sa kamay at paa n’ya. And she went around wearing the same habit. Wala siyang pakialam,” he said.
The photographer said that when word spread that Mother Teresa would visit Tondo, people came with their old, sick and dying relatives, asking her to see, if not take care of them.
“No one was refused. There was always a place for them. She was willing to accept everybody,” he said.
Adriano seconded this observation. He remembered a Mother Teresa who was not hesitant to mingle with the unwashed during that Ermita encounter.
“Wala siyang inhibition when she touched the poor. Kahit marumi, wala sa kanya. Her face was very saintly. I saw Christ in her,” he said.