A saint for all

In her adopted city of Kolkata, Mother Teresa is revered amongst Hindus, and her sainthood goes beyond Catholicism, writes Yann Vagneux, a French priest in India.

The word ‘sister’ in English comes from the Latin soror. Its equivalent in French, Italian and German are respectively: sœur, sorella and Schwester. The consonants of these words are very close to the Sanskrit svasr whose etymology is of interest. In fact, as it was explained to me by the Brahmin pandit who initiated me into the language of the gods, svasr is made up of the reflexive sva: ‘one-self’ and the root sr which indicates the creation, the emission, the formation. The sister, svasr, is thus the one whom everyone can make their own, the one whom each and everyone can claim for themselves. To put it another way, the svasr is called to become the ‘sister of everyone’.

The deep meaning coded within this tiny Sanskrit word designating a parental relationship has drawn me into a deep sense of wonder. Hence, the family into which the woman is called to be a sister is not that of ‘shut-in homes, closed doors, jealous possessions of happiness’1 that André Gide found so detestable, but on the contrary it is the whole universe. And, a fortiori, the vocation of a Catholic religious nun is to become quite simply ‘the sister of everyone’, without any limit upon the total gift that the Lord has decided to make of her in the mystery of her consecration for the salvation of the world.

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