Practical Advice

The text of the letter below from Mother Theresa narrates some challenges of daily life during wartime.

July 1866

To the Entire Congregation
Circular #4050

As has been the case recently in America, the conflagration of war is now upon both Italy and Germany. In our German fatherland, brother is fighting brother, Prussia against Austria, seemingly without cause. But if it is true that some temporal afflictions such as war are usually followed by pestilence and starvation, it constitutes the greatest punishment from God, then it is clear that the number and size of sins committed are the true causes of war. With the publican let us strike our breast and acknowledge openly: We, too, have contributed our goodly share to provoking the anger of God and we are, therefore, responsible for his punishment.

If God is to remove the scourge, man must reconcile himself with God in sincere repentance, as did the Ninevites of old. And so, we too, must remove all evil from our hearts, our words, our deeds, and turn from the world to God. We must begin anew to serve God fervently in holy obedience, must strive for perfection in accordance with our vocation. Let us take up the weapons of salvation. The greater the threatening danger, the more earnestly let us be concerned to maintain a clear conscience. Let us faithfully observe the Rule, as the Lord bade Saint Francis tell his brethren, then we may ask for anything, and He will give it to us. Let us not be carried away by anger against the children in school; let us not engage in rudeness or offending remarks about their parents, even if they despise us, or if the children fail to do their homework. Today prudence demands more than ever that we try to accomplish by patience and love as much as we can in school and that we are satisfied with that until the Lord sends better times.

Trusting in God, we continue teaching until the schools are closed by outbreaks of violence. In towns where we own the house, we remain where we are; in houses owned by the city, we stay until we are notified to leave. In the latter case, we go, in conformity with the injunction of the Lord, to the closest of our own houses, and remain there as long as God permits us to remain.

As soon as possible, we must arrange our belongings, perhaps in a traveling bag, so that, if necessary, we can take them with us: our meager cash, the Rule Book, and convent documents, some clothing. Let us save every penny, for the need will certainly be great. Beds and linens and clothing must always be kept in such readiness that, in case of necessity, they can be quickly packed and brought to safety. Of the remaining articles and pieces of equipment which belong to the Order, we compile an inventory. If we have to leave, we store them in the least accessible room of the house and present a copy of the inventory together with the key to the magistrate. Letters, which at present are never safe, should be written only if absolutely necessary, and then in a brief, serious and prudent manner, so that, if they are opened, nothing objectionable is found. Useless letters should be burned.

As members of a religious community, we do not discuss the war with strangers, refrain from denouncing others, be it friend or foe or authority. We pray daily with the children that God may grant a happy outcome.

Our Sisters are not trained for nursing, our younger Sisters, in particular, are unsuited for such work; therefore, they can be of little use in caring for wounded soldiers. The sisters may, however, in order to make their utmost contribution, volunteer their services to take care of poor and orphaned girls in order to free Sisters trained for this type of work to devote themselves entirely to caring for sick soldiers. We also offer to accept girls who have become orphans through the war.

Should the sick soldiers spread epidemics as can be expected in times of war, we must take the proper precautions. In houses where we are still permitted to live, definitely in houses which belong to the Order, ventilate the room thoroughly every day; avoid drafts; put solutions of chloride of lime, which can be had in any pharmacy for a few pennies, in old dishes and place these in the rooms and passages to purify the air. Do not forget to pour water on the chloride of lime whenever it gets dry.

If war should spread to areas where our Sisters are, it is possible that all who wish to stay may be asked to acquire food to last them for a longer period of time. In God's name, we will comply to the extent that our cash permits: but let us also trust in Divine Providence who feeds the birds of the air. If, as can be expected, great poverty should ensue even for an extended period of time, we shall, in imitation of the Holy Family be reconciled with and even love our poverty, and attempt to maintain ourselves at least partially through needlework.

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