Radiant Beams from the Gospel of Life

Chapter Eight; Teaching NFP in Calcutta

In Evangelium Vitae #91 Pope John Paul II his appreciation to those who educate families in the use of natural methods:

The Church is grateful to those who, with personal sacrifice and often unacknowledged dedication, devote themselves to the study and spread of these methods (of NFP) as well as to the promotion of education in the moral values which they presuppose.

Outstanding among those who merit such thanks is Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Nobel Prize Laureate. She and her Missionaries of Charity spread the message far and wide that natural family planning is happy family planning. Clients, grateful to her sisters, say: "Our family has remained united, our family is healthy, and we can have a baby whenever we want."

Her message is featured prominently in a book which the Pope distributed to the Cardinals, Archbishops, Bishops, and other participants in the 1980 Synod of Bishops held in Rome:

The need for a reliable method of NFP among our people in Calcutta has been so great that the work of the Missionaries of Charity, led by Sr. M. Paulette, has grown beyond all expectations...

Natural Family Planning involves acceptance by the couple of a way of life of conjugal harmony and devotion to their children, which makes their life something beautiful for God (p. 2 in Natural Family Planning, Nature's Way - God's Way).

For Japan it was most fortunate that Mother Teresa came to warm the hearts of families toward their unborn children, and to advocate natural family planning. She made a tentative promise to come only after much persuasion. She did so on the occasion of an Audience with Pope John Paul II on 8 October 1980, at which the Pope thanked those who had produced the above mentioned book. Mrs. Takako Honma, President of our Japan Family Life Association which had printed the books in Japan and brought them to Rome, warmly persuaded Mother Teresa to come to Japan to bring her message there. Mr. Harry John, also present at the Audience, whose De Rance Foundation had financed the book project, greeted the cause with approval. He then sponsored the tours of Mother Teresa in Japan in 1981 and 1982 which JFLA arranged. Mr. Shigeo Saito was chief organizer of the tours, ably assisted by Mrs. K. Hirose and Mr. S. Suga and others. I was executive director of JFLA.

The appearance of Mother Teresa in Japan was a major news event, exceeding even our fondest expectations. Her compelling presence and persuasive words drew immense crowds in Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka, Fukuoka, and Nagasaki, and the major media featured her generously. Newspapers and magazines gave wide and approving coverage. During the interview with NHK, the interviewer wiped away a tear as she spoke about the reverence due to unborn children. The hour long program is said to have been viewed by an audience of 20,000,000.

I had asked Mother Teresa to advocate natural family planning, in order to help mothers in Japan who feared another birth, and dreaded the possibility of another abortion. She therefore had with her Sr. M. Paulette, the organizer of NFP teaching in Calcutta. The address which Sr. Paulette gave is so well arranged, and so priceless in content, that it has perennial value; she ably demonstrates that "Where there is a will, there is a way" to teach natural family planning. She spoke to an audience of 800 at a conference arranged by our JFLA at Tokyo's Sunshine City, April 25, 1981. I quote as I copied it from the recording tape. The first paragraph, however, is adapted from an introductory written source:

In September 1969, under the guidance of Mother Teresa, we visited families of all creeds, as we believe that every woman has a right to know the natural method which would help her to plan her family. During our visits we Sisters were able to meet both husband and wife. We showed them how the marvelous work of God is to be found in both of them. We taught them the anatomy and physiology of the female genital organs. We explained the fertile and infertile periods in the woman's cycle, and how she can detect these through self-examination and the use of a thermometer.

We started visiting the homes in the morning at 8:00, working until 12:00... I remember how, at this early stage, I would work a whole day and nobody would accept. And I would go to Mother Teresa and say, "I will not do this work." Mother would say, "When you help one family, you are helping a generation of families. If I help one woman today, she will later teach her children before they get married, teaching them the right thing. You are changing society."

I began with seven families, and in three years we had 140 families, and in 1971, 699...Every year the numbers increased; soon there were 100 new users each month, then 200, then 300. [In 1981, at the time of her address, there were 36,855 couples who were registered and had become autonomous in the use of NFP.]

When I asked the women about the difference in their married life between the time when they were using other methods, and the time after they started using the natural method, even the poorest of the poor gave clear answers. Before, they said, we used to be frightened that there might be another child. We didn't know what to use. We used the spiral [IUD] and finished with it; we used the pill, and are finished with that. We were frightened that perhaps another child will come. What will happen?

But now, this was a new life for them. They could see that not every sexual relationship was able to bring a child. When they saw that they would have a relationship during the sterile part of the cycle, and the menstrual period would come at the expected time, they were so happy, they were so free. They said to me: "Sister, now we know everything needed. We are proud of ourselves. And we keep telling others, and then they come." And at the centers we get them by 20's and 30's, asking to learn this method of natural family planning. [The total number of centers in Calcutta in 1981 was 120, staffed by 130 qualified teachers.]

We need a thorough follow-up. We must visit the homes regularly. And that is why we need teachers, and they must be spiritual-minded. We don't work for money, but work to help the people. Hindus, Moslems, and Christians, but mostly Hindu people are here working for God and to help His friends. They go out every morning, every day, at 8:00 o'clock. We go every week to every newly learning family.

The teachers are such as have experience with the method, who are happy with it, the kind who have a spirit of dedication, who will teach others in order to help them. They walk and walk and walk, also out to the villages, and they learn to pray...

So we teach anatomy, the nature of the cycle, how God has given them these gifts. And then we follow up. We have to follow up a woman every week until the woman tells the sister, "Now I know. I know what I have to do. I feel when I am fertile, I feel when I am sterile." That woman becomes autonomous...

Dr. Ghosh of the Medical Research Institute made a study of 500 women for two years. Calcutta is very crowded. They went with the educators and with charts to study these clients on the field, all using the sympto-thermic method (thermometer and mucus sign). The government is satisfied. It provides the thermometers. It exempted registered users from enforced sterilization during the campaign several years ago. And today registered users are very firm in fending off agents of contraceptives, explaining that they have solved the problem in the natural way.

We have the poorest of the people, on the street, to whom we teach the method. We can't make things too complicated for them. We make them to feel their fertility at the time, and they postpone relations until after ovulation. For recording, we use a very simple method. A zero is written for any kind of mucus, the thick kind. For the egg-white mucus a dot is placed inside of the zero. And when they feel dry after ovulation, they write a bar [I].

To help them to become autonomous we have to follow them up very carefully, until they tell the teacher: "We understand. We are free now. We know what to do." Most of them have only two children. They wait for somebody to help them. There is an urgent need for those poor people. They cannot really afford another child...

So we have now in Calcutta a system to train teachers, and I also train our sisters. They learn natural family planning, and they go all over the world to teach it. And Mother (Teresa) has put it into the Constitutions that in every house there is one sister who teaches natural family planning. And we also train seminarians. Before they leave for their priestly work, we have one month training in NFP.

So now we give a certificate to our women when they become autonomous. With it they can show that they are followers of the natural method. And they are very convinced. When people still come to urge them to do sterilization and things like that, they use this certificate; they prove that they follow natural family planning, and they don't need anything else. That is why we must do a very, very careful follow-up of the couples, so that they become certain.

Now we have 36,855 families that are registered and have become autonomous users of NFP... It is very important for the educators to be animated spiritually. So every week we have Mass, we have prayers, we have checking of centers, we have discussion of difficulties, of problems...

We go back again after two or three years, to visit every group that has been followed up. And they come back to us too. We teach them also how to pray, because now they are on the way, on the beautiful way of life. We teach them how to pray, how to love their husbands, how to be clean. Our educators are people of the same kind as the poor whom they teach. The educators are so happy to help them. Everybody in the community helps others; they help each other.

You will say that these poor people cannot read the thermometer. But you will see that their husbands will read the thermometer in the morning, and the wives will write the mucus sign in the evening. The educator has often to find out when the husband is at home, so that she can teach him to read the thermometer. And we gather the husbands together in groups to teach them. And husbands will tell their wives to go back to the center for follow-up. Now we have four doctors from the government at the main center to help us. Besides, there is a medical service for women. We have a spiritual guide to help... And we help the youth, to teach them what they should know before marriage. We must put things in a very simple way. And we have to form these couples to a higher level of love for each other. Now I must stop. Thank you. [Applause.]

A question was put to Mother Teresa asking how to meet the problem of world population. This was during an interview at Japan' NHK studio at Shibuya, Tokyo on 24 April 1981. Her response is typically simple, but redolent with wisdom. "Is there not a great danger of world overpopulation?" asked the interviewer. Typically, her answer soars beyond the narrow range of the questioner's intent:

Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. But we have only today. And I think that if we help our children be what they should be today, then when tomorrow comes, when tomorrow becomes today, they will have the courage to face it with greater love. And right from the very beginning as love begins at home, I think we should teach our children that love for one another at home; and they can learn that only from father and mother; they can see that love of the father for the mother and the love of the mother for the father. I think that will be the strength of our children, to be able to continue that love in the future.

And it is true, people are very anxious about the future and about the population. But there is natural family planning. That can help the people to plan the family without destroying the gift of God of giving life.

And so I think we should train our children for the future by respect for life, by respect for the dignity of life, that life is a creation of God. And by their purity of life, and the sanctity of their lives, they will be able to face the future by using simple means, natural means that God has created.

And, as so many people have said to me - we are teaching our poor people natural family planning; we are teaching the young people so that the future will be simple for them - and the poor people told me "from the time we are practicing this way of life our family has remained united, our family is healthy, and we can have a baby whenever we like."

And that has brought so much peace and unity into the life of the poor people. That is something so wonderful to see, the peace in the family because they are not destroying anything; they are not killing anything; but they are using their body to glorify God in the sanctity of family life.

And I think that if we can bring that into Japan also, if our people will come to know that, I think there will be more peace, more love in the family between parents and the children...

Mother Teresa repeated this message frequently during her tours in Japan in 1981 and 1982. At a Press Conference at Gyosei School, Tokyo, April 22, 1982, she said again:

We are teaching our families natural family planning. And so our poor people, our beggars, our lepers, our slum dwellers, all over the world, we are teaching them to help them, their families; how, in a healthy way, not to have a child...

And so these families, our poor people, are practicing this natural family planning. And the poor people have thanked me for allowing our Sisters to teach them, because their family is healthy, their family is united and they can have a baby whenever they want; because they remain completely healthy, and capable of having a child. And we help them not to have so many children on a regular basis as they used to have before.

At a meeting with 120 midwives and nurses at Tokyo Grand Hotel, April 23, 1982, she advised that they treat their clients with great respect, with great love and compassion. "We have taught the beggars of the street, the leprosy families, the disabled; and they teach each other. It is very beautiful to see the people, the beggars in the street, teaching each other how to learn natural family planning." She continued:

In Calcutta, and around India and elsewhere, we are doing much teaching of natural family planning... It is a really beautiful work, and you must learn it with respect. And when you do it, learn it well to be able to do it well. It is very important that you teach the mothers that are bearing the child with respect. And at the same time when you are speaking about natural family planning, speak of it respectfully. It is something very beautiful, very sacred.

In Calcutta, and in many places our Sisters are doing that work, and even here our Sisters have started doing it. And the families that have learned it say, "Our family has remained united, our family is healthy, and we can have a baby whenever we want."

In a circulated manuscript the Missionaries of Charity describe the experience of their NFP learners as follows [English slightly adapted]:

The couples are amazed how easy the method is. Once they know how to read the charts and know their cycles well, they carry on themselves and the sisters move on to help other families. They have awakened in the husbands a greater understanding for their wives and a renewed love now develops between the couples. In many cases the husbands are the ones who take their wives to the Centre as the latter are always feeling shy. His trust in the sister is such that every week he will ask her what advice the sister has given. He will jot down the temperature of his wife. It is so beautiful to see them, to see them both sitting on the floor to write down their charts, even eager to help each other. Couples in turn teach the other couples that live in the compound.

Many people may not believe that poor couples can abstain more than one week. Yes! It is possible. It is left to their CHOICE, after all. Some abstain for 20 days every month, others sometimes for one, two, and three months. From our experience we found that it is more difficult for an educated couple to abstain than for a poor and illiterate couple. Why? Because the rich and the educated ones have more comforts and goods of life. The poor see that they have no food for many children, and so their motivation is stronger. But we always advise them to have their relations during the safe time, and we try to explain to them the sacredness and value of this act.

Mother Teresa and her sisters draw strength from the Pope to forge ahead and persevere with their mission. He makes it a point to keep abreast of natural family planning activities, and frequently receives its leaders at special Audiences. Missionaries of Charity are present in considerable numbers, for example, at natural family planning training work shops for teachers at the Gemelli Medical Center in Rome; and at the end of the courses, the Pope receives them in joyful Audience. May the smile of natural family planning be spread around the globe by Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity, and by so many others who work in this blessed apostolate.

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