In the summer of 1979, I was blessed to be one of a handful of broadcast journalism students to be selected for a highly coveted news internship at WJR Radio in my hometown of Detroit. The internship was considered a real coup in those days, because the news department not only paid their interns, which was and still is a rarity in the news business, but they also believed in actually giving interns experience (as opposed to some outlets, which had the tendency to see summer interns as good for little more than running errands and fetching coffee).
One of my responsibilities was to bring the guest for the station’s midday talk show into the waiting room or green room and prep them for their interviews. I’ll admit I was a bit starry-eyed given the opportunity to meet many celebrities and newsmakers. But I also learned a great deal. This particular program had a small studio audience, and I was permitted to be in the studio during the live broadcast.
Back in my college days, I was a nominal Christian. I still identified as a Catholic, but by the end of my freshman year, I had stopped going to weekly Mass. Despite my lukewarm approach to faith, I had enough understanding to realize that Mother Teresa of Calcutta was an important figure on the world stage. She was someone who was making major headlines by making a difference not only in serving the poorest of the poor in India but by bringing attention to many other serious issues.
That same year, 1979, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. So imagine my surprise and delight to learn that I would be escorting Mother Teresa to the green room, visiting briefly with her and sitting in on her interview.
My time in the presence of Mother Teresa lasted about 90 minutes. When the interview was over, I escorted Mother Teresa and her associates back to the lobby. While on the elevator, she asked me about my studies, and before leaving, she looked at me and said, “God bless you.” The rest of the day seemed like a dream. When I arrived home, I told my mother about the experience, and she replied, “You realize you have probably just spent time with a future Catholic saint.”
Fast forward 37 years to 2016, the year of Mother Teresa’s canonization. I wonder if today’s Catholics realize how blessed we are to have modern-day saints; saints with whom we’re more than vaguely familiar. Mother Teresa as well as Pope St. John Paul II, who was canonized just two years ago with Pope St. John XXIII, are saints of our lifetime. Both came in personal contact with a vast number of people in all walks of life — if not personally in their many travels, then through the media as their work and activities were regularly covered.
I can’t say that my brief interaction with Mother Teresa caused any type of radical reversion as my journey home was a long way off. But the experience did plant some seeds; and obviously I can remember it, as the saying goes, as if it were yesterday.
Mother Teresa and Pope St. John Paul II remind us that saints are real people. They’re much more than just stories from hundreds of years ago or holy people whom we unfortunately often ignore because their lives seem in some ways so foreign.
We can truly relate to modern-day saints because they lived among us. And even if those exchanges or encounters don’t quickly cause people to find or rediscover God, I believe, as great witnesses, they certainly can make lasting impressions. And only the good Lord knows where those impressions eventually might lead.
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