With a warm, captivating spirit, Bishop J. Terry Steib, SVD, who oversees the Catholic Diocese of Memphis, on Monday sat down with The New Tri-State Defender to discuss African-Americans in The Catholic Church, the mission of the diocese, and Mother Teresa's monumental visit to North Memphis 25 years ago.
Bishop Steib, the first African-American to serve as bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Memphis, will be the celebrant of the Jubilee Celebration Mass, which will commemorate Mother Teresa's visit and the "selfless service" of the Memphis outlet of the Missionaries of Charity, an outreach she put in place while here. The observance will be on Saturday (Oct. 5) at Holy Names Catholic Church.
"The importance of the celebration is that they (Missionaries of Charity) have been around for 25 years," said Steib. "It is a long time for someone to be in the ministry that they are involved in, and continuing to work in that."
Mother Teresa founded the Missionaries of Charity, a Catholic order of nuns dedicated to helping the poor, in Calcutta, India. Over the years, it grew to help the poor, the dying, orphans, lepers, and AIDS sufferers in over a hundred countries. In Memphis, the only location in the United States, the Missionaries of Charity order operates a shelter providing food, clothing and medical assistance for homeless, vulnerable women and children.
"The example they bring speaks loud and clear as to who we are as a church," said Steib, emphasizing that The Catholic Church is to be of service to the less fortunate. He also had a message for the "less fortunate."
"Very often people view it as 'Oh, I'm poor, so that means I'm down. I'm not always in the eyes of God,'" he said. "Yes, you are a child of God and you are important!"
No matter the disposition of such individuals at any given the moment, the church's mission is to instill dignity so that they can move on, he said. For Steib, the name of the game is helping the less fortunate better themselves, their children and others.
Such was the work of Mother Teresa, with Steib recalling her charisma and deep love and concern for the less fortunate.
"She surrounds you in a way where you want to ask 'What can we do? How can we help?' So, this is the terrific tribute of who she says we are to be," he said, "When you were in her presence, you knew you were in the presence of someone who was good and sincere."
Within The Catholic Church, Memphis long has been considered a "mission" diocese. Steib said that remains true, with the diocese increasingly working with the broader community in the realms of education, spiritual work, evangelization, social ministries, and a service to the poor. It's all for the progression of humanity, he said.
As he looks ahead, Steib envisions more intertwining of education and service in the Catholic community. He notes significant changes in education over the last 15 years, including the reopening of Jubilee Schools – previously closed Catholic schools serving children living in Memphis' urban neighborhoods. The schools were named in honor of the Jubilee year 2000, a year of mercy for the poor.
The goal, said Bishop Steib, is for children to be able to progress through the various education options that The Catholic Church provides and matriculate into universities and colleges.
Said Steib: "We want to be able to say that we give good Catholics, good Christians, good workers, good future taxpayers, and good citizens."