Interview: Msgr. Leo Maasburg, national director of MISSIO Austria
Msgr. Leo Maasburg, National director of MISSIO Austria, was in Medjugorje in April 2009. During many years, he accompanied Mother Teresa on her journeys and at the occasion of the opening of new houses on different continents. He was preaching retreats for her sisters all over the world. When Mother Teresa opened her first houses in Moscow and in Armenia in 1988, Father Leo was spiritual counsellor of the sisters during several months, and thus the first „official” Catholic priest in the Soviet Union at that time. Afterwards, together with an Italian businessperson, he launched the largest Catholic Radio Family „Radio Maria”, which is present on all the continents today.
In the context of the beatification Mother Teresa, he was the only member of the team, who does not belong to Mother Teresa’s Congregation.
You knew Mother Teresa and you accompanied her on her journeys. Can you tell us something about it?
Mother Teresa was very patient. I see now, after many years, how much she has influenced my life. After my life and the priesthood, to know her was surely the third biggest grace in my life.
During her lifetime, she was already called a saint. Was her way to holiness a difficult one?
I believe - very difficult. I do not believe that she had an ordinary way to holiness. I believe that she is the saint of the millennium, and I believe that we have not yet grasped the depth of her holiness, and the greatness of the grace, that God has given us through her. It was completely unknown which enormous proximity with Christ she had during the night of the soul. Superficial observers may consider this as a kind of atheism. However, God hides his great graces from the eyes of the world. The second great grace, which is also perfectly unknown, is that she has left over 5000 pages of theological writings, which are still unknown for the wide public. A third point, that is completely unknown for the public, is her indescribable humour in the depth of suffering. She was really a contemplative in the midst of the world, and in all difficulties, she always found joy, and God’s sense of humour.
You participated in the process of beatification of Mother Teresa, which, thanks to the Pope, happened unusually quickly. What can you tell us about it?
Thanks to John Paul II and thanks to the modern computers! To seize 80,000 pages in an arranged form without computers is a task of 50 years. Mother Teresa is not only in that extent a very modern saint. I believe that we finished very quickly the first large phase, because it was relatively easy to see Mother Teresa’s deep holiness. I believe that the second step, which is the canonization, will also be a formality, which God will surely give at the right moment. Next year on August 26, we celebrate the 100th anniversary of Mother Teresa. It would be possible that the canonization coincides with it. It formally depends on two things: first of all that one of the many miracles, which already happened, is officially recognized, and that the Holy Father in his pastoral responsibility chooses the right moment.
You have been spiritual counsellor of Mother Teresa’s sisters in Moscow and in Armenia, and thus the first catholic priest, who was allowed into the Soviet Union. What are your experiences of this period?
The first impression is that not we, not Mother Teresa, carried the pastoral responsibility for the communist area, but the Mother of God. Russia was always the land of the Mother of God, and she never gave up her pastoral responsibility. Through the Fatima children, she already announced the great tragedy that would strike Russia, but at the same time, she gave us the remedy: the consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. This consecration was carried out by Pius XII, and later completely formally by John Paul II. Six years after this consecration, the Soviet system broke down. Like after a sin that has been forgiven, what remains is a great damage. It is surely a part of our task to contribute to this healing by prayer and sacrifice, and also with concrete steps. I feel a deep joy in my heart when I see, during the Youth Festival in August, so many young people from the former Eastern Bloc. It is completely inconceivable that they would come close to the Heart of their Mother and not be healed!
“Radio Maria” Family is well known in the whole world. You also participated in its creation. How did it happen?
The Mother of God did probably not completely realize the greatness of her vocation in the moment when she was called. The same happens with those who are called by her. I could not imagine how fast, how rapidly this development would take place. In seven years, Radio Maria was present in 31 countries, and today it is in over 60 countries. It seems that Our Lady is very hurried. There are different indications in and outside of the Church that this haste has good reasons.
In what respect can the Church evangelize today by the media?
I believe, the evangelization always goes through the proclamation of the word. In Japan, 10 years ago, there were approximately 350,000 Catholics in one single parish. The inquiries showed that over 600,000 people consider themselves as Catholics. To the question, where they have heard about the Church, the answer was, on television and in the radio. That means that radio and television are surely a pre-evangelization, which can open human hearts for the truth of God. It later surely needs a personal contact between a pastor and the individual soul.
How do you see young people today, how can they be attracted to the church?
I see now primarily young people in Austria. Two things are happening. They are really poor in the sense as Mother Teresa understood poverty. She spoke about physical poverty, social poverty and spiritual poverty. These poor young people are in a terrible spiritual poverty. Christ was never announced or shown to them. At the same time, a miracle is happening: small groups, communities, prayer groups come up, and young people are very open for these groups. I am astonished how open they are and what a longing they have after truth. In a time, in which it is repeated to us that there is no truth, that everything is relative, they are interiorly called to seek the only stable truth, which we find in Christ.
This is not your first pilgrimage to Medjugorje. What are your experiences, do you feel here the presence the Mother God?
Today, I could identify myself with a little boy Joseph - the son of one of our co-workers. He is not yet one year old. He was sitting in his pushchair, smiling and obviously enjoying. This is exactly how I feel.
How do you see Medjugorje within the Church?
I believe that Medjugorje has a very, very important role in the Church to play. The Church is going through a difficult time all over the world, and people are very ready to accuse one another. I believe that the very presence of Our Lady can provoke unity. I see this among the Austrian groups who are coming to Medjugorje. In the midst of all tensions in the Church, they are standing still, and remaining completely faithful. They show in a motherly way what is essential in the Church and what not.
It is said: „They shall be recognized by their fruits”. According to you, what are the fruits of Medjugorje?
I can only quote my cardinal Christoph Schönborn who said that 90% of all new vocations in his diocese come in some way through Medjugorje. In Austria, I noticed in different parts of the country that in some parishes things happen that are not usual for an ordinaly life of a parish, like for example adoration groups for children. And who are those children? Those who were yesterday and the day before yesterday here in the church, completely in front. It means, Medjugorje radiates into the families, into the parishes. Again in the stile of Mary: she does nothing exceptional, she is exceptional.
Can one compare Medjugorje with Lourdes or Fatima?
Here I can quote bishop Hnilica, who said: in the apparitions of Mary in Europe, one sees exactly the pedagogy of the Mother of God, which is the pedagogy of the Church. The first great apparition - Lourdes - has to do with the sacrament of Baptism. „I am the Immaculate Conception”, water as a symbol of purification. In Fatima, one recognizes the second sacrament of initiation - the reception of the Holy Spirit - the Confirmation. The angel asked the children, are you ready to offer your suffering, your prayers etc. for poor sinners? Fatima is not about personal sanctification, but about the mission to sanctify others. And in Medjugorje, we have the third Sacrament - the Eucharist - which is closely connected with the preparation for the reception of the Lord - Holy Confession. I believe, there is a very close connection. We are led on the way of holiness.
Would you add anything?
Important in our times is fidelity. Mother Teresa said, „God has not called me to be successful, but to be faithful”. That is also our vocation.
Interview: Sanja Pehar