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Mother Teresa Says She’ll Send Nuns to Help Earthquake Victims

December 21, 1988

MOSCOW (AP) _ Mother Teresa said Wednesday she will send eight nuns to Moscow and Armenia to care for earthquake victims in a country where charitable work by religious organizations has been illegal for about 60 years.

The nuns will work with victims of the Dec. 7 Armenian earthquake and other severely injured hospital patients under a six-month trial agreement, under which they will keep their religious services to themselves.

″If all goes well, I hope we shall be able to prolong (the agreement),″ said Genrikh Borovik, president of the Soviet Peace Commitee, which along with the Ministry of Health concluded an agreement with Mother Teresa, the 1979 Nobel Peace Prize winner.

The 78-year-old Roman Catholic nun told a Moscow news conference that her year-old offer to send her sisters to the Soviet Union was suddenly accepted Wednesday, when an emissary from President Mikhail S. Gorbachev showed up on her doorstep.

She was in the Soviet capital on her way back from visiting earthquake victims in Armenia.

″We have no gold and silver to give,″ said Mother Teresa, referring to the more than $100 million in international aid that has poured into the Soviet Union since the quake killed an estimated 55,000 people.

″But we are very happy to give tender love and care to the people, to the sick, the dying, the lonely, to anybody who needs love,″ said the nun, who has spent her life serving the destitute of Calcutta.

The Russian Orthodox Church, which has been banned from charitable work for decades, has in the past year begun reaching out, financing a rehabilitation hospital for Soviet veterans of the war in Afghanistan. The few Orthodox nuns in the Soviet Union have been limited to working with other nuns and priests.

Religious organizations have been banned from charitable activities in the Soviet Union since strict rules were imposed under Josef Stalin in 1929. Officials have been saying for more than a year they are rewriting laws to make religion freer, but the new legislation has not yet been published.

Four of Mother Teresa’s nuns will be given three rooms at the Institute of Neurosurgery in Moscow, where they will live and work with victims of spinal injuries and other severe trauma ″who need both physical rehabilitation and spiritual assistance,″ said Arkady V. Lifshitz, a professor with the institute.

″We have agreed that any religious services would be for themselves and not for the patients or the public,″ he said.

The other four nuns will work with quake victims in Armenia. No more specific location was given.

Mother Teresa offered her order’s services to the Soviet Union in August 1987, when she was visiting victims of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident. She said the Soviet Peace Committee has been working on the idea since that time.

Borovik said Mother Teresa’s offer was treated ″cautiously at first, because it was a new idea; there had never been anything like that before.″ The nuns’ role first had to be explained to doctors at the hospital, he said, but he added that the radical changes sweeping through the Soviet Union also played a role.

″This society is growing increasingly open and that has had some effect,″ Borovik said.

Mother Teresa heads the Missionaries of Charity, a worldwide order of 3,000 nuns of 35 nationalities, with houses in 87 countries. She said the eight nuns coming to the Soviet Union were from India, Yugoslavia, Poland and Italy, and she would welcome any young Soviet women who would like to join her order.

The nun said she already has nuns working in Cuba, Yugoslavia, East Germany and Poland, and she has discussed the idea with officials in China.

While in Beijing, she said, she was asked, ″What is a Communist to you?″ and she replied, ″A child of God.″

Soon, newspapers were headlining, ″Mother Teresa says Communists are children of God,″ she said, smiling.

The nun said the suffering she saw in Armenia was ″very terrible,″ but she was surprised to see that despite the suffering, every victim was able to smile back at her.

″I think it helped a lot that the whole world is sharing and helping,″ she said.

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