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Japanese Photographer Talks About Mother Teresa

MADRID, DEC 7, 1998 (ZENIT).-
Japanese photographer Morihiro Oki, author of a book of photos on Mother Teresa of Calcutta published recently by 'Ediciones Encuentro' entitled "Love Without Limits, was in Madrid last week for the launching of his new work. The book, which seems to be doing very well in a country like Japan where Catholic publishing is difficult, is already on sale in Italy, the United Kingdom and Spain, and will soon be in the bookstores of France, Germany and Norway. In its latest issue, the Madrid weekly 'Alfa and Omega' published an interview with the photographer.

What was it about Mother Teresa that surprised you most when you first met her?
MORIHIRO OKI: To see what she was doing, without asking for anything in return, is what most impressed me in the beginning. After World War II, Japan was totally destroyed (at least 80%), and in 25 years its economic progress was "miraculous," until it became a world power. In Japan, everyone works for himself, and it is totally foreign to serve someone or to be charitable. This could be due, in part, to the fact that in Japan Christian culture belongs to a minority. Something else about Mother Theresa which impressed me is that she never asked anyone she helped to become a Catholic. This is contrary to the idea we have in Japan of a missionary, someone eager for conversions; this is precisely what Mother Teresa did not do. She expressed her religion by what she did -- by her actions.

What do you think of her statement that she was not a philanthropist or a humanitarian, but that what she did she did for love of Christ?
MORIHIRO OKI: It is precisely the idea I did not understand at first, and what impelled me to produce the book. According to my Buddhist culture, her reasoning was unintelligible. Why was this woman doing such things? Only for Jesus Christ? And that expression she had when she was praying to God, that look which expressed what she felt when she received the Body of Christ those photographs I took at the beginning when I did not understand anything: she was communing with God and I, with my camera, was a nuisance .... now I would not take those photographs. After five years of work, I think I now understand.

Did she ever speak to you directly about God?

MORIHIRO OKI: No, she never spoke to me about her autobiography. She did not want me to write about her person, but on the activities of the institution, and I agreed.

What do you think about that God in whom Mother Teresa believed, that
Christ who could move her to do what she did?

MORIHIRO OKI: I am an agnostic and a rationalist, and before meeting her I never thought about these things. Now I have my doubts ... I am no longer so sure God does not exist, although I continue to live without a clear idea about Him.

What are your most cherished memories of your visits to Calcutta and with Mother Teresa?
MORIHIRO OKI: When this book was published in Japan, I went back to visit her, about a year before she died. She used to say to me that I had one home, but she had 562 in 120 countries (she was referring to the homes her institution had throughout the world). When I showed her the newly published book, she said: "Good book," and she asked me how much it cost. I told her, and she answered me: "You must have become very rich with this book, as with the cost of two of the books a family in India could live for a month." She joked a lot about my growing wealthy. I was a bit miffed and said: "Yes, but I have only one home and you have 562." Apart from her incredible work, she had a great sense of humor. I will never forget this incident

What are the most important aspects of her work reflected in the photos?
MORIHIRO OKI: I wanted to express the universality of her love. In the beginning I was criticized because people thought I would make propaganda for Catholicism, but this is not the case. When I saw what she did, I felt Japanese society had lost something in exchange for it's economic progress, and that "something," perhaps, was that "universal love" we are going to need from now on; otherwise, the future will be catastrophic. She always said that every person is loved by God, desired by God, all are his children. Therefore, everybody must know what love is. This idea that everyone is a child of God has made a great impression on me, and this is what I wanted to reflect.

Do you think Mother Teresa has been one of the most important persons of this century?
MORIHIRO OKI: Not only of this century; in my opinion, she is the most important person in the last seven centuries, since Saint Francis of Assisi. I saw her as a reincarnation of Jesus Christ -- Jesus Christ in person. Jesus Christ must have been like that.

Do you think she agrees with what is called "solidarity" or "humanitarianism," in the banal sense in which it is referred to today, or is it something deeper?
MORIHIRO OKI: It was something else, something totally different.

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Special thanks to Father Ernest Munachi for bringing this article to my attention!