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Press Release: Woman taps into creativity after encounter with nun

By Enrique Rivero

NEWBURY PARK — Before she met Mother Teresa, Marlene Elias says she was a contented homebody who cared for her family and attended Mass regularly.

When she returned from a two-week stay in Calcutta, India, with the Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1987, Elias says she was a changed woman. And in the years since, she has become an accomplished journalist, photographer and songwriter — all of which she employs to get Mother Teresa’s message of love and charity out to the world.

Mother Teresa herself asked Elias to sing one of her own compositions at the dedication of a home for unwed mothers last month in Washington, D.C.

“After I met her something happened to me — I’d neverwritten a song in my life,” said Elias, 61, “That’s because she inspired me so much.”

Elias was introduced to Mother Teresa through her brother, a Catholic priest who was leading a retreat for the nuns in Mother Teresa’s order, the Missionaries of Charity.

“I found out he was going and I’d always admired her so much I asked if I could go,” Elias said.

Her brother contacted Mother Teresa, who not only said Elias could go, but said the Newbury Park housewife could stay with her.

“I almost fainted when she said that — can you imagine, staying with Mother Teresa?” Elias said.

She went to Calcutta in October, and although she stayed only about two weeks, the experience changed her life forever.

“It was love at first sight when I first met her, in the most beautiful sense of the word,” Elias said. “She kind of transformed me.”

Elias-worked with orphans, the sick and the dying often accompanying the nuns as they walked in pairs through the city, observing the squalor and misery that she had been protected from in Newbury Park and that Mother Teresa and her helpers encountered every day.

“We were stepping over people dying,” Elias said. “The nuns would pick them up and take them to the hospital.”

Her work with the orphans gave rise to especially poignant moments. She recalls accompanying the children on a picnic with the nuns, and their surprising behavior when they arrived at the site.

Instead of running to see the animals or playing, the youngsters — having grown up amid the concrete and pavement of the city — stooped down and touched the grass, sometimes even rubbing their faces in it.

“I asked, ‘Why are they doing that?’ and the nun said, ‘Because they’ve never seen grass,’” Elias recalled.

Elias also learned a valuable lesson. When she asked Mother Teresa how she could help the children, she was told to give the youngsters a hug — that is what they most needed.

“At first, I couldn’t—I was afraid I would get leprosy,” Elias said.

She returned home a changed person, she said. Since then. Elias has been spreading the message back here in Southern California.

She began writing articles for various Catholic publications, and even produced a photograph for one magazine — showing Mother Teresa from the back opening the door to a beggar — that took a prize from the Catholic Press Association.

And she began writing music. So far, she has produced six songs, which she has recorded and sold. She had never before written music, she said.

Proceeds from the tapes go to Mother Teresa’s order, she said.

She still speaks frequently with Mother Teresa on the telephone and is recording all their conversations — with Mother Teresa’s knowledge and approval — for use in a proposed book.

“She sang a love song on the strings of my heart and filled my life with music,” Elias said.