Himmelklar – The Catholic Podcast

Sister Teresa Zukic: Church needs an "outburst of courage"

Cologne - The church has become tired, argues nun Teresa Zukic in the podcast "Himmelklar". She would like to see more enthusiasm for the Good News so that it can have an impact on people. Because God never gets tired.

Published  on 03.04.2024 at 00:30  – by Verena Tröster

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First she was a competitive athlete. Then she became a nun and wrote musicals for children. Sister Teresa Zukic has travelled a special path in life - including a serious cancer diagnosis. In this interview, the nun from the "Little Community of the Brothers and Sisters of Jesus", author and founder talks about her life and gives advice for the present and future of the church.

Question: You are often described as the "German answer to Sister Act". Does that apply to you?

Sr Teresa: In the years when I did the musicals, definitely. Of course I didn't set out to do that, it was simply a gift from God. I composed and performed nine musicals - with almost 100 people. The youngest was five, the oldest 80. We also went to many Catholic conventions or ecumenical church congresses. I also rapped and danced there and I think that simply radiates my joie de vivre. I can really see myself in Sister Act and I think the film is great. It broke up a lot of things so that you get a different image of sisters. So I'm totally in favour of it.

Question: I think it's fair to say that you are definitely a special woman. How would you describe yourself?

Sr Teresa: I would say that I am really in love with God and with people. My life was a joyful song until my conversion and since then it has been a symphony. I realise that I am a person who is incredibly happy to serve God and people and do everything I can every day to do so. That is simply my life. I am a bit crazy, because as Pope Francis says, we are not baptised with lemon water, but with the Holy Spirit - and he is creative and alive. I am simply a sister who loves God and loves people.

Question: Was that still the case when you became very ill? Four years ago, you were diagnosed with uterine cancer. The prospects of recovery were extremely poor.

Sr Teresa: My first reaction was: why not me? Why am I privileged not to have this? During the corona period, I found out very unpleasantly over the phone after days of waiting. For me, it's always bad when you say a word and you don't keep it. When the doctors promise to call you on Wednesday because that's when the results will be in and they've always threatened that it doesn't look good and you wait and then they don't call until Friday, then of course the fear has crept into your soul. When you then find out that you have a malignant, fast-growing tumour and they don't give you much hope. When I asked if I would survive the operation and they said nothing, I really broke down for the first time in my life. I had a crying fit and sobbed, but then I suddenly stopped again and said: "No, I don't think so yet. God has the last word. And I also wanted to see if everything I told people every day and motivated them with was true. I said: God, now I want to see that it's all true - and it was really adventurous.

Bild: ©stock.adobe.com/taka

For a long time, sport was the main focus of Sister Teresa Zukic's life.

Question: You are no stranger to perseverance. You are a fighter, in professional sport for example: you were an artistic gymnast on the balance beam. Then came athletics and the heptathlon. Did you have a lot of sporting ambitions as a young woman?

Sister Teresa: Definitely. I went to a sports boarding school and they realised very quickly that I had a talent. Becoming the Hessian balance beam champion was great, of course. But I was still very young and my hand had somehow grown together because of the props. Anyway, I had to stop doing gymnastics when I was twelve. That was a shock, because that was my life. We weren't people of faith. It was my purpose in life. Then a friend of my mum's in the savings bank said: Why don't you come to the athletics stadium? I went there on a Tuesday and had my first competition on Saturday. That's how it started. I was so self-taught through gymnastics that I learnt the disciplines very quickly. Then I was an all-around competitor. And it's true, you learn a lot about overcoming your weaker self. I trained a lot and I really wanted to make a career out of it. I wanted to be successful. I went to the German Championships. Basically, everything was geared towards success. I was also very disciplined. If the coach said "ten runs", then I did ten runs. If he wasn't there and the others said: Oh come on, we'll give each other two - no, that didn't happen with me.

Question: So it's all the more astonishing that you yourself completely threw sport, your purpose in life at the time, overboard from one day to the next.

Sr Teresa: Yes, that's the crazy thing. It started one night at sports boarding school. My girlfriend was a 400 metre runner and we had this little flat together. She said to me: "You, I've got a few books that I want to sort out, I'll put them in your room." I didn't think anything of it. They were lying on the floor next to my bed. I woke up at around 2.00 am. I couldn't sleep, but I had a basketball game the next day and I thought to myself, "Gosh, I need to sleep. Then I thought: Listen to Queen - my favourite group, but that didn't help either. Yes, and then I thought to myself: read something, maybe you'll get tired again. And I really did reach for the first book that came along. It was the Bible. I'd never looked in the Bible before and I opened it somewhere. Then it said "Sermon on the Mount". What is that? When I read the sentence "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Mt 5:8), I was touched existentially. I felt a love that cannot be put into words. The very next day in the basketball game, I was changed. I was fouled very badly in the game. And in the past I would definitely have returned the favour. But then I reacted differently and said something nice. I felt that peace again. I went back home and read that book again. That's how it started. Until that moment, I always thought you had to fulfil conditions to be loved. If - then. If you train a lot, then you become number one. If you get good grades, then mum will be happy. That night I learnt: "Because you are loved, you can live!"

Question: Can this God who loves unconditionally save the Church?

Sr Teresa: We are tired. That's how it seems to me in Christianity, we are so tired. The priests are tired. The congregation is tired. Everyone is so tired and doesn't know what to do. But God doesn't get tired.

„Ich wünsche mir, dass wir wieder den Mut haben, an dieser Begeisterung und an dieser Verliebtheit für uns selber zu arbeiten und uns das wieder schenken zu lassen.“

—  Zitat: Schwester Teresa

Question: What do you wish for your church?

Sr Teresa: I would like us to have the courage to work on this enthusiasm and this love for ourselves and to allow ourselves to be given this again. Because I can't inspire anyone if I'm not enthusiastic myself, if I'm so tired and frustrated. Just pray more, read the Bible more, live more and simply enjoy it. People also want to see: If it really is this great message of the world, then joy and humour are also part of it. That's my thing. I just have to laugh a lot. With some Christians, I would sometimes say: Can you tell your face that you are a Christian - maybe once a week? I want to make people happy. I want to bear witness. I have a nice picture for that: I was at a big festive service and the whole fire brigade was up front. I said: Imagine there's a fire. There are ten sleeping firefighters and you have a bucket of water in your hand. Where do you pour it? Into the fire or over these ten sleeping people? That's how it seems to me. How are we supposed to save the fires of this world if we are not awake, re-inspired, refreshed and courageous? We need a "burst of courage". That's why my latest book was: "Don't forget the beautiful." We have forgotten that God still exists. Don't forget the beauty! We need an "outburst of courage"! We need to dare to do good again - even with ourselves.

Question: Everything you are saying sounds so easy.

Sr Teresa: It is difficult. It's so challenging sometimes. I experienced so much loss last year and so much upheaval in my community. Now I have to see how I can cope on my own. I already have a new co-sister and many people who want to help me in my circle of friends. There will also be a support organisation, but I'm not giving up. I simply carry on with his love every day. I can't solve the suffering - quite honestly. I can't end the war. But I can try every day to love a little more, to be happy and grateful and to make the world a better place.

by Verena Tröster