Mother Teresa: An Inspirational humanitarian
Mother Teresa said, “By blood, I am Albanian. By citizenship, an Indian. By faith, I am a Catholic nun. As to my calling, I belong to the world. As to my heart, I belong entirely to the Heart of Jesus”.
Early life: Mother Teresa, actual name Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu, born in Uskub, Ottoman Empire (Albanian) on 26 August , also known as Saint Teresa of Calcutta, was an Albanian-Indian Roman Catholic nun. This city is now called Skopje and is the capital of the Republic of Macedonia. Her father died when she was eightand she was raised by her mother. She was raised as a Roman Catholic and decided at a young age to devote her life to God. At the age of eighteen she left her parental home in Skopje and joined the Sisters of Loreto, an Irish community of nuns with missions in Darjeling in India from where she moved to Calcutta (Kolkata), a year later. From 1931 to 1948 Mother Teresa taught at St. Mary’s High School in Calcutta (Kolkata), but the suffering and poverty she glimpsed outside the convent walls made such a deep impression on her that in 1948 she received permission from her superiors to leave the convent school and devote herself to working among the poorest of the poor in the slums of Calcutta (Kolkata).
In 1946 Sister Teresa experienced her “call within a call,” which she considered divine inspiration to devote herself to caring for the sick and poor. She then moved into the slums she had observed while teaching. Although she had no funds, she depended on Divine Providence, and started an open-air school for slum children. Soon she was joined by voluntary helpers, and financial support was also forthcoming. This made it possible for her to extend the scope of her work. On October 7, 1950, Mother Teresa received permission from the Holy See to start her own order, “The Missionaries of Charity”, whose primary task was to love and care for those persons nobody was prepared to look after.
On May 24, 1937, She took her final profession of vows to a life of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Later, she took on the title “Mother” upon making her final vows and became Mother Teresa. She continued her teaching and lead them to a life of devotion to Christ. In 1965 the Society became an International Religious Family by a decree of Pope Paul VI. In 2017, she was posthumously canonized as a Patron Saint by the Vatican Pope for her service to the needy and poor.
Social Work: Mother Teresa was once living in a small house in Calcutta (Kolkata) with some orphans. One day it so happened that there was nothing for the children to eat. Mother Teresa did not know what to do. There was one shopkeeper in the neighborhood who hated her. Mother went to him and said: “Please, give us something to eat.” The person looked at Mother Teresa with anger and spat on her hand. Mother gently wiped the saliva to her sari and said: “Thank you for what you have given for me. Will you give something for my children?” The Society of Missionaries has spread all over the world, including the former Soviet Union and Eastern European countries. They provide effective help to the poorest of the poor in a number of countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, and they undertake relief work in the wake of natural catastrophes such as floods, epidemics, and famine, and for refugees.
The order also has houses in North America, Europe and Australia, where they take care of the shut-ins, alcoholics, homeless, and AIDS sufferers. The Missionaries of Charity throughout the world are aided and assisted by Co-Workers who became an official International Association on March 29, 1969. By the 1990s there were over one million Co-Workers in more than 40 countries. Along with the Co-Workers, the lay Missionaries of Charity try to follow Mother Teresa’s spirit and charism in their families. After Mother Teresa founded her missionary in 1950 “Missionaries of Charity”. It grew to have over 4,500 nuns and was active in 133 countries as of 2012. While teaching poor children in Calcutta, Mother Teresa did not have any supplies or equipment to impart knowledge, yet she managed to teach the children to read and write by writing in the dirt with wooden sticks. latter the congregation manages homes for people who are dying of HIV/AIDS, leprosy and tuberculosis. It also runs soup kitchens, dispensaries, mobile clinics, children’s and family counselling programmes, as well as orphanages and schools. Members take vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience, and also profess a fourth vow – to give “wholehearted free service to the poorest of the poor”.
Honours & Awards: Mother Teresa’s work has been recognised and acclaimed throughout the world. During her life, Mother Teresa a number of prizes, awards and distinctions for her charity work and she is the most awarded person in the XXth century. In 1962 the Indian government awarded Mother Teresa the Padma Shri, one of its highest civilian honours, for her services to the people of India and Ramon Magsaysay Award for Peace & International Understanding. in 1969 she received Jawaharlal Nehru Award. In 1971, she received Pope John XXII Peace Prize and on 16th of October 1971 she received John f. Kennedy International Award. In 1972, Indian government conferred on her the Bharat Ratna, the country’s highest civilian honour.
In 1973, she received Templeton Prize for her extraordinary efforts to help the homeless and neglected children of Calcutta and in April 1976, Mother Teresa visited the University of Scranton in northeastern Pennsylvania, where she received the La Storta Medal for Human Service from university president William J. Byron. In 1976, Pacem in Terris Award was received by her. In 1977 she was awarded Honorary PhD in Theology, University of Cambridge, England and in 1978 she received Award from the Balzan Foundation for humanity and peace among peoples. In 1979 she received the Nobel Peace Prize for her humanitarian work and also received the Balzan Prize in 1979.
In 1980, she was awarded Bharat Ratna while as on 27th of June 1980 she was presented with the Medal of Merits of the town of Skopje. In 1982, she was appointed as an honorary Companion of the order of Australia and on 24th of October 1983 Queen Elizabeth II presents her with the Order of Merit. In 1985 The President of USA Ronald Reagan presented her with the Presidential medal of Freedom.
In August 1987, Mother Teresa received an honorary doctor of social science degree, in recognition of her service and her ministry to help the destitute and sick. Mother Teresa’s Albanian homeland gave her the Golden Honour of the Nation in 1994 and in 1996 she received Honorary citizen of the USA while as on 5th of June 1997 she was awarded United States Congressional Gold Medal.
During her lifetime, Mother Teresa was among the top 10 women in the annual Gallup’s most admired man and woman poll 18 times, finishing first several times in the 1980s and 1990s. In 1991, the Senate of Serampore College, Serampore, West Bengal, conferred upon her the degree of Doctor of Divinity (D.D.) In 1999 she headed Gallup’s List of Most Widely Admired People of the 20th Century. In 2003 she was beatified and was known by catholics as “Blessed”. In 2012, Mother Teresa was ranked number 5 in Outlook India’s poll of the Greatest Indian.
As an author: During her life period Mother Teresa wrote a number of books which include: Come Be My Light, No Greater Love, In My Own Words, Where there is love, there is God, Do Something Beautiful for God the Essential Teachings, Meditations from a Simple path.
Mother Teresa has been commemorated by museums and named the patroness of a number of churches, buildings, roads and complexes named after her, including Albania’s international airport. The Cathedral of Blessed Mother Teresa in Pristina, Kosovo, is named in her honour. Mother Teresa Women’s University, in Kodaikanal, was established in 1984 as a public university by the government of Tamil Nadu. The Mother Teresa Postgraduate and Research Institute of Health Sciences, in Pondicherry, was established in 1999 by the government of Puducherry.
The charitable organisation Sevalaya runs the Mother Teresa Girls Home, providing poor and orphaned girls near the underserved village of Kasuva in Tamil Nadu with free food, clothing, shelter and education. Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut, has a residence hall named after her, called Teresa of Calcutta Hall. The Memorial House of Mother Teresa was opened in Mother Teresa’s hometown of Skopje. Mother Teresa Women’s University, in Kodaikanal, was established in 1984 as a public university by the Government of Tamil Nadu. Indian Railways introduced a new train, “Mother Express”, named after Mother Teresa, on August 26, 2010, to mark her birth centenary. The government of India issued a special ₹5 coin to celebrate the 100th anniversary of her birth, on 28 August 2010. various schools have been named in her honour in India and some other countries. She was beatified by Pope John Paul II on 19 October 2003, and was canonized by Pope Francis on 4 September 2016.
Death: In April 1996, Mother Teresa fell, breaking her collarbone, and four months later she had malaria . On 13 March 1997, Mother Teresa resigned as head of the Missionaries of Charity. She died on 5 September due to heart failure. At the time of her death, the Missionaries of Charity had over 4,000 sisters and an associated brotherhood of 300 members operating 610 missions in 123 countries. These included hospices and homes for people with HIV/AIDS, leprosy and tuberculosis, soup kitchens, children’s and family counselling programmes, orphanages and schools. The Missionaries of Charity were aided by co-workers numbering over one million by the 1990s. She received a state funeral from the Indian government in gratitude for her service to the poor of all religions in the country. Assisted by five priests, Cardinal Secretary of State Angelo Sodano, the Pope’s representative, performed the last rites. Mother Teresa’s death was mourned in the secular and religious communities. Prime Minister of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif called her “a rare and unique individual who lived long for higher purposes. Her life-long devotion to the care of the poor, the sick, and the disadvantaged was one of the highest examples of service to our humanity”. According to former U.N. Secretary-General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar, “She is the United Nations. She is peace in the world.”The former President Pratibha Patil said, “Clad in a white sari with a blue border, she and the sisters of Missionaries of Charity became a symbol of hope to many – the aged, the destitute, the unemployed, the diseased, the terminally ill, and those abandoned by their families. The anniversary of her death has been designated the “International Day of Charity” by the United Nations General Assembly.
Mother Teresa Award: Mother Teresa Award is one of the highest awards Mother Teresa charitable Trust Chennai, confers on persons without distinction of race, occupation, position, gender or religion, in honour & memory of Mother Teresa. It is awarded in recognition of exceptional services, performance of the highest order in the unity and integrity, service to humanity and philanthropy. It is an affirmation and encouragement to do more, dedicate them to render the work more and enroll their body, soul and spirit and engage their time to do what Athey know best. Also in an initiative of Harmony Foundation, an organization created by Abraham Mathai in Mumbai confers Mother Teresa Memorial Awards for Social Justice to honour individuals and organizations that promote peace, equality and aim to encourage the cause of justice and peaceful coexistence. Mother Teresa Awards have been given since 2004.
The whole of Mother Teresa’s life and work bore witness to the joy of loving, the greatness and dignity of every human person, the value of little things done faithfully and with love, and the surpassing worth of friendship with God
(The author contributes to ‘Kashmir Vision’ on regular basis)