Mother of the Poor

Mother Teresa’s char­i­ta­ble con­tri­bu­tions have made her a uni­ver­sal model for hu­man­ity and peace.

Southasia - - Contents - By S.G. Ji­la­nee S. G. Ji­la­nee is a se­nior po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst and former ed­i­tor of SouthA­sia Mag­a­zine.

Mother Teresa con­tin­ues to be an in­spi­ra­tion through the legacy of hu­man­i­tar­ian work she has left be­hind.

R“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.”

- Mother Teresa

eputed for min­is­ter­ing to the “poor­est of the poor,” Mother Teresa, of Al­ba­nian de­scent, was born in Skopje, Mace­do­nia on Au­gust 26, 1910. Though she came to be known glob­ally as Mother Teresa, her orig­i­nal name was Agnes Gonxha Bo­jax­hiu.

At the age of twelve, Bo­jax­hiu felt the urge to spread the mes­sage of Christ. Six years later, she joined the Sis­ters of Loreto, an Ir­ish com­mu­nity of nuns. Af­ter a few months train­ing she was sent to In­dia, where on May 24, 1931 she took her ini­tial vows as a nun. Since then un­til 1948, Mother Teresa taught at St. Mary’s High School in Cal­cutta. Greatly af­fected by the suf­fer­ing and poverty she saw in her neigh­bour­hood, in 1948 she took per­mis­sion from her su­pe­ri­ors to leave the con­vent school and de­voted her­self to work­ing among the poor­est of the poor in the slums of Cal­cutta.

With­out any funds, Teresa started an open-air school for slum chil­dren. Her no­ble in­ten­tions soon drew vol­un­teers and fi­nan­cial sup­port be­came read­ily avail­able, al­low­ing her to ex­tend the scope of her work. In 1950, with per­mis­sion from the Holy See, Mother Teresa started her own Or­der, “The Mis­sion­ar­ies of Char­ity”, whose pri­mary task was to care for those per­sons no­body was pre­pared to look af­ter.

For over 45 years, she tended to the poor, sick, or­phaned and dy­ing, while guid­ing the Mis­sion­ar­ies of Char­ity’s ex­pan­sion, first through­out In­dia and then in other coun­tries. In 1982, at the height of the Siege of Beirut, Mother Teresa rescued 37 chil­dren trapped in a front line hospi­tal by bro­ker­ing a tem­po­rary cease-fire be­tween the Is­raeli army and Pales­tinian guer­ril­las. She also trav­elled to as­sist and min­is­ter to the hun­gry in Ethiopia and ra­di­a­tion vic­tims at Ch­er­nobyl.

By 1996, she was op­er­at­ing 517 mis­sions in more than 100 coun­tries. The Mis­sion­ar­ies of Char­ity had grown from twelve to thou­sands serv­ing the “poor­est of the poor” in 450 cen­tres around the world.

Mother Teresa suf­fered her first heart at­tack in Rome in 1983, while vis­it­ing Pope John Paul II. She had a sec­ond at­tack in 1989. In 1991, af­ter an at­tack of pneu­mo­nia in Mex­ico, she suf­fered fur­ther heart prob­lems. She of­fered to re­sign her po­si­tion as head of the Mis­sion­ar­ies of Char­ity, but the sis­ters of the or­der voted for her to stay.

In April 1996, Mother Teresa fell and broke her col­lar­bone. In Au­gust the same year, she suf­fered from malaria and fail­ure of the left heart ven­tri­cle. De­spite heart surgery, her con­di­tion con­tin­ued to de­cline and she de­parted on 5 Septem­ber 1997

At the time of her death, Mother Teresa’s 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 pro­grams, per­sonal helpers, or­phan­ages and schools.

Mother Teresa’s work has been recog­nised and ac­claimed world­wide. Apart from the 1979 No­bel Peace Prize, she re­ceived a num­ber of awards and dis­tinc­tions that in­cluded the first Pope John XXIII Peace Prize, the Ra­mon Magsaysay Award, the Pacem in Ter­ris Award, an honorary Com­pan­ion of the Or­der of Aus­tralia, the Or­der of Merit from both the United King­dom and the United States, Al­ba­nia’s Golden Honor of the Na­tion, the Balzan Prize, the Al­bert Sch­weitzer In­ter­na­tional Prize, as well as a num­ber of honorary de­grees.

In In­dia, she re­ceived the Padma Shri in 1962, Jawa­har­lal Nehru Award for In­ter­na­tional Un­der­stand­ing in 1969 and In­dia’s high­est civil­ian award -- the Bharat Ratna-twice, once in 1972 and again in 1980.

In 2003, Pope John Paul II who gave her the ti­tle, “Blessed Teresa of Cal­cutta”, be­at­i­fied her posthu­mously. On 28 Au­gust 2010, to com­mem­o­rate the 100th an­niver­sary of her birth, the government of In­dia is­sued a spe­cial Rs.5 coin, which was the sum she had landed in In­dia with.

How­ever, Mother Teresa also had her de­trac­tors, Christo­pher Hitchens be­ing the bit­ter­est among them. The crit­i­cism levied against her was di­rected largely at fi­nan­cial mat­ters but also pointed at her pe­cu­liar phi­los­o­phy that suf­fer­ing would bring peo­ple closer to Je­sus. As a re­sult, in her Home for the Dy­ing, mag­gots were tweezed from open wounds with­out giv­ing pa­tients any painkillers, even though their screams of pain could be heard be­yond the walls of the hospice.

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