Mother Teresa: The Tiny Woman With A Big Heart
Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, known to most of us as Mother Teresa, was born on August 27th, 1910 in Skopje, Kosovo (now the Republic of Macedonia). Very little is known about her younger years, except that her father died when Agnes was only 8 years old, and her mother had to assume responsibility for the whole family.
When she was 18, she started to think of becoming a nun and soon left her parental home and traveled to India to join the Sisters of Loreto as a missionary. She never saw her mother or her sister again.
In 1929, after training in Dublin, she began her novitiate in Darjeeling, where two years later she took her first religious vows as a nun, choosing the name of Teresa (after Terese of Lisieux). This was the day, when one chapter of her life closed and another one began.
A life of a nun
Shortly after taking her vows Sister Teresa was sent to St. Mary’s High School for girls in a district of Calcutta, where she taught history and geography for 15 years. However, the protective environment of the school for the daughters of the wealthy could not hide the sufferings and poverty of the ordinary people of Calcutta. Sister Teresa’s heart ached every time she glimpsed outside the convent walls, and saw that no one was doing anything for the people dying on the streets from hunger and disease.
The calling within a calling
On 10th September 1946, while travelling from Calcutta to Darjeeling for the annual retreat, Teresa experienced what she later described as “the call within the call”. She was to leave the Loreto and “follow Christ into the slums to serve him among the poorest of the poor.”
The same year she did the unthinkable – she asked to be released formally from living within the convent of the Sisters of Loreto to serve God in a different way. In 1948 she received permission from Pius XII to leave her community and become an independent nun.
She took a nursing course in Patna, adopted Indian citizenship and left the comfort and safety of the convent to follow her calling. As to clothing, she replaced her habit with a simple white cotton sari decorated with a blue border.
Beginning of missionary work
The first six months, as Mother Teresa, later recalled, were fraught with hardship and struggle. Since she had left the convent, she had no income and was at first forced to beg for food and supplies. But this experience only brought her closer to the poor people and strengthened her decision to serve them and lessen their sufferings.
She started small – teaching children of the slums how to read and write. She had no proper equipment or proper school room, so she made use of what was available – writing with sticks in the dirt. Gradually, she also started to visit the ill and poor in their families, gaining their trust and admiration. Very often she felt exhausted by the end of the day, but she never omitted her prayers, finding in them strength, inspiration and support to continue her mission.
A Movement Begins. . .
In less than a year news about Teresa’s work spread across the city and soon inspired by her example, many people came to volunteer their services, offer food, clothing, medical supplies or money.
On October 7th, 1950, Mother Teresa received official permission from the Holy See to start her own order, “The Missionaries of Charity”, whose primary task was to love and care for those people nobody else was prepared to look after. Nourished by Mother Teresa’s faith, compassion and enthusiasm more and more homes for the dying, treatment centers, hospitals, centers and refuges for orphans, for alcoholics, and for homeless people opened all over India.
In 1963 the Indian government awarded Mother Teresa the title Padmashri (“Lord of the Lotus”) for her services to the people of India. In 1964, on his trip to India, Pope Paul VI gave her his ceremonial limousine, which she immediately raffled to help finance her leper colony.
A year later she requested from Pope Paul VI an expansion of her order into other countries, and it was granted. It did not take long for The Missionaries of Charity to open homes all over the world.
Acknowledgement of Mother Teresa’s efforts
Mother Teresa’s work did not go unnoticed. She not only aroused considerable attention throughout the world, but also received a number of awards and distinctions: including a Peace Prize from the Pope John XXIII in 1971, the Nehru Prize for her promotion of international peace and understanding in 1972, and the Balzan Prize for promoting peace and brotherhood among the nations in 1979.
But one of the most notorious rewards has been the Nobel Prize “for work undertaken in the struggle to overcome poverty and distress, which also constitute a threat to peace.” Mother Teresa refused the conventional ceremonial banquet given to laureates, and asked that the $6,000 funds be given to the poor in Calcutta.
During the award ceremony, one of the journalists asked her, “What can we do to promote world peace?”
Her answer was simple: “Go home and love your family.”
Struggles and criticism
While she has been praised by many individuals, governments and organizations, she has also faced a diverse range of criticism. In one of the articles published by the German magazine Stern, she was accused of not focusing donated money on alleviating poverty or improving the conditions of her hospices, but on opening new convents and increasing missionary work.
Some of the objections also included baptisms of the dying, her strong anti-abortion and anti-divorce stance, and a belief in the spiritual goodness of poverty. She was also criticized for accepting donations from people involved in corruption and fraud.
Her response to all the accusations was simple, “No matter who says what, you should accept it with a smile and do your own work.”
Mother Teresa, herself, never found it necessary to attack the economic or political structures that were responsible for not providing adequate welfare and medical conditions for the terribly poor people she was serving. For her, the primary rule was a constant love, no matter where she was and who was in front of her.
Declining health and death
During the last two decades of her life Mother Teresa suffered two heart attacks, but nothing could dissuade her from fulfilling her mission of serving the poor, depending only on God for all of her needs. She traveled to assist the hungry in Ethiopia, radiation victims in Chernobyl, and earthquake victims in Armenia.
In April 1996, Mother Teresa fell and broke her collar bone. In August she suffered from malaria and failure of the left heart ventricle. She had heart surgery, but it was clear that her health was declining every day. She spent her final weeks in Calcutta receiving visitors and instructing her Sisters.
Mother Teresa died on 5th September, 1997, only 9 days after celebrating her 87th Birthday. Her body was buried in the Mother House of the Missionaries of Charity and her tomb quickly became a place of pilgrimage for people of all faiths, cultures and backgrounds.
In October 2003 Mother Teresa was formally beatified by Pope John Paul II and is now known as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.
Mother Teresa’s Inheritance
Someone once said that “You can inherit an organization, you can inherit money or world fame, but you can never inherit love and compassion”. This is what made Mother Teresa’s work so different from many non-profit organizations around the world.
After her death she left to the world an inheritance of 610 missions in 123 countries, including hospices and homes for people with HIV/AIDS, leprosy and tuberculosis, children’s and family counseling programs, orphanages, and schools.
While for so many people she has been a “mother to the poor,” and a symbol of compassion to the world, in her own eyes she was only “God’s pencil—a tiny bit of pencil with which he writes what he likes.”
Mother Teresa’s Quotes:
“Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies. “
“Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness: kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile.”
“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person. “
“It is not the magnitude of our actions but the amount of love that is put into them that matters.”
“Even the rich are hungry for love, for being cared for, for being wanted, for having someone to call their own.”
“Everytime you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.”
“God doesn’t require us to succeed; he only requires that you try. “
“I know God will not give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish that He didn’t trust me so much.”
“If you judge people, you have no time to love them.”
“We cannot do great things on this Earth, only small things with great love.”
What is Mother Teresa’s quote do you like the most?