Church Honours Blessed Teresa of Kolkata

Who in today’s world has not heard of Mother Teresa?

Who among us has not taken sides over her work, or her personality?

She was born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, the youngest of three children to a very devout couple in Albania. At the age of 18, having completed her studies, she joined the Loreto sisters in Ireland, having chosen as her new name ‘Teresa’, after St Therese of Lisieux, the ever popular French Carmelite nun.

In 1929, she came to Calcutta, where she taught for 16 long years at St Mary’s School at Entally, and mastered the local language, Bengali.

At the age of 36, as she was traveling to Darjeeling in the Himalayan foothills, to recover from an illness, she received her “call within the call”, as she would later describe it. She realized with a clear certitude that she was called to “take care of the sick and the dying, the hungry, the naked and the homeless”. A little later, having sought and received the necessary permissions, she left the security of her Loreto convent and entered the harsh world of the slums of Calcutta.

In 1948 she started her first slum school. She had already taken a basic course in nursing at Patna six months before. In 1950, she adopted Indian nationality, and also started ‘the Missionaries of Charity’ with some of her former pupils. In 1952, she was given a boarding house near Calcutta’s famous Kali Temple, which became her first hospice, the Immaculate Heart Home for Dying Destitutes. This is where she nursed the sick and dying with tender care, cleaning their infections, washing their naked bodies, and giving them the Lord’s peace as only someone so inspired could. It was her way, she said, of doing “something beautiful for God”. No segment of suffering humanity escaped her.

Soon after she opened “Shishu Bhavan”, a children’s home for unwanted children, then “Shanti Nagar”, a ‘peace city’ for lepers; and in 1963, she founded the “Missionary Brothers of Charity”, a parallel group of men. Her congregation is one of the fastest growing groups of religious women in the Church, carrying on her mission in more than 30 countries. In India, and in Calcutta particularly, she is revered as an icon, a goddess: Mother Teresa.

What is the significance of Mother Teresa to the world today? Perhaps it is this: while others talk, discuss and protest, she acts. She does what Jesus did in his care for the poor, the outcast, the sick, the least in society. In her own way she showed that every human life is infinitely precious, and that we are really God’s children, no matter how we appear to be for a while.

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