Serving humanityMother Teresa’s sincerity to help the poorest among the poor is touching
Mother Teresa was formally canonised on September 4 by Pope Francis. The recognition and veneration of specific holy people provide models of Christian living for the faithful. Even before the canonisation, people across religions and nationalities revered her. Her services to the poorest among the poor moves even the most hardened heart. Her sincerity to serve the poor touched me since my childhood. My visit to Kolkata would remain incomplete unless I visited Mother House, where I can still smell the fragrance of her unwavering love for the poorest among the poor.
Mother Teresa was born as Anjeze Gonxhe Bojaxhiu on August 26, 1910 in Skopje, which was then a part of Albania. She was only 12 years old when she first felt the desire to become a nun by renouncing a worldly and materialistic life. When she became 18, she decided to leave her home and family to become a nun to serve the poor. Since then, she never doubted her decision to become a nun.
She spent a brief time as a young Postulant in Rathfarnham, Ireland before she made her voyage to India. When she arrived in India, she was despatched to the Loreto Novitiate, Darjeeling where she began her life as a novice. On May 24, 1931, she took her first vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Mother Teresa was inspired by Theresa Martin, a French nun, who prayed for missionaries and their success. In her honour, she took the name Teresa.
Another important turning point in her life was on September 10, 1946. On the train to Darjeeling, she heard the call to leave Loreto and to start working for the poorest among the poor. In her own words, leaving Loreto—where she was a headmistress—was the most difficult thing she had ever done. Rampant poverty and war compelled her to work in an unconventional way.
The Japanese invasion of Burma during the Second World War cut off rice exports to India, causing a massive famine in the Bengal province. By Bengal government’s own account, more than two million people perished from starvation. After independence and subsequent partition of India, Calcutta was continuously inundated by a wave of refugees from the newborn country of Bangladesh.
Mother Teresa started her work as a lone European nun in Calcutta’s streets. She started her charity work from Motijhil, a nearby slum area. She started to teach the children of Motijhil, who did not attend school, under a tree, using a stick as a marker on the ground. After opening a school for the slum children, she opened Nirmal Hriday—a hospice in Kalighat, Calcutta—upon witnessing the dire condition of the sick and poor people.
Despite Mother Teresa’s noble work, rumours circulated that those who died in Kalighat were ministered last rites and then buried as Christians. When some people with ill intensions threatened to take action against her one day, Dr Ahmad, a medical officer, and another senior police officer decided to see things for themselves. As they entered Nirmal Hriday, they saw Mother Teresa pulling out maggots with tweezers from a sick man without hesitation. There was putrid stench of the would; most people would have refused to enter. They heard her say to the patient, “You say a prayer in your religion, and I will say a prayer as I know it. Together we will say this prayer and it will be something beautiful for God.” The police officer returned teary-eyed. Turning to the crowd outside, he said, “Yes, I will send this woman away but only after you have persuaded your mothers and sisters to come here to do the work that she is doing. This woman is a saint.”
When Mother Teresa was in Ethiopia to open a new branch of Missionaries of Charity, she was asked “do you preach to people, trying to convert them?” She fittingly replied, “Our work of love reveals to the suffering the love of God for them.” When she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace, she would only accept it if it was given for the glory of God and in the name of the poor. She even refused to allow the traditional banquet after the prize ceremony; instead, she asked them to donate the money so that she could host a big dinner for two thousand people on Christmas Day. She always shared her joy and suffering with the poor people.
Her humble work that started from a small slum in Motijhil has now spread to more than 130 countries. May the life of Mother Teresa inspire us all to serve humanity.
Kainee is associated with Global Hope Network International, a humanitarian organisation