Who was Mother Teresa?
Mother Teresa, born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, and commonly known as Mother Teresa (1910 –1997), was an ethnic Albanian, Indian Roman Catholic nun. In late 2003, she was beatified, the third step toward possible sainthood. A second miracle credited to Mother Teresa is required before she can be recognised as a saint by the Catholic church. Mother Teresa founded the Missionaries of Charity, a Roman Catholic religious congregation, which in 2012 consisted of over 4,500 sisters and is active in 133 countries.
Members of the order must adhere to the vows of chastity, poverty and obedience, and the fourth vow, to give "Wholehearted and Free service to the poorest of the poor". The Missionaries of Charity at the time of her death had 610 missions in 123 countries including hospices and homes for people with HIV/AIDS, leprosy and tuberculosis; soup kitchens; children's and family counselling programmes; orphanages; and schools.
For over 45 years, she ministered to the poor, sick, orphaned, and dying, while guiding the Missionaries of Charity's expansion, first throughout India and then in other countries. Her beatification by Pope John Paul II following her death gave her the title "Blessed Teresa of Calcutta".
Roman Catholic Church
She was the recipient of numerous honours including the 1979 Nobel Peace Prize. She refused the conventional ceremonial banquet given to laureates, and asked that the $192,000 funds be given to the poor in India. Her awards include the first Pope John XXIII Peace Prize, the Philippines-based 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 Honour of the Nation, honorary degrees, the Balzan Prize, and the Albert Schweitzer International Prize among many others.
Mother Teresa stated that earthly rewards were important only if they helped her help the world's needy. When Mother Teresa received the Nobel Peace Prize, she was asked, "What can we do to promote world peace?" She answered "Go home and love your family." In her Nobel Lecture, she said: "Around the world, not only in the poor countries, but I found the poverty of the West so much more difficult to remove. When I pick up a person from the street, hungry, I give him a plate of rice, a piece of bread, I have satisfied. I have removed that hunger. But a person that is shut out, that feels unwanted, unloved, terrified, the person that has been thrown out from society—that poverty is so hurtable [sic] and so much, and I find that very difficult." She also singled out abortion as “the greatest destroyer of peace in the world.”
During her lifetime, Mother Teresa was named 18 times in the yearly Gallup's most admired man and woman poll as one of the ten women around the world that Americans admired most. In 1999, a poll of Americans ranked her first in Gallup's List of Most Widely Admired People of the 20th Century. In that survey, she out-polled all other volunteered answers by a wide margin, and was in first place in all major demographic categories except the very young.
On 10 September 1946, Teresa experienced what she later described as "the call within the call" while travelling by train to the Loreto convent in Darjeeling from Calcutta for her annual retreat. "I was to leave the convent and help the poor while living among them. It was an order. To fail would have been to break the faith." As one author later noted, "Though no one knew it at the time, Sister Teresa had just become Mother Teresa". She began her missionary work with the poor in 1948, replacing her traditional Loreto habit with a simple white cotton sari decorated with a blue border. Mother Teresa adopted Indian citizenship, spent a few months in Patna to receive a basic medical training in the Holy Family Hospital and then ventured out into the slums.
Initially she started a school in Motijhil (Calcutta); soon she started tending to the needs of the destitute and starving. In the beginning of 1949 she was joined in her effort by a group of young women and laid the foundations to create a new religious community helping the "poorest among the poor". Her efforts quickly caught the attention of Indian officials, including the prime minister, who expressed his appreciation.
Teresa wrote in her diary that her first year was fraught with difficulties. She had no income and had to resort to begging for food and supplies. Teresa experienced doubt, loneliness and the temptation to return to the comfort of convent life during these early months. She wrote in her diary:
Our Lord wants me to be a free nun covered with the poverty of the cross. Today I learned a good lesson. The poverty of the poor must be so hard for them. While looking for a home I walked and walked till my arms and legs ached. I thought how much they must ache in body and soul, looking for a home, food and health. Then the comfort of Loreto [her former order] came to tempt me. 'You have only to say the word and all that will be yours again,' the Tempter kept on saying ... Of free choice, my God, and out of love for you, I desire to remain and do whatever be your Holy will in my regard. I did not let a single tear come.
Teresa received Vatican permission on 7 October 1950 to start the diocesan congregation that would become the Missionaries of Charity. Its mission was to care for, in her own words, "the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers, all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society, people that have become a burden to the society and are shunned by everyone."
It began as a small order with thirteen members in Calcutta; by 1997 it had grown to more than 4,000 sisters running orphanages, AIDS hospices and charity centres worldwide, and caring for refugees, the blind, disabled, aged, alcoholics, the poor and homeless, and victims of floods, epidemics, and famine.
In 1952 Mother Teresa opened the first Home for the Dying in space made available by the city of Calcutta (Kolkata). With the help of Indian officials she converted an abandoned Hindu temple into the Kalighat Home for the Dying, a free hospice for the poor. She renamed it Kalighat, the Home of the Pure Heart (Nirmal Hriday). Those brought to the home received medical attention and were afforded the opportunity to die with dignity, according to the rituals of their faith; Muslims were read the Quran, Hindus received water from the Ganges, and Catholics received the Last Rites. "A beautiful death," she said, "is for people who lived like animals to die like angels—loved and wanted.”
Mother Teresa soon opened a home for those suffering from Hansen's disease, commonly known as leprosy, and called the hospice Shanti Nagar (City of Peace). The Missionaries of Charity also established several leprosy outreach clinics throughout Calcutta, providing medication, bandages and food. As the Missionaries of Charity took in increasing numbers of lost children, Mother Teresa felt the need to create a home for them. In 1955 she opened the Nirmala Shishu Bhavan, the Children's Home of the Immaculate Heart, as a haven for orphans and homeless youth.
The order soon began to attract both recruits and charitable donations, and by the 1960s had opened hospices, orphanages and leper houses all over India. Mother Teresa then expanded the order throughout the globe. Its first house outside India opened in Venezuela in 1965 with five sisters. Others followed in Rome, Tanzania, and Austria in 1968; during the 1970s the order opened houses and foundations in dozens of countries in Asia, Africa, Europe and the United States. The Missionaries of Charity Brothers was founded in 1963, and a contemplative branch of the Sisters followed in 1976. Lay Catholics and non-Catholics were enrolled in the Co-Workers of Mother Teresa, the Sick and Suffering Co-Workers, and the Lay Missionaries of Charity.
In answer to the requests of many priests, in 1981 Mother Teresa also began the Corpus Christi Movement for Priests, and in 1984 founded with Fr. Joseph Langford the Missionaries of Charity Fathers to combine the vocational aims of the Missionaries of Charity with the resources of the ministerial priesthood. By 2007 the Missionaries of Charity numbered approximately 450 brothers and 5,000 sisters worldwide, operating 600 missions, schools and shelters in 120 countries.
Mother Teresa suffered a heart attack in Rome in 1983, while visiting Pope John Paul II. After a second attack in 1989, she received an artificial pacemaker. In 1991, after a battle with pneumonia while 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, in a secret ballot, voted for her to stay. Mother Teresa agreed to continue her work as head of the order.
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. The Archbishop of Calcutta, Henry Sebastian D'Souza, said he ordered a priest to perform an exorcism on Mother Teresa with her permission when she was first hospitalised with cardiac problems because he thought she may be under attack by the devil.
On 13 March 1997, she stepped down from the head of Missionaries of Charity. She died 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. The Missionaries of Charity were also aided by Co-Workers, who numbered over 1 million by the 1990s.
Mother Teresa lay in repose in St Thomas, Kolkata for one week prior to her funeral, in September 1997. She was granted a state funeral by the Indian government in gratitude for her services to the poor of all religions in India. Her death was mourned in both secular and religious communities. In tribute, Nawaz Sharif, the Prime Minister of Pakistan said that she was "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." The former U.N. Secretary-General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar said: "She is the United Nations. She is peace in the world."
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