Mother Teresa

Biography Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu was born August 26, 1910 in Skopje, in Macedonia. Her childhood was comfortable and prosperous due to her father’s success. Her father encouraged his children to be generous and compassionate to those less fortunate. Her mother was very religious and she took the children to morning mass. Agnes often helped her mother deliver parcels of food and money to the poor and prayed with the whole family every evening. The family’s life changed dramatically after their father’s death, when Agnes was 9. Although now poor themselves, they continued to help those less fortunate. Christianity became increasingly important in Agnes’ life. From the age of 12, she was aware of a desire to devote her life to God. As Agnes thought about what she could do for Christ, she started to feel a call for God. In the two years she decided to become a nun. Agnes spent longer periods of time going on retreats and received guidance from her Father Confessor. At the age of 17, she made the decision to become a nun, because she had been taught that chastity is a special and pure grace. This was an important moment for Agnes as she chose a life of self-sacrifice.

Agnes was just 18 when she decided to join the Sisters of Our Lady of Loreto, who were very active in India. On December 1, 1928 the crossing to India started. In the beginning of 1929 they reached Colombo, then Madres and finally Calcutta. The journey continued to Darjeeling, where she completed her training. Agnes was trained in prayer, scriptures, theology, and the spirituality and history of her Order. She started to learn Hindi and Bengali and to improve her English. She taught at the local school and worked in a small medical station. On May 24, 1931, Agnes took her first vows of poverty, chastity and obedience as a sister of Loreto. She chose her name in religious life as St. Theresa of Lisieux. Soon after she went to Calcutta to begin her teaching career. She went to Loreto and for the next 19 years she lived the life of a Loreto nun and an educator of girls in a form of semi-enclosure. Her main subject was geography until she became head mistress. Whenever she left the compound to teach at another school, she would see the slums. Calcutta was a deeply troubled city due to famine, floods and cyclones, which destroyed harvests and the number of beggars in search of food greatly increased. Sister Teresa’s Order demanded her not to go outside and get involved. Sister Teresa’s decision to reject a life of teaching was extremely significant. She describes this as a “call within a call.” She was sure it was God’s voice telling her to leave the convent to help the poor by living with them.

Sister Teresa now 38 went to stay with the Medical Mission Sisters in Pantra to learn some basic nursing skills. She only spent a few weeks there as she had been only given only a year to prove herself. In December she returned to Calcutta to start her own life and moved in with the Little Sisters of the Poor in the slums of Calcutta. Within weeks she was joined by her would be novices, mostly girls from the school where she was head mistress. By 1949, Mother Teresa was granted Indian citizenship. After a 1-year trial, she applied to Rome to form a new congregation. They were called the “Missionaries of Charity.” They worked for Christ, first, and above all and they gave themselves wholeheartedly with free service to the poorest of the poor. On October 7, 1950, Pope Pius XII approved the foundation of the Order of the Missionaries of Charity. As more Sisters joined, they realized the need for a bigger Mother House, which they found at 54A Lower Circular Road. Shortly after this they started a home for dying destitutes, which were often left on the street, because of overcrowded hospitals. Mother Teresa and her lepers brought them back to die with dignity. At the centre of her work, was a total belief in God, whom she loved and trusted. In 1955, she opened a children’s home for those who were homeless, abandoned and sick. In early 1956 she organized her first mobile clinic and also one for the lepers. Within a year there were eight leprosy stations. In February 1965, Pope Paul VI gave permission for her congregation to become a Society of Pontifical Right. In July 1965, the Missionaries opened their first home outside India, in Venezuela and over the next few years others opened up all over the world.

Mother Teresa began to win International awards along with large cash prizes to help her work. By 1970, there were about 585 Sisters, which worked for Mother Teresa. Throughout the 1970’s new centres were opened from Australia to the Middle East. In the middle of 1971, Calcutta suffered horribly. Millions of homeless, starving people poured in from what was to become Bangladesh because of a bloody civil war in Pakistan. The emergency began with a cyclone followed by a tidal wave, shortly after, fighting broke out and the refugees made their way into Bengal, one of the world’s poorest provinces. Mother Teresa and her Sisters tended to the sick and dying. By 1975, the Missionaries had 32 homes for the dying, 67 leprosariums and 28 children’s homes around the world. On October 16 1979, the Nobel Committee pronounced Mother Teresa the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, which she accepted in the name of the poor. At the start of the 1980’s there were 140 slum schools with daily feeding programs for nearly 50 000 people at 304 centres. There were 70 homes looking after 4 000 kids, 81 homes for the dying destitutes, which in 1982 admitted 13 000 people. 12 000 poor women were taught to earn a their living and 6 000 000 sick people were treated at 670 mobile clinics. Mother Teresa managed on 3 to 4 hours of sleep, rising at 4am and going to mass at 6. From 8 until 11 visiting Calcutta homes, talking with the sisters or helping with the work. On December 22, 1988 the Missionaries of Charity opened a house in Communist Moscow, Russia and this was the first religious mission to do so since 1918. From the start of the 1990’s, Mother Teresa’s health started to deteriorate. She suffered from a near fatal heart attack in September 1990. Two years later she had heart disease and pneumonia. In 1993 she fell and broke her ribs, and in July she was in the hospital and a month later fell ill with malaria. However, no matter what condition she was in, she continued to respond to crises. On September 5, 1997, at 9:30pm, the 87-year-old nun suffered a mortal heart attack.

Oppression in India India’s caste system depends on things such as race, tribes, languages, occupations, religion and geographical areas. The 4 classes in the Indian society were strictly segregated. At the top was the class of Brahmans who were treated as divine. Next came the Kshatriya, they were warriors whose duty was to protect the land. Below them were the vaishyas, who were farmers and merchants. Lowest of all were the shudras, or serfs who were treated poorly.

The caste system brought hardship to a society based upon segregation. Caste barriers cut off people from one another. Castes regulate cooking, dining, marriage and occupation, which is fixed at the moment of birth. Every caste was either more or less pure than every other and these attitudes were damaging to all. The system did its greatest harm to the outcasts or “untouchables” that were mainly uneducated and poor.

The poor were oppressed because of the barriers between the castes. They could not get jobs or even an education. Mother Teresa could not defeat the caste system because that was already their way of life. Mother Teresa tried to regain some dignity of these “untouchables” by bringing them in and allowing them to die with dignity.

Christian Message Mother Teresa had a call from God, and she devoted her life to helping the poorest of the poor. When critics attacked her for simply helping the poor, and not helping them change their own lives, she replied, “I don’t pretend to do other than that”. Mother Teresa gave care and love to those from the streets because she felt loneliness was one of the greatest diseases. She was in the forefront to helping AIDS sufferers die with peace, love and dignity. She always said she was neither a medical nor a social, but a religious order. Mother Teresa said “It is Christ we touch in the broken bodies of the starving and the destitute.” Mother Teresa urged many volunteers to “Give Christ to the world, do not keep him to yourself and in doing so use your hands.” Mother Teresa on the significance of death said “For me that is the greatest development of the human life, to die in peace and dignity, because that’s for eternity.” She is a Christian following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. The heart of the Christian message is forgiveness, and in Mother Teresa’s own words “Without forgiveness there can be no real love.” She fully understood the Gospel of love; she practiced it with her whole heart, and through the daily toil of her hands. Through Mother Teresa’s work, many other charities were started. She had a dream, which became a reality. She provided a refuge of last resort for the dying when the alternative was to die alone on the street. The belief that God mandated Mother Teresa is shared by all of her Sisters. The way her life touched others particularly in the West, will probably be considered a far greater achievement than anything she did to change Calcutta. She devoted herself to helping the dying, the destitute, lepers, AIDS victims, orphans and society’s outcasts around the world because she saw in each person the human face of God.