Between many spiritual leaders lies the well known Mother Teresa. She was the former head of the Missionaries of charity in Calcutta, India. She ministered to the poorest of the poor and touched the lives of many people. Even though she did many good things, she never saw herself as special or as deserving public acclaim.
Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu was born on August 26, 1910 in Skopje, a town in Macedonia. She had a four year old sister named Age, and a seven year old brother named Lazar. Her father, Nikola Bojaxhiu, was a successful businessman who owned a construction company. He was well known throughout the region for his generous donations to individuals, families, and institutions. Agnes’ mother, Dranafile Bernaj Bojaxhiu ran the household and cared for the children and was known in town for her charitable works toward Skopje’s poor people.
When she was about seven years old her father died, but she felt as she had lost both her parents because her mother was devastated. After this her family became closer to one another and to church. When she was twelve years old she knelt at the feet of the Madonna and child statue and heard her first call of God. “I heard the voice of God calling me to be all his by consecrating myself to him and to the service of my neighbors…. I was singing in my heart, full of joy inside. It was then that I realized that my vocation was for the poor.” Agnes had doubts about accepting God’s call, but that meant giving up her family and the hope to getting married and having children one day.
She read magazines, such as Catholic Missions, that described the lives of missionaries working in extremely poor areas of India. Photographs of starving families moved Agnes’s heart. She began to seriously consider becoming a nun so she turned to Father Jambrenkovic. “Joy that becomes from the depths of your being is like a compass by which you can tell what direction your life should follow,” he told her. “One should follow this, even when one is venturing upon a difficult path.” This was the push she needed, her heart filled with love for God, and she began to prepare for her spiritual journey.
Mother Teresa established the home for the dying to give poor people a place to die with dignity, but it began to overflow and she refused to put comforts or modern conveniences. She said, “Poverty is necessary because we are working with the poor. When they complain about the food, we can say, ‘We eat the same.’ They say, ‘ It was so hot last night, we could not sleep.’ We can reply, ‘We also felt very hot.’ The poor have to wash for themselves, go barefoot; we do the same.” Later on she started a mobile leper clinic, which took medical supplies to government-approved leprosy centers where the nuns treated hundreds of patients at once. In just a few years later, she had evolved from a leader within the schools of Loreto to a leader in Calcutta. During a visit to India, Pope John Paul VI gave Mother Teresa a white Lincoln Continental limousine in which he had been driven, she raffled the car and used the $100,000 to start Shanti Naga, Place of Peace, a leper colony built on land donated by the Indian government. The 1960’s marked the beginning of national and international recognition for Mother Teresa. She earned the Order of the Lotus award from the Indian government and the Magsaysay award from a partnership of Asian nations. Later got the American Good Samaritan award, the Templeton Award for Progress in Religion, and the Pope John XXIII Peace Prize. They always came with cash awards which she accepted for the poor. She traveled to Europe and to the United States, she wanted to raise people’s awareness of poverty in their own country. “Most of the time people don’t even know the existence of the poor. We look and we don’t see….you can find Calcutta all over the world, if you have eyes to see,” she said. Not only had her work spread around the world, but also criticism against her. Many believed she was trying to convert people to Christianity. She answered by saying, “I convert you to be a better Hindu, a better Catholic, a better Muslim…or Buddhist.” Another criticism against her was that she never made attempts to solve the causes of poverty, but only ministered to its effects. She also fought against abortion, her alternative was adoption. “We have sent word to all the clinics and hospitals; do not destroy the child, we will take the child,” Mother Teresa said.
Through her organization, the Missionaries of Charity, she helped thousands of people around the world, receiving the Noble Peace Prize in 1979. Mother Teresa never intended to start a movement or become powerful. On September 6, 1997 missionaries of the charity were telling the world that they had lost their most beloved figure. Mother Teresa had died of heart failure in the motherhouse right after her eighty-seventh birthday. Indian citizens and others came across the region just to say good-bye to Mother Teresa. On her funeral thousands of mourners gathered in Calcutta and waited in long lines just to take a last look at her body. Mother Teresa’s lifelong dedication to the poor had earned her the name “living saint”. For millions of people Mother Teresa has become a lasting symbol of the power of love.
Mother Teresa changed lives of millions of people worldwide. Mother Teresa was influenced by her family to do what she did, which was help many poor and needed people in India. She inspired thousands by her example and deserves to be called a saint.
Ruth, Amy. Mother Teresa. Minneapolis, MN: Lerner Publication Company, 1999. Print.