Memorial – Saint Teresa of Kolkata, living the Gospel in five words
“You did it unto me” (Matthew 25:40) are just five words but Saint Teresa described these words as the Gospel in summary. For mother Teresa her life of service was but a reflection of her love for Jesus; it came naturally. She did as the Gospels formed her and while some in the world may think she was politically incorrect she was clear; she was no politician but a humble nun who spoke fearlessly of the cherished Gospel values she held.
Minute in body, giant in faith, Mother Teresa was born to an Albanian family on August 26, 1910, and was given the name Agnes Gonxha. At age 18 she chose to become a missionary. and entered the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Dublin, where she received the name of Mary Teresa. The following year she moved to India, where she ministered for nearly 20 years in a school of her congregation, teaching the wealthy young people in the area. On September 10, 1946, Mother Teresa received what she called her “calling within a calling”. That day, Jesus revealed to her His pain at seeing indifference and contempt for the poor, and asked Teresa to be the face of His mercy: “Come, be my light. I cannot go alone.”
On October 7, 1950, Mother Teresa received permission from the Holy See to start her own order, “The Missionaries of Charity”, whose primary task was to love and care for those persons nobody was prepared to look after. In 1965 the Society became an International Religious Family by a decree of Saint Paul VI.
During her life Mother Teresa received more 120 prestigious awards and honours including the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian honour. In 1971, Paul VI conferred the first Pope John XXIII Peace Prize on Mother Teresa, and in 1979 she won the Nobel Peace Prize.
Always ready to help the poor and needy, Mother Teresa was also strongly committed to the defense of life. Her speech at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony on October 17, 1979 was unforgettable. “The greatest destroyer of peace,” she said on that occasion, “is the cry of the innocent unborn child. For if a mother can murder her own child in her womb, what is left for you and for me to kill each other?”.
When a Catholic priest asked if she attempted to convert people, she reportedly answered, “Yes, I convert. I convert you to be a better Hindu, or a better Muslim, or a better Protestant, or a better Catholic, or a better Parsee, or a better Sikh, or a better Buddhist. And after you have found God, it is for you to do what God wants you to do. ”
Mother Teresa died on September 5, 1997, in Calcutta. She was given a state funeral by the Government of India with full military honours. At that time, there were four thousand of her Sisters in the world, present in 610 mission houses spread out in 123 countries. She remains for us the sign that mercy has no boundaries and comes to all, without distinction, because, as Mother Theresa said, “Maybe I do not speak their language, but I can smile.”
At her canonization mass attended by 100,000 pilgrims, including 13 heads of state or government and hundreds of sari-clad nuns from Teresa’s order, Pope Francis said, ‘she had shone a light in the darkness of the many who no longer had tears to shed for their poverty and suffering’. It was clear that her life reflected the kind of Church that Pope Francis is trying to build: one that shows mercy to all and offers practical help for the poorest and for all those in need.
During her lifetime and after her death, Mother Teresa was consistently found by Gallup to be the single most widely admired person, and in 1999 was ranked as the “most admired person of the 20th century.” Notably, Mother Teresa out-polled all other volunteered answers by a wide margin, and was in first place in all major demographic categories except the very young and that is the reason why we need to talk of who she was and what she did lest her very life and witness becomes a blur in the life of our Catholic children and youth.