How did a young lady named Angeze Gonxhe Bojxhiu from Skopje, Albania (Macedonia) become the world renowned Saint Teresa of Calcutta (Kolkata)? The answer is simple: God’s “doing” through a person determined to follow Jesus Christ. But how? By serving the poor, widows, fatherless, suffering, sick and the dying. As for me, though canonized to sainthood, she will always remain Mother Teresa.
Religious pundits and atheists alike are all talking or writing about Mother Teresa’s life, mission and challenge. I spent a good part of my youth in that great city of Calcutta (Park Circus, 1954-1969). Since Mother Teresa happened to live and work very close to our home, it was not uncommon for us to meet her, even strike a conversation sometimes. She was lesser known then. In fact, there was another nun at that time – Mother Amy – who was popular and who not only cared for the spiritually ill, but also freely administered homeopathic pills for the physically sick!
I will try to minimize what is already covered through the media and Google etc, and thereby reduce painful repetitions. Instead, I will bring to mind a few of my own recollections. Call it my ten cents worth.
She showed the prodigious energy of Simplicity
She lived a simple life, working tirelessly while at the same time expecting and motivating others in her order to minister with the same zest. With such heavy load of responsibility and pressure, one would have naturally expected her to be a leader of commanding personality – head and shoulders – above the rest. Quite the contrary, she was short and diminutive. Her speeches and sermons were short and often carefully written and read. No wonder the prophet Samuel (1 Sam.16:7) wrote: “For the Lord sees not as man sees; for man looks at the outward but the Lord looks at the heart”. She wisely adopted the common, graceful and modest Indian ladies wear -a plain white saree with blue striped borders as her “uniform”. Her Order is called Sisters of Charity, and that is essentially her talk and her walk; preaching at its finest – without words.
A “Universal” Christian”, who remained a true “Catholic”
She heard the call for Missions early and came to Calcutta in 1948; it was an extremely calamitous time, soon after the British left India in August 1947, with the partition of India and Pakistan. Her call continued – rather reaffirmed – while traveling by train from Calcutta to the hilly areas of India – the county of Darjeeling (famous for Indian Tea and oranges). Since then, she stayed and bloomed where she was planted – Kolkata. It reminded me of Jesus’ words: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). I met her again after many years, this time at the University of Toronto (1976?), where I worked for many years.
India has produced her fair share of wise men/women, founders of religion, yogis, Swamis and Sadhus. Yet, it was these influential leaders who turned to her and called her the most respectful title – The Mother. No wonder, India with it’s 81% of Hindu population honoured her in 1962 with their most prestigious award – The Bharat Ratna (Indian Jewel).
She was also awarded the Nobel Prize in 1979 for work undertaken “in the struggle to overcome poverty and distress, which also constitutes a threat to peace”. Both Vatican City and India just posted commemorative stamps honouring her. Yes, God’s ways are mysterious but marvelous in our eyes.
With all the honours bestowed worldwide, she remained a simple Catholic Nun. She followed Jesus’ beautiful and powerful words: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it for me” (Matthew 25:40, 44-45).
Minimize or extirpate misgivings between religions and denominations
There can be misgivings, even among Christian denominations. Kolkata was no exception. In praise of those church leaders, these ticklish tensions were held in check when they witnessed the real mission of Christ; not only to “seek and to save those who are lost” but also to minister to their dire needs. The catalyst was God through a simple Nun, Mother Teresa!
An honourable reference is in order, for the mutual respect and cooperation between Mother Teresa and the evangelical Assemblies of God Church, Calcutta and their renowned Calcutta Mission of Mercy Hospital. The pastor (late) Dr. Mark Buntain and his dear wife Dr.Mrs. Huldah Buntain (still a missionary to Kolkata) worked closely with Mother Teresa. The Buntains were our pastors and mentors.
In closing, allow me to go back to my question at the beginning of this post and insert a beautiful scripture verse tucked away in the Old Testament and which has a direct bearing to Mother Teresa: “For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth to show himself strong, on behalf of those who is loyal to him” (2 Chronicles 16:9).
God bless, Danny Paul
PS: I will continue on this subject – God willing – as Part II in my next post