Sometimes refereed to as the "the saint of the gutters," Mother Teresa (1910-1997) was one of the most admired women of the 20th century. A tiny, fail woman, she spent the majority of her life helping the poorest of the poor in her adopted home of Calcutta and setting up charities to assist needy, helpless and ostracized people in 126 countries. Universally loved and respected, she was often called a "living saint" while she was alive.
Mother Teresa was beatified in October 2003 and will likely be named a saint of the Catholic Church someday. According to Newsweek she was "revered by the forgotten and the famous alike. She was tireless in her efforts to care for the ill and destitute, building shelters around the world. She was small but strong, saintly but shrewd...When she appeared, as she often did, at the side of John Paul II, it was the pope who stood in the diminutive nun's shadow."
Summing up her life, Mother Teresa said, "By blood, I am Albanian. By citizenship, an Indian. By faith, I am a Catholic nun. As to my calling, I belong to the world. As to my heart, I belong entirely to the Heart of Jesus." But Private correspondence revealed in 2003 showed how deeply she questioned her faith. In one letter to a friend, she wrote, "Where is my Faith—even deep down right in there is nothing, but emptiness & darkness—My God—how painful is this unknown pain—I have no Faith—I dare not utter the words & thoughts that crowd in my heart -- & make me suffer untold agony."
Books: The 1971 book Something Beautiful for God by Malcolm Muggeridge helped Mother Teresa receive international attention. Indian politician Naveen Chawla wrote her official biography Mother Teresa (published in Britain in 1992). Mother Teresa: A Simple Path (1995, Ballantine) is a compilation of her words and accounts by volunteers.
Mother Teresa's Early Life
The youngest child of an Albanian building contractor and grocer, Mother Teresa was born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu on August, 27, 1910 in Skopje in what is now Macedonia. "Gonxha" means "flower bud." She was so named because she was so pink and chubby when she was born. At that time Skopje was an old city full of churches and mosques in territory controlled for hundreds of years by the Ottoman Turkish Empire. By the time she was in middle school it was part of Yugoslavia.
Mother Teresa was a minority Albanian and Catholic in a Slavic country where Muslims and Orthodox Christians were dominant. When she was eleven her father was murdered. In school, Agnes joined a Catholic lay woman's organization, where she heard about Balkan Jesuits helping the poor in West Bengal. After expressing interest in becoming a nun, the organization put her touch with the Sisters of Loretto, a community of Irish Catholic nuns that ran schools in India.
In 1928, at the age of 18, Agnes left school to join the Sisters of Loretto. After receiving some training as a teacher in a Dublin suburb and taking the name Teresa, after Thérèse of Lisieux, a saint known for her energy and devotion who was born in 1873, joined the Carmelites at 15 and died in 1897 of tuberculosis.
In 1929 Teresa began her novitiate in the mountain resort of Darjeeling, India, where she spent about a year. At that time she spoke broken English and had yet to take her first vows. In 1931, she became a geography teacher at a girl's school in Calcutta for relatively wealthy children and was later appointed headmistress there. In 1939, Mother Teresa took her final vows of chastity, obedience, poverty and service to become a nun. In 1948, she became an Indian citizen.
Mother Teresa's Appearance and Character
Mother Teresa was very short, less than 5 feet tall. Nearly bent over double from osteoporosis, she appeared even shorter in her late years. People who knew said she had incredibly strong hands. Describing her when she was around 40, Bharati Mukjerjee wrote in Time, "I remember...a short sari-wearing woman scurrying down a red grave path between manicured lawns. She would have in tow one or two slower-footed sari-clad young Indian nuns. We thought her a freak...We weren't quite sure what an Albanian was except that she wasn't fully European...She seemed odd to us because we had never encountered a nun who wore a sari."
Mother Teresa lived simply in a small cell-like room with virtually no furniture. She rose early and began her day with prayers and in her later years usually retired around 10:00pm after an hour of evening prayers. Admired both for her compassion and her ability to get things done, she was a strong, willful woman, known for her patience, piety, asceticism, faith and resolve. One admirer said she was always giving, giving, giving and never turned anyone down.
Malcolm Muggeridge, the British author who helped make Mother Teresa famous, wrote, "without the special grace that vouchsafed her, she might have been a hard, even grasping person. God turned these qualities to his own ends." Mother Teresa was described as "tough, stubborn, plain-spoken, down to earth and uncompromising in her views about abortion” She was accused of being controlling and insisting on doing things using old, out-of-date methods.
In the limited amount of free time she had, Mother Teresa sometimes composed prayers, such as this one: Make us worthy, Lord To serve our fellow man Throughout the world who live and die In poverty or hunger. Give them through our hands This day their daily bread. And by our understanding love. Give peace and joy.
Mother Teresa Begins Helping the Poorest of the Poor
In 1946, while on a train to Darjeeling to recuperate from a suspected case of tuberculosis, Mother Teresa said that she received a "call" from God "to serve him among the poorest of the poor." "It was in the train," she later recalled, "that I heard the call to give up all and follow him [Jesus] to the slums.” In 1947, after several requests, she received permission from Pope Pius XII to leave the Sisters of Loretto. A year later she opened her first Calcutta facility, a school in a smelly slum for children of parents to poor to pay for their education. The children at the school called her Mother Teresa.
In 1950, the pope officially endorsed her order and Mother Teresa founded the Congregation of the Missionaries of Charity to take care of the "unwanted, unloved and uncared for." She later recalled that she decided to begin the charity after coming across a woman on the streets "half eaten by maggots and rats." She sat with the woman, stroking her hair until she died. In 1952, Mother Teresa opened the Nirmal Hriday (Pure Heart) Home for the Dying Destitute in a shabby hostel that had once housed pilgrims visiting a temple honoring Kali, the Hindu goddess of death and destruction. Her order opened its first orphanage in 1953 and community for lepers in 1957. The sisters adopted simple white saris with blue trim, made of homespun cotton, as the order's official habit.
The sisters working for Nirmal Hriday made rounds through the slums of Calcutta, picking up the dying in the city's gutters and bring them to a place, where they could die with dignity and compassion. After local citizens complained, a police commissioner visited their clinic. He was overcome by the smells and misery and said that he would close down the clinic only if someone else came forward to carry forward their work. No one did.
People Helped by Mother Teresa's Charities
Mother Teresa's simple message was: "The poor must know that we love them." In addition to the destitute dying in gutters, Teresa and her charities helped lepers missing fingers and hands, infants abandoned in trash heaps, ostracized prostitutes with AIDS, childless couples desperate for a baby, drunks who passed out in the streets, prisoners on death row, malnourished children, homeless alcoholics, drug addicts with nowhere else to turn and a host of other desperate, suffering people.
In her institutions in Calcutta, a legless man makes showers for lepers, a former prostitute learns a new trade and a retired schoolteachers dies among pole she has come to love, widows abandoned by indigent families find solace among people in the same situation as themselves, mentally handicapped women tossed in jail out of a lack of anywhere else to go are taken care of, orphaned children are feed and clothed.
Mother Teresa once said that torching the bodies of the dying and sick was like touching the body of Christ. Looking over the wrapped body of a homeless drifter, one nun at the Missionaries of Charity told AP, "Everyday someone dies. This person is a Hindu, so we are waiting to take him for cremation.” The lepers colony run by Mother Teresa’s organization, 25 miles outside of Calcutta, housed around 1,200 lepers, who lived and worked in neatly painted rooms and could relax in a pleasant garden with sunflowers, acacias and palms.
On the poor, Mother Teresa said, "They are hungry not for food, they are hungry to be recognized as human beings. They are hungry for dignity and to be treated as we are treated. They are hungry for love...The greatest disease in the West today is...being unwanted, unloved and uncared for. We can cure physical disease with medicine but the only cure for loneliness, despair and hopelessness is love."
Mother Teresa insisted that the nuns who worked at her charity should live like the poor they saved. They were not allowed to use washers or dryers and could not buy things like milk and rice in bulk to save shopping time. On these matters Mother Teresa was very stubborn and old school.
Helping the Poorest of the Poor Around the World
In 1965, the Vatican made the Missionaries of Charity a pontifical order, which meant that it could expand outside of India. Mother Teresa set up a center in Venezuela the same year. Centers were later opened in Rome, Yemen, Papua New Guinea, Australia, the South Bronx in New York City, and other places where people where in despair. She said that her goal was to provide "wholehearted free service to the poorest of the poor" whom she regarded as "Christ in his distressing disguise."
Inspired by her work, groups of Catholic brothers, priests and lay people affiliated themselves with the Missionaries of Charity, which grew to organization with 4,500 sari-clad sisters and religious brothers, 450 priests, 168 centers in India, and 65 overseas branches operating 300 relief missions, 100 centers (mostly children's homes) and 600 mobile clinics that treated 4 million people in 126 countries in 1988 alone. The expenses were reportedly met entirely with private donations.
The Missionaries of Charity were also involved in feeding the hungry in Ethiopia, treating radiation victims in Chernobyl, assisting earthquake victims in Armenia and helping the oppressed in South Africa's townships, the Gaza Strip, Rwanda and the Bronx. The order also operated schools, hospitals, youth centers and leper colonies that treated 53,000 lepers.
Anecdotes of Mother Teresa
Mother Teresa: A Simple Path (1995, Ballantine) is a compilation of her words and accounts by volunteers divided into chapters on prayer, faith love, service and peace. Compiled by Canadian writer Lucinda Vardey on the basis of a series of tapped interviews, Mother Teresa explains her simple faith and offers a five-point guide to getting closer to God.
In the book one ex-beautician who came to Calcutta, recalls, "When one of the sisters asked me to wash this woman I just thought, There's no way...She picked up this little bundle of bones...One minute I was saying 'I can't and the next I realized, of course, I could...When I was leaving Calcutta, I said to Mother Teresa, 'I'll come back.' She answered, 'You won't come back—there's a lot to do where you live."
One English volunteer, who was working on a man whose face was so swollen all you could make out was his mouth, told National Geographic journalist Harvey Arden" "At first I could barely cope with the suffering, the body fluids, the excrement. Then one day I looked up at a sign: 'This is the body of Christ.' Suddenly I understood. Not only had God given me strength to do it, but he had filled me with love instead of revulsion.”
Mother Teresa traveled quite a bit, and often she traveled in coach. Once she was given a first class ticket after returning from the U.S. conference. She put a crucifix she was given at the conference in the seat, saying "Our Lord should always go first class," and she her took her place in coach.
Describing what it was like to sit next to Mother Teresa in first class on a flight to receive a humanitarian service award in 1972 from the Kennedy Foundation, Germaine Greer wrote in Newsweek, "I knew I didn't deserve any such thing and felt very awkward. Mother Teresa was right at home. She took not so much as a sip of champagne or a bite of caviar but sat, head bowed, motionless in her enormous seat, while the cabin staff knelt to speak to her in reverently hushed tones, ignoring the rest of us, who were too embarrassed by pure unregenerate sensuality to dare ask for extra champagne."
Mother Teresa and Religion
Although she was a European Catholic who strongly opposed abortion and contraception, Mother Teresa helped Hindus and Muslims, was fluent in Hindi and Bengali, and helped alcoholics, prostitutes and drug addicts as well as lepers and the handicapped. At morning mass, Hindus prostrated themselves at Mother Teresa's feet.
Mother Teresa's biographer Naveen Chawla told AP, "Although she herself remained almost fiercely Roman Catholic, she was able to reach out to people of all religions, and the faithless as well." Some critics accused Mother Teresa of giving Catholic rites to dying Hindus and baptizing Muslim children in her orphanages but no evidence has surfaced to back up these claims. When asked if she converted people, Mother Teresa said, "Of course I convert. I convert you to be a better Hindu, or a better Muslim, or a better Protestant. Once you've found God, it's up to you to decide how to worship him."
In spite of her tolerant views Mother Teresa was quite clear that Jesus was the inspiration for her work. "We are not social workers, not nurses or doctors. We serve Jesus in the poor. We nurse Him, feed Him, clothe Him, comfort Him in the poor, the abandoned, the sick, the orphans," explained one of her workers.
Mother Teresa railed against abortion nearly her entire career. She ran antiabortion campaigns for homeless women in the 1950s. Family planning activists were angered by her repeated condemnations of abortion and contraception. Some advocates claim that Mother Teresa presented a larger obstacle to the international pro-choice movement that the U.S. right to life movement and the Reagan government of the 1980s. "Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching people to love, but to use violence to get what they want," she told a 1994 Congressional prayer meeting attending by President Bill Clinton and Hillart Clinton. "That why the greatest destroyer of peace is abortion."
Late in her life Mother Teresa underwent an exorcism because she felt “the tag of the devil.” The Archbishop of Calcutta told AFP, “She and I were in the same hospital when I noticed she got very agitated at night although she was very peaceful during the day. When there was no medical explanation for it. I concluded it could be the tag of the devil. I then asked a priest to perform an exorcism prayer on her. It lasted for half an hour. I am glad I did....It helped her sleep peacefully during the night.”
Mother Teresa, the Nobel Prize and the Rich and Famous
In 1979, Mother Teresa won the Nobel Peace Prize and was given $192,000. She asked the Nobel committee to cancel the lavish dinner and give the money to the poor. The Nobel committee said that it had chosen her "for work undertaken in the struggle to overcome poverty and distress in the world, which constitute a threat to peace." When she was informed of the honor, she said, "I am not worthy." Among the other honors received by Mother Teresa were the Bharat Ratna (Jewel of India) and Padamashri, India's highest civilian awards and the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom.
During of period of intense fighting in Beirut in 1982, Mother Teresa worked near the Green Line that separated Christian East Beirut from Muslim West Beirut and at one point persuaded both sides to lay down their weapons while she oversaw the rescue of children from a hospital. She was 72 at the time.
Mother Teresa began to receive worldwide attention after a BBC documentary based on the 1971 book Something Beautiful for God by British author Malcolm Muggeridge. In 1984 after people began taking advantage of Mother Teresa's name, a legal document was drafted, which banned all fund -raising in her name.
Pope John Paul II was very fond of Mother Teresa and the two of them often appeared together. The late Princess Diana wanted to be associated with Mother Teresa's work. In 1965, Pope Paul VI gave her a white Lincoln Continental limousine he had used during a visit. She auctioned the car off and used the proceeds to start a leper colony in West Bengal.
Mother Teresa was able to raise millions of dollars with the help of world leaders. She was sought out by heads of state who wanted her to open up centers in their countries. "It is only Mother Teresa who can request American President Bill Clinton anytime to provide help for the suffering and hungry masses in Ethiopia,” one priest in her order told AP.
Criticism of Mother Teresa
A British documentary, Hell's Angel , criticized Mother Teresa for her position on abortion. Articles attacking her for not doing enough to fight the institutions that cause poverty appeared in The Nation and Vanity Fair. Advocates of liberation theology in Latin America criticized her eschewing political involvement to help the downtrodden. She responded that politics was not her calling and she preferred a "revolution of love" based on the teachings of Jesus.
Mother Teresa’s organization reportedly received money from drug traffickers and leaders of strange cults. Among her unsavory supporters were Jean-Claude (Baby Doc) Duvalier, the brutal former dictator of Haiti, and Charles Keating, the man who swindled ordinary Americans out of millions of dollars in the savings and loan scandal of the 1980s. After Keating donated $1.2 million to her mission she wrote a letter to a judge presiding over his trial, saying he "has always been kind and generous to the poor." A letter sent by the deputy D.A. explaining that money should be returned to "its rightful owner" was never answered.
One of the most scathing assessments of Mother Teresa's life appeared in a 1995 book The Missionary Position by British journalist Christopher Hitchens who wrote in the foreword, "Who would be so base as to pick on a wizened, shriveled old lady, well stricken in years, who has consecrated her entire life to the needy and the destitute?" Hitchen accused Mother Teresa of being a religious fundamentalist bent on imposing Roman Catholicism and her views on abortion and birth control on the world.
Among other things Mother Teresa was criticized in Hitchen's book was providing less than adequate medical care in her well-financed Calcutta clinic, taking in huge amounts of money that never reached the poor and checking into some of the West's best hospitals for her own medical care. She does charitable work, he argued, "not for its own sake but...so that she may one day be counted as the beatific founder of a new order and disciple within the Church itself."
Mother Teresa's charities have also been criticized for comforting the dying instead of trying to make them well again and being content with "hovel to hovel" approach instead of devising a large program to eradicate poverty. Visitors to her mission described young men in their twenties with tuberculosis who probably could have been cured of their diseases with aggressive treatment but instead were given minimal treatment and allowed to die. "The point is not honest relief of suffering but the promulgation of a cult based on death and suffering and subjection." "I think it is very beautiful for the poor to accept their lot, to share it with passion of Christ," she is quoted saying in Hitchen's book. "I think the world is being much helped by the suffering of the poor people."
Mother Teresa's Death
Mother Teresa died in September, 1997, just days after her 87th birthday. After finishing dinner at the headquarters for her religious order in Calcutta, she complained about a pain in her back. She had spent the day doing paperwork for her network of 584 centers and making arrangements to attend the funeral of Princess Diana. As she prepared for her nightly prayers, around 9:00pm, she was suddenly stricken by chest pains. After telling the sisters she felt "giddy" she collapsed on her bed unconscious.
The doctor that rushed to the convent to treat her said, "She regained consciousness, and only had enough strength to put her hand on her chest and say, 'I cannot breathe.'" A nun's claim that her last words were "Jesus, I love you. Jesus, I love you" was not backed up by the doctor. At 9:32 on September 4, 1997, Mother Teresa died. Shortly afterwards, one nun said, "Everybody rushed to the Mother's room. They were all around her, wailing, and hugging the Mother's body." That night the nuns peeled a large metal bell and around 4,000 people gathered in the rain outside. One Muslim cart-puller cried, "Our Mother is gone!"
Mother Teresa was placed on a bed of ice and one by one by the nuns filed past her body, touching her barefoot in a traditional Indian gesture of respect. Doctors of one of Mother Teresa's best friends, a nun who was very sick and in the hospital, told nurses to "tie her to the bed" after the nun began asking when she could leave after being near death only a couple days before.
Mother Teresa had suffered from numerous aliments in the preceding years. In November 1996, Mother Teresa had come very close to dying. She underwent coronary surgery, was outfit with a pacemaker, and her heart stopped at one point for nearly a minute. After suffering two heart attacks in 1990 she announced her plans to resign but she resumed her position after the sisters she picked were unable to succeed her.
After hearing that Mother Teresa had died Clinton interrupted his golf game, observed a moment of silence and said that the world had lost "one of the giants of our time." A spokesman for John Paul II said "her death touched his heart very deeply" and she was an "eloquent example to all, believers and non-believers." But perhaps Coretta Scott King said it best when she said, "Our world has lost the most celebrated saint of our times.”
Mother Teresa's Funeral
Mother Teresa was given a state funeral with full honors, a signification of reverence usually reserved for state leaders such as presidents and prime ministers. Her body was transported through the streets of Calcutta on the same gun carriage that bore the body of Gandhi in 1948 and Nehru in 1964. She was sent of with an honor guard and gun salute and street barricades.
The service was held in Calcutta's Nejtaji Indoor Stadium, where special couches were provided for VIPs like Hillary Clinton, Corazon Aquino of the Philippines, the queens of Spain, Belgium and Jordan and the presidents of Italy and Ghana. The Vatican secretary of state read an eulogy and a choir of nuns sang in Hindi and Bengali, accompanied by Indian instruments, as presents were delivered to the altar by the crippled and destitute.
Ordinary Indians and the poor were not allowed in the stadium for the funeral service. Earlier, they filed into the St. Thomas's church, where she lay in state underneath an Indian flag for a week. At a rate of around 50,000 people a day, mourners viewed her embalmed body inside a glass case. Some of them waited in lines over two kilometers long in monsoon downpours. Barricades held back an estimated half million people that turned up for the funeral procession. As a concession to the poor, two buses filled with lepers and handicapped people were allowed to follow behind her casket.
Mother Teresa was buried in an antechamber at the headquarters of the Missionaries of Charity. The Indian government declared a day of national mourning in her honor. Her grave is now marked by a large concrete tomb and is often surrounded by kneeling nuns and admirers. In March 2001, a life-size bronze statue of Mother Teresa made by British sculptor Jonathan Wylder was unveiled at the Missionaries of Charity.
Making Mother Teresa a Saint
In October 2003, Mother Teresa was beautified by Pope John Paul II in a ceremony held in St. Peter’s Square before more than 250,000 people. Pope John Paul II was a great admirer of Mother Teresa. He required all the cardinals to show up for the ceremony and called her an “icon of the Good Samaritan” and said in a speech: “Even in our days God inspires new models of sainthood...In her, we perceive the urgency to put oneself in a state of service, especially for the poorest and most forgotten, the last of the last.”
Beautification is the last step before canonization (formally being names a saint). The canonization of Mother Teresa is expected to be the quickest ever. Her beautification was one of the fastest ever. Pope John Paul II made it a "fast track" priority. The canonization process began two years after her death instead of the customary five years. It is said Pope John Paul II wanted to skip the beautification and name her saint straight away before he died, but in the end he bowed to church conventions.
In most cases the process to name a candidate a saint begins at least five years after their death and requires the verification of at least two miracles. The pope has the power to waive the miracle rule and the five year rule. In March 1999, the Vatican waved the five year to consider sainthood for Mother Teresa. One Vatican cardinal told TIME, "I think the Pope would like an acceleration, even though he has great respect for the procedures." A priest at the Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of Saints, said, "Al rules regarding beatification and canonization are Church rules, part of Canon Law. The Pope is above the law, and could in theory make Mother Teresa a saint tomorrow."
Officials said the were able to do the investigation quicker because they had access to “computers, scanners and search engines.” Altogether 35,000 pages in 67 volumes of information was gathered on her, most of it testimonials by people who knew Mother Teresa and were required to answers a questionnaire with 263 questions.
Miracles Performed by Mother Teresa
One miracle accepted by the Vatican is needed to be beautified. Two are needed to be accepted as a saint. There is no shortage of miracles attributed to Mother Teresa. The Vatican and the Missionaries of Charity have been "deluged" by letters from people who have claimed to be miraculously cured. Several of them have already been verified by doctors. Shortly after Mother Teresa's death was the report of the first miracle: a sister deathly ill with cirrhosis of the liver said she prayer to Teresa and was cured over night.
In 2002, Pope John Paul II, approved the miracle required for beautification. The miracle involved a woman named Monica Besra who was cured, it was said, of an incurable cancerous abdominal tumor one year after Mother Teresa died. Five hours after nuns from her order tied a medal with Mother Teresa’ image on it around the woman’s waist the tumor is said to have completely disappeared. As she was being cured Besra said the metal emitted a bright light.
Besra is an illiterate mother of five. She claimed that the tumor caused considerable pain and trips to the hospital bore no fruit, “For two months I had terrible pain, and I was crying. I was not able to sleep; I could lay only on the left side and I couldn’t stand straight.” The medallion that was given had been placed on Mother Teresa’s body after she died. Besra went to sleep with it bound to her stomach. When she awoke she said, “My stomach became smaller and smaller. In three days I was completely all right, I am sure Mother Teresa made me all right.”
Some controversy surrounded ths miracle. Doctors in India said she was treated routinely and successfully for a cyst caused by tuberculosis. A doctor who was in charge of Besra’s case told the New York Times the Vatican never contacted him. “It was not a miracle. She took medicine for months to one year.” Besra’s husband also dismissed the talk of a miracle. “It’s much ado about nothing,” he said. “My wife was cured by the doctors and not any miracle.” The hospital records were taken by a Missionaries of Charity nuns and never returned. The nuns were under strict orders not to talk to press. Besra was present at the beatification and insisted that Mother Teresa was instrumental in curing her. Near Calcutta, the rationalist society held an “antisuperstition” protest and called the whole thing a sham.
Other Miracles Performed by Mother Teresa
People who say they have been cured by miracles attributed to Mother Teresa include; 1) a Chicago bank executive who had been in a wheel chair for 12 years and was gained strength after a personal blessing from Mother Teresa and now can walk; 2) a worker a rubber factory with leprosy who "skin started improving immediately" after a blessing from Mother Teresa; and 3) a terminal cancer patient in Tel Aviv who was cured by Mother Teresa's "magic touch."
On a young Hindu woman from northern Bengal, the Archbishop of Calcutta said, "The doctors found she had a large growth but after she prayed to Mother Teresa the growth disappeared...She attributed the disappearance to the prayer she said to Mother Teresa."
A French woman with broken ribs said she was immediately cured when she wore a Mother Teresa medal around her neck. A mother claimed her premature baby miraculously survived after it was dropped off at Mother Teresa's mission. A paranoid schizophrenic, who experienced dozen of anxiety attacks a day, said he was cured after receiving a blessing.
Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity After Her Death
Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity’s is regarded as the fastest growing religious order in the Catholic Church. As of 2003 it had 4,500 sisters and around 700 homes of various sorts in 130 countries. Nuns wear blue-trimmed white saris that were once associated with street sweepers in Calcutta. As for the main facility in Calcutta, the place is clean, food is regular but medicines are in short supply. Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist and atheist workers from all over the world work there as volunteers. Not all of their methods are ideal. One of sister was fined for trying to cure a 7-year-old girl of stealing by scalding her with boiling water.
Every year on Mother Teresa’s birthday, followers and admirers gather at her tomb and sing birthday songs. In Rome you can buy a various object with Mother Teresa’s image, A rosary box costs $3.50; a wall plaque, $29. A carefully crafted and painted life-size statue will set you back $1,650. Macedonia and Albania engaged in a bitter dispute over who could rightfully claim Mother Teresa as their own (she was an Albanian born in Skopje which is now in Macedonia).
In 2003, in conjunction with Mother Teresa’ beatification, a play called Mother Teresa, the Musical began being performed in Rome. It featured an actress playing the nun dancing with a chorus line representing the sick and poor to reggae and funk. Displayed at the time of her beatification were pieces of cloth that she had touched and tattered clothes with blood on them.
Describing a scene from the musical Alan Cowell wrote in the New York Times, “The frail figure in white fringed with blue glided towards the ragged man in crutches whose hands are bandaged against some dire malady, leprosy perhaps...’Yes, you can dance,’ she whispers’...The crutches are discarded, the spotlights flash red and blue, the music booms. Stiffly at first like a marionette on strings, the man does indeed dance, shaking his loincloth to rhythm. A miracle!”
In March 1996, the Missionaries of Charity selected Sister Nirmala, a Hindu convert, to take Mother Teresa's place, then it became clear she was too weak to take care of her duties. When the decision was made the 63-old-nun said, "I am in dreamland right now. It's a big responsibility." Sister Nirmala refused to accept the title Mother, saying, "We've deliberately chosen to keep that title only for 'Mother.' For our love for 'Mother." We shall all be sisters."
Inspired by Mother Teresa and born into a Hindu priestly class, Sister Nirmala was born in Nepal and converted to Christianity when she was in her twenties. She headed the order's contemplative wing and was chosen partly because of a request from Pope John Paul II to pick someone on the basis of their religious faith rather than administrative skills.
Sister Nirmala has a shy smile and she slightly overwhelmed in her first press conference with the world press after Mother Teresa's death, when she was assaulted with question about condoms and accepting money from drug dealers and dictators.
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated June 2015