September 5, 2017, marks the 20th death anniversary of Mother Teresa.
Whether holding a child in her arms or embracing an infirm, or administering to a sick person or assisting the destitute, giving a speech or simply beholding her countenance, Mother Teresa conveyed one simple but powerful message — love and compassion. Her words, her works and her life replicated God’s love and compassion to the poor and those in pain. The “living saint” in her lifetime, was officially declared a saint by Pope Francis at St Peter’s Square on 4 September 2016, eighteen years after her death.
Born Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu in Skopje, now Republic of Macedonia, then part of Kosovo, on 26 August 1910, she moved to Ireland and later came to India to work as a teacher in Calcutta. She was a Loreto nun until that “inspiration day” in 1946. Distressed at the poverty in the “City of Joy”, while on a train from Calcutta to Darjeeling, she received the “call within a call”. Responding to this call was certainly a conscious action of love to serve the poorest of the poor. With a humble beginning of an open-air school for homeless children, she later moved to slums, visited poor families, washed the sores of children, cared for the ailing, old and infirm and nursed the destitute dying of terminal illnesses in her shelter homes.
On 7 October 1950, Mother Teresa received permission from the Vatican to establish her own order. Initially known as the Diocesan Congregation of the Calcutta, it later came to be popularly known as the Missionaries of Charity. The primary task of the society was to take care of persons whom nobody was prepared to look after. Living a demanding life from dawn to dusk she and her followers cared for “the unwanted, the unloved, the uncared for”. Inspired by her dedicated and committed life and work, members of her order increased rapidly. By the early and mid 1960s, Mother Teresa began to send her Sisters to other parts of India and abroad, and by 1990 her order was present in almost all the seven continents. Even countries like the former Soviet Union and Cuba welcomed her Sisters without any reservation.
The needs of the poor prompted Mother Teresa to found the Missionaries of Charity Brothers in 1963, the contemplative branch of the Sisters in 1976, the Contemplative Brothers in 1979, and the Missionaries of Charity Fathers in 1984. Similarly she formed the Co-Workers of Mother Teresa and the Sick and Suffering Co-workers which included people of different faiths and nationalities with whom she shared her mission of work of love.
The 50 plus years at her adopted home, Calcutta, demonstrated God’s mercy and tender love. She manifested God’s immeasurable and tangible compassion to ‘the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the leprous, the unwanted, the unloved, the uncared, the sick, hungry, destitute and abandoned’. At the service of refugees, former prostitutes, the mentally ill, sick children, lepers, AIDS patients, the aged, she did “something beautiful for God”.