The Paragon of Love

“Oh! Thou, the heaven’s rosebud!
The benevolent mother,
Thy Wholehearted venture
For the ‘poorest of the poor’
Thou grieved the most, yet
The wrinkled face of thine, sparkling with joy
minding the homeless, feeding the hunger
The scent of warmth thou shepherded, still,
Breezes with the winds of virtue and,
Babbles with the waters of humanity”

Mother Teresa, honored as Saint Teresa of Calcutta’, is a Roman Catholic nun who sacrificed her life for Christ and for the poor and was the founder of ‘Missionaries of Charity’, a roman catholic religious congregation. It has been 111 years since the day she was born into an Albanian family as the youngest child of Nikola and Dranafile Bojaxhiu. On the 27th of August, the day after her birth, she was baptized in Skopje (since she was baptized on that day, she considered it as her real birthday) with the name Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu (Gonxhe means “rosebud” or “little flower” in Albanian). It was very unfortunate that her father died mysteriously when she was eight. Since Nikola was involved in political affairs, they believed that there might be a political conflict behind his death. However, this was the point that strengthened the bond between Agnes and her mother who was a very devout and compassionate lady. Once, when they were dining with a group of people, Agnes asked her mother about the people who were sitting with them. Dranafile responded, “Some of them are our relations, but all of them are our people.”. Perhaps, that would be where this woman of sympathetic revolution was first taught to consider all the people as hers; the concept of ‘Our people’.

Agnes took her primary education at a convent-run primary school and then went to a state-run secondary school. She was in the local Sacred Heart choir. Agnes decided to commit her life to religion at the early age of her life and was only eighteen when she left the house to join the Sisters of Loreto at Loreto Abbey in Rathfarnham, in Ireland with the intention of becoming a missionary. That was the day when she saw her family for the last time of her life journey. In 1929 Agnes began her training period as a nun in Darjeeling, India and there she learned Bengali and Hindi fluently. Agnes took her initial religious vow on 24th May 1931 and there was a custom for women to change their names when they enter a convent as a symbol that they are leaving behind their old life for a new one, so she changed her name to ‘Sister Mary Teresa’. She worked as a teacher at Saint Mary’s High School for girls that was run by Loreto Sisters which was dedicated for the well-being of girls. She took her Final Vow on May 24th, 1937, with the title of ‘Mother’ (It was a custom among Loreto nuns.) and then was known as ‘Mother Teresa’. 

While she was working as a teacher, she experienced the misery of people who were suffering from poverty which made her uncomfortable and depressed. She saw the brutality of the Bengal famine of 1943 (a famine during World War II) and the Direct Action Day (large-scale violence between Hindus and Muslims in the city of Calcutta) that annihilated the lives of the poor. During her ride to Darjeeling by train for her annual treat, she got the second calling (I believe that the first call was heard before she decided to commit her life to the Christ) of her inner conscience that she later referred to as ‘The call within the call or Call within a call’ in which she admitted the desires of her own heart; caring for the ‘poorest of the poor’. She asked for official permission to leave the Loreto Convent in order to accomplish her ambitious goal of humanity. She followed six months of medical training in Patna and came back to assist ‘the unwanted, the unloved, the uncared for’.

As an activist, the service that Mother Teresa did was incomparable with other social workers. She started her ventures of humanity in 1948 by setting up a school in Motijhil, Kolkata. In October 1950, this amazing lady established ‘Missionaries of Charity’, a Roman Catholic religious congregation, with a group of virtuous people including some of the former teachers or pupils from St. Mary’s school. She had to face so many hardships to continue her charity. Teresa mentioned in her diary the difficulties that she faced in the very first year of her charity work saying that there were times she had to beg for food and she had no money to survive. She was going through all those deprivations in order to protect all her people. Her attempts as a single woman for a better humankind was appreciated by the Indian officials, including the prime minister and lots of volunteers came forward to aid her with donations. Her charitable work was expanded throughout the world by installing branches of the congregation with hundreds of brothers and thousands of sisters. 

She started orphanages, hospices and leper houses to look after numerous helpless people. She rescued 37 children who were trapped in a hospital by brokering a temporary cease-fire between the Israeli army and Palestinian guerrillas with the support of Red Cross workers. She even traveled through the war zone to the hospital to evacuate the young patients. She visited Armenia after the 1988 earthquake and traveled to assist the hunger in Ethiopia, radiation victims at Chernobyl and earthquake victims in Armenia. In 1991 she returned to Albania for the first time and opened a Missionary of Charity Brothers home in Tirana. In simple words she cared for ‘the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers, all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society, people that have become a burden to the society and are shunned by everyone

Mother Teresa was honored for her boundless generosity. She was praised by the whole world and was awarded the ‘Padma Shri’ in 1962 and the ‘Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding’ in 1969. Later she received several other Indian awards, including the ‘Bharat Ratna’  in 1980 which was the highest civilian award in India. She received the ‘Ramon Magsaysay Award for Peace and International Understanding’ in 1962 and most importantly won the ‘Nobel Peace Prize’ in 1979 when she rejected the conventional ceremonial banquet for laureates and requested the authority to give that expenditure to the poor in India. On the other hand she was criticized for her raising her voice against abortion and contraception. Since it was very natural to face such things when working for the people’s good, she was not concerned about the mud thrown by the opposition and continued her charity for the sake of her people.

Even though she was frequently suffering from several illnesses, she carried on her work disregarding her own health. As a result of deteriorating health, including heart, lungs and kidney problems, Mother Teresa died on September 5, 1997, at the age of 87, but the work she did for the world is still continued and handled by the authorized parties. The lesson of virtue and humanity that she taught to the world still remains in the hearts of her people. Mother, on behalf of all your people we celebrate you today, tomorrow and every other day since you have been one of the greatest women of all time and the missions of affection you spread will dwell in our souls forever. Please welcome this heartfelt gratitude offered by Colombo Beacon. Wishing you joy on your birthday in Heaven!



Design by – Shanaka Vishwantha

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