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Mother Teresa

Teresa was born Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu on August 26, 1910 into an Albanian family in Skopje, Ottoman Empire (now the capital of the Republic of Macedonia)x. She was the youngest of the children of Nikollë and Dranafile Bojaxhiu. Her father died in 1919 when she was eight years old. In her early years Agnes was fascinated by stories of the lives of missionaries and their service in Bengal, and by age 12 had become convinced she should commit herself to a religious life. Agnes left home in 1928 at the age of 18 to join the Sisters of Loreto at Loreto Abbey in Rathfarnham, Ireland, to learn English, hoping to become a missionary. She arrived in India in 1929, and began her novitiate in Darjeeling where she learned Bengali and taught at St. Teresa's School, a schoolhouse close to her convent. She took her first religious vows as a nun on May 24, 1931. At that time she chose to be named after Thérèse de Lisieux and opted for the Spanish spelling of Teresa. She took her solemn vows on May 14.1937, while serving as a teacher at the Loreto convent school in Calcutta. Teresa served there for almost twenty years and in 1944 was appointed headmistress.

Although Teresa enjoyed teaching at the school, she was increasingly disturbed by the poverty surrounding her in Calcutta. The Bengal famine of 1943 brought misery and death to the city; and the outbreak of Hindu/Muslim violence in August 1946 plunged the city into despair and horror.

 

Missionaries of Charity

On September 10, 1946, Teresa experienced what she later described as "the call within the call."  "I was to leave the convent and help the poor while living among them. It was an order. To fail would have been to break the faith."

She began her missionary work with the poor in 1948, replacing her traditional Loreto habit with a simple white cotton sari decorated with a blue border. Teresa adopted Indian citizenship, spent a few months in Patna to receive a basic medical training in the Holy Family Hospital and then ventured out into the slums. Initially, she started a school in Motijhil; soon she started tending to the needs of the destitute and starving. In the beginning of 1949, she was joined in her effort by a group of young women and laid the foundations of a new religious community helping the "poorest among the poor." She had no income and had to resort to begging for food and supplies.

With Vatican permission, on October 7, 1950 Teresa started the diocesan congregation that would become the Missionaries of Charity. Its mission was to care for, in her own words, "the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers, and 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."

It began as a small congregation with 13 members in Calcutta; by 1997 it had grown to more than 4,000 sisters running orphanages, AIDS hospices and charity centers worldwide, and caring for refugees, the blind, disabled, aged, alcoholics, the poor and homeless, and victims of floods, epidemics, and famine.

In 1952, Mother Teresa opened the first Home for the Dying in space made available by the city of Calcutta. Teresa later opened a home for those suffering from Hansen's disease, commonly known as leprosy. The Missionaries of Charity also established several leprosy outreach clinics throughout Calcutta, providing medication, bandages and food.

As the Missionaries of Charity took in increasing numbers of lost children, Mother Teresa felt the need to create a home for them. In 1955 she opened a haven for orphans and homelessyouth.


The congregation soon began to attract both recruits and charitable donations, and by the 1960s had opened hospices, orphanages and leper houses all over India. Mother Teresa then expanded the congregation throughout the globe. Its first house outside India opened in Venezuela in 1965 with five sisters. Others followed in Rome, Tanzania, and Austria in 1968; during the 1970s the congregation opened houses and foundations in dozens of countries in Asia, Africa, Europe and the United States.

The Missionaries of Charity Brothers was founded in 1963, and a contemplative branch of the Sisters followed in 1976. In 1981 Mother Teresa also began the Corpus Christi Movement for Priests. By 2007 the Missionaries of Charity numbered approximately 450 brothers and 5,000 sisters worldwide, operating 600 missions, schools and shelters in 120 countries.

 

International charity

Teresa said "By blood, I am Albanian; by citizenship, an Indian; and 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." Fluent in five languages she made occasional trips outside India for humanitarian efforts.

By 1996 Teresa was operating 517 missions in more than 100 countries. Over the years, Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity grew from twelve to thousands serving the "poorest of the poor" in 450 centers around the world.

 

Declining health and death

Teresa suffered a heart attack in Rome in 1983 while visiting Pope John Paul II. After a second attack in 1989, she received an artificial pacemaker. In 1991, after having pneumonia while in Mexico, she suffered further heart problems.

On March 13, 1997, she stepped down as the head of Missionaries of Charity. She died on September 5, 1997.

At the time of her death, Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity had over 4,000 sisters, and an associated brotherhood of 300 members, operating 610 missions in 123 countries. These included hospices and homes for people with HIV/AIDS, leprosy and tuberculosis, soup kitchens, children's and family counselling programs, personal helpers, orphanages and schools. The Missionaries of Charity were also aided by co-workers, who numbered over 1 million by the 1990s.

 

Recognition and awards

Teresa was honored by both governments and civilian organizations. She was appointed an honorary Companion of the Order of Australia in 1982. President of the United States Ronald Reagan presented Mother Teresa with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in June 1985.  In 1962, Mother Teresa received the Philippines-based Ramon Magsaysay Award. Pope Paul VI awarded her the first Pope John XXIII Peace Prize

In 1979, Mother Teresa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, "for work undertaken in the struggle to overcome poverty and distress, which also constitutes a threat to peace." She refused the conventional ceremonial banquet given to laureates, and asked that the $192,000 funds be given to the poor in India, stating that earthly rewards were important only if they helped her help the world's needy. When Mother Teresa received the prize, she was asked, "What can we do to promote world peace?" She answered "Go home and love your family." She also singled out abortion as "the greatest destroyer of peace today. Because if a mother can kill her own child – what is left for me to kill you and you kill me – there is nothing between."

 

Spiritual life

Analyzing her deeds and achievements, John Paul II asked: "Where did Mother Teresa find the strength and perseverance to place herself completely at the service of others? She found it in prayer and in the silent contemplation of Jesus Christ, his Holy Face, and his Sacred Heart." Privately, Mother Teresa experienced doubts and struggles over her religious beliefs which lasted nearly 50 years until the end of her life.

Many other saints had similar experiences of spiritual dryness, or what Catholics believe to be spiritual tests such as Mother Teresa's namesake, St. Therese of Lisieux, who called it a "night of nothingness."

 

Miracle and beatification

After Mother Teresa's death in 1997, the Holy See began the process of beatification. In the process of examining Teresa's suitability for beatification and canonization, seventy-six documents totaling 35,000 pages based on interviews with 113 witnesses who were each asked to respond to 263 questions were submitted for her canonization. On December 17, 2015 the Vatican confirmed a second miracle attributed to her. Pope Francis canonized her at a ceremony on September 4, 2016 in St. Peter's Square.

 

The information provided in this article was obtained from various authors to Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

 

Jim Fritz

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