People called her the angel of the poor. Among other awards for her humanitarian work, in 1979 she received the Nobel Peace Prize. She died in 1997 with a reputation for holiness, was Beatified in 2003 by John Paul II and Canonized by Francis in 2016.
And her feast day is September 5.
Few doubt that Teresa’s life is moving and fascinating, although some have made scathing criticisms of her name and work. God’s mercy radiated through her in the depressed corners of Calcutta, with such strength that one feels the temptation to consider her unrepeatable. And each human being is certainly so regarded by the Father.
However, this woman, who ZENIT’s remembers on her Saint’s Day, received grace with so much energy, which multiplied abundantly the numerous talents she received, sowing them in the trembling heart of those brothers and sisters who never experienced another consolation than that which she gave them. Whatever her detractors say, it’s hard to doubt God’s presence and His infinite goodness when examining the testimony of Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu. The seal of the just is easy to recognize because they leave behind them an inextinguishable imprint, such as hers.
“I’m a pencil in God’s hands,” she liked to say. She was Albanian. Born in Skopje, today Macedonia, on August 26, 1910. She acquired Indian citizenship in 1950. She was the youngest of her family. Influenced by her mother’s deep faith, shortly before her 12th birthday and four years after her father’s death, she already considered the possibility of becoming a missionary.
She was active in the Sacred Heart parish. One day, being before the image of the Virgin of Letnice, she felt she must consecrate herself to God. While waiting to be of age to enter an order, she affiliated herself to the Daughters of Mary, where her vocation was born for the disadvantaged. At 18 she entered the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Loreto Sisters) located in Ireland. Wishing to emulate the Saint of Lisieux, she took the name, Teresa.
A few months later she went to India. She arrived in Calcutta on January 6, 1929. In 1931 she began to teach in St. Mary’s school for girls, run by the Community. She was appointed the school’s Directress in 1944, and held this office until 1948 when she was authorized to dedicate herself wholly to the care of the “poorest of the poor.” She had all the qualities for it: audacity, abnegation, a spirit of sacrifice, compassion, daring, temper, mercy, fortitude, fidelity, organizational gifts, unfathomable faith, etc. Everything she did was permeated with joy.
However, before, as she was a woman of profound prayer, she began to perceive a new way she should follow. She called it a “call within a call.” It happened on September 10, 1946, when she was on her way to Darjeeling for the annual retreat, which marked the beginning of an irreversible passage, in which her longing to love Christ and others totally filled her life.
In the midst of a series of locutions and visions, her thirst grew to find “victims of love” for Christ. In one of them, she felt that Christ said to her: “Come and be my light. I can’t go alone.” And she was directed by Christ to the most disadvantaged group on earth for whom, as He himself indicated to her, she should found a Congregation. She endured two years of trials and difficulties until August of 1948, when she obtained the necessary permission and, dressed in her spotless cotton sari, she was determined to palliate all human suffering possible, sparing no effort or sacrifice.
After a very brief stay with the Missionary Medical Sisters of Patna – training for her mission — and with the Little Sisters of the Poor, she began her work in December of that year. She would receive the Eucharist and, with her Rosary in hand, would go out to find the sick and the dying, “the undesired, the unloved, those that no one cared for,” be they men, women, children or elderly, and she did the same no matter what the sicknesses they suffered. Neither repugnance, nor fear of contagion, or making any selection, Mother Teresa had no other horizon than to cover the patient with her tenderness. She cared for, washed and cured with delicacy and mercy, all those on the street where they were and also in their homes. She saw the symbiosis between love and prayer: “God has created us to love and to be loved, and this is the beginning of prayer, to know that He loves me, that I have been created for greater works,” and that holiness isn’t a selective luxury but a duty of all.
Soon some of her former pupils joined her work and thus the Congregation of the Missionaries of Charity arose, founded in October of 1950 and approved by Paul VI in 1965. Born after were the Missionary Brothers of Charity, the Contemplative Missionaries of Charity and the Missionary Fathers of Charity. She also created Mother Teresa’s collaborators, and the Sick and Suffering collaborators. In addition, she initiated the Corpus Christi Priestly Movement. She fought against abortion — “a child is a gift of God for the family,” she said — and against euthanasia. She opened centers in different parts of the world for lepers, the blind, the elderly, and Aids patients, as well as orphanages for poor and abandoned children. She believed that “works of love are always works of peace.”
Spiritually, she lived a prolonged “dark night” until the end of her days, which increased her thirst for divine love. “To be genuine, love must cost us . . . Our sufferings are God’s kind caresses, calling us to turn to Him, and to make us recognize that we don’t control our lives, but that God has the control, and we can trust fully in Him.” For her heroic work, she was awarded significant prizes, such as the Nobel Peace Prize, which she received in 1979. John Paul II visited her in 1986, in the renowned “Home of the Dying.” She died on September 5, 1997, with the joy of having appointed a new Superior General and with her foundation spread in several countries. The government of India gave her a state funeral, and she was immediately acclaimed worldwide with a reputation of holiness. John Paul II Beatified her on October 19, 2003, and Pope Francis Canonized her on September 4, 2016.