“For the honour of the Blessed Trinity… we declare and define Blessed Teresa of Calcutta (Kolkata) to be a Saint and we enrol her among the Saints, decreeing that she is to be venerated as such by the whole Church……. We may have some difficulty in calling her ‘Saint’ Teresa…. Her holiness is so near to us, so tender and so fruitful that we continue to spontaneously call her Mother,” Pope Francis said hailing Mother Teresa as the personification of maternal love.
18 years ago…. Sep. 5th 1998… Lucknow… !! As the school bell rang, all the students gathered in the assembly hall for morning prayers. After the prayers, special assembly was conducted in the honour of the teachers. It was former President Dr S. Radhakrishnan’s birthday, celebrated as Teachers’ Day all over India. After the assembly was over, all the kids headed for their respective classes. Being a special day for us, we teachers didn’t have to teach that day, instead had to just stay in our classes and interact with the students. I was 9th Grade’s Class Teacher. All children were happy as they had gotten an opportunity to have a closer interaction with ‘most of the time’ sombre teacher. They all requested me to share something about my favourite teacher and my role model in my childhood.
The interaction took me to my infantile days when I was studying in a Missionary Primary School in Kanpur. I was in Nursery Class and Sister Nancy, a Nun, was not only my Class Teacher, but also my favourite one too. The love and affection with which she used to make us learn all the rhymes…. Make us all stand in a queue and move like a train singing a song “Mannu Bhai Motor Chali Pam Pam Pam” … made me head over heels enthralled by Sister Nancy…. I just wanted to be like her after I grew up.
Sister Nancy not only used to recite ‘Nature Poems’, narrate ‘Moral Stories’, but also, tell us tales about the services Mother Teresa did for the human kind. The tales used to affect deep somewhere inside my heart…. “Oh…. how difficult it must have been for The Mother to sacrifice her whole life… how Great she was… indeed a Saint…” I used to wonder…!! Sister Nancy told us that though Mother Teresa was an Albanian, she came to India in 1929, at the age of 19, became a Nun, served as a teacher for almost twenty years, started her Missionary work with the poor in 1948, and eventually, adopted Indian Citizenship. She was very disturbed to see the poverty and misery here. Her mission was to care for, in her own words, “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.”
In 1952, Mother Teresa opened the first Home for the Dying in Calcutta, called ‘Nirmal Hriday”. Those brought to the home received medical attention and were afforded the opportunity to die with dignity, according to the rituals of their faith; Muslims were read the Quran, Hindus received water from the Ganges, and Catholics received the Last Rites. “A beautiful death”, she said, “is for people who lived like animals to die like angels—loved and wanted.”!!
“And, Ma’am, did she work for international charity as well? “….one of my students asked. “Yes”, I told them, “In 1982, at the height of the Siege of Beirut, Mother Teresa rescued 37 children trapped in a front line hospital by brokering a temporary cease-fire between the Israeli army and Palestinian guerrillas. Accompanied by Red Cross workers, she travelled through the war zone to the devastated hospital to evacuate the young patients.
Mother Teresa travelled to assist and minister to the hungry in Ethiopia, radiation victims at Chernobyl, and earthquake victims in Armenia. In 1991, Mother Teresa returned for the first time to her homeland and opened a Missionaries of Charity Brothers home in Tirana, Albania. By 1996, Mother 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 centres around the world. The first Missionaries of Charity home in the United States was established in the South Bronx, New York; by 1984 the congregation operated 19 establishments throughout the country.”
Joining the conversation, another student said, “Mother Teresa was fluent in five languages: Bengali, Albanian, Serbian, English, and Hindi.” “Yes”, I said and quoted what Mother Teresa once 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.”
“Ma’am, when and why people started calling her ‘Mother…?” One of the inquisitors asked. I told, “As was the custom for Loreto nuns, she took on the title of “Mother” upon making her final vows and thus became known as Mother Teresa.” “Did the world recognize her services…?” Another query… I had understood by then that the kids were completely absorbed, the way we as kids used to… to Sister Nancy’s narration of The Mother. I told the kids, “Mother Teresa was awarded the Padma Shri in 1962 and the Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding in 1969.She continued to receive major Indian awards in subsequent years, including India’s highest civilian award, the Bharat Ratna, in 1980.Her official biography was written by an Indian civil servant, Navin Chawla, and published in 1992.”
I told them, “Not only in India, her missionary services were applauded world over. Among other awards… 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.” Building on this theme in her Nobel Lecture, she said: “Around the world, not only in the poor countries, but I found the poverty of the West so much more difficult to remove. When I pick up a person from the street, hungry, I give him a plate of rice, a piece of bread, I have satisfied. I have removed that hunger. But a person that is shut out, that feels unwanted, unloved, terrified, the person that has been thrown out from society—that poverty is so hurtable and so much, and I find that very difficult.”
I told my students that it was her first death anniversary… she left for her heavenly abode the same day just a year back on Sep 5th 1997…!! I told them that she was my role model and, to which, one of my students responded, rather ardently “Ma’am, Mother Teresa sacrificed all her life to serve people… …. it’s been a year since our Mother left us…. We should show our gratitude to her…. she should be called a “Saint” …”
……. And, suddenly…. My chain of thoughts broke with the videos and images of Mother Teresa being declared a saint by Pope Francis, just a day short of 19 years after her death. On 4th September 2016, during a Ceremony attended by hundreds of thousands of people at the Vatican, finally, our Mother, The Messiah of the poor, whose life was a miracle indeed, who sacrificed all her life for all of us around the globe, who cared for us without any disparity and discrimination of any sort… is finally regarded and recognised as a Saint…