Tuesday 9 August 2011

Mother Teresa

Mother Teresa Leadership through Selfless Service  
As you did to one of the least of these my
brethren,  you did it to me
Jesus (Mt 25:40)
On  December 10, 1979, the Aula Magna of the University of Oslo was packed with dignitaries from all over the world. They assembled to witness the presentation ceremony of the Nobel Peace Prize to a simple nun, who made service to the poor her sole vocation. As the slightly bent, frail little figure of the holy woman with deeply wrinkled face - clad in her customary white sari fringed with blue, glided towards the podium, the entire audience spontaneously rose to its feet as a measure of respect to this luminous messenger of God’s love.
  In accepting the honour, she said in her low gentle voice: ‘I am grateful to receive  (the Nobel) in the name of the hungry, the naked, the homeless, of the crippled, of the blind, of the lepers, of 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 spoke about simple things, about love, compassion, sharing and caring. She was never considered a genius. Yet she became the most well-known and widely acclaimed woman of the twentieth century in as much as Javiar Parez de Cuellar, the Secretary-General, who introduced her to the United Nations as “the most powerful woman in the world”.
She travelled to every corner of the globe and rubbed shoulders with kings and queens, presidents and prime ministers alike. In fact, being seen and photographed with Mother Teresa became fashionable. Wherever she went she drew large crowds. Whenever she spoke,  the world listened. Her popularity was the envy of all.
She once remarked: “I have been to so many meetings. There were important and intelligent speeches. I said simple things, even stupid things, things like a child would say. But people are longing for those things.”
The crowd ran after her, sometimes only to gaze on her, often detaining her to ask for prayers or begging her to hear their hurts. At every airport,  reporters were ready for Mother Teresa.
She received  many awards, prizes, decorations and citations. She gained celebrity status and stardom in her lifetime and even after her death, she has taken the fastest route to sainthood ever granted by the Papacy.
Missionaries of Charity, the Order she founded in 1952, has grown from a one-woman unit to a worldwide dynamic organisation.  She became a role model that many cherished to emulate. Like a true leader – she ‘showed the way’.
“We know well what her secret was”, explained Pope John Paul II, “she was filled with Christ and thus looked at everyone with the eyes and heart of Christ. Her love was concrete, diligent; it pushed her to go to where few had the courage to go, where misery was so great that it filled people with fear. Mother Teresa marked the history of our century with courage. She served all human beings by promoting their dignity and respect, and made those who have been defeated by life, feel the tenderness of God.”
Born on August 26, 1910 to Albanian parents in Skopje (now in Macedonia), Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu was quite sure to dedicate her life to God’s work from her very childhood. Her father died when she was  eight years old. Her mother was a religious lady, who held the family together and brought up her three children against all odds. As a child, Agnes was deeply influenced by her mother: “She taught us to love God and to love our neighbour”.
At the age of twelve, she realised that she had a vocation to help the poor, but it was not until she was eighteen that she finally left Skopje to join the Sisters of Loreto - a community of Irish nuns with a mission in Calcutta.
After completing her novitiate in Darjeeling, Agnes took the name Mary Teresa, after Saint Therese of Lisieux – a 19th Century French Carmelite and a patron of missionaries. From 1929 to 1948, she taught at St. Mary’s School in Calcutta – first as a teacher and then as its principal.
In September 1946, life for this ordinary Loreto nun changed forever. She was travelling to Darjeeling for her annual retreat when she received her ‘inspiration’. “ It was in the train I heard the call to give up all and follow Him to the slums to serve Him among the poorest of the poor.”
However, it was not an easy decision to abandon the protected confines of the Convent to brave the streets and embrace poverty. Her correspondences with Archbishop Perier and Father Van Exem between 1946 and late 1947 reveal her struggle to summon courage:
“I am so afraid, Jesus, I am so terribly afraid. Let me not be deceived. The fear shows how much I love myself. I am afraid of the suffering that will come through leading that Indian life … clothing like them, eating like them, sleeping like them, living with them and never having anything my way. How much comfort has taken possession of my heart”.
But as she struggled with herself  the inner call became stronger. She later recalled: “The message was quite clear, it was an order. I was to leave the Convent. I felt God wanted something more from me. He wanted me to be poor and to love Him in the distressing disguise of the poorest of the poor”.
To prepare herself for the new mission, she took a short medical training with the Medical Mission Sisters in Patna. Back in Calcutta, she immediately started ‘real work’ and set up a school for the street-children in Motijhil. Dressed in her adopted white sari with blue trim, a simple cross pinned to shoulder, and a rosary in hand, Sister Mary Teresa went on to become a mother to all,  ‘Mother Teresa of Calcutta’.
Serving in the most unselfish way became the sole purpose of her life. She was so passionate about it that she enshrined it as the fourth vow to the usual three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience that every member of Missionaries of Charity has to take – to give wholehearted and free service to the poor.
Her personal friend and admirer, Smt.Indira Gandhi appropriately said of her: “Who else in this wide world reaches out to the friendless and the needy so naturally, so simply, so effectively? Tagore wrote, “there rest Thy feet, where live the poorest, the lowliest, and lost.”
According to Mother Teresa, charity, to be fruitful, must cost us. One should give until it hurts. To love it is necessary to give; to give it is necessary to be free from selfishness.
Nirmal Hriday
Asked about the most joyful place she ever visited, Mother Teresa replied that it was Kalighat, where people die in peace, in the love of God.
Obviously she was referring to Nirmal Hriday, a home for the dying destitutes.  “Nobody in Nirmal Hriday has died depressed, in despair, unwanted, unfed or unloved. That is why I think it is the treasure-house of Calcutta. We give them whatever they ask for, according to their faith. Some ask for Ganga water, some for Holy Water, for a word or for a prayer… We help them to say sorry to God. To make peace with God according to their faith.”
The story goes that the Mother felt the need for such a place when she picked up a middle-aged woman lying in pathetic condition outside the Campbell Hospital (present Nilratan Sarkar Hospital). She convinced the authorities that it was a shame for people to die on city streets and eventually got permission to start her home in an abandoned dharmasala near the Kali temple.

Shishu Bhavan
It would be a mistake to consider Mother Teresa’s work being all about death and gloom. She helped the poor in dignified living too. Shishu Bhavan represents the more hopeful side of her mission to provide a better life to the abandoned and homeless children.
Infants come here from all the places. Some are picked up from the pavements and garbage dumps, some are brought by the police and city hospitals, others are left at its doorsteps by unwed mothers and poor parents. Many of the babies are premature, crippled and retarded. Shishu Bhavan refuses no one. Inmates are given education and vocational training. Grown up girls are often got married.
Shishu Bhavan also serves as an adoption centre, where infants find new homes. Mother Teresa encouraged adoption as a part of her crusade against abortion. She played a major role in changing peoples’ attitude towards adoption in India. Although she had been occasionally accused of placing Indian children overseas,  it must be admitted that it is due to her pioneering efforts that many physically challenged children find happy homes in other parts of the world.
Shanti Nagar
The leprosy afflicted were a class apart in Mother’s constituency. Lepers were a common sight in India. Traditionally, leprosy was thought of as a punishment from God to be accepted without complaint. There was hardly any help for the lepers except  public dropping of a few coins into their begging bowls. Mother Teresa was determined to change the lives of these pitiable creatures living in unhygienic conditions. She dreamt of creating a sanctuary, where “they can also stand like ordinary people and do ordinary things and lead an ordinary life.”
Shanti Nagar, near Asansol in West Bengal, represents fulfillment of the Mother’s dream of an independent habitat and rehabilitation centre for the lepers. Built over 34 acres of land granted by the Government with the untiring dedication of her followers, it is like an oasis in barren land complete with small cottages, its own hospital and Shishu Bhavan.
In this respect, she shared the concerns with Mahatma Gandhi, another champion of lepers’ cause. She remarked, “Gandhiji loved his people as God loved him…. He said: He who serves the poor serves God.”1 No wonder, she named her Titagarh Home, “the Gandhi Prem Niwas Leprosy Centre”. Today, the Missionaries of Charity have a global network of homes for the dying, orphanages and leprosariums. Besides, its work centres include feeding houses, and homes for AIDS patients, blinds and handicapped.
For a woman whose activities ran across the continents, she lived a spartan life. She always wore a rough cotton sari that she adopted as her habit to identify with the poor. A small room served as her office in the Motherhouse at 54A Lower Circular Road. It had a small window and no fan. From this small parlour, the Mother ran her empire. It was here that Pope John Paul II, Prince Charles, Princess Diana, President John F Kennedy, President Clinton, Sofia Loren and Mohammed Ali came to pay respect to this simple, smiling, loving nun and felt utterly humble before the unassailable power of love.
She was ready to go to any extent to serve the cause of the helpless. She raffled the Lincoln Continental limousine gifted to her by the Pope to raise money for Shanti Nagar. She revolutionised the Nobel award ceremony by insisting that funds for the customary ceremonial banquet be donated to the poor of Calcutta.
Not even conflict and war could stand in her way. During the siege of Beirut in 1982, this spiritually powerful woman rescued 37 mentally ill children trapped in a frontline hospital by brokering a ceasefire between the Israeli army and Palestine guerillas.
She was against war and favoured disarmament. In January 1991, before the first Gulf war, she appealed to US President George Bush, the Senior and Iraqi President Saddam Hussein: “Please choose the way of peace. … In the short term there may be winners and losers in this war that we all dread. But that never can, nor never will justify the suffering, pain and loss of life your weapons will cause.”
Naturally, she won universal respect of people from all stratum of society. The President of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan described her as “one of those rare souls who has transcended all barriers of race, religion, creed and nation. She aspires for no kingdom, no honour, not even salvation or moksha. She is a true Vaishnavajana minstrel of God wholly dedicated to the removal of peeda paraayi (the pain of others) in the manner of Mahatma Gandhi.”
The similarity between Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa does not end at their common concern for the downtrodden. Both shared an unshakable faith in God and relied on prayer as a reservoir of spiritual strength.
At a checkpoint in Gaza, Mother Teresa was asked if she was carrying any weapons. She retorted, “Oh yes – my prayer books.” Each day in the Missionaries of Charity begins and ends with prayer. It is the spiritual food that sustains the organisation. According to the Mother, there must be a spiritual motive, one can only work for God. The wonderful mission accomplished by her may be ascribed to her unflinching faith in God. She saw God in every human being: “People sometimes ask me how can I clean the stinking wound of a leprosy patient”. They say to me, “We cannot do it for the all the money in the world.” I tell them, “Nor can we. But we do it for love of Him.”
But what if doubts remain?  “That’s the time to go on your knees, eh? In that prayer, God cannot deceive you because that prayer comes from within you. That is the time you want Him most. Once you have got God within you, that is for life. There is no doubt.”
For her, prayer was synonymous with service: “Prayer without action is no prayer at all. Prayer helps to pacify the mind and renew faith”. She even printed this message in her ‘business card:
The fruit of Silence is Prayer
The fruit of Prayer is faith
The fruit of Faith is Love
The fruit of Love is Service
The fruit of Service is Peace.
She found no apparent conflict between science and religion: “Our expanding knowledge does not dim our faith, it only shows the size of God’s creation.”
Although a staunch Roman Catholic throughout her life, she had respect for other religions: “There is only one God and He is God to all; therefore, it is important that everyone is seen as equal before God. I have always said we should help a Hindu become a better Hindu, a Muslim become a better Muslim, a Catholic become a better Catholic. There are so many religions and each one has its different ways of following God. I follow Christ.”
Her determined but diminutive spirit of love and service to the poor is most eloquently epitomised in the following selection:
“At the end of our lives, we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made or how many great things we have done. We will be judged by:
‘I was hungry and you gave me to eat.
I was naked and you clothed me.
I was homeless and you took me in.’
Hungry not only for bread – but hungry for love.
Naked not only for clothing – but naked of human dignity and respect.
Homeless not only for want of a room of bricks – but homeless because ofrejection.
This is Christ in distressing disguise.
In keeping with her conservative Catholic belief, she stubbornly resisted family planning and was vehemently opposed to abortion, which provoked ire of the feminists. Her detractors accused her of accepting donations without questioning the sources and of tacit conversion.
Mother Teresa was a twentieth century Karmayogi. “The whole of Mother Teresa’s life and labour bore witness to the joy of loving, the greatness and dignity of every human person, the value of little things done faithfully and with love and a surpassing worth of friendship with God.”
True to the tradition of yogis, she ascribed everything to God: “I always say I am a little pencil in God’s hand. He does the thinking. He does the writing. He does everything and sometimes it is really hard because it is a broken pencil and He has to sharpen it a little more. Be a little instrument in His hands so that He can use you anytime, anywhere. We have only to say ‘yes’ to God”.
On September 5, 1997, when this apostle of mercy left for heavenly abode, French President Jacques Chirac aptly summed up the world’s grief: “This evening, there is less love, less compassion, less light in the world”.
Article by : Swapan Bakshi
Source: Bhavan's Journal 28 February 2007
To know more about Bhavan's Journal and to subscribe visit: http://www.bj.bhavans.info/

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