Saturday, November 24, 2007

Christmas - A Time For Saints.

Christmas - a joyous occasion where millions of people around the world celebrate the joys of love, the wonders of giving and the importance of family. A time of togetherness when children and adults alike, dream of wishes come true. And what would my Christmas wish be?

Like parents around the world, I wish for happy, peaceful and joyous lives for my family and children. But with the way things are in the world now - the crisis in Darfur, strife in Middle East especially Iraq, extreme poverty in many parts of Asia, foreclosures and bankruptcies of millions of people affected by the sub-prime mortgage crisis and the multitudes of people displaced by natural disasters - I also wish for more advocates of peace through non-violent means like Mahatma Gandhi, many more humanitarians like Dr. Muhammad Yunus and Dr. Paul Farmer, freedom fighters like Nelson Mandela but above all else, I wish for more authors of compassion and love like Mother Teresa and Polish priest Stephen Kovalski.

Christmas is a time for remembrance of saints like Mother Teresa.

"To care 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's Missionaries of Charity

Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu was born on 26 August 1910, in Skopje, Yugoslavia, of Albanian parents. Fascinated by stories of the lives of missionaries and their service at an early age, she left home at age of eighteen and entered the Missionary Order of the Loreto Sisters, taking the name of Teresa in memory of the little Flower of Lisieu, the patron saint of missionaries.

On January 20, 1931, she came to Calcutta, then the largest city of the British Empire after London and served as a teacher at the Loreto convent school in eastern Calcutta. For sixteen years, she taught geography to daughters of the well-to-do in British and Bengali society and although Mother Teresa enjoyed teaching at the school, she was increasingly disturbed by the poverty surrounding her in Calcutta. One day in 1946, on a train journey to Darjeeling, a town on the slopes of the Himalayas, she heard a voice.

God was asking her to leave the comfort of the convent and live among the poorest of the poor in the vast city beyond. In 1950, having obtained permission from the Pope, she started the order of the Missionaries of Charity, a congregation which began as a small order with 13 members in Calcutta. Today it has more than 4,000 nuns running orphanages, AIDS hospices, caring for the poor, the blind, disabled, aged and homeless, and victims of floods, epidemics, and famine and has several thousand charitable foundations throughout India and the world.

In 1952, an incident gave birth to "Nirmal Hriday - the Place of the Pure Heart - Home for Dying Destitutes." It was June 1952 and the time of the monsoons when Mother Teresa stumbled upon an old and dying woman outside the Medical College Hospital in Calcutta. The old woman was hardly breathing and her legs had been gnawed to the bone by rats. Mother Teresa scooped the old woman in her arms and ran into the hospital, depositing the dying woman in a stretcher. "Take that woman away immediately!," an hospital attendant intervened. "There is nothing we can do for her." Mother Teresa took the dying woman and set off to another hospital. Suddenly, she felt the woman's body stiffened and realized that it was too late. "In this city, even the dogs are treated better than human beings," she sighed.

So was born "Nirmal Hriday - the Place of the Pure Heart" - a place for the dying to appear before God in dignity and love. Those brought to the home received medical attention and were given 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."

Taking in dying destitutes was only a first step for Mother Teresa, for the living too needed care and among the most neglected of the living were the abandoned newborn babies that might be found in a gutter, on a rubbish heap or in the doorway of a church. On February 15, 1953, she founded "Shishu Bhavan - the Children's Home of the Immaculate Heart," and welcomed its first guest, a premature baby wrapped in a piece of newspapers and left on a street pavement. "Shishu Bhavan" was to serve as a haven for thousands of discarded babies, orphans and homeless youth.

After the dying and the abandoned children, Mother Teresa turned her attention to the most wretched of Indian society, the lepers. At Titagarh, a shantytown in an industrial suburb of Calcutta, she constructed on land borrowed from the railway company, a haven to harbour the worst leper cases, bringing them medicine, dressings and words of comfort. She named the hospice, "Shanti Nagar - the City of Peace."

For over forty years, Mother Teresa ministered to the poor, sick, orphaned, the unwanted and dying in Calcutta, and her selfless dedication and compassion for the underprivileged has been widely recognised and acclaimed throughout the world. She has received a number of awards and distinctions, including the Pope John XXIII Peace Prize in 1971 and the Nehru Prize for her promotion of international peace and understanding in 1972. She was also awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 for her humanitarian efforts.

Mother Teresa passed away on September 5, 1997, nine days after her 87th birthday. At the time of her death, Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity had over 4,000 sisters, an associated brotherhood of 300 members, and over 100,000 lay volunteers, operating 610 missions in 123 countries. Following her death, she was beautified by Pope John Paul II and given the title "Blessed Teresa of Calcutta."

"....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." - Mother Teresa's Nobel Prize speech

*Sources :
- Nobel Prize org.
- Wikipedia
- City Of Joy by Dominique Lapierre

*Author's footnote :
Beginning today right up till Christmas, there will be a series of articles dedicated to humanitarians who have made tremendous contributions to society and these articles - the "Christmas Celebration series", will truly be my Christmas celebrations - the celebration of the human spirit.

*Related post : Christmas - A Time For Humanitarians


Meghna said...

This was a nice post. i didn't know so muchMother Teresa!
Thanks for letting e know about her!

My Den said...

Hi meghna,
Glad you enjoyed the post. Happy holidays!