Talk with Mother Teresa

Mother Teresa was an Albanian-Indian Catholic nun and the founder of the Missionaries of Charity.


Who is Mother Teresa?

Mother Teresa, also known as Saint Teresa of Calcutta, was a Roman Catholic nun and missionary. She was born on August 26, 1910, in Skopje, then part of the Ottoman Empire, and died on September 5, 1997, in Kolkata, India.

She moved to Ireland and then to India, where she lived most of her life. In 1950, Teresa founded the Missionaries of Charity, a religious congregation which had over 4,500 nuns and was active in 133 countries in 2012. The congregation is devoted to helping those in great need.

In 1979, Mother Teresa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her humanitarian work. She was canonized (recognized by the church as a saint) on September 4, 2016, and the anniversary of her death (September 5) is her feast day.

How did Mother Teresa manage her organization?

Mother Teresa ran her organization, the Missionaries of Charity, with strong planning, discipline, trust in her mission, and an immense amount of compassion. She was known for personally serving the sick and poor, rigorously training her nuns, personally overseeing the international expansion of the order, and her humility in seeking aid and support when necessary.

  1. Personal service: Mother Teresa set an example by personally serving the poor and needy herself. This influenced the other members of the organization to follow suit.

  2. Rigorous training: She ensured the nuns underwent thorough training to effectively serve in difficult circumstances. The tasks assigned could range from teaching the lesser privileged to nursing the critically ill.

  3. Decentralized but disciplined structure: The organization had houses around the world, each independently managing its own affairs but strictly following the rule and spirit of the order laid out by Mother Teresa.

  4. International expansion: She travelled extensively to not only raise awareness and funds for the organization's work but also to personally set up new houses and train nuns in different countries.

  5. Raising funds: Mother Teresa was incredibly humble and was never shy in asking for donations, no matter how small. She once said, "We have all been created for greater things - to love and to be loved. Love is love - to love a person without any conditions, without any expectations. Small things, done in great love, bring joy and peace. To love, it is necessary to give. To give, it is necessary to be free from selfishness." This belief translated into her fundraising efforts.

  6. Unwavering commitment: Mother Teresa committed her entire life to the service of the poor and needy. This unwavering commitment set the tone for the entire organization.

  7. Spiritual grounding: Deeply rooted in her Catholic faith, Mother Teresa infused her organization with the spirit of unconditional love and service. The spiritual values were at the core of the management principles of the organization.

What countries did Mother Teresa visit during her lifetime?

Mother Teresa was born in Skopje, which was part of the Ottoman Empire and is now the capital of North Macedonia. At the age of 18, she moved to Ireland to join the Sisters of Loreto and then moved to Darjeeling, India for her novitiate in Sisters of Loreto. After finishing her training, she was sent to Calcutta (now Kolkata), India where she primarily lived and worked for the rest of her life.

In her lifetime, Mother Teresa traveled to many countries for her humanitarian work and also to establish branches of the Missionaries of Charity. Besides her native North Macedonia, Ireland, and India, some of these countries include:

  1. United States: She visited multiple times and established many Missionaries of Charity centers in different states.
  2. Italy: Met with Pope Paul VI and later Pope John Paul II
  3. United Kingdom: Visited to support the work of her order and met with Princess Diana.
  4. Lebanon: Helped Christian and Muslim children during the Lebanon War in 1982.
  5. Yemen: Established Missionaries of Charity in Yemen.
  6. Ethiopia: In 1984, Mother Teresa visited Ethiopia to aid victims of famine
  7. Armenia: Responded to the 1989 earthquake.
  8. Cuba: Visited in 1986 and met with Fidel Castro.
  9. Russia: She was present in Russia in 1991 where she met the Russian leaders.

These are just some examples and by no means an exhaustive list. Mother Teresa and her order have establishments in 123 countries worldwide assisting the poor, orphans, leprosy and AIDS sufferers, and others in needs.

How did Mother Teresa spend her last days?

Mother Teresa spent her last days at the Motherhouse (headquarters) of her order, the Missionaries of Charity, in Calcutta, India. She had been experiencing ongoing health challenges for several years, including heart problems and pneumonia. Despite these health issues, she maintained her deep commitment to her church and her charity work, carrying out her duties to the best of her abilities until her death.

On the evening of 5 September 1997, Mother Teresa died at the age of 87. The official cause of her death was given as "heart failure". Just prior to her death, she had received the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick, formerly known as Last Rites, a Catholic ritual that involves anointing the sick with oils and giving spiritual aid in times of illness or imminent death.

It is reported that her last words were "Jesus, I love you. Jesus, I love you." These words echo her life-long commitment to her faith and her unending love for the poor and suffering.

What awards did Mother Teresa receive during her lifetime?

Mother Teresa received numerous awards and recognitions for her tireless humanitarian work during her lifetime. These included:

  1. Magsaysay Award for International Understanding (1962): This award is often considered Asia’s Nobel Prize.

  2. Pope John XXIII Peace Prize (1971): This award was given by Pope Paul VI for her work with the poor in Kolkata, India.

  3. Nobel Peace Prize (1979): This is perhaps her most well-known award, received for her work in overcoming poverty and distress, which also constitute a threat to peace.

  4. The Presidential Medal of Freedom (1985): This is the highest civilian award in the United States and was conferred upon her by President Ronald Reagan.

  5. The Honorary Citizenship of the United States (1996): This high honor was granted by the U.S. Congress; she was the fifth person in history to receive this.

  6. Order of Merit from Queen Elizabeth II (1983): This is the United Kingdom's highest civilian order of honor.

  7. Nehru Award for International Understanding (1972): Recognized her work in promoting international peace and understanding.

  8. Balzan Prize (1978): Mother Teresa was awarded for her humanitarian efforts, particularly for humanity contribution in the area of combating poverty.

  9. Bharat Ratna (1980): This is India's highest civilian award, presented for the highest degree of national service.

These are only a selection and she won various other awards, honours and recognitions from institutions across the world.

Can Mother Teresa share a story of a particularly meaningful encounter with someone she helped?

She once came across a family who hadn't eaten for five days. They were staying in a small alleyway in Calcutta, India. Upon discovering their plight, Mother Teresa immediately arranged a supply of rice for the starving family.

She returned later and found the mother of the home splitting the rice into two piles. When Mother Teresa asked the woman what she was doing, the mother explained that she was dividing the rice to share with her neighbors, who were also hungry.

Mother Teresa found this act of generosity and selflessness deeply meaningful and inspiring. To her, the event underscored the importance of love and shared sacrifice among the poorest of the poor. This woman, despite her own desperate need and the hunger of her family, demonstrated compassion towards her neighbors. This spirit of compassion and love for the suffering, even in the midst of one's own hardship, was at the core of what Mother Teresa aimed to bring to the world.

Why is Mother Teresa important?

Mother Teresa is an important figure in history due to her significant contributions towards serving the poor and the destitute. She prioritized working with the most vulnerable populations across the world, particularly in India, where she spent most of her life.

She founded the Missionaries of Charity, a Roman Catholic religious congregation, which has over 4,500 sisters and is active in 133 countries as of 2012. The organization manages homes for those dying of HIV/AIDS, leprosy and tuberculosis, soup kitchens, dispensaries, mobile clinics, orphanages, schools, and also provides services to families, homeless people and alcoholics.

Mother Teresa was recognized and lauded globally for her charitable work. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 for her humanitarian work, and the Indian government honored her with the Bharat Ratna, the country's highest civilian award, in 1980.

Her life and work continues to be an inspirational story of selfless service for millions around the world. However, she did face criticism too from different corners for the living conditions in the hospices and her philosophical stands. The important takeaway is that she was an individual who dedicated her life to serve others, sparking discussions about service, charity, and the role of religious institutions in societal issues.

What ethnicity is Mother Teresa?

Mother Teresa was of Albanian ethnicity. She was born on August 26, 1910, in Skopje, which is now the capital of North Macedonia, but was then part of the Ottoman Empire. Her birth name was Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu. Anjezë is an Albanian name meaning 'rosebud' or 'little flower' in English.

When did Mother Teresa become a saint?

Mother Teresa was canonized as a saint by the Roman Catholic Church on September 4, 2016. The canonization process was conducted by Pope Francis in a ceremony at Vatican City.

How did Mother Teresa impact the world?

Mother Teresa had a significant global impact exemplifying compassion, selflessness, and service to the vulnerable, which touched people from different walks of life, cultures, and religions.

She founded the Missionaries of Charity, a Roman Catholic congregation of women dedicated to helping the sick, the poor and the dying. This organization, which began in India, has now spread to over 133 countries, continuing her work even after her death.

Her dedication to the service of humanity helped form an international perception of India as a center of compassionate action, while promoting a holistic approach to poverty alleviation which championed the idea that poverty isn't merely physical, but also spiritual and emotional.

Mother Teresa also played a considerable role in promoting interfaith understanding. She worked with people of all backgrounds, emphasizing the value of every human life. Her life's work was an embodiment of humanitarianism beyond religious and cultural boundaries, fostering peace, empathy and understanding among diverse groups.

Additionally, she pushed global health initiatives and set a precedent in international charity work. She was especially noted for her work with victims of leprosy and HIV/AIDS, working to stigmatize these conditions less.

Her example as a woman in a position of leadership and influence was also significant, particularly in the context of the patriarchal society she was part of.

Her passion and unwavering dedication to serving the marginalized not only brought aid and comfort to millions but also inspired countless individuals across the world to engage in voluntary work and public service. Many philanthropists and organizations were moved to contribute more actively towards similar causes because of the awareness raised by her work.

Lastly, she was a beacon of hope and optimism, despite witnessing some of the harshest human conditions. She demonstrated that love, kindness, and compassion could thrive even amongst destitution.

In summary, Mother Teresa's impact on the world was multifaceted - from direct services to those in need, to cultural and social influences, to inspirational leadership that motivated others to action.

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