Expert Comment: Mother Teresa of IndiaWednesday 16 March 2016
As the Vatican announces Mother Teresa will officially be made a Saint, Rev Dr Daniel Jeyaraj, Professor of World Christianity, reflects on her life and work.
Mother Teresa, who lived and ministered to the needy, sick, and poor of Kolkata, India, knew first-hand the misery of malnourishment, ignorance and hunger.
Her unassuming and self-sacrificing love for the poor has elevated her to the noble status of being a mother (ammā). This status is beyond nationality, culture, religion and all other human boundaries. She cultivated life so that those who grew in her care became both human and humane. She took her calling to be a ‘missionary’ seriously.
Her conviction of being sent by God, who she recognized first in the Lord Jesus Christ and also in the face of the needy and the dying, gave her the enduring authority to radiate life-transforming power during her teaching years in a school as well as during her self-effacing service among the slum dwellers there. There she saw how people were slowly drawn into the vicious cycle of economic, social, and emotional poverty.
She knew that the usual claims of spirituality, piety, and ancestral traditions did not enable the slum dwellers, particularly the poor, sick and dying, to regain human dignity, respect and affirmation. Mother Teresa’s personal touch and persuasive ministry elevated countless people from ignorance and gave them an alternative way of thinking and living as loved, informed, and capable members of their communities.
In 1962, she was one of the 25 recipients Padma Shri Award from the Government of India. The panel chose her for her unpatrolled contributions to social service. At that time, I was just four years old. Seventeen years later, she received the Nobel Prize. Her authentic simplicity and her models of service influenced the lives of missionaries and volunteers, who are associated with the Missionaries of Charity. These women, clad in a white sari with a blue border, extend the bond of love which Mother Teresa cemented with actual service, warm care, and exciting hope. They carry out Mother Teresa’s mission within and outside of India.
I personally grew up hearing stories about Mother Teresa’s involvement with the sick and the dying in Kolkata. In 2006, I had the privilege to visit her house in Kolkata. I remember how I trembled in awe standing at the entrance of the house in Kolkata, where Mother Teresa went in and out, received guests, trained volunteers and inspired countless people. Sisters who welcomed me along with other visitors did so with their similes. I saw the same similes in the faces of the Missionaries of Charity, whom I met three weeks ago in Liverpool Lime Street Station. They remind me of Mother Teresa. She is the Ammā, the Mother, who is more than a saint!