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Asia

100 years since Mother Teresa's birth

Mother Teresa would have turned 100 years old on 26 August. The founder of the Missionaries of Charity died in 1997 after devoting her entire life to the poorest of the poor.

Mother Teresa received the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1979

Mother Teresa received the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1979

Agnes Gonxhe Bojaxhiu was born in Skopje in August 1910. Her parents were ethnic Albanians in present-day Macedonia. Very early on she knew she wanted to become a Catholic nun and move to India to help the poor.

She first joined the Sisters of Loreto, an Irish community of nuns with missions in India, and later taught at St Mary's High School in Kolkata.

In 1950, she set up the Missionaries of Charity in Kolkata, whose mission in her own words was to care for "the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers and the unloved."

Mother Teresa was beatified by the Vatican in 2003

Mother Teresa was beatified by the Vatican in 2003

Guided by a profound faith

A former Chief Election Commissioner of India, Navin Chawla, is Mother Teresa's official biographer.

He told Deutsche Welle that she was guided by profound faith and a great compassion for all people, whether sufferers of leprosy in India or the poor in London or Rome.

She apparently thought that Jesus Christ lived on in all of them.

'Somebody very special'

Navin Chawla described his first encounter with Mother Teresa in 1975: "When I went to this home in Delhi, which was for the elderly and the destitute, I got a shock. First, she was smaller than I thought. Even at that time, her back was bent. Then I noticed her hands. They were turned inwards and so were her feet.

"It was testimony to her very difficult life in the streets and in the slums. But she had a great sense of humor and she had a sense of joy. She was a very good communicator and came straight to the point. The main impression was one of the compassion and goodness. You felt you were in the presence of somebody very special."

Mother Teresa was especially concerned about how the poor were left to die on the streets of Kolkata. One day, she saw a woman, who had been half eaten up by rats and flies but was still alive, refused help by a local hospital.

It was then that she decided to found her own hospice. The Kalighat Home for the Dying opened in an abandoned Hindu temple in 1952.

Missionaries of Charity expanded across the world

By the 1960s, the Missionaries of Charity had opened hospices, orphanages and leper houses all over India. The order was then expanded across the world.

"I once called her the most powerful person of the world," Navin Chawla recalled. "She said 'No I am not.' and I told her 'You can use your power for peace.' 'If I were to do that I would have to take sides. If I took sides, I would stop loving. I don't get engaged in politics," she replied.

The poorest of the poor in the slums and streets of India were Mother Teresa's highest priority

The poorest of the poor in the slums and streets of India were Mother Teresa's highest priority

Criticism of her work

Although Mother Teresa received praise and donations from all over, she was also criticized by NGOs and intellectuals such as Christopher Hitchens who disliked her anti-abortion and anti-contraception stance, or medics who said the standard of care was not always good in her hospices. There was also some concern that the accounts were not always held in a transparent manner.

However, she rejected such criticism and continued to do what she considered was God's work, which was continued by her followers after she died in 1997.

"The work has only increased," said Navin Chawla. "When she died, they had a presence in 123 countries. Now they have a presence in 135. I think that almost the same amount of money is coming in. But these things don't matter to them. What matters to them is the spirit of only looking after the poorest of the poor."

It is for this absolute devotion to God and to the poorest of the poor that Mother Teresa will always be remembered.

Author: Anne Thomas
Editor: Disha Uppal

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