(Title: Mother Teresa, in my own words 1910-1997; Author: J. L. González-Balado; ISBN: 0-517-20169-0; No. of pages: xii-109; Publisher: Gramercy Books (Random House), New York; Reviewer: Sylvanus S.P. Doe)
The Christian and non-Christian world cannot deny benefiting from Western Catholicism, especially in the areas of human liberty, interfaith building, peace and education. Mother Teresa represents one of Catholic living assets that offered sterling services for the good of the global community.
Mother Teresa, born in the town of Skoplje, Albania, was named at birth as Agnes Bojaxhiu. At the age of 18, she joined an Albanian “Catholic youth group” and, due to her strong volunteering spirit coupled with missionary calling, she was assigned to Ireland to work with the “Sisters of Our Lady of Loreto”. Three months later, she was posted to teach at an Indian Catholic Girls School in Calcutta where she was relocated to stay at Darjeeling, close to Himalayas. It was in India that she changed her birth name to “Mother Teresa”.
Instead of enjoying a peaceful life she decided to do the “will” of the Lord Jesus Christ. When Mother Teresa received a call “within a call”, she finally left the “… convent (Loveto) and consecrate [herself] to help the poor, living among them.” The missionary calling encouraged her to go a step further to see things and feel the realities of living conditions in the slums of Calcutta. As a result of her encounter in the slums, she established the “Missionary of Charity” purposely to “love and save the poor, seeing Jesus in them.”
The introduction summarizes Mother Teresa’s early life, missionary calling, charity activities and the outstanding awards she received. The remaining sections are headlined: holiness, prayer, generosity, Christ in the poor, love, home and family, and virtues. The rest are life and death, smile, money, suffering, loneliness, God and Christianity, and the mission for her charity. The excerpts of her perspectives on some crucial development issues include:
Corruption “We never accept an invitation to eat out. Would you like to know why? Because accepting these invitations might give the impression that we accept payment for what we do, and we do everything free of charge.”
Hunger “When a person dies of hunger, it has not happened because God did not take care of him or her. It has happened because neither you nor I wanted to give that person what he or she needed.”
Poverty “Poverty has not been created by God. We are the ones who have created poverty.”
Death penalty “A human hand should never end a life.”
Abortion “…life is present even in the unborn. I am convinced that the screams of the children whose lives have been terminated before their birth reach God’s ears… Do not kill the children.”
Human security “Today countries are concentrating too much on efforts and means to defend their borders… If instead they would worry about giving these defenseless beings some food, some shelter, some healthcare, some clothes, it is undeniable that the world would be a more peaceful and happy place to live.”
The works of Mother Teresa stirred and continued to inspire millions of people worldwide. The book reported a case where a 4-year old boy handed over sugar to Mother Teresa and said: “I have spent three days without eating sugar. Take it. This is for your children.” That is the extent to which her selfless work served as a motivation for people globally, including children. Another case was when a new Hindu couple decided not to “celebrate the wedding, not to buy wedding clothes, not to have a reception or a honeymoon” with the only reason that they “wanted to share the joy of [their] love” with the needy who were served by Mother Teresa. For this Hindu family, they “love each other so much” that saving money to give to the poor is a true expression of their love.
The book challenges the rhetoric of talking “about the poor” but unwilling to “talk with them”. Mother Teresa always practically demonstrated love for the very poor and the dying by directly talking, eating and living with them. This distinctive “living saint” attitude was appreciated by the politician, clergy, the poor and the rich. With the evidence of what Pope John Paul II had witnessed himself at Calcutta about Mother Teresa’s work, he quickly set up in the “Vatican a home for those who don’t have one, for the sick and the dying of Rome.” During the time the Western missionaries were perhaps faced with fierce hostilities coming from various African governments, one of the Ethiopian Ministers unequivocally remarked: “even though we might have to expel all missionaries”, “we will not allow your Sisters to leave because I am told, and I have checked it myself to be true, that you truly love the poor and take care of them.” Her team invested all effort and time into finding remedies for disinterested social problems, which most governmental or non-governmental institution was reluctant to go into.
The world’s social problems are many. Mother Teresa was aware of this. So, while serving humanity, she was clearly convinced it was not worth to “do a lot or do everything”. All she needed was to prepare for everything. From this, I learned that the immeasurable value of human beings, in the world, is the fundamental basis to do exceedingly good for them rather than seeking power, profit, or material motives.
There are people who think that it is only the poor who need attention. But, as this book reveals, rich people need someone to love them in their loneliness. Happiness at times eludes rich people. Mother Teresa loves people regardless of wealth, religion or location. And, people love her to date even long after her death. Everywhere she went the people sincerely received her. It is not surprising that when one of the Chinese “Communist party’s top members” asked Mother Teresa “…what is a communist to you?” her humble response was “A child of God, a brother, a sister of mine.” Not only that, when the Sisters and her visited the Mexico City, one would have expected people’s demand for “cloths, medicines, or food.” Instead they exclaimed “Sisters, talk to us about God.” I suggest you read this book to find out more.
For Mother Teresa, “money is not everything” in the life of a person because it can potentially ignite evil like that of Judas. In this light, she spent monies from all her labour, rewards and prizes to feed, clothe and rescue perishing souls. The monies received from John XXIII award and Nobel Peace Prize were used to build and manage rehabilitation centres and homes (i.e. home for the Dying, Lepers, people with HIV/AIDS and unwed mothers) and not acquiring multi-billion dollar properties in her own name or directing them to her home country or relatives. She did not convey the Albanian cultures and traditions to India. All she did was to fight the evil of poverty troubling nations and individuals.
The journey started by Mother Teresa, as a young Catholic Missionary, ended up leaving behind a remarkable legacy for the charity, philanthropic and the non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Asia, Africa, Europe, and around the world. She succeeded in giving sustained hope to the poorest of the poor who needed immediate attention, love and care. Interestingly, she achieved all these with “no planning at all”. Yet the indelible footprints she left have become an integral aspect of socio-developmentalism globally, particularly for faith-based NGOs and civil societies. In conclusion, I recommend reading of Mother Teresa, in my own words by anyone who is interested in securing human liberty, justice and rights component of SD.