Her life and legacy offer the antidote to our “throwaway culture.”
Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu was born in Albania (now Macedonia) in 1910, and from a young age the lives of missionaries fascinated her. She resolved as a young teen to enter religious life and traveled to Ireland at age 18 to join the congregation at Loreto Abbey. A year later, she moved to India, where she entered her novitiate, took first and solemn vows, and taught for nearly 20 years.
God had other plans for her, however, than a quiet life teaching in the convent school in Calcutta. The poverty that surrounded her increasingly bothered her, until one day, in 1946, she received her “call within the call”: to leave the convent and serve the poor while living among them. Replacing her habit with a simple white blue-bordered sari, she began a new religious community in 1948 dedicated to caring for “the poorest of the poor.”
That first year of service was an incredibly difficult one, as she had to beg for food and supplies, and was tempted to give up on her work. In 1950 the Vatican approved her new congregation and in 1952, she opened a hospice for the dying to receive medical attention and the opportunity to die with dignity in accordance with their faith: Muslims were read the Quran, Hindus received water from the Ganges, and Catholics received extreme unction. Her work began to draw the attention of local authorities and then of the international world. Within 50 years, the order she founded, the Missionaries of Charity, grew to more than 4,000 sisters worldwide.
Pope Francis has decried the modern “throwaway culture” that holds nothing to be of lasting value, not even human life, while Pope Benedict wrote of the need to see others with “the eyes of Christ,” giving them “the look of love which they crave.” Mother Teresa, with her compassionate care for the “cast-offs” of society, stands out in sharp contrast against the “throwaway culture” and her example of “seeing with the eyes of Christ” offers the antidote to it. Her life and the ongoing legacy of her religious order continue to inspire people of all faiths with respect for human dignity and reverence for every life. St. Teresa of Calcutta, pray for us!