Mother Teresa: Christmas Star of Calcutta
By Nora V. Clemente—Arnaldo
An interesting family background of Mother Teresa is given in Anne Sebba’s “Mother Teresa—Beyond the Image” .
It was on 26 August 1910 in Skopje, Kosovo that the future saint saw the light of day amidst the joyful welcome of a well-to-do, closely-knit Catholic family. She was the third and youngest child of Nikolle (“Kole”) Bojaxhiu, a prosperous building contractor and wholesale food importer, and Drana Bernai. Baptized Agnes, she was so pretty they nicknamed her “Gonxha” meaning rosebud.
Both parents inculcated in their children the importance of Christian love and charity. Her father Kole was known as a generous local benefactor. Every time he had to travel—he did a lot of travelling because of his business—he would leave enough money to his wife Drana so she could feed anyone in need who came to their door. Each week, Drana would bring her children to visit the city’s poor, bringing food, clothes and money. Most of the time, it would be Agnes who would accompany Drana in this charity work.
As a family, they would always pray together each night and go to mass together. They were an exceptionally happy family. Agnes, by the way, was a musician. She was a singer, a soprano at that, and played the mandolin.
The comfortable and prosperous childhood life of Agnes changed dramatically in 1921 with the tragic, untimely death of Kole. The Lord in His merciful Grace gave Drana the strength and courage to carry on. She was now both father and mother of the family. She put up a business of hand-crafted embroidery and textiles, which later on expanded to include the locally- crafted carpets for which Skopje was famous.
In the meantime, Agnes had been moving in a religious direction. She started teaching the rudiments of the Catholic faith to young children.
“Put your hand in His hand…”
Then in 1928, Agnes told her mother she wanted to become a missionary in India. Drana was very much surprised, locked up herself in her room and did not come out for 24 hours. When she did so, she told her daughter “Put your hand in His hand, and walk all the way with Him.” With these farewell words of her mother, Agnes went to Loreto Abbey Rothfarnham in Dublin, Ireland to join the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and then to India where she began her novitiate. She taught geography at St. Mary’s High School in Calcutta.
On 24 May 1931, Agnes took her first vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. She chose “Mary Teresa” as her name in religious life, after that of St. Thérèse of Lisieux. Significantly, St. Thérèse was the role model Mother Teresa took for herself. After her vows, she continued her teaching career until 1948. Then she received a calling from God, which she referred to as “a call within a call”: to serve the most needy and poorest of the poor in Calcutta, in keeping with the Gospel and the missionary spirit He had given her.
Mother Teresa started her own order in 1950—the Missionaries of Charity. This was officially recognized by the Archdiocese of Calcutta in 1958 and as a pontifical congregation by the Vatican that same year.
The order began with 12 members and has grown to more than 4,000 nuns running orphanages, AIDS hospices and other charity centers worldwide. Mother Teresa won many awards, one of which is the prestigious Nobel Peace Award.
Her beatification process was started on 5 September 1997, a year after her death of heart attack, and took just four years because then Cardinal Ratzinger said “her sanctity is evident and universally proclaimed”. Her saintly life was officially recognized upon her beatification by Pope John Paul II in October 2003.
The holy nun of Calcultta inspired thousands of people she came in contact with. With their unforgettable experiences of her service of love, they came up with edifying stories and glimpses of her work, her spirituality, her wisdom, and unconditional love for the poor. One such person was Monsignor Paolo Hnlica, the Slovakian priest who was Mother Teresa’s close friend and collaborator for over 30 years. The following is the story he told journalist Renzo Allegri of the “Messenger of St. Anthony”:
“Christmas was the most significant feast for Mother Teresa.” Why? "It was on Christmas day in 1948 when her work for the poor began.”
The good monsignor says that for Mother Teresa, Christmas meant being with the poor. Whenever possible, she would spend time in the orphanages for children or in her houses for the dying in Calcutta, or she would be with those suffering from leprosy or AIDS. Msgr. Paolo stressed that:
Christmas was at the center of Mother Teresa’s spirituality. She saw the condition of all mankind in the fragile and defenseless child born in the stable in Bethlehem. And she equally saw the baby Jesus in all human beings. She saw Him among the poorest of the poor because those who suffer the most and have nothing are like the baby born in Bethlehem. She saw Him, too, in the abandoned children.
The Unique Christmas Gift
Monsignor Paolo fondly recalls one particular Christmas he celebrated with Mother Teresa and her congregation in Calcutta. Though he had spent many Christmases with the nuns, this particular one had a very profound spiritual impact.
He was invited by Mother Teresa for a Christmas Eve dinner. “It was a simple meager meal as usual,” he said “but the thing is, it was rich in joy affections and fraternity. The atmosphere was cordial that they almost forgot to eat. Then at a certain point, there was a knock at the door. One of the Sisters went to see who it was and returned with a basket covered in cloth.”
Mother Teresa removed the cloth, and lo and behold! her eyes lit up as she gladly exclaimed with a beautiful smile, “Jesus has arrived.” The other nuns excitedly ran to see. Indeed in the basket was a baby boy who was a few days old, and the woman was probably the mother, they thought, unable to take care of him so she thought of entrusting her child to the nuns, which is a frequent occurrence in Calcutta. The nuns’ squeal of joy awakened the sleeping child who started to cry.
Mother Teresa lovingly picked him up, smiled, and at the same time she had tears in her eyes as she said, “Look, now we can say that our Christmas is complete. Baby Jesus has come to us. We must thank God for this wonderful gift.” In this scene, the good priest observed that there was a powerful emotion of love that emanated from Mother Teresa. He was so touched.
Every Christmas, let us joyfully welcome Jesus in our lives and allow Him to grow in us “like a budding flower,” just like in the life of Mother Teresa. I pray that God will enkindle in your hearts, dear readers, the love and charity for our brothers and sisters scattered all over the world, who live and die in poverty and hunger. Like Mother Teresa who was like a Christmas Star in Calcutta, may we all be like little Christmas stars wherever God puts us this Christmas.
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