At 85 and after major heart problems, Mother Teresa is still immersed in projects for helping the poor in India and of all the world. Through her service to the ill and destitute, she proclaims her message that the poor must be loved because a loving God created them.
As founder of the Missionaries of Charity, Mother Teresa started rescuing the poor people who were literally dying in the streets of Calcutta. Writer Dominique LaPierre remembers first seeing her washing the wounds of a dying man …
So emaciated that he looked like a living skeleton. His flesh seemed to have melted down, leaving only skin over his bones.
Mother Teresa was gently speaking to him in Bengali. I will never forget the eyes of the wretched, dying man. His suffering, staring look progressively changed to an expression of surprise, and then, of peace, the peace of someone who suddenly feels he is loved.
Mother Teresa called a young European volunteer who was passing by with a wash-basin in his hands.
“Love him,” she told him, “love him with all your strength.”
She … invited me to follow her toward the small waiting room that separated the men’s and women’s wards.
There was a table and a bench, and on the wall a poster which said: “The worst misery is not hunger, not leprosy, but the feeling to be unwanted, rejected, abandoned by everyone.”
These words summarize the universality of Mother Teresa’s work.
Detractors who accuse her of not providing any real medical treatment to the destitute people who are brought to her homes, and whom she is the only one to rescue, should know that half of them are able to leave her “dying homes” on their feet after a few days, having regained dignity and enough strength, thanks to the loving care received.
Mother Teresa believed that the poor are not just the millions who are starving, but also the millions of excluded, lonely, untouchable, or homeless people. These people most needed the human touch of things like love, justice, hope, and dignity.
She said, “The most terrible disease that can ever strike a human being is to have no one near him to be loved. Without a heart full of love, without generous hands, it is impossible to cure a man suffering of loneliness.
She told reporters in England: “I have walked at night in your streets. I have entered your homes. I have found in them more poverty than in India. I have found the poverty of the soul, the lack of love.”
Each time I return with my wife to Calcutta to visit the dispensaries and the schools I support with the royalties from my book, “The City of Joy,” we never fail to attend Mother Teresa’s 5:45 A.M. Mass in her convent headquarters, set in the very heart of the teeming megalopolis.
As sole decoration on the walls of the large room that serves as a chapel in the daytime and as a dormitory for the novices at night, there is a simple crucifix with the inscription that says, “I thirst.”
… What an emotion to rediscover around her all these dark-skinned Indian novices who tomorrow will join their Japanese, European, Australian and American sisters in some 500 orphanages, leprosy homes and rescue centers in more than 100 countries on the five continents.
The order of the Missionaries of Charity cannot accept all the postulants knocking at the door of its novitiates: today it has more than 5,000 sisters, 500 consecrated brothers and more than 4 million lay co-workers.
In 1979, she won the Nobel Peace Prize. Some complain that Mother Teresa could use her charisma and fame to attack the roots of poverty, but she said: “Fortunately there are in this world people who fight for justice and human rights, who struggle to change the structures. The daily contact of our sisters is with people who do not even have a scrap of bread to feed themselves.
“Our mission is to consider the problem on an individual rather than a collective basis. Our concern is for one person, not a multitude. We are looking for the human being with whom Christ identified himself when he said, ‘I was hungry and you fed me.’”
If this uncommon woman has succeeded in developing so quickly in the whole world the congregation she founded in 1950, it is thanks to an exceptional reunion of gifts and remarkable qualities, among them a faith to lift mountains and a leadership that may sometimes appear tyrannical, an indomitable will to rely for everything only on divine Providence, an exceptional charisma which has conquered the public as well as the media and those who govern the world, an inmate gift for organization and a rare capacity to adapt to all situations and face all problems.
For sure, so many qualities represent many handicaps to surround for the woman who will succeed her. Let’s hope the day will come as late as possible and let’s quell our fears for the future.
As Mother Teresa has so often said: “The work is not mine but God’s. I am only a small pencil in His hand.”
From Dominique LaPierre, “Mother Teresa Is Still Offering a Hand at 84.”, The Cleveland Plain
Dealer, Dec. 19, 1994.
Taken from Scriberg et al., PRACTICING LEADERSHIP – PRINCIPLES AND APPLICATIONS, New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1997, pages 210-212.
Jakarta, 24 March 2014