On 26 August 1910, a baby girl named Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu was born. The little girl would grow up to be hailed as one of the most influential women of the 20th century: Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
Though born in what is today Macedonia, Mother Teresa’s influence is perhaps most notable in the land where she founded her Missionaries of Charity, India.
ZENIT spoke with Fr Joseph Babu, spokesman of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, about how Mother Teresa continues to be a major influence in India almost 13 years after her death.
Could you evaluate the impact Mother Teresa had on Indian society? And what are the main changes that have occurred since she died?
Mother Teresa has a universal appeal in India; people of all religions and cultures give her high regard and even consider her a saint. That is why people of all faiths go to her tomb and pray to her. There are also birth centenary programs organised in different parts of India and in all these, people of all religions participate. Here in New Delhi the CBCI (Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India) is organising public functions to honour her and the president of India is the chief guest of the public function on 28 August.
Her religious congregation continues to grow and attract many young women to join in their work.
Sr Nirmala Joshi, who took over from Mother Teresa, being a Hindu convert has the distinct advantage of getting across to all sections of Indian society, and she has done an admirable job of leading the Missionaries of Charity to new heights.
Mother Teresa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. What remains of her teaching?
Mother Teresa was awarded the Nobel prize for her charitable work for the poorest of the poor and she continued to inspire many people to carry on working for those who have been consigned to the margins of society.
She was simple but very inspiring and the Indian Church was proud of her presence and contribution to society. Many people, including non-Christians, also take inspiration from her life and work; they also associate with her sisters in doing charitable work.
What were her requests to the Church in India?
She was not worried about the criticism of those who said that she was glorifying poverty, or did not work for social change and so on. She would gently say that she was called to do the little she could do; others could do what they were capable of.
What are the main problems that Catholics in India are facing today?
No overseas missionary can come to India for a long stay and work; even those few overseas missionaries left in India are asked to quit India no matter how long they have served here. The depleting foreign aid to some of the Churches and institutions is under constant scrutiny, and that makes the going tougher.
Receiving the Nobel Prize, Mother Teresa disconcerted people by expressing her horror at abortion, seen as the greatest destroyer of peace today. Could you describe the work of the Sisters for mothers with unwanted pregnancies?
What Mother Teresa was emphasising was the value of human life in the context of rampant misuse of science to terminate life rather than to nurture it. Abortion is always and everywhere a heinous crime against humanity. Mother Teresa never got tired of repeating it, in accord with the Church’s teaching.
Under the guise of controlling population, when people promoted the liberty of terminating life, Mother would oppose it saying, “Give the children to me and I will look after them.”
So she took care of thousands of abandoned children all across the world. And that was her message to all: human beings are to be loved and cared for; they are gifts of God.