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Mother Teresa's Heritage Disputed by Albanians, Macedonians - 2003-10-19

A dispute has arisen between Albanians and Macedonians over the heritage of Mother Teresa, whose beatification was celebrated by Pope John Paul II Sunday.

That Mother Teresa was a good person who spent her life helping those in need is about all Macedonia and Albania can agree on. Scholars and politicians in both countries claim she is either Albanian or Macedonian.

Nobody disputes that she was born in Skopje as Agnesa Gonxha Bojaxhiu in 1910. Skopje then was in the Ottoman Empire. Present day Macedonia and neighboring Albania did not even exist.

She was born to parents who had moved to Skopje from Kosovo. Her mother was an ethnic Albanian, but her father was of unknown background, giving rise to a debate, which the future saint never bothered to resolve in her lifetime. It has led to friction between Macedonia and Albania, and it also has created fresh tensions between ethnic Albanians and Macedonians in Skopje itself.

Sulyman Rushiti of the Albanian Democratic Party representing Macedonia's ethnic Albanians, said the "whole world knows Mother Teresa as Albanian, just as they know that the pope is Polish." Albanians are furious about a statue of Mother Teresa that the Macedonian government plans to give to Rome to celebrate her beatification.

Risto Penov, the mayor of Skopje, where she lived until she was 18, says he sees nothing wrong in the statue, as Mother Teresa herself never made a difference between ethnicity of nations.

Macedonians are irked that Albania, which the nun visited only once during her lifetime, is claiming her as its own.

Albania has declared 2004 "Mother Teresa Year" and has created a national holiday in her honor.