On September 4, the Vatican will hold a ceremony, officiated by Pope Francis, to canonize Mother Teresa, the Roman Catholic nun and missionary of Albanian descent whose work to help the poor of Calcutta (now Kolkata), India, and ease their suffering earned her numerous honors, including the Nobel Peace Prize.
To many, Mother Teresa was a humble person with an unlimited capacity to offer unconditional love to people.
“There are two kinds of poverty. There is the poverty of material, for example, in some places like India, Ethiopia or some other places, where people are hungry for bread, real hunger. But there is much deeper hunger and that is hunger for love,” she once said.
Giving comfort to the suffering, offering shelter to the homeless, and helping the poorest of the poor was Mother Teresa's life work.
Mother Teresa was born Anjeza Gonxhe Bojaxhiu on August 26, 1910, the third child of Albanian parents, in Skopje, Macedonia. She was raised in a middle class family, and at 18 decided to become a nun.
She joined the Loretta Order, first as a student and then as a teacher at a Roman Catholic girls’ school in Calcutta, India.
Blending with the poor
Professor Gëzim Alpion says she later left her teaching post to devote her life to working among the poor in the slums of that city - and to start a new order, Missionaries of Charity.
"What Mother Teresa put in practice was different from the European orders in Calcutta and India at that time. She believed she could serve the ‘human debris’ better by living like them, in the poorest areas of Calcutta. And she did this with that kind of integrity, which is impossible not to admire," Alpion says.
Mother Teresa had to fight hard – first with the authorities of the Roman Catholic Church to get permission for her humanitarian work, and then with locals in India who thought her mission was to spread Christianity.
But they soon realized she wanted nothing more than to live among the poor and ease their suffering.
According to Alpion, Mother Teresa's work reflected a unique philosophy of life.
“There are two sides of Mother Teresa - the religious aspect of her work, as well as the humanitarian aspect. Both of them are linked together, and Mother Teresa had the ability to express her philosophy of life, her theology, through simple words that have a deep philosophical meaning.”
Mother Teresa was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1979. At the ceremony, she spoke of the joy of spreading peace, of loving one another, and of the joy in acknowledging that the poorest of the poor are "our brothers and sisters."
In 2003, Mother Teresa was beatified by Pope John Paul II, marking her first step toward canonization or elevation to sainthood.
The head of the Archdiocese Convention of Albania, Archbishop Engjëll Masafra, calls the canonization a great honor.
“That a small woman physically, but in fact a great person, who has been called the Mother of Humanity, of the World, becomes a saint - it’s a great honor, as well as an obligation for us Albanians, that in spite of the religion they belong to, to be like Mother Teresa - a model for the love of God and to help others,” the archbishop said.
The Missionaries of Charity, the organization she launched with only 20 nuns, today is active in more than 130 countries, with more than 4,500 sisters offering free services to the poorest of the poor.
Mother Teresa died in Calcutta in 1997.