LETNICA, KOSOVO - On September 4, the world will watch as Mother Teresa - a woman whom the world has come to know as a humanitarian and founder of the Missionaries of Charity, will be canonized by the Catholic Church. A small community in Kosovo, where she spent time in her youth, is celebrating this momentous occasion and remembering the role their congregation played in inspiring the young woman to a life of devotion.
To the world, Mother Teresa came to be known as the mother of the poor and the needy, a symbol of a life of service to mankind. She began her charity work in India, where she was sent in 1929 by her religious congregation, the Loreto Sisters of Dublin. But she embraced her calling in the small Kosovo village of Letnica. Then a young woman of 18, she lived in Kosovo, where her family had resettled from her native Macedonia.
A devout Catholic from an early age, she would later reveal that it was in the Church of the Blessed Lady in Letnica that she decided to adopt a life of religious devotion.
The church today serves a community of 500 Catholics, in a village populated mostly by Albanians, with a small Croatian minority. The congregation is headed by Father Marjan Lorenci.
"This is where Mother Teresa felt the holy calling, after she arrived here from Macedonia, from Skopje. She came here because God brought her here with her family, and it is here that she heard God’s word. This is where she took her steps on the path to serve God, and what’s more important, to serve her fellow man,” Lorenci said.
For the local community, the canonization is a source of pride and a chance to share the famous missionary of Albanian origin with the world. Kosovare Xhoni, a member of the congregation, feels privileged.
“I was born and raised here, and I am very proud to have received my religious teachings at the same church where Mother Teresa first felt her calling,” Xhoni said.
Father Lush Gjergji, who first met Mother Teresa in 1968 and has written extensively on the Nobel laureate, says Letnica was always in her itinerary every time she visited Kosovo.
"The one place which she always visited was Letnica; it was her spiritual sanctuary,” said Gjergji, who serves as vicar of the Kosovo Archbishopric.
Mother Teresa visited Kosovo five times after she became a nun. But it is her charitable work around the world that garnered her international fame and the adoration of millions.
On September 4, the Catholic Church will formally declare her a saint, immortalizing a life of dedication that got its first inspiration in a church in a small Kosovo village.