The canonisation of the “Saint of the Gutters”, which will take place tomorrow, is a unique moment of pride for our ancient land, the cradle of so many great religions. Mother Teresa’s life and work reaffirms our faith in humanity that the streams of mercy have not dried up. She becomes tomorrow the ultimate symbol of asceticism in the Catholic Church. I am blessed that I will be able to witness this momentous event at the St Peter’s Basilica, Rome.
The life of this frail woman showed the greatness of God’s love and compassion towards us all. Her life attains greater significance in the context of a world reeling under terrorism, racism and other criminal offences that have become daily occurrences. She devoted her life to the “poorest of the poor” irrespective of caste or creed. Nobody can forget this exemplar of motherhood. In honour of her sacrifices, a grateful India acknowledged her with the Padma Shri in 1962 and the Bharat Ratna in 1980. And the world was not far behind. This apostle of peace and love received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 . In 1997 on her passing, the government of India accorded her a state funeral. Today, her tomb is a place of pilgrimage and prayer for thousands of visitors.
I followed her life closely, rejoicing in her becoming a saint during her lifetime. A picture of simplicity, her image could be portrayed even by small children with a piece of chalk with a few lines of blue on a background of white. The story of her life was equally simple. Every journey she undertook was a pilgrimage undertaken with God’s love. Her life was a fabric of compassion the main strands which was God’s love and humanity. With a deep insight into a human being’s undying desire to be loved and to love, she took it upon herself to translate this into action and touching the lives of those around her.
Her work touched every social evil, as she tried to heal a sick world. In Mother Teresa’s vision, feeding the hungry and caring for the dying were not ends in themselves, but a share in Jesus’ own redemptive “work of love” for the least and the lost. In the face of the overwhelming needs of the poor, abandoned on Calcutta’s streets and slums, Mother Teresa adopted a new approach to bringing God’s gospel and his love to the poor.
“By birth I am an Albanian, as a citizen I am Indian: By faith I am a Catholic; and my calling is to serve humanity”. When many are ceaselessly striving to build walls of separatism, these words are noteworthy. She was trying to inculcate a world view beyond the confines of caste, colour or creed. No political ideology or State could stop her from fulfilling her mission. Countries like China, Cuba, Ethiopia, the United States, and Russia, welcomed her as she tried to touch the lives of the poor. While doing so, she forgot all her trials and tribulations. And this is how she gave a new lease of life to leprosy and HIV patients.
Once a man ridiculed her work saying: “I wouldn’t touch a leprosy patient even if I am given $1,000”. Her reply was magnificent. She calmly said: “Yes, I too would not have touched a leprosy patient even if I was given $2,000 if it was for the sake of money. But I do it happily for the sake of God’s love.”
She is an icon of the times. Mother Teresa is a promise to the world that there is hope even in the most seemingly hopeless conditions. She travelled around the world as an apostle of mercy. She saw God in the most lowly and downtrodden. She heard the agony of the foetus being aborted in the sanctum sanctorum of life, a mother’s womb. She heard God’s voice in these silent cries, and responded. This ordinary woman became the guardian of the lives of so many. Now she passes on into immortality as St Teresa.
Mother Teresa’s mission and message have touched not only the poorest of the poor, but those well beyond the slums of Calcutta, as the Church proclaims her canonisation. Today, her life itself is a message of hope for innumerable people across the world. She became the gospel of compassion to all she met, a profound life of witness to God’s boundless love, Today, as we beseech her to intercede for us, let her life be a chronicle of servitude that all of us can try and emulate.
Cardinal Baselios Cleemis is major archbishop catholicos of the Malankara Syrian Catholic Church. He is president of the All India Bishops’ Conference.
The views expressed are personal