[aˈɲɛs ˈɡɔɲdʒa bɔjaˈdʒiu]
Have you ever been drawn to a soul and already know and believe you understand it? And even desire to imitate that soul’s heart? As a young girl I [knew] of a unique soul who lived far far away from my hometown Kalamazoo Michigan where I grew up who served the poor, sick and dying. Although I did not know much about her beginnings in Albania nor all the details in India I did know one thing: she had Jesus in her heart by the way she [chose] to live her life and I noticed. While most young girls were focused on Barbie, models and actresses, I had no time for them. My heart and mind were attracted to someone who was authentically living her faith…I was so curious about this woman the world called ‘Mother Teresa’ and her missionary work in India. I thought of her often and wanted to be just like her someday. I knew she had it right and devoting her whole life to prayer and service to God’s people appealed to me. In the fall of 1987, I was a junior in college and I studied abroad in India. While in Indian I was exposed to many amazing and interesting experiences but the most profound experience by far was when I walked on the streets of Calcutta and noticed my feet walking into the Mother home of the Missionaries of Charity. My eyes mesmerized by the hundreds and I mean hundreds of woman and children lined up with a small bowl in their hands waiting patiently for the sisters (dressed in white sari’s with a blue stripe around their veil) who stood in front of the biggest steel containers I have ever seen in my life to scoop one large spoon of soup with rice into their tin bowls. I was in awe by the happening and saddened by the real despair in front of me. I was so young and felt so helpless. I even forgot where I was as I tried to take it all in my mind. Lost in my thoughts and concerns for all these people it did not even occur to me that at any given moment I would be in the presence of Mother Teresa. Busy watching it all and captivated by Sister Nirmala Joshi who guided our tour of the Mother House I spontaneously grabbed my professor’s arm and said pretty loudly “WHERE IS SHE? It seemed like the longest answer ever…he whispered…”I think she is in A…F…R…I…C…A” “WHAT? You mean she is not here in Calcutta? But we are here and I…dream of her.” My next question to him was “When is she coming back? Tomorrow? “Well, she just left yesterday and she will be gone for a few weeks,” he said. I heard nothing. Shocked I suppose. All I can remember thinking at the time was it cannot be true; “you mean I just missed her?” “She has to be here somewhere. He is just mistaken.” In shock but running on excitement I continued looking around at the hundreds of babies all in cribs. Overwhelmed and excited [something] made me pause for a moment in my footsteps…coming out of a daze I stopped right in front of the tiniest baby I had ever seen in my life. She was so alert and her eye’s so responsive to me. Immediately, I asked the sister nearest to me to hold her. She granted me permission to hold her and I held this baby [Tiara] for hours. She weighed all but 5 lbs… I thought she was one month old. She was actually 7 months old but was very malnourished before she was found and brought to Mother Teresa. A precious ‘tiny’ bundle of creation and a true witness to the value and gift of life. I held her for as long as I could…I did not want to let her go. With such innocence, I asked Sister Nirmala, who was in charge while Mother Teresa was away, if adoption was a possibility. A very firm woman she responded, “Mother will not let any of her kids leave their country…they are Indian and belong in India!” Even though my heart was broken I respectfully yet quietly responded, “yes sister, Mother knows best.” Our time was up and we had to go…while back at the hotel I begged my professor to call home because I HAD to ask my Mother SOMETHING very important. He granted me access to the telephone line and I called her back in the States. With so much joy, I said “Mom, Mom, mom I held this baby girl today; she was so tiny, so alert, and so Beautiful…can I adopt her and bring her home?” My Mother’s first response was…”honey you are so young and cannot raise a child at St. Mary’s College in your dorm room. I said, “yes, I can…with God everything is possible. I can go to school part time and parent her…give her all my love and a good start and then finish my degree.” My Mother asked, how are you going to pull all this off?” “I don’t know…but what I do know is I wanted to give her my love and God will work out all the rest.” Well, you all know I had to leave India in December and little Tiara stayed with Mother. I often wonder what ever happened to this precious child. I am confident that if God allowed Mother to stand her ground on no international adoptions of Indian orphans than He took good care of her. I know some day God will allow us to meet. How joyful and beautiful that moment will be.
I also wanted to add that I had the amazing privilege of attending Blessed Mother Teresa’s Beatification Celebration in Rome on October 19, 2003. It was a surreal day. She will always occupy a special place in my soul and I am forever grateful to have lived during her life time so to witness her heart….a heart like Jesus. (I took the featured photograph while attending her beatification.)
A tribute to you Blessed Mother Teresa today on your “true Birthday” 27 August 1910…as you called it…the day of your baptism!! Blessed Mother Mary Teresa of Calcutta was born Agnes Gonxha Bojazhiu [ Albanian: [aˈɲɛs ˈɡɔɲdʒa bɔjaˈdʒiu)] on August 26, 1910 in Shkodra Albania to Nicola and Dranafile Bojazhiu. Gonxha means ‘little flower’ or ‘rosebud’. Agnes grew up in Skopje in Kossovo region of what is now Macedonia in Serbia…a town hundred miles from her birth place. Disciplined, humble and obedient Blessed Mother Teresa had a heart like and for Jesus. She devoted her life every day to God and His people. She once said “it was all part of God’s plan, I am just an instrument of His divine will.” Her prayer life was at the center of everything she did. She spent countless hours before the blessed sacrament in an continuous effort to be in His presence and Light. Her mission was proclaiming God’s thirsting love for humanity especially for the poorest of the poor. Love for God and her neighbor had been planted in her heart since she was a little girl. She made her final vows in 1942 and that’s when her baptismal name Agnes Gonxha was changed to Mary Teresa. On September 10, 1946 she was inspired to found the Missionaries of Charity and fulfill what she called “call within a call”. In 1955, Missionaries of Charity opened their first home for children called Shishu Bhavan. During her lifetime (1910- September 5, 1997) she was responsible for establishing approximately 445 Missionaries of Charity houses in 133 countries around the world and was the ‘Mother’ of 4,500 sisters. She was certain that her mission and call was to bring the light of faith to those living in darkness. What Blessed Mother Teresa did not know at the time is that “darkness” would be her greatest trial in her own life. She came to know that her painful wrestle internally with darkness was an essential part of living out her mission. She viewed it as her cross and embraced it as a way she shared in the Passion of Christ on the Cross…as Christ thirst for His people and for their love and salvation. Although Blessed Mother Teresa describes in her private writings the agony of this “darkness” she was truly an instrument of His light serving with much love and a joyful heart. Your life was a witness of love, a true miracle in action. Today millions of lives are better off because you [chose] Jesus to occupy your heart and be the master and Lord of your soul. You are loved!!!