Mother Teresa, the nun born Agnes Gonxhe Bojaxhiu and hailed around the world for her humanitarian work, passed away on this day in 1997.
As the video above recalls, the Macedonian woman arrived in India in 1929 at the age of 19, and for nearly two decades, she lived and worked as a nun and teacher in a convent school in eastern Calcutta.
In 1946, she received what she described as “the call within the call”. “I was to leave the convent and help the poor while living among them,” she would later explain. “It was an order.”
And thus she began her famous life’s work: helping the "poorest among the poor” in the slums of Calcutta. In 1950, she turned this small religious community into the Missionaries of Charity. Its mission was, in Mother Teresa’s own words, to care for "the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers, all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society, people that have become a burden to the society and are shunned by everyone."
The Missionaries of Charity’s work began to spread, with homes opening up all over the world, and by the time of her death, the organisation had over 4,000 sisters operating 610 missions – hospices, homes, orphanages, soup kitchens, schools and more – in 123 countries.
Mother Teresa began to suffer from severe ill health in the 1980s, when she had two heart attacks. In 1991, she also battled pneumonia – and in 1996, she broke her collar bone, suffered malaria and cardiac problems, and underwent heart surgery. She stepped down as head of the Missionaries of Charity in March 1997, and died of heart failure on September 5.
She had become an Indian citizen in 1948, and was granted a state funeral by the Indian government in recognition of her services to the poor and sick of the country. After lying in state for a week, her body was carried through the streets of Calcutta on a gun carriage decorated with garlands of jasmine, escorted by a military honour guard.
Thousands lined the streets to pay their respects and around 12,000 people – from presidents to paupers – attended her funeral service, which was held at Calcutta’s Netaji Indoor Stadium. Dressed in the white, blue-trimmed sari that was her trademark, her body lay in an open casket draped in the green, white and saffron colours of her adopted country.
The funeral service was conducted in English, Latin, Bengali and Hindi, and Pope John Paul II’s personal representative Angelo Sodano presided over the mass. “Crossing the frontiers of religious and ethnic differences, she has taught the world this lesson: It is more blessed to give than to receive,” he said.
In his eulogy, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Calcutta, Henry D'Souza, said: “To the dying and the suffering she brought her tender compassion, washing their wounds, easing their pain.
“The warmth of her hands reflected the warmth of her heart. Her goodness was contagious. It invited others to share.”
On September 13, Mother Teresa was buried in a private ceremony at Motherhouse Covent, the Calcutta headquarters of the Missionaries of Charity. Her simple tomb carries the words from the Bible: “Love one another as I have loved you.”