Saint Mother Teresa : Our Teacher and Guide! : by Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ
Lebanon: September 4th, 2016 will be a historic day indeed not only for the Catholic Church and for India ,but in fact for the whole world. Millions across the globe are expected to witness the canonization of Mother Teresa by Pope Francis. Mother Teresa was regarded and adored as the ‘Saint of the Gutters’ even when she was alive. Officially acknowledging her as a Saint is a fitting tribute to someone who has meant the world to millions all over, very specially to the poor and the marginalized; to the excluded and the rejected!
Very symbolically, Mother Teresa died on 5th September 1997. ‘Teacher’s Day’ has traditionally been observed in India on September 5th as a tribute (on his birth anniversary) to the late President of India Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, who besides being a great educationist and philosopher, also believed that education is the key to India’s inclusive development. As a young nun in the Loretto Convent, Mother Teresa was trained to be a teacher. She embraced this profession with great love and dedication. This was evident in the many years she taught in the St. Mary’s Bengali Medium School for girls in Kolkata. When she left the Loretto Sisters in 1948 to found the Missionaries of Charity, she never stopped being a teacher!
She was convinced that the poor children of the slums of Calcutta (her new home) had to be taught the 3Rs (reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic) but more than that, she realized that education had to be inclusive and value-based. For Mother Teresa, Jesus was the Master Teacher; and she did all she could to communicate HIS values to those around her. Over the years Mother Teresa became the embodiment of many values but high among them were the values of Jesus: Compassion, Courage and Commitment.
If ever one would dare give a core competency to Mother Teresa, it is the single characteristic of being a compassionate person. She lived this quality in a way, few humans have ever done; her love for the marginalized and the vulnerable and particularly for the poorest of the poor was boundless. She was able to give and not to count the cost. It was her ability to be compassionate towards others that motivated her to found the Missionaries of Charity. She was effusive in her compassion for others. It was a common sight to see her embracing someone –who lesser mortals would find any excuse to be a mile away from.
It takes courage to answer a call and Mother Teresa demonstrated this value many times over. As a very young European, she left the distant shores of her country to come to serve in India. Living in India in those days was not easy, yet she opted for a tougher life, literally ‘pitching her tent’ among the poorest of the poor in the slums of Kolkata. She had to face several obstacles all through her life but she faced them squarely, proving that she was truly a woman of substance. She was often accused of “conversion” (that continues even today from the RSS and their ilk). In March 1996 when she visited Ahmedabad, the Municipal Commissioner hosted a reception at his residence inviting several eminent citizens of the city and also the Mayor and her husband to it. The Mayor’s husband wanted to trap Mother with that stereotyped question, (in the full glare of the media) “Mother, why do you want to convert people?” – pat came a reply “who am I to convert?I can never convert. Only God converts! From this moment onwards, I will pray to God to convert you too”. The ‘protester’ stood there just too shell-shocked to say another word! Mother Teresa proved that she had the courage of her convictions!
For Mother Teresa, there was never looking back. Her commitment to the cause to which she espoused herself, is legendary. At times, she, her Sisters and the people entrusted to her care had nothing to eat – but she never gave up because she knew that her God would never let her down. She remained a committed person till the very end. This unflinching commitment also became a hallmark of her way of proceeding.
Education in India is today generally in the doldrums. The ‘New Education Policy’ being put forward by the National Government is bound to destroy the pluralistic fabric of the country. Today, more than ever, India and the world, in general, yearns for Compassion, Courage and Commitment. No amount of gimmicks and high-profile publicity can generate these qualities. Through her humble and simple ways, Mother Teresa was truly the embodiment of Compassion, Courage and Commitment. In a manner most unassuming, she taught the world the need and importance of embracing these values.
It is also noteworthy that because of Mother Teresa and since 2013, the United Nations General Assembly has designated September 5th as the International Day of Charity. In a path-breaking resolution adopted earlier, it “reaffirmed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world”. The resolution also affirmed that “charity may contribute to the promotion of dialogue among people from different civilizations, cultures and religions, as well as of solidarity and mutual understanding.” It finally invited all member states, civil society, NGOs and others to commemorate the day “in an appropriate manner, by encouraging charity, including through education and public awareness-raising activities.”
As we celebrate Saint Mother Teresa, Teacher’s Day and the International Day of Charity let us all in some small ways learn to be more Compassionate, more Courageous and more Committed!
Let us pray to Mother Teresa to continue to be our teacher and our guide!
Fr Cedric Prakash, receiving the Mother Teresa Award who had fought for Gujarat Muslims
Fr Cedric Prakash SJ is a human rights activist and is currently based in Lebanon and engaged with the Jesuit Refugee Service(JRS) in the Middle East on advocacy and communications. He has been with Mother Teresa on several different occasions and was responsible for her visit to Ahmedabad in 1996. He is closely associated for more than thirty years with the Missionaries of Charity. He will be in Rome for the Canonization Ceremony on September 4th. He can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org)