August 9, 2015
On our final day of the pilgrimage, we had our breakfast at the Guchhi after getting to sleep in a little more than the previous days. Embarking on our penultimate excursion around 8 am, we boarded the buses and sang our morning prayer, which ended just as we reached our destination.
We arrived at Mother Teresa’s house which consisted of an exhibition, her tomb, and the room she stayed in while in Kolkata.
Agnes Bojanxhiu, later known as Mother Teresa, was born on August 26th, 1910 in Skopje, Macedonia, which at that time was under the Ottoman Empire. Even during her very early years, Agnes was fascinated by the work of Missionaries, especially their service work in Bengal. At the age of 12, she committed herself to a religious life. At 18, she left her home to join the Sisters of Loreto in Ireland with hopes of becoming a missionary. She arrived in Darjeeling in 1929 and learned Bengali while teaching at a schoolhouse named St. Mary’s School. Teresa taught for almost 20 years and also became appointed headmistress of the schoolhouse. It was near the end of this time when Teresa witnessed the intense poverty around her through tragedies such as the Bengal famine and acts of Hindu and Muslim violence.
In 1946, Teresa received her second calling, this time to help the poorest of the poor. She requested the Church for permission to leave the convent and work outside the order. “Rare for any member of the clergy, in 1946 it was unheard of for a nun.” In 1948, after a few months of receiving basic medical training, Mother Teresa began her work in Calcutta’s slums. She was joined by a group of young women. Together, they formed a new religious community to help the poor. Although Mother Teresa’s help was tremendously appreciated by the local authorities, she was offered very little assistance and faced many difficulties early in her work in Calcutta, having to beg for food and supplies. However, Mother Teresa persisted and selflessly served those living in extreme poverty. In 1950, she finally received permission from the Vatican to start what would be the Missionaries of Charity to help the “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.” In the 1950s and 1960s, Mother Teresa’s work led to the creation of a leper colony, an orphanage, a nursing home, a family clinic, and a number of mobile clinics. In the 1970s, she established an American house of charity in New York City and also won the Nobel Peace Prize. In the 1980s, she secretly traveled to Beirut where she served both Christian and Muslim children. Mother Teresa passed away in 1997 – at that time there were more than 4,000 Missionaries of Charity with over 610 foundations in 123 countries.
As we walked through the house, we saw many aspects of Mother Teresa’s life. In one part of the exhibit, we could view some of her possessions such as combs, brushes, utensils, clothing, and her wheelchair.
One of the most wonderful aspects of this exhibit was a voice recording of Mother Teresa herself. The displays here also contained many of her life works and accomplishments, such as the coveted Nobel Peace Prize that she received on December 11, 1979. Near the exit of the room was a notebook filled with pages of notes written by those who wish to convey a message to Mother Teresa.
Mother Teresa’s tomb sits within one of the rooms of the the Missionaries of Charity building. Upon entering this room, we felt a serene yet somber atmosphere. Mother’s tomb was adorned with red roses in the shape of her rosary, a set of candles, and a statue of Mother Mary.
On the walls, there were three paintings depicting her life’s work and her image to the world. Each piece of art was paired with a beautiful quote expressing the essence of the work. Mother Teresa’s tombstone read:
“Love one another as I have loved you” St. John 15:12
Mother M. Teresa M. C.
26.8.1910 – 5.9.1997
Our Dearly Beloved Mother Foundress of the Missionaries of Charity
On our way out of the room, one of the sisters handed us a photo of Mother Teresa, a specialized pendant, and an informative pamphlet on the Mother’s life.
After visiting her tomb, we walked up a set of narrow stairs to Mother Teresa’s room. The room was narrow and very small. In fact, it was built on top of the kitchen and the room would get very hot. Yet, Mother Teresa never used a fan!
In the room we caught a glimpse of Mother Teresa’s simple life. We saw a thin cot covered in a plaid blanket, a simple wooden table, and her desk where Mother Teresa answered letters sent to her. Also kept in the room was a glass case displaying her rosary, first cross, and a pendant.
As we were getting ready to leave, we came to know that Sister Gertrude, a direct Sister-nun to Mother Teresa herself, was present in the house. We learned of Sister Gertrude’s background much later. Sister Gertrude, an aspiring medical student, met Mother Teresa in 1946, at age 17, when she was a boarding student at Loreto. Soon after, in 1948, Mother Teresa had left the convent to begin Missionaries of Charity. Once Sister Gertrude returned from her medical course, she learned of Mother Teresa’s whereabouts and joined her, becoming the third woman to join Mother Teresa in founding Missionaries of Charity. It was at Mother Teresa’s urging that Sister Gertrude completed her medical studies. She dedicated her life to the Mission, becoming it’s first doctor, and was often said to be Mother Teresa’s “right hand.” She cared for Mother Teresa and was at her side at the time of Mother’s passing. We were so blessed to be in her presence! We quickly walked up the stairs to meet her. She lovingly and humbly received all of us and gave us her good wishes and blessings. A few of us had a small conversation with her about loving all, not discriminating against people of different faiths, and keeping family close to you. As she held our heads to bless us, we could feel the pure love and power behind her.
Visiting Mother Teresa’s house truly put into perspective the universal language that is service. We hurriedly returned to the buses to begin the bus tour of Kolkata.
Here are some of Mother Teresa’s quotes and teachings:
“Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.”
“Be the living expression of God’s kindness: kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, and kindness in your smile.”
“It is easy to love the people far away. It is not always easy to love those close to us. It is easier to give a cup of rice to relieve hunger than to relieve the loneliness and pain of someone unloved in our own home. Bring love into your home for this is where our love for each other must start.”
“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”
“The problem with the world is that we draw the circle of our family too small.”
“If you are humble nothing will touch you, neither praise nor disgrace, because you know what you are.”
“Spread the love of God through your life but only use words when necessary.”
“Each one of them is Jesus in disguise.”
“Prayer in action is love, love in action is service.”
“Go out into the world today and love the people you meet. Let your presence light new light in the hearts of people.”
“The fruit of Silence is Prayer
The fruit of Prayer is Faith
The fruit of Faith is Love
The fruit of Love is Service
The fruit of Service is Peace”
(Report written by Apurva Shah and Kanchan Railkar, and edited by Ronak Parikh. Thanks to Nisha Parikh for adding photos.)