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A Centenary for the Angel of Mercy

Love to humankind- Wenceslaus Anthony.jpgThe world is now marking the Birth Centenary of Mother Teresa, revered by world leaders and people of all communities as one of the greatest souls ever born. The 100th Birthday celebrations have special significance as people gather in prayer, recalling her famous quotes.

One such would be, “Let us touch the dying, the poor, the lonely and the unwanted, according to the graces we have received and let us not be ashamed or slow down to do the humble work.”

I happened to meet Mother Teresa in a nursing home in Kolkata when I was a young.

I was there to visit my own mother who underwent a surgery.

Mother Teresa was there to visit a sick patient. Excited, I said, “Mother, we heard the news that you have been awarded the Noble Peace Prize.”

“Is that so?” she responded and asked, “What is Noble Peace Prize?”

I looked at her in total surprise not knowing what to say. Seeing my blank expression, she laughed, grabbed my hand and said, “God Bless You.”

It took me a while to recover from that subtle humour.

Free Tram ride

Love to humankind-Mother Teresa  Anthony.jpgDuring my early years in Kolkata, I would take a free tram ride in First Class with friends in Kolkata. As the ticket examiner approached, we would jump out of the running tram to avoid being caught. The cost of the ticket was paltry but the sheer luxury of the cushion seats and the large ceiling fans encouraged us to commit the ‘little offence.’

Mother Teresa always travelled in Second Class. Whenever we spotted her boarding a tram, we would also do so, to have a chat with her. It also meant that when we had to pay for the ride. This taught us the virtue of honesty!

It was always a joy to be with Mother and relish her humour.

I recollect one of the jokes that she shared with me.

She had a dream, in which Saint Peter was at the Gate of Heaven. He told her, “Mother, there are no slums here.”

Mother responded, “Saint Peter, let me in and I will find one.”

After my graduation in 1979, I moved to Madras (now Chennai) and lived there until I migrated to New Zealand in 1999.

However, whenever I visited Kolkata, I never failed to meet Mother Teresa, who always enlightened me.

I accompanied Mother on her last visit to Chennai from Kolkata in 1995.

It was a great experience to be seated beside her throughout the flight.

She kept informing the crew not to throw away waste food left over by the passengers but to give it to her so that she can feed the poor.

When I introduced my ten-year-old daughter at the VIP lounge at the Chennai Airport, she hugged her and said, “You must join the Missionary of Charities.”

She had a similar advise for the daughter of Sornabathran Sripal (a Jain by faith), then Director General of Police in Tamil Nadu.

She had come to the Blessings of a new Church built by Parish Priest Father Vincent Chinnadurai in honour of St Joseph at Erukkanchery, one of the poorest areas in Chennai. That was her last visit to the Tamil Nadu capital.

Fr Vincent was fervently praying for Mother Teresa’s visit, which was postponed earlier. “Mother could not make it for the inauguration but now my prayers are answered,” he said.

Rupee Coin

It seemed to me that Mother was always looking for vocations for her congregation.

She attended a few functions in Chennai, at each of which large crowds gathered to hear her speak and seek her blessings. She blessed them all, giving each a medal from a cloth bag that hung on her shoulder. As she was leaving for Kolkata, I asked her for a medal. She had none left. She gave me a Rupee coin with her blessings.

I mentioned this to Margaret Alva, then a Minister in the Union Cabinet during a breakfast meeting hosted by (the late) Archbishop Arul Dass James.

Ms Alva said, “I also met Mother during her visit. She gave me a Cross and said, ‘Keep this Margaret, since you are in public office.’

She then asked, “Why did she you a Rupee Coin, while I received a Cross?”

I casually remarked, “May be Mother wants you to carry the Cross and wants me to make money!” We had a good laugh.

On a subsequent occasion, I mentioned about this conversation to Mother in Kolkata.

She immediately responded with a smile, “Yes, make money but also for me.”

Even now, I miss Mother but can always feel her spirit and presence.

It was a great blessing to be present at her funeral.

I have made a personal video on Mother for my family, which is a testimony of our Love and Gratitude to God for the gift of Mother Theresa to our family and the world.

This would be the legacy to be passed on.

Robin Sharma, an internationally acclaimed Leadership Guru, asked a pertinent question in his book, Who will cry when you die?

He posed several challenging questions.

Among them were, ‘How many lives would we have touched while we had the blessing to walk on this planet? What impact will our life have on generations that will follow? What legacy do we leave behind after we breathe our last and as our near and dear ones bid us farewell?

In the case of Mother Teresa, world leaders flew to Kolkata to attend her funeral.

The Indian Government accorded her a state funeral, with full military honours, reserved only for Heads of State and Heads of Governments.

However, the response of a young man at the funeral somewhat answered the question, Who will cry when you die?

An electrician by profession and a Muslim by faith, the desolate young man, told me amidst uncontrollable sobs, “I am not able to shake off the grief. It is like losing my own Mother.”

We still cannot reconcile to the loss; she was Mother to all, including the powerful and the powerless and her admirers and critics.

He once said, “No matter who says what, you should accept it with a smile and do your own work.”

This message has had a deep impact in me.

I believe that the Indian Government is marking the Birth Centenary of Mother Teresa with a Commemorative Coin released by President Pratibha Patil at an official function in New Delhi.

This is a fitting tribute to the Mother known throughout the world for her compassion and charity work.

Wenceslaus Anthony is a devout Christian involved in a number of Church activities in New Zealand. He is the Chairman of WA Marketing Limited and presides over the India New Zealand Business Council.

Photo : Mother Teresa with Wenceslaus Anthony in Chennai in 1995.

About Mother Teresa

Mother Teresa was born in Albania on August 26, 1910. She was named Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu.

She dedicated her life to the cause of the poor and the needy. Migrating to India, she established the Missionaries of Charity in Kolkata (then Calcutta) in 1950 and for more than 45 years, she served the poor, sick, orphaned and dying.

Starting from a four-room and one hall set up at 14, Creek Lane in the West Bengal Capital, the Missionaries of Charity continued to expand, and now comprises over 4500 sisters and is active in 133 countries.

It runs homes for people with HIV/AIDS, leprosy and tuberculosis. It also conducts children’s and family counselling programmes and runs orphanages and schools.

Mother Teresa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. The Government of India conferred the highest civilian honour of ‘Bharat Ratna’ (‘The Gem of India’) on her in January 1980.

The world was plunged into sorrow when she died on September 5, 1997.

The birth centenary of one of the noblest persons ever lived on this earth began on August 23 at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the world’s first Cathedral named after the Mother, at Baruipur, 24 km from Kolkata.

Bishop of Baruipur Salvadore Lobo conducted the Mass, attended by 14 other Bishops from various Diocese and thousands of devotees.

The Vatican completed beatification of Mother Teresa and gave her the title Blessed Teresa of Calcutta October 19, 2003, by accepting as miracle the claim of a tribal woman from Raijang in North Dinajpur that her tumour got healed after she prayed to the Mother.

A second miracle is needed before Mother Teresa can be declared a Saint.

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