(Vatican Radio) It is hard to believe, isn’t it, that a teenage girl voluntarily leaves a loving family and home to become a missionary, never ever to see them again. Yes, it does happen, and something of that sort happened this month 79 years ago. She is Mother Teresa of Calcutta, today a saint.
Never to return home
She was born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu on August 26, 1910, of Albanian parents, Nikola and Dranafile Bojaxhiu, in Skopje, in what is Macedonia today, then part of the Ottoman Empire. At age 18, fired by a desire to become a missionary, Gonxha left her home in September 1928 to join the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, popularly known as the Sisters of Loreto, in Dublin, Ireland, whose nuns left for mission lands, never to return home.
In Dublin, Mother Teresa picked up English and adopted her religious name, Sister Mary Teresa, after St. Thérèse of Lisieux. In December that year, she set sail for India, arriving in Calcutta (Kolkata today) on January 6, 1929. After her first religious profession in May 1931, Sr. Teresa was assigned to teach at St. Mary’s School for girls at Loreto Entally.
“Call within a Call”
However, Sr. Teresa was cut out for something else. In September 1946, she experienced what she described as a “Call within a Call” from Christ to leave the Loreto Sisters and dedicate her life for the poor and the abandoned in Calcutta. Known for her unconditional love for the poor and the abandoned, she founded her Missionaries of Charity congregation in 1950. She earned numerous national as well as international honours, including the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, for her works of mercy.
She died in her adopted city of Kolkata on September 5, 1997 at the age of 87. St. John Paul II declared her Blessed on October 19, 2003, in the Vatican, and Pope Francis officially proclaimed her a saint on Sept. 4, last year. In all of the rest of her lifetime, Mother Teresa never met her mother whom she last saw in September, 1929.
Albania under Communism
In 1946, when Mother Teresa had the mystical experience of her “Call within her Call”, Albania came under the brutal Stalinist rule of Enver Hoxha and his party. The travel and visa restrictions that followed, made Albania one of the most difficult countries to visit or to travel from. In 1967, Albania declared itself the world's first atheist state. The regime came to an end in 90s with free elections in 1991 and a new constitution adopted in 1998.
How much pain did this separation cause both Mother Teresa as well as her mother? Well, we asked this question to Canadian Missionary of Charity priest Father Brian Kolodiejchuk, who was the postulator or promoter of the Cause of Beatification and Canonization of Mother Teresa.
On Sept. 5, Mother Teresa’s feast, Fr. Kolodiejchuk was in Pristina, Kosovo, on the occasion of the dedication of the city’s cathedral to her. He began by explaining Mother Teresa’s family.
Click the play button to listen:
Fr. Kolodiejchuk said that Mother Teresa used to tell her sisters of the Missionaries of Charity (MC) that her family was very united. In fact, they were actually five siblings, but two died so they were only three – her brother Lazar, her sister Aga and Mother Teresa.
When the young Agnes Gonxha answered the call to be a missionary, her postulator said, it was a great shock for her mother because their father had already died and found it very difficult to run the family. Mother Teresa said her mother “almost went off”, shutting herself up in her room for 24 hours. Finally she came out and said to the young Agnes, “OK…, put your hand in the hand of Jesus and never look back.” So the young teenager left, and as it happened they never ever met again on this earth.
Because she knew it was such a sacrifice for her mother, and also her sister who she never either saw, Mother Teresa used to sometimes say, “You know, God doesn’t have to judge me! My mother will judge me, because I made her suffer so much.” “So if I am not faithful to my vocation, my mother will judge me.”
Fr. Kolodiejchuk noted that there was a period of 10 years when Mother Teresa has had no contact whatsoever with her family. Her mother and sister moved from Skopje to Tirana (in Albania today), so they did not know anything about Mother Teresa and neither did she.
Mother or vocation?
At one point, it was in 1960 or ’61, Fr. Kolodiejchuk said, Mother Teresa and her brother Lazar, who was living in Palermo, in Sicily, tried to arrange a meeting with their family in the Albanian border. Somehow, that did not happen as her mother was sick. However, the border guards said that they could enter to visit their family but could not come out, and if their family came out they could not return either. So Mother Teresa had to choose between her mother, who she loved more than any other human being on earth, and her vocation. She chose her vocation.
Sensitive to MC sisters
Fr. Kolodiejchuk explained that because both she and her family suffered so much from this separation, Mother Teresa was very sensitive to her Missionaries of Charity sisters and their families. She would make them write once a month to their families.
Before the Vatican Council II, it was the custom not to allow novices to have any contact with their families but Mother Teresa used to insist they write home once a month. Her great love for her family made her sensitive to the sisters and their families.