Here at MissMuslim we don’t just highlight the accomplishments of Muslim women, we throw shine at all women who are making a difference. Fewer people have been better champions for change than Mother Teresa.
If you don’t know who Mother Teresa is – which I feel is nearly impossible – allow me to give you a rundown on this phenomenal woman who transcends the constraints of culture and religion to be an exemplary person to all who know of her deeds.
Mother Teresa was born in what is now Macedonia in 1910 and died in Calcutta in 1997. In fact, she spent so much time in India that she eventually became an Indian citizen and it was in India that she began the Missionaries of Charity. The sisters of that congregation (who wore the signature white saris with the blue hem) devoted their lives to aiding the poor, hungry, sick, and dying. Mother Teresa believed that it was her calling in life to care for those who had been forgotten or mistreated by society. Her home even cared for those suffering from leprosy – something many were shunned for during her time.
In 1982 during the Siege of Beirut, Mother Teresa was able to rescue children in a hospital on the front lines by negotiating a cease fire between Israeli and Palestinian factions. Her efforts allowed herself and Red Cross to travel into the war zone and remove the young patients.
She also traveled to Ethiopia, Chernobyl, and Armenia after various disasters struck the locations respectively. By 1996 Mother Teresa had missions operating in over 100 countries. If that’s not cool enough, she also spoke 5 languages: Bengali, Albanian, Serbian, English, and Hindi. But Mother Teresa’s crowning earthly achievement was winning the Nobel Peace Prize for her humanitarian work in 1997.
While Mother Teresa was completing these works, it is well documented in her journals and biography that she often struggled with her faith. She firmly believed that God had called her to lead the life of a nun but often struggled to feel God’s presence in her life.
“Where is my faith? Even deep down … there is nothing but emptiness and darkness … If there be God—please forgive me. When I try to raise my thoughts to Heaven, there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives and hurt my very soul.”
Despite the doubt, she never stopped her work. She was recognized by the second highest power in Catholicism, the Vatican, and even had the honor of meeting Pope John Paul II who would be the person to begin Mother Teresa’s long journey towards sainthood.
Author’s Note: While there is no office higher than pope in the Catholic church, it is noted here as second highest out of respect for the belief in the position of Jesus Christ.
So how does one become a saint?
It all begins at death. How morbid. So a Catholic person who is considered holy by the Catholic masses dies and they are now considered for canonization. The local bishop digs into the life and writings of the deceased usually a few years removed from time of death. The bishop is looking for traits of martyrdom and genuine practice of the Catholic faith because if you want to be a saint you’ve got to talk the talk AND walk the walk.
Once the deceased has passed the bishop inspection, a panel of theologians at the Vatican, consider the case. If they lend their approval the deceased is now in a state of veneration and is one step closer to being considered a saint.
The beatification is where a lot of candidates kind of get stuck. Beatification requires the occurrence of at least one miracle in the name of the candidate. Miracles are considered a sign that the person is in heaven and interceded on behalf of the living. In the case of Mother Teresa, her miracle came in 2002 when a woman named Monica Besra was healed of her tumor after a locket containing Mother Teresa’s photo was placed over the abdomen. Besra claims that a beam of light emanated from the photo and that light healed the tumor. This miracle is highly debated by doctors and by Besra’s own husband.
However, a second miracle took place in Mother Teresa’s name wherein a man was cured of multiple brain tumors, thereby solidifying her claim to sainthood. Now that two miracles have occurred and Mother Teresa is undoubtedly one of the most popular icons in the Catholic world, the Vatican has no choice but to extend to her this high honor.
But to now see this church that is so inundated with men and ruled by them, honor a woman and bring her to the highest ranks in their system, well that’s just a win for all of us isn’t it?
Personally, as someone who spent many years in Catholic school listening to Mr. O’Brien drone on and on about popes and saints, I am elated that it is Pope Francis who will take part in this historic event. By far, he has been my favorite pope which I didn’t think would happen after my first favorite, John Paul II, died. In my lifetime I’ve been lucky enough to see two popes with my own eyes – Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican and Pope Francis in Central Park – and the amount of warmth that radiates from these people and the joy their presence brings is a miracle in and of itself. But to now see this church that is so inundated with men and ruled by them, honor a woman and bring her to the highest ranks in their system, well that’s just a win for all of us isn’t it?
Mother Teresa will be officially named a saint on September 4 of this year.