Navin Chawla, the author of Mother Teresa (1992) did a remarkable job in capturing the love and sensitivity of one of Christianity's modern icons. Mother Teresa was born on August 26, 1910 in Skopje, Yugoslavia, and in 1979 as a Catholic religious sister she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. She received the Call of God at the young age of 18 and decided to leave her home to become a nun in India. Her vocation was towards serving the poor. On January 16, 1929 she went to the mountain resort of Darjeeling, 400 miles north of Calcutta to begin her life as a novice. Two years later she took her first vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. At Loretto – Entally, she has been a teacher and Principal.
By the early 1940s, Chawla showed Mother Teresa met poverty well with the Great Bengal Famine that stalked India. Many Indians were starving, sorrowful, and lying lifelessly on the streets. And shortly after that she got another “Call within a Call” to begin a second vocation to serve “the poorest of the poor.” She therefore had to have permission to leave the cloistered life in the convent to work in the streets of Calcutta. Chawla documented the struggles with her spiritual confessor Father Celeste Van Exem, her bishop, and the Vatican. Fortunately for the world she prevailed and permission was granted for her to do the work among poor souls.
In her new vocation as advocate, healer, and provider for “the poorest of the poor,” she was joined by some young women some of whom were formerly her students to do such such work. So by the 1950s, with some medical training under her belt, she was already heading the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Much is described of the travels of these sisters to be with the poor all over the world. They would walk or take public transportation to their assignments in India. However there was a Motherhouse – headquarters, to coordinate their growing operations.
Mother Teresa pledged to take all the unwanted babies of the world. Her Missionaries of Charity continue to give out hundreds for adoption. Her views on abortion have many detractors. She has advocated for natural family planning that involves abstention of couples, and the exercise of self-control. She showed implicit faith in the Roman Catholic doctrine and wanted to bring prayer back into our lives. Later, the author vividly described Pope Paul V1 visit to India as guest of the government in 1965. His Lincoln Continental limousine which he used for his state visit was later donated to Mother Teresa's charities. It was raffled off for a tidy sum with which she built a main hospital block in Shantinagar.
Mother Teresa's humanitarian facilities presently include dispensaries, leprosy clinics, rehabilitation centers, homes for the abandoned - crippled, mentally retarded, unwed mothers, sick, dying destitute, and AIDS patients. Educational activities were ongoing at various schools. There were classes in sewing, commercial, and handicraft. The sisters made prison visits, family contacts, taught catechism classes, and Sunday School. Their activities are centered around Catholic action groups.
Now Missionaries of Charity encompasses Missionary Brothers of Charity and with the addition to houses established all over India, there are international houses that presently exist in many areas of the world. These could be found in places like Bangladesh, Northern Ireland, the Gaza Strip, Yemen, Ethiopia, Sicily, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Panama, Japan, Portugal, Brazil, Burundi, England, USA, USSR, South Africa, and all over Eastern Europe.
Chawla who had to do much traveling to keep up with Mother Teresa's activities carefully describes her many ventures and difficulties in establishing such homes. It all started with Mother Teresa's desire to live with the poor to understand them as equals. In one of her experiences - of the first woman who she picked up many years ago, lying on a street of Calcutta, her face eaten by ants and rats, it was her observation that such a person was the abandoned Christ.
After many years of dedicated service to “the poorest of the poor,” Mother Teresa laid ailing and millions prayed for her recovery and often she would pull back from the precipice of death. But on September 5, 1997 – a few days after her 87th birthday, she went home to be with her God. Before she died, on March 13, 1997, the Missionaries of Charity elected Sister Nirmala to succeed her as their new Superior General. The Indian government honored her with a state funeral, her coffin being on a gun carriage that once bore the bodies of Mahatma Ghandi and Jawaharlal Nehru. Chawla's book truly captured the spirit and life of this extraordinary woman.