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Remembering Mother Teresa: Need for compassion to overcome divisiveness, racism, communalism and xenophobia

By Fr Cedric Prakash sj*
Mother Teresa was the epitome of compassion. If ever one would dare to give a core competency to her, it is this single characteristic of being a compassionate person. She radiated this quality, when on earth, in a way, few humans could ever do; her love for the marginalized and the vulnerable and particularly for the poorest of the poor and the dying destitute was boundless. She was able to give and not to count the cost. Her ability to be compassionate towards others motivated her to found the Missionaries of Charity. She was effusive in her compassion for the “least of our sisters and brothers” and did not try to hide this fact.

In a fitting tribute to Mother Teresa the United Nations in 2013, declared every September 5th (her death anniversary) as the ‘International Day of Charity’ inviting “all Member States and all international and regional organizations, as well as civil society, including non-governmental organizations and individuals, to commemorate the Day in an appropriate manner, by encouraging charity, including through education and public awareness-raising activities.”
The world desperately stands in need of compassion today! A compassion, which reaches out to the unloved, the ostracized, the marginalized and the vulnerable. A compassion, that takes a stand for the poor, the victims of injustice, the refugees and the displaced. A compassion, that is able to negate and overcome the hate and divisiveness; the racism and communalism; the xenophobia and the exclusiveness that has gripped our world as never before. We need the compassion of Mother Teresa as never before.
On September 4th 2016, in a very special ceremony at St Peter’s Square in the Vatican, Pope Francis canonized Mother Teresa as a Saint of the Catholic Church. In his homily he reminded the world of the need and importance to live the values which St Teresa of Kolkata embodied:
May this tireless worker of mercy help us to increasingly understand that our only criterion for action is gratuitous love, free from every ideology and all obligations, offered freely to everyone without distinction of language, culture, race or religion. Mother Teresa loved to say, 'Perhaps I don’t speak their language, but I can smile'. Let us carry her smile in our hearts and give it to those whom we meet along our journey, especially those who suffer. In this way, we will open up opportunities of joy and hope for our many brothers and sisters who are discouraged and who stand in need of understanding and tenderness”.
Mother Teresa died twenty years ago on September 5th 1997. Strangely and symbolically, September 5th is also observed as ‘Teachers Day’ in India in memory of our visionary late President Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, who besides being a great educationist and philosopher, also believed that education is the key to India’s inclusive development.
Mother Teresa was also a teacher, having taught in a Bengali Medium Girls School for several years before she founded the Missionaries of Charity. During her lifetime, she taught the world several important and valuable lessons. Compassion however, was her hallmark! We need to do our best to imbibe these values in whatever way we can. She would say, “In this life we cannot do great things; we can only do small things with great love!”
As we celebrate on September 5th, God’s great gift to mankind in the person of Mother Teresa, let us also pray to her, this great ‘Saint of the gutters’ to give us a compassionate heart, the courage to reach out in love unconditionally and the commitment to give and not to count the cost!
St Teresa of Kolkata pray for us!
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*Human rights activist, currently based in Lebanon, engaged with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in the Middle East on advocacy and communications

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