Mother Teresa still resonates with Canadians

  • August 12, 2010
Mother Teresa of CalcuttaCanada is not like Calcutta. Mother Teresa was not like most Canadians. But somehow the life of the tiny Albanian nun who ministered to the abandoned, the forgotten and the dying in Calcutta speaks to Canadians.

August 26 is the centenary anniversary of the birth of Blessed Mother Teresa and events are taking place worldwide to honour the occasion.

At a July showing of relics of Mother Teresa at St. Barnabus parish in Toronto, Sr. Mary Frank of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity saw people standing in line with tears in their eyes.

“I saw that in Calcutta. (It’s) the same thing here,” she said.

When Blessed Teresa’s relics visited Winnipeg July 21, people drove hours to be there in one of the poorest, most dangerous neighbourhoods in Canada. Eight-hundred people filled Winnipeg’s Holy Ghost parish — even though the Winnipeg visit was a last-minute surprise and Holy Ghost pastor Fr. Maciej Pajak had no chance to get the word out.

People who showed up weren’t indulging in blind, emotional piety, said Pajak. Most of the visitors were regular collaborators with the Missionaries of Charity, Mother Teresa’s sisters who serve the poor from a house in Pajak’s parish.

Worldwide tributes to Mother Teresa

Communities around the world will be celebrating Mother Teresa’s 100th birthday on Aug. 26.

Here are some of the celebrations planned.

  • Lighting the Peace Bridge: In Niagara Falls, which spans the Niagara River connecting Canada and the United States, the Peace Bridge will be lit in blue and white — the colours of the Missionaries of Charity, the order Mother Teresa founded.

  • Mother Express”: Indian Railways will be introducing a new train on her centenary, “Mother Express.” The coaches of the train will be painted blue, the colours of her habit’s border.

  • Mother Teresa stamps: In Austria, Kosovo and the United States, stamps will be issued. While the Austrian and American stamps will feature images of Mother Teresa, the stamp from Kosovo will feature a silver statue of the Nobel Peace Prize winner.

  • Commemorative coins: The Monnaie de Paris — the French Mint — will be issuing four Mother Teresa collector coins. Weighing in at five ounces each, one of the coins features an image of her holding a young boy and says, “In our house there is always a bed ready for one more child.”

  • Mother Teresa Day: On Aug. 26, Assemblyman Jay Webber will bring forth a resolution in the Legislature to officially declare the day “Mother Teresa Day” in New Jersey.

  • Celebrating in Mother Teresa’s homeland: In Albania, some of the centennial celebrations will include events at Tirana’s Opera Theatre, National Theatre, Art Gallery and National Library.

  • Christmas concert: Fast-forwarding to Dec. 19, a Christmas concert will be held in Rome in honour of the centenary.

Pajak can see harsh reality of poverty across the street.

“Around the church and around the sisters we have prostitutes, gangs, drug dealers who are living just across the street from the church,” he said.

People came to visit with Mother Teresa’s relics and remember her before the 100th anniversary of her birth Aug. 26 because they believe in the humanity of the poor and the abandoned, said Pajak.

Like most Canadians, Tess Ocol doesn’t need to be convinced that Mother Teresa is a saint. Official canonization is a long process, but Ocol calls her a saint now.

Ocol’s experience of volunteering with the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta in 2002 changed her life. Before her brief three months of mornings in Daya Dan, a home for physically and intellectually disabled orphans, and afternoons in the Kalighat Home for the Dying, Ocol was a rising young management consultant.  A downturn in the economy, a breathless read through City of Joy by Dominique Lapierre, followed by a gift of a book about Mother Teresa and a doctor friend’s plans to travel to Calcutta all combined to inspire Ocol to take a brief leave from her job and volunteer with the Missionaries of Charity.

Three months of helping the terminally ill to the toilet, washing and playing with disabled children, and Ocol’s life was never the same.

She walked away from her career in management consulting, got a masters in international development, then began married life working for an NGO in Malawi.

“I wanted to do something related to poverty and social justice,” she said.

These days, Ocol is home in the Toronto suburb of Brampton caring for her two children. But she carries with her the lessons she learned from the sisters, and they learned from Mother Teresa — that what matters is small things done with great love.

“You would think that in the homes of the sisters there would be so much sadness. These are abandoned people. These are orphaned children with physical disabilities. That’s what I expected,” she said. “What surprised me was that actually there was so much joy in the homes.”

The children were joyful and the dying were peaceful.

Mother Teresa has plenty to say to rich, comfortable Canadians. She taught that the poverty of the West is worse than the poverty of developing countries, Ocol said.

“It’s the poverty of loneliness and abandonment, which is so much in our country,” said Ocol.

And there is a solution.

“It’s just little deeds done with great love, and you can put that in any context.”

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