Why was Mother Teresa always helping others?

Icon of charity or too strict euthanasia?

Thursday, May 20th, 2021

Religions / Archive | Article from 08/28/2010

For Mother Teresa's 100th birthday

By Ingeborg Rüthers

Was extremely hard on her fellow sisters: Mother Teresa. (AP)

Mother Teresa would have turned 100 on August 26th. Even almost 13 years after her death, the founder of the order is still a role model for many people. But it also has critics. Even during her lifetime, the petite woman was surrounded by a myth.

"It was not easy to talk to, it was difficult to visit and it was impossible to unravel."

So Karl-Heinz Melters, the former missio photographer, who experienced the religious woman up close several times. The woman who was known to the world as Mother Teresa was born on August 26, 1910 in the Macedonian city of Skopje, the youngest of three children. She was baptized as Agnes Gonxha, which means "flower bud". Agnes had a carefree childhood until she was eight. Her father worked as a businessman, he was lively and politically active. Her mother was strict, but she was also kind and very pious. Agnes and her siblings were raised very religiously.

When the father died, life changed for Agnes abruptly. The family suddenly had to fight for its existence. During this time Agnes learned to overcome unhappiness. She was helped by prayer, faith and entrepreneurship. This experience shaped her for the rest of her life. The photographer Karl-Heinz Melters has accompanied Mother Teresa on many trips.

"Mother Teresa herself was based in Addis Ababa in the middle of the civil war in Ethiopia. She said: 'You have to go south, there are two German sisters who have to be liberated.' We contradicted and said: 'It is impossible to go down there in this war time to the south, it is life-threatening.' She said: 'Nonsense, you're going there, I'm praying for you.' And we drove off and it was a bad trip, but we got to the south and put the sisters in the car and went back to Addis Ababa.

And when we got there, we wanted to go straight to the point and tell us what we had experienced. Then Mother Teresa just put her finger to her mouth and asked us to be silent and said: 'I know, that was definitely bad, but I prayed for you.' That was so typical of how unwavering their beliefs were. "

The Albanian girl knew early on that she wanted to lead a life as a religious. Agnes became interested in the Irish Order of the Sisters of Loreto. At the age of 19 she became a novice here and was named Teresa. Two years later, she took the vows of poverty, celibacy, and obedience. At first she worked as a teacher and helped in the hospital. Then she worked at St. Mary School in Calcutta and headed the school as director for several years.

Sister Teresa lived the secluded life of a nun for 19 years. Her life was shaped by calm, discipline, work and prayer. Once a year she went to the mountains to pray. On September 10, 1946, she had a key experience on such a trip: She felt a divine calling to look after the poorest of Calcutta. After two years the time had come - her work in the slums of Calcutta began. The group of their helpers grew steadily. Often the 'Missionaries of Charity' - as they called themselves - worked up to 21 hours a day. The church was also impressed by the achievements of the sisters.

On October 7, 1950, they were recognized by the Pope as a religious community. Two years after the mother house was established, almost everyone in Calcutta knew the sisters in their blue and white robes, the so-called saris. Mother Teresa was not only increasingly admired in India.

Karl-Heinz Melzer: "There was hardly a person in the world who was admired by such different people as Lady Di, Gorbatschow, Niki Lauda or Richard von Weizsäcker and many more. She was a person who had a company that worked with comparable to a large corporation, has only managed with a telephone and without a fax machine.

But Mother Teresa was extremely tough on her fellow sisters. It is the miracle that, despite this harshness and severity, the order actually has absolutely no worries about the next generation. "

When Mother Teresa died in September 1997, her "Missionaries of Charity" looked after a total of 592 branches on five continents, including death houses, schools and hospitals. Since her death, the religious community has grown to 5,000 sisters - and the vocations are not decreasing.

Though many adored her, some harshly criticized her. She was also known as the "Angel of Death of Calcutta" because she allegedly did not treat her patients properly. Some of the patients in the house where they died had to vegetate in large numbers on primitive camp beds in a confined space and the food supply was not always guaranteed to the necessary extent.

Klaus Fleischer: "If you apply today's criteria, this accusation would be correct. Of course, back then you didn't do what you do today with a seriously ill or dying person by giving him infusions. People were offered clothes or cleanliness The word 'Angel of Death of Calcutta' is bitter and not justified, because she was kind and has shown people once again that they are not left completely alone when they die. "

For example, Professor Klaus Fleischer, former head of the tropical medicine department at the Mission Medical Institute in Würzburg. On his travels he met Mother Teresa's groups several times and saw many young women join her. It required hard subordination and simple living from them. Mother Teresa was considered strict, stubborn and sometimes choleric.

Klaus Fleischer: "This is how it was reported to me, here I cannot report from my own perspective either. But she was probably not ready to develop anywhere, because in the relatively long years further developments would be possible, especially in the care sector, in the care of the sick She obviously didn't accept that. "

But Mother Teresa probably had an indescribable charisma that impressed everyone else and a firm belief that she passed on to her sisters. Karl-Heinz Melters particularly likes to quote one sentence:

"I'm just a pencil in God's hand, nothing more."

Prayer and love for people were at the center of her life. She always stuck to this very simple basic donation. She wanted to give people a piece of dignity in the last phase of their lives. She has done pioneering work with her approach to life.

Thousands of people flocked to the city of Calcutta in the 1970s. The people there had no water supply, there was no sewerage. Up to twelve people were crammed together in the small huts made of corrugated iron, boards or cardboard. The sick who had no relatives were pushed out and lay in puddles or on the sidewalks.

Klaus Fleischer: "Mother Teresa went there and picked people up like windfalls and brought them to their barrack-like accommodations. Back then, many people, mostly Hindu believers, were very reluctant to go to Christian institutions to cross this threshold quite decisively built the bridge regardless of any religious denomination. "

Eventually, Mother Teresa was discovered by the media. An almost avalanche-like reporting set in. So she quickly got financial support. Mother Teresa is often accused of not accounting for the many donations seriously and properly.

"They didn’t skimp on infusions or medication for the sick entrusted to them, because the money was surely used correctly. She believed that she was accused of misuse from insufficient management experience, which she could never learn from her own origins in Albania I am not justified. "

The missio photographer Karl-Heinz Melters is also convinced that Mother Teresa put herself in the service of the cause and never collected money and donations for herself, but passed them on in a very unbureaucratic way:

"She lived a life that is difficult to understand. I really admired her modesty, generosity and simplicity."

Even today she is the "angel of the poor" for many people. Around 300,000 believers from all over the world gathered on October 19, 2003 in St. Peter's Square. Mother Teresa was beatified only six years after her death - the shortest process of beatification in modern times. In the sermon, Pope John Paul II described her as an "icon of the good Samaritan" and an "ambassador of the gospel".

Mother Teresa is buried in the chapel of the mother house in Calcutta. The tomb is plain. The plaster is crumbling from the walls, the shutters haven't been painted for a long time. A humble final resting place for the woman whom many Indians revere as the "Queen of India".

On the subject:
In the coming weeks, the aid organization missio is showing an exhibition in several cities, including Worms, Halle and Osnabrück, with photos by Karl-Heinz Melters and prayer texts from Mother Teresa. Further information on the missio homepage.

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