As Pope Francis declares Mother Teresa as Saint Teresa of Calcutta, India celebrates the goodness and generosity of the ‘messiah’ of the poor. The Albanian nun who moved to India in 1929 had made her claim on the hearts of the people of the country through her love and care for the destitutes, the orphans and the sick.
Saint Teresa’s earliest experience in Calcutta was that of a teacher in Darjeeling. Her decision to work for the poor and homeless came in the aftermath of the Bengal famine of 1943 when she described having experienced “the call within the call”. In 1950, through the approval of the Vatican, she started the “Missionaries of Charity” order which would go on to achieve worldwide recognition in their efforts to care for the lesser privileged.
A remarkable aspect of the work Saint Teresa carried out in India was the way she took care of the refugees from East Pakistan in 1947 and then from Bangladesh in 1971.
The moment at which she started her work among the needy was also the time when India witnessed her bloodiest historical moment. The partition of the country was accompanied by mass exchange of refugees between India and Pakistan, resulting in a large number of homeless people in the streets of both countries. Saint Teresa was deeply affected by the condition of the millions of refugee who came into West Bengal. When she started the “Missionaries of Charity” order, a large number of girls who joined her were refugees from East Pakistan.
Saint Teresa’s work among refugees gained momentum after the 1971 Bangladesh war. An estimated 10 million people fled to India, majority of whom were concentrated in West Bengal, Assam and Tripura.
Watch Video: Mother Teresa in Liberation War Refugee Camp
With the help of the NGO, Oxfam, she organized a camp for the orphans, the destitute women and the sick. The camp was later transformed into a hospital for the local population. She along with the Sisters of her order would supply food, clothing and medication to those in the camps.
As international society continues to be overwhelmed with refugee movements, the memory of the relentless work done by Saint Teresa to offer care and shelter to the homeless comes across as a source of great inspiration.