CHARLOTTE, NC, September 5, 2016 – Everybody already knew that Mother Teresa was a saint. On Sunday, Pope Francis confirmed it.
St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican witnessed an estimated throng of 120,000 people on Sunday for the canonization ceremony that elevated Mother Teresa, the “saint of the gutters”, to one of the highest honors the Catholic Church can bestow upon an individual.
Mother Teresa came to India in 1929 at the age of 19. She was born Agnes Gonxhe Bojaxhiu in Macedonia where she was a member of the Loreto Order of the Catholic Church. In 1946, she received a “call within a call” and began her own order in India dedicated to ministering to the “poorest of the poor” in the slums of her adopted city of Calcutta.
Known as St. Teresa of Kolkata, the Indian name for Calcutta, her Missionaries of Charity consists of more than 4,000 sisters who were and are active in 133 countries.
Though most of us have heard of Mother Teresa, and know something about her life, few Americans can relate to the scale and depth of the abject poverty to which she dedicated her life.
During this presidential campaign season we hear much about “poverty” and the “poor” on a daily basis. What most Americans cannot comprehend however, is the relative magnitude of the definition of “poor.”
American-poor is not the same as Haitian-poor, or South African-shantytown-poor or Indian-poor.
For the most part people in the United States are not starving. Many of the “poor” in the U.S. have cell phones, HDTVs and a roof over their heads.
Elsewhere, on the docks in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, people live in shacks with corrugated tin roofs and walls built from any material available. The one-room hovels have dirt floors. Open sewage runs through the middle of a “street” that is basically an alleyway created by a clearing between the “homes.”
Locals say “you can call Hell from Port-au-Prince for a quarter, because in Port-au-Prince, Hell is a local call.”
In Varanasi, India citizens bathe in the ultra-polluted waters of the holy river Ganges where just the night before funeral pyres dotted the shoreline with cremations of people who died earlier that day.
Living in the United States, or in many other Western countries, it is difficult to imagine that 2/3rds of the world is poor far beyond anything we have ever experienced.
One travel company, Collette Vacations, which will celebrate its 100th anniversary next year, has established a pair of foundations dedicated to educating travelers about the world Mother Teresa knew so well and to “giving back” to the world in which we live.
It began in the fall of 2006 when Collette CEO Dan Sullivan was dismayed by what he observed at a school in Peru.
As Sullivan recalls, “I was troubled by their diets, made up of mainly potatoes. I was disturbed by the fact that their school lacked the basic supplies needed to engage the children in learning. And, I was disappointed in myself knowing that while I have traveled extensively, I somehow managed to miss the opportunity to help the partner communities we visited.”
By 2007, Sullivan had launched the Collette Foundation, an employee-run, global initiative connecting Collette employees, its partners, travelers and communities worldwide to improve the quality of life of children.
The other organization, founded in 1997 by Sullivan’s mother, Alice, is the Sullivan Foundation which provides grants for working with the homeless, youth mentoring and issues affecting seniors.
You won’t find large portions of the Collette brochure dedicated to promoting its foundations. What you will discover, however, is that if you ever take a group tour that travels to a location where Collette has an established foundation partner, the company includes a brief visit so that travelers can get a better understanding of the global problems we face.
Not everyone can be Mother Teresa, and most of us would hardly qualify for sainthood, but veteran travelers know all to well that world in which we live our daily lives is the Garden of Eden compared to where a large percentage of the world defines “life” as “survival.”
Today the Missionaries of Charity continue to do the overwhelming tasks Mother Teresa began against seemingly insurmountable odds. The sisters continue to wear their trademark white and blue-trimmed saris following the simple mantra Teresa sent them to do: “small things with great love.”
Like any famous person, Teresa was not without critics, chief among them Christopher Hitchens, an outspoken journalist, author and atheist, who decried her for accepting donations from dictators.
Pope Francis took a different view in the canonization ceremony, saying “She made her voice heard before the powers of the world, so that they might recognize their guilt for the crimes of poverty they themselves created, the crimes of poverty.”
Whether you agree with Hitchens or the Pope, poverty continues to be a blight upon our global society. Sadly it is a tragedy to which few of us can relate, even if we count ourselves among the lowest rung of American society.
International poverty for travelers, will hit you like a thunderbolt. Not in days, or hours but in minutes.
That does not mean we must feel guilty for our good fortune. What it does mean is that we should recognize how fortunate we are and put things into perspective.
Indeed, Mother Teresa was and is a Saint.
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Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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