The passion of Theresa
Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu is born in Skopje in 1910. A
regular girl in a regular family. When she is twelve,
she hears a mysterious voice saying to her that she
will be a religious figure when she grows up. In 1929
Agnes becomes a novice and changes her name to Theresa,
after the Belgian sister Theresa, who called her road
the 'little road'. This little road means that you serve
God by doing the most common, down-to-earth work as
well as you can and with a happy and cheerful disposition.
Her whole life will follow the theme of this 'little
On 24th May 1931 Theresa takes her first, temporary
vow of poverty, chastity and obedience. Soon after she
leaves for Calcutta, India. This is a big city with
many millions of inhabitants and extensive slum areas.
Theresa teaches, and later she helps out at the hospital.
The sisters really only leave their convent in cases
of extreme emergency, but in the hospital Theresa sees
horrible misery and poverty for the first time. On 14th
May 1937 Sister Theresa takes her second vow, this vow
is for life. She becomes the principal of the school
of St. Mary. Later she teaches outside the convent walls
and visits the slums. Turbulent times follow. In 1943
there is a famine in Bengal. Five million people perish
and many flee to Calcutta. In 1946 there is another
disaster. Pakistan separates from India, and Muslims
and Hindus kill each other. Four thousand people die.
This stirs Sister Theresa also.
On 10th September 1946 sister Theresa leaves for Darjeeling
for a period of reflection. On the train she receives
a calling. God wants her to leave the convent to live
outside it and work between the poorest of the poor.
She confides in a priest, and only after a long wait
does she receive permission - in April of 1948 - to
actually go. This is a major step, because sisters don't
get permission to leave the convent and break their
vows easily. She is given a year to prove that her plan
is an actual calling and has a chance of success.
With only five rupees to her name, Sister Theresa leaves
the convent. She is 38 years old. She copies the attire
of the people in the slums and starts wearing a white
sari with a blue edging. First she takes a short course
in a medical mission post in Patna. Back in Calcutta
she rents a hut in a slum and starts teaching the poor
children. This starts the ball rolling very fast, although
she doesn't have a real plan. People help her and give
her a chair, a closet. Theresa washes the children she
teaches, and later she also washes sick people and cares
for them. Theresa is very lonely during this time, but
very soon her ex-pupils come to her aid. Someone offers
her a floor in his house, where she can live with the
other sisters who have come to help her. More and more
people help her. And she is given yet a larger building.
She opens a house for the dying, a house for orphans,
workshops. At no point does Theresa have a plan. She
just lives from her principles. Theresa follows the
little road. She cheerfully performs filthy jobs that
nobody wants to do, takes care of filthy wounds, and
lives a very sober life. When she is invited to a dinner
she asks if she can have the money that was to be spent
on it, and gives it to the poor. Maybe her most important
principle is that in her eyes everybody deserves to
receive the same love, no matter how they look or what
religion they have. In her eyes, every man is like Jesus,
like God, and so they have to be cared for. Everyone
is welcome with her.
The movement Theresa started, grew and grew. She is
allowed to keep working outside the convent and is even
given her own order: The Sisters of Mercy. From that
moment on, she is Mother Theresa. Her work is not limited
to India, but spreads over the entire world. Many find
it a privilege to work with Theresa. How a small woman
can be great.
Open eye for misery
Mother Theresa was convinced of the road she had to
travel. This was not an easy decision, she had to prove
her calling to the church, have a lot of patience, and
above all work very hard. It would have been easy to
close her eyes to the misery outside the convent gates,
but Theresa went out and looked it up. She placed herself
in the middle of it, and lived among the horrors. It
was hard, and it was lonely at first, but it was the
right way, and precisely the passion with which she
did her work made it a great success. Passion made her
hold on. When the ball had started rolling, more and
more people joined her and her movement became worldwide.
People are still following her example. Mother Theresa
The passion of a vegetarian
Very many animals live in comparable miserable
conditions. We know that much injustice is done
to them. But it is also made easy for us not to think
about them too much. The animals are butchered for us, we don't see any bloody spectacles and undignified
living conditions. The meat is cut for us and sometimes
delivered in a form that is not recognizably animal,
for instance as a fish finger or meatball. Factory farming
is far away from us. If we happen across the subject
on TV, we change channels quickly. We close our eyes
to it. The cat that sits purring on our lap receives
an extra cuddle. How
can we close our eyes to animal misery? Can we justify
this to ourselves? Why do we see a cow as a product
and a cat as the most precious house pet? I think you
can only continue eating meat and exploiting earth further
by doing something very thoroughly, namely cover the
How can we admire Mother Theresa so much for doing something
that really everybody can do? Doesn't that give us an
uneasy feeling? After all, she didn't cover up the bitter
truth. She dove right in, exposed it, even if this had
major consequences for her personal life. But she stood
up for it. She renounced all her possessions. She lived
among the misery. She didn't close her eyes. She sensed
that something had to change for real and she put her
money where her mouth was. Between the pariahs, the
untouchables, she lived her life.
Animals are in that sense comparable to pariahs. They
live in total isolation, far from the 'civilized' world,
crammed together in breeding farms where nobody can
see their misery, waiting for death. You can hardly
speak of natural living, it's more a matter of survival.
How can we just eat a piece of meat, knowing how this
'product' came to be? Why don't we open our eyes to
the misery? Can you, as a meat-eater, look at yourself
in the mirror?
I would like to tell you how I experience the word passion.
To me, passion is love for life in the widest sense
of the word. This is the principle I live by. Not just
love for my own life, but love for other people, the
animal kingdom and the earth around me. I think that
if you love yourself, you have to take care of the world
around you. Passion is living from the heart. When you
listen to your heart, you cannot fool yourself.
I'm not saying that everyone has to become a second
Theresa, everyone has to find their own road. But maybe
you will think about what it is you're eating when you
eat meat the next time. Don't think it is no use, that
nobody can do anything about it, that there is no point
anyway. Every little bit helps. Don't forget that the
power rests with the consumers. You don't have to realize
any big plans. Start small, like Mother Theresa, who
followed the little road. Even little roads can have
great consequences in the end.
Maybe you were one of those persons who once asked a
vegetarian what got into him and why he was a vegetarian.
Maybe you should start by turning things around. Ask
yourself: "what has gotten into me, why do I eat
meat?" Dare to open your eyes for the truth and
draw your consequences from that. Follow your heart,
walk your own 'little' road!
contribution by Gineke Wayer