Thursday, September 02, 2010

An icon of love for the poor

BARELY two decades after the dawn of a new outlook of the social doctrine of the Church in Rerum Novarum of Pope Leo XIII, Mother Teresa of Calcutta was born in the world that would challenge her to live her whole life in pursuit of—in the words of Centessimus Annus of Pope John Paul II—“the defense of the human person and the safeguarding of human dignity.”

Of late, or on the dates surrounding August 26, the world has marked in so many ways the celebration of the centennial of the birth of Mother Teresa that would even include a rally of supporters in front of the Empire State building in New York that has refused the lighting up of the building in blue and white on the 100th birth anniversary of a Nobel Peace Laureate. (But several theater marquees and billboards in Times Square have illuminated in blue on Aug. 26 to honor the nun whose blue-striped white habit became a symbol of care for the poor throughout the world.)

Even among those outside the confines of the Catholic Church, Mother Teresa was acknowledged as an icon of love for poor. To mention just a few, Mahathir Mahamad of Malaysia, for instance, remembers her as “An example of selfless devotion to charity. I hope she can be a good example to all charity workers and philanthropists.” The former prime minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif regarded her “as a rare and unique individual who lived long for a higher purpose. Her life-long devotion to the care of the poor, the sick and the disadvantaged was one of the highest examples of service to humanity.” Boris Yeltsin of Russia was quoted as saying “All the life of this great woman was the bright incarnation of service to the high humanitarian ideals of goodness, compassion, selflessness and faith.”

The love for the poor has been, of course, a byword by anybody especially beginning with the 60s or perhaps after the Second Vatican Council. Even politicians who dreamed of scoring a win would use this as a battle cry. The leftists, too, with their structural analysis, or dialectical materialism if you may, would also end up crying for the poor. The Second Plenary Council of the Philippines challenged church leaders to go for a preferential option for the poor—which until today has remained just that.

But in Mother Teresa, the extreme love for the poor was neither ideological nor philanthropic. It was not even an ecclesiological mandate or, as some familiar faces around would boast, “an apostolate.” It was simply living the Gospel where the poor is encountered as a Good News and not as a burden or a social responsibility.

In her Nobel Prize acceptance speech in 1979, Mother Theresa simply said: “I choose the poverty of our poor people. But I am grateful to receive (the Nobel) in the name of the hungry, the naked, the homeless, of the crippled, of the blind, of the lepers, of all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared-for throughout society, people that have become a burden to the society and are shunned by everyone.”

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