Before I came to India, I knew that the guesthouse where I would be staying was a place where Mother Teresa had stayed when she was founding the Missionaries of Charity. In the past few days, I’ve discovered more about Mother Teresa and about the importance of the house where I am currently staying. The home was built in 1904 by Cecilia Gomes’ great-grandfather. Cecilia and her husband Richard own the home today and are our innkeepers/landlords. When Mother Teresa left the Loreto order (she was originally a Loreto nun–just like Sr. Cyril who runs the school), she had nowhere to live. She came to the Gomes family and asked if she could stay on the top floor of their home on 14 Creek Lane while she gathered support for her new order, the Missionaries of Charity. Mother Teresa actually started up her order, trained and taught new nuns, and lived on the third floor of the building where I’m staying now. After a good year on Creek Lane, Mother Teresa and a dozen other MC sisters moved out and bought the property that became the Motherhouse for the order.
Yesterday, the 4 of us took a trip down the road to visit the Motherhouse of the Missionaries of Charity. As we walked in, a nun in a blue-bordered white sari directed us through a sunny courtyard and gestured towards a doorway. We sidled inside the room, and nearly walked smack in to Mother Teresa’s tomb! I don’t know what I was expecting, but I wasn’t anticipating her tomb to be so easily accessible. Two nuns sat inside the dim room. We sat down on the simple wooden benches near Mother Teresa’s plain white tomb and enjoyed a few quiet moments. On the top of the tomb, the nuns had arranged flowers to spell out, “I DO NOTHING HE DOES IT ALL”. Her headstone read, “Love one another as I have loved you. Mother M. Teresa, M.C. 26.8.1910-5.8.1997 Our Dearly Beloved Mother Foundress of the Missionaries of Charity”
On the way out, I picked up a brochure and a Miraculous Medal. Near the paper and pencils for prayer intentions, there was a basket of flowers from the tomb. In the next room, the Sisters had set up a simple museum exhibit that detailed Mother Teresa’s life. It was quite informative and surprisingly moving. There is such a devotion to Mother Teresa–the nuns have carefully preserved many artifacts, from seemingly mundane things like Mother Teresa’s toothbrush to important ones like her sari and habit. I only noticed the signed photograph of Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II because I bent down to pick up something that I had dropped. Such a cool picture, just tucked in the corner on the floor! Up a flight of stairs, visitors could see Mother Teresa’s spartan bedroom and desk. I was surprised that everything was so easily accessible and open to the public. She was and continues to be a globally-recognized celebrity figure, but the Missionaries of Charity want her message to be widely-recognized too.
The MC home for children and the home for the dying are located in different parts of Kolkata. One of the girls who is staying at Gomes House, Carrie-Anne, is working for Kalighat, the home for the dying. She goes out to the Howrah train station each day with a bag of food and gives it to the dying. She is directed to give food only to those who are too sick to move–any beggars who follow her and ask for food are deemed healthy enough that they don’t receive handouts. Anyone who she sees who is actually about to die, she is to bring back to the Kalighat house. Kalighat is a home for those who are about to die. It’s not a place for the extremely sick. People who go to Kalighat go there to die. What a difficult ministry. The sole purpose of Kalighat is to give people some peace and dignity while they die. Most charity organizations give a hand out or a hand up during a difficult time, and there are usually success stories from these kinds of charitable organizations. There are no success stories at Kalighat, other than the sucess of giving a person a more comfortable death.
Mother Teresa started up organizations and homes like Kalighat in Kolkata when there were no places that provided these services. She began medical clinics, children’s homes, and soup kitchens. If Kolkata, in 2010, has to have volunteers to walk the train tracks and collect the dying, what could it possibly have been like in the 1940s and 1950s, before Indian independence and before Mother Teresa’s work?