Friday, August 27, 2010

How Mother Teresa Got Involved with People of Bangladesh

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A prayerful Mother Teresa
Sketch (Toronto: August 20, 2010) © Joachim Romeo D'Costa

Her Service: From the Rich to the Poor

Mother Teresa, an Albanian by birth, first became a nun with the Religious Order, called Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (IBVM -- popularly known as "Loreto Sisters"), based in Ireland. As a nun in this Order, she started her work in Calcutta, India, as a teacher at the Loreto Convent school that catered to Bangali (Bengali) girls from well-to-do families.

Although she dealt with rich kids and their families, she, in real life situations, came in contact with the poorest of the poor people who were found abundantly in slums and streets of Calcutta. From her room in the Loreto Convent in Entally, Calcutta, she could see the daily grind of these people in the Motijheel slum below.

In her heart of hearts, Sister Teresa, IBVM, felt that teaching and serving rich girls was not her real vocation. Her keen observation and experience with the poverty of many Calcuttans convinced her that she needed to devote her life among the poorest of the poor.

With much prayer, reflection and consultation with a Belgian Jesuit priest, who was her spiritual director, she decided to leave the Loreto Order. With this end, she applied for the Pope's permission which was quite slow to come. Ultimately, in 1948, she left the Loreto Convent to work among the poor. In 1949, a former student of hers joined her new Religious Order, called Missionaries of Charity. Soon some other girls join her.

Mother Teresa's Involvement with People of Bangladesh

  • In Calcutta, post-partition refugees from East Pakistan (later called Bangladesh) were her inspiration and subject of service: Mother Teresa's first encounter as a Loreto nun was mostly with the East Pakistani Hindu refugees who had fled East Pakistan (then part of Pakistan) to West Bengal, including Calcutta, of India. These refugees fled their original abode in waves after deadly Hindu-Muslim riots immediately before and after the independence of India and Pakistan from the British in August, 1947. These refugees were treated as outcasts and, as a result, they lived in extreme poverty and squalor. Mother Teresa was deeply moved by the helpless condition of these people. Her new work of service, therefore, started among these very people.
  • Most of the initial candidates of her Order were from East Pakistan (Bangladesh) area: When she started her new Order -- Missionaries of Charity -- in Calcutta, a greater number of the Catholic girls who joined it were originally from East Pakistan. These girls, from lower middle class and middle class families, were studying in Calcutta in different schools.
  • The first house rented by Mother Teresa for her new Order and work belonged to a family from East Pakistan (Bangladesh): After leaving the Loreto convent, Mother Teresa needed a place to stay from where she could work among the poor. At the suggestion of a priest, she first found a room and later more rooms to rent from a family (Mr. Robert Gomes and his brother Mr. Thomas Gomes) that was from East Pakistan.
  • In 1971, Mother Teresa and her Sisters were heavily involved with refugees of East Pakistan (Bangladesh): About 10 million refugees from East Pakistan had fled to neighbouring India during the Bangladesh War of Independence (March-December, 1971). Mother Teresa and her Sisters relentlessly helped thousands of these refugees in different refugee camps in West Bengal, India. The distribution of food, clothing, and medicine and taking care of some war orphans and some women who were raped and made pregnant by West Pakistani army men and their East Pakistani collaborators were their main work.
  • Her work in Bangladesh: (1) In Khulna: Immediately after the independence of Bangladesh on December 16, 1971, the Bangladesh Catholic Church authority (Archbishop Theotonius Amal Ganguly, CSC, of Dhaka and Bishop Michael A. D'Rozario, CSC, of Khulna) invited Mother Teresa to start her work in Bangladesh itself. In response, she started a centre in Khulna first. (2) In Dhaka: a) On Islampur Road, Amputty: In early 1972, Mother Teresa and her Sisters came to Dhaka and took over the vacated building at Amputty, from where the Adoration Monastery had moved to Mymensingh town. They named their centre "Shishu Bhavan" (children's home). In this centre, the Missionaries of Charity gave shelter to a good number of biranganas ("heroines" -- women who had been raped by West Pakistani soldiers and their East Pakistani collaborators and were already pregnant. There were some other biranganas, who did not want to be exposed to the public for the shame involved, but left their newborn children, called "war babies," with the Sisters at this centre. (The government of the newly independent Bangladesh named these raped women biranganas to give them honour and respect because of their extreme sacrifice during the war of independence. But, in reality, many of these women were socially unacceptable and were ostracized.) Through these Sisters, a sizable number of war babies got adopted abroad in Europe, North America, Australia, and some other countries. At present, orphans and phyically and mentally disabled children are being cared for in this centre. b) At Tejgaon: Some years later, the Sisters started Nirmal Hriday (pure heart) Home of Compassion at Tejgaon for taking care of the elderly, sick and dying people. (3) In Different Dioceses: a) Dhaka Archdiocese: Besides Dhaka city, the Sisters opened other centres at Mausaid (Dist. Dhaka), Khadim Nagar (Dist. Sylhet), and Lakkhipur (Dist. Moulavibazar). b) Chittagong Diocese: Golpukurpar (Barisal) and Pahartali (Chittagong). c) Dinajpur Diocese: Thakurgaon. d) Khulna Diocese: Khulna and Borodol (Dist. Satkhira). e) Mymensingh Diocese: Jalchatra (Dist. Tangail). f) Rajshahi Diocese: Mohishbathan (Rajshahi).
In the great and compassionate service of Mother Teresa, Bangladesh and its people played an important role. In this hundredth anniversary of her birth, Bangladeshis salute her and wish to see her as a recognized saint in the Catholic Church. Bookmark and Share