A New Calling
However, on September 10, 1946, Mother Teresa experienced a second calling that would forever transform her life. She was riding a train from Calcutta to the Himalayan foothills for a retreat when Christ spoke to her and told her to abandon teaching to work in the slums of Calcutta aiding the city's poorest and sickest people. "I want Indian Nuns, Missionaries of Charity, who would be my fire of love amongst the poor, the sick, the dying and the little children," she heard Christ say to her on the train that day. "You are I know the most incapable person -- weak and sinful but just because you are that -- I want to use You for My glory. Wilt thou refuse?"
Since Mother Teresa had taken a vow of obedience, she could not leave her convent without official permission. After nearly a year and a half of lobbying, in January 1948 she finally received approval from the local Archbishop Ferdinand Périer to pursue this new calling. That August, wearing the blue and white sari that she would always wear in public for the rest of her life, she left the Loreto convent and wandered out into the city. After six months of basic medical training, she voyaged for the first time into Calcutta's slums with no more specific goal than to aid "the unwanted, the unloved, the uncared for."
The Missionaries of CharityMother Teresa quickly translated this somewhat vague calling into concrete actions to help the city's poor. She began an open-air school and established a home for the dying destitute in a dilapidated building she convinced the city government to donate to her cause. In October 1950, she won canonical recognition for a new congregation, the Missionaries of Charity, which she founded with only 12 members -- most of them former teachers or pupils from St. Mary's School.
As the ranks of her congregation swelled and donations poured in from around India and across the globe, the scope of Mother Teresa's charitable activities expanded exponentially. Over the course of the 1950s and 1960s, she established a leper colony, an orphanage, a nursing home, a family clinic and a string of mobile health clinics.
International Charity and RecognitionIn February 1965, Pope John Paul VI bestowed the Decree of Praise upon the Missionaries of Charity, which prompted Mother Teresa to begin expanding internationally. By the time of her death in 1997, the Missionaries of Charity numbered over 4,000 -- in addition to thousands more lay volunteers -- with 610 foundations in 123 countries on all seven continents.
In 1971, Mother Teresa traveled to New York City where she opened a soup kitchen as well as a home to care for those infected with HIV/AIDS.
The next year she went to Beirut, Lebanon, where she crossed frequently between Christian East Beirut and Muslim West Beirut to aid children of both faiths. Mother Teresa has received various honors for her tireless and effective charity. She was awarded "Jewel of India," the highest honor bestowed on Indian civilians,
as well as the now-defunct Soviet Union's Gold Medal of the Soviet Peace Committee. Then, in 1979, Mother Teresa won her highest honor when she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of her work "in bringing help to suffering humanity."
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