Mother Teresa House opened in Skopje
* How this Catholic nun is still helping after her death
*ACN has been helping Catholics in Macedonia for years
By Reinhard Backes
Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu was born on 27 August 1910 in Skopje. At that time this city, which has now honoured her with this centre in her memory, still bore the name it had had since Ottoman times, Üsküp. Yet by the time this slight and diminutive woman died on 5 September 1997 in Calcutta, her name was a household word. As Mother Teresa she spent decades caring for the poorest of the poor - children, old people, the abandoned, outcasts, the dying. In each of them she saw God.
As the foundress of the Missionaries of Charity, she was no stranger to calumny, criticism and questioning. And yet she devoted her life to the service of the weakest in India and in doing so gave an unforgettable testimony of her Catholic Faith. Today some 4,500 Sisters of Mother Teresa continue her work in over 130 countries. Her congregation currently has 710 houses. One of these lies on the outskirts of Skopje, where five of her sisters care for the needy.
(Mother Teresa House in Skopje)
Yet until the early 1960s few people in Europe knew anything about her work in faraway India. It was not until Father Werenfried van Straaten, a Dutch Norbertine priest from a small town near Amsterdam and founder of the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) had reported on the work of this diminutive Albanian nun, that she became known to a wider world in mainland Europe. At that time Father Werenfried was widely known and admired, especially in Germany and there were many parallels between his own radical imitation of Christ and that of the young Mother Teresa.
Known as the "Bacon Priest", he became renowned from 1947 onwards for his work collecting food and clothing for the defeated and destitute German population - paradoxically in the very nations that had once been occupied by this former enemy.
Today ACN, the charity he founded, is a worldwide aid agency. In Macedonia, a country scarred by decades of communist rule and now in great need - both material and spiritual - ACN has helped rebuild churches, presbyteries and religious houses. Currently, it is helping with the construction of a new church in Strumica, in the southeast of the country, and at the same time with a convent for the Byzantine-rite Holy Eucharist Sisters in Macedonia, a branch of the mother house in Bulgaria.
(The official opening of the Mother Teresa House in Skopje)
To this day the example of Mother Teresa continues to motivate millions of people around the world. In Macedonia, which emerged only in 1991 as an independent state from the breakup of the former communist state of Yugoslavia, she is regarded as the greatest daughter of the nation. And so it was that on 30 January 2009 the government formally opened its new Mother Teresa House, with a museum, chapel and small theatre, in the centre of the capital, not far from the parliament building. It stands where the Catholic Sacred Heart Cathedral once stood. This building was destroyed by the earthquake of 1963, and the then communist government had the ruins of the building completely cleared away. The new building, striking both in its architecture and in its colour, harks back in style to the structure of the traditional Macedonian town house, but at the same time has elements of style that are intended to refer to Mother Teresa's second home, India.
At the official opening ceremony the entire government of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski was represented. Also attending, as invited guests, were Catholic Bishop Kiro Stojanov of Skopje, the head of the Orthodox Church in Macedonia, Archbishop Stephan, and representatives of the Islamic faith and many other religious and ethnic groups, including Macedonians, Albanians, Aromanians, Roma, Turks, Bosnians and Serbs.
Prime Minister Gruevski paid tribute to the life of Mother Teresa, who was awarded the Nobel peace prize in 1979 for her services to reconciliation and peace. This Catholic nun, he said, was an example to all Macedonia, which after decades under communist rule was now reflecting on its Christian roots. The Christian Democrat government sees the new centre as a call to all the various different religious and ethnic groups in the country to build a modern Macedonia together. For the Prime Minister it is both a symbol and a promise, for in the country generally there is a widespread desire to re-knit the old links with Europe, not only culturally but also politically and economically.
(Opening of the Mother Teresa house in Skopje: Consecration of altar
by Nuncio Archbishop Santos Abril y Castelló and Bishop Kiro
This is not merely a matter of the quickest possible improvement in the personal living standards of the country's 2 million or so inhabitants. Macedonia is also hoping for a rapid resolution of the conflict with Greece over its official name, which is currently blocking closer ties with the European Union. Foreign Minister Antonio Milososki is disappointed at the rigid stance adopted by its Greek neighbour, which categorically rejects the name "Macedonia" for the country and refuses to accept any compromise, yet he remains optimistic. "Mother Teresa was small and vulnerable - like Macedonia", he says, "but Mother Teresa was also very determined. We can learn from this". In other words, Macedonia is not going to be diverted from the path it has taken towards Europe. Many are praying that Mother Teresa will help. And although Catholics represent only a tiny minority among the population - no more than around 1% - Mother Teresa will be honoured again next year, on her hundredth birthday. In fact the government is hoping that Pope Benedict XVI will also attend - indeed, an invitation has already been sent out.
Directly under the Holy See, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity – helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.
Founded in 1947 by Fr Werenfried van Straaten, whom Pope John Paul II named “An Outstanding Apostle of Charity”, the organisation is now at work in about 145 countries throughout the world.
The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, 45 million Aid to the Church in Need Child’s Bibles have been distributed worldwide.
For more information, please contact the Australian office of ACN on (02) 9679-1929. e-mail: email@example.com or write to Aid to the Church in Need PO Box 6245 Blacktown DC NSW 2148. Web: www.aidtochurch.org