Mother Teresa is known worldwide. Much less well known is the importance of her early years, in the Balkans, to what was to come later. September 4, 2016, the day of her canonization, will also be, appropriately, the Jubilee for Workers and Volunteers of Mercy. This is a happy coincidence because she will probably become the patron saint for all those who labor and suffer in the name of God’s love and mercy.
Suffering is an inevitable feature of human existence. It transcends countries and nations, rich and poor. Human suffering insistently calls upon the world of human love. And in a certain sense man owes to suffering that unselfish love that stirs in his heart and actions, as St. John Paul II wrote in his 1984 Apostolic Letter Salvifici Doloris.
Mother Teresa came from what Pope Francis calls the peripheries and headed to the peripheries for a life-long mercy mission. She had a keen understanding of the peripheries because she was born in the periphery and became acquainted with the reality and life-experiences of people in the periphery in her native Skopje. Ideas and initiatives for great movements often start from the periphery, as Yves Congar has explained.
Not much has been written about her early life. Agnes Gonxhe (Albanian for “rosebud-flower”) Bojaxhiu was born in Skopje, which is currently the capital of the Republic of Macedonia, on August 26, 1910. Gonxhe (a nickname) had Albanian parents, Drane and Nikola Bojaxhiu, from Prizren in Kosovo. Albanian Catholics were a minority in Macedonia at the time, outnumbered by Eastern Orthodox and Muslims.
Ines Angeli Murzaku Ph.D., a new contributor to The Catholic Thing, is Professor of Religion at Seton Hall University. Her research has been published in multiple articles and books. The most recent is Monasticism in Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Republics. She has worked for or collaborated with various media outlets including Radio Tirana (Albania) during the Cold War; Vatican Radio (Vatican City) and EWTN (Rome) during Eastern Europe’s upheavals in the 90’s; Voice of America and Relevant Radio (USA).