UNITED NATIONS. A DOWN TO EARTH ANGEL. WHEN MOTHER TERESA VISITED THE U.N.

 

15 SEPTEMBER 2010

A DOWN TO EARTH ANGEL. WHEN MOTHER TERESA VISITED THE U.N.

"Mother Teresa is the United Nations. Mother Teresa is World Peace."
-- Former U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Ceullar

"The fruit of silence is prayer. The fruit of prayer is faith. The fruit of faith is love. The fruit of love is service. The fruit of service is peace."
-- Mother Teresa (Born August 27, 1910 -- died September 5, 1997)

After Mother Teresa, known to her admirers simply as "Mother," was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in October 1997, a film was produced about her life. It was directed by Sir Richard Attenborough, who had just finished a popular film on Ghandi. However, New York movie houses were not receptive to showing the poorest of the poor dying slowly in the streets of Calcutta. While a political theme about India's independence from Britain drew popular crowds, there were apparently several obstacles for a Catholic nun doing God's work. The only venue open was the United Nations. In 1985, the producers approached Samir Sanbar at the Department of Public Information who raised the matter directly with Secretary General Javier Perez de Ceullar. Not only was a showroom made available, the Secretary General decided to show the film at the General Assembly Hall and sent personal invitations to all Permanent Representatives. After the showing, he escorted her to the podium where she received a standing ovation. A reception in her honour followed. In her brief remarks, "Mother" noted that it was the 40th anniversary of the Organization which is devoted to "beautiful work for the good of the people." She emphasized: "No colour, no religion, no nationality should come between us. We are all the children of God."

Ten years later, on 16 June 1995, Mother Teresa visited the U.N. again. This time, Dr. Boutros-Boutrous Ghali was Secretary General. After the official encounter, she enquired about Samir Sanbar, who by then headed the Department of Public Information. She bypassed the official elevator, taking the service carriage to the 10th floor. Sanbar, who was notified at the last minute about his imminent visitor, called around available staff to receive her. They were mainly women and Mother jovially suggested that those single ones should get married immediately so that they and their husbands could join the cause. Her diminutive figure could not conceal her radiating energy; her wrinkled face was illuminated with those perceptive focused down-to-earth yet prayerful dark eyes. Sanbar escorted her in a walk around the compound, expressing everyone's appreciation for her thoughtful visit which galvanized and inspired the staff more than any other event by any other dignitary.

Mother Teresa was not a senior official nor a distinguished diplomat; nor a head of state of governments. As her 100th birthday was just commemorated, there was general recognition that her impact around the world superseded any one government or any senior official. She opened 610 rescue missions, including hospitals, clinics, shelter homes for HIV/AIDS, leprosy, tuberculosis, soup kitchens, orphanages, schools, and counseling operations in 123 countries.

Born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu in the city of Skopje, she joined the Irish Sisters of Lorata, taking the name of her Patron Saint, St. Therese of Lisieux. It was during her devoted service in India that she was inspired to care for the poorest of the poor. The Missionaries of Charities cared for dying homeless men, crippled orphaned children, destitute women out of prison. Her main approach was love. Her main concern was human dignity. "Do ordinary things with extraordinary love," she often said. "Holiness is not the luxury of the few," she confirmed. "It is a simple duty for you and me."

Though a thoroughly devout Catholic, she did not try to convert the vulnerable, the poorest of the poor she was helping. On that she said: "If in coming face to face with God, we accept Him in our lives, then we are converting. (That is) we become a better Hindu, a better Muslim, a better Catholic, a better whatever we are." She received the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1979. A Gallup poll in 1999 ranked her as the most admired person of the 20th century. Two years earlier, that down-to-earth angel had gone to heaven.

On commemorating her 100th anniversary, it was reported that the owner of the Empire State Building in New York refused to provide special lighting, although he had done so when singer Mariah Carey released one of her albums. Indeed, the current U.N. Secretary General -- as expected -- did not seem to be aware of the occasion announced by all television stations. But there are many passing irrelevancies in the cause of human history where Mother Teresa has made her outstanding mark.

The following photos were taken on 16 June 1995 during Mother Teresa's visit to the office of Samir Sanbar, then head of the U.N. Department of Public Information. (Photos taken by Evan Schneider of U.N./DPI)