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Light of Calcutta and the World

In her work, Mother Teresa was a spiritual inspiration to millions

September 07, 1997

For hundreds of millions across the globe she was the embodiment of compassion and selflessness, the champion of the destitute and the scorned, the exemplar of charity. Her only goal in life, she insisted, was to do "something beautiful for God." In her 87 years Mother Teresa achieved that modest but lofty purpose. Her good works were recognized and lauded, with the Nobel Peace Prize among other honors, and with the gratitude of those she served. At her death in her adopted home in Calcutta on Friday, Mother Teresa was among the most admired women in the world.

That thought is perhaps worth dwelling on for a moment, because Mother Teresa was so unlike so many others in contemporary life who are the objects of public attention and acclaim and awe. Mother Teresa held no public office, created no great works of art, led no mass movement, was not stalked by the paparazzi.

Nothing she did could ever be considered remotely glamorous or exciting, as those words are commonly understood. Her self-assigned mission was to live among and serve the most wretched of the poor and outcast. She was criticized by some for her strict adherence to Vatican teachings. Others thought she could do more with her charitable donations. But critics never diminished her worldwide acclaim.

She traveled the globe but continued to subsist on a few cents for food each day. The life she led inspired countless others, among them the 4,000 sisters of the Missionaries of Charity, which she founded.

The world will mourn and miss this "saint of the gutters." She saw a great humanitarian void and she acted to fill it. She did that as well as anyone in this troubled century.

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