The tiny figure of Mother of Teresa (now Saint Teresa) is most commonly associated with poverty-stricken Kolkata in India where she established her ‘Missionaries of Charity’ in 1950, and set about caring for the city’s poorest and most marginalised citizens. But Mother Teresa’s early life begins long before then, and to learn about it first hand, I ventured into Macedonia and then Albania. This is what I found.
Skopje is the capital city of Macedonia, the centre of which, in recent years, has received a surreal neo classical make-over in order to attract tourists and increase national pride. Some consider the many millions of borrowed dollars spent on the exercise an extravagance. Whatever your views, however, among the statuary and lavish bridges, the dozens of great fountains and colonnades, it is still possible to find in the heart of the city several important links to Saint Mother Teresa whose birthplace it is.
The first is a simple granite plaque surrounded by lawn and flowers, which marks the site of the house in which she was born in 1910. Look more closely, and you will find 4 bronze ‘corners’ set into the pavement, defining the boundary of her home. If you visit, don’t feel awkward about leaving a posy of flowers. Others before you will also have done just this.
Your next port of call is to Skopje’s Mother Teresa Memorial House. It is built on the site of the church where she was baptised and consists of a peaceful lower courtyard and small souvenir shop, a first-floor level containing a few of the saint’s personal belongings and records of her meetings with famous figures from around the world. The uppermost level is a small, quiet chapel where you can sit and contemplate all that Mother Teresa has done for humanity.
As you walk around Skopje’s city centre, you will encounter Mother Teresa again and again as the city has invested in dozens of polished brass memorial plaques in her memory. Each one holds her engraved likeness alongside one of her many memorable quotes.
Although Mother Teresa was born in Macedonia, her parents (from Kosovo) were ethnic Albanians, something which Mother Teresa acknowledged when she said: “By blood, I am Albanian, as citizen I am from Skopje. By nationality, I am from India.” Albanian is therefore justifiably proud of its association with her which is why you will find, in its capital city of Tirane, the vast Mother Teresa Square, adorned with a plaque embossed with her portrait. To learn more about the saint while in Tirane, you have only to head to Skanderbeg Square and the National Museum of History which has a comprehensive section detailing her life. While you are in the square, head to the international bookshop close to the museum. It has several interesting books, in English, on Mother Teresa’s
And lastly, if you are ever tempted to venture into the Balkans in search of Mother Teresa’s early life history, be sure to fly into Tirane where the airport is, as you would expect, aptly named Airport Nënë Tereza – Mother Teresa Airport.