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Mother Teresa belongs to the whole world—not to Roman Catholics only, not to Christians only. Indeed, she is the first religious figure in history to be revered during her lifetime by adherents of all religions and Christians of all denominations. And when she died in 1997, there was a universal outpouring of heartfelt appreciation and reverence for her long life of service.

Humility, simplicity, and sacrifice are the terms most often associated with Mother Teresa and her work—though many who encountered her personally would quickly add tenacity. And this tenacity was often accompanied by a stern, uncompromising demeanor. She was driven by an unswerving conviction that she was called by God to reach out to the poorest of the poor, and this conviction left little room to entertain the objections of government officials, church authorities, or even military leaders.

In a famous televised scene from 1985, she insisted that a government minister from Ethiopia give her Missionaries of Charity two unused buildings to be made into orphanages. With cameras rolling, the minister balked but finally had no choice but to capitulate. Pop singer Bob Geldorf, in Ethiopia as part of his Band Aid campaign, witnessed this exchange in the Addis Ababa airport and remarked, "There was a certainty of purpose which left her little patience. But she was totally selfless; every moment her aim seemed to be, how can I use this or that situation to help others?"

Mother Teresa of Calcutta was born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu in Albania in 1910. Her father was a businessman whose death when she was 9 years old left the family in difficult financial circumstances. But their faith sustained them. With her mother and brother and sister, Agnes ...

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