Mother Teresa was always clear about her identity as an Albanian-born Roman Catholic. But her near-silence about her family and private life was partly to block a painful memory
“By blood and origin I am all Albanian. My citizenship is Indian. I am a Catholic nun. As to my calling, I belong to the whole world. As to my heart, I belong entirely to the heart of Jesus.”
Mother Teresa’s speech to the world media in Oslo after she had collected the Nobel Peace Prize in December 1979 was a rare acknowledgement of her ethnic background. In his book about her, Malcom Muggeridge hastily concluded that “the wholly dedicated like Mother Teresa do not have biographies” because “biographically speaking, nothing happens to them.” Mother Teresa herself is partially responsible for the superficial treatment of her background in her many biographies. Some have argued that her lifelong reticence about what she would call “private matters” was simply because she wished to attribute her achievements to God alone, and to deflect attention away from herself and her own story towards those who mattered most to her: the poor.
But there is more to the story of what led a young Albanian girl from Skopje into becoming one of the most loved and most hotly debated spiritual and humanitarian icons of modern times than self-imposed amnesia. While Mother Teresa – canonised on 4 September 2016 – was unaware of several things about her roots, all the indications are that she was a proud, albeit silent, Albanian. But her primary identity was “Christian”, and she understood this identity not as exclusivist or divisive but as all-encompassing and harmonious. For her, each person is loved by God, is precious and is of equal dignity. This was the only category of “person” that she felt she truly belonged to.