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Mother Teresa was the founder of the Order of the Missionaries of Charity, a Roman Catholic congregation of women dedicated to helping the poor.
After receiving a message from God, Mother Teresa gave her life to the poor.
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In 1971, Mother Teresa traveled to New York City where she opened a soup kitchen as well as a home to care for those infected with HIV/AIDS.
The next year she went to Beirut, Lebanon, where she crossed frequently between Christian East Beirut and Muslim West Beirut to aid children of both faiths. Mother Teresa has received various honors for her tireless and effective charity. She was awarded "Jewel of India," the highest honor bestowed on Indian civilians,
as well as the now-defunct Soviet Union's Gold Medal of the Soviet Peace Committee. Then, in 1979, Mother Teresa won her highest honor when she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of her work "in bringing help to suffering humanity."
Despite this widespread praise, Mother Teresa's life and work have not gone without criticism. In particular, she has drawn criticism for her vocal endorsement of some of the Catholic Church's more controversial doctrines, such as opposition to contraception and abortion. "I feel the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion," Mother Teresa said in her 1979 Nobel lecture.
In 1995, she publicly advocated a "no" vote in the Irish referendum to end the country's constitutional ban on divorce and remarriage. The most scathing criticism of Mother Teresa can be found in Christopher Hitchens' book The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice, in which Hitchens argued that Mother Teresa glorified poverty for her own ends and provided a justification for the preservation of institutions and beliefs that sustained widespread poverty.
After several years of deteriorating health in which she suffered from heart, lung and kidney problems, Mother Teresa died on September 5, 1997 at the age of 87. Since her death, Mother Teresa has remained in the public spotlight. In particular, the publication of her private correspondence in 2003 caused a wholesale re-evaluation of her life by revealing the crisis of faith she suffered for most of the last 50 years of her life.
In one despairing letter to a confidant, she wrote, "Where is my Faith -- even deep down right in there is nothing, but emptiness & darkness -- My God -- how painful is this unknown pain -- I have no Faith -- I dare not utter the words & thoughts that crowd in my heart -- & make me suffer untold agony." While such revelations are shocking considering her public image of perfect faith, they have also made Mother Teresa a more relatable and human figure to all those who experience doubt in their beliefs.
For her unwavering commitment to aiding those most in need, Mother Teresa stands out as one of the greatest humanitarians of the 20th century. She combined profound empathy and a fervent commitment to her cause with incredible organizational and managerial skills that allowed her to develop a vast and effective international organization of missionaries to help impoverished citizens all across the globe.
However, despite the enormous scale of her charitable activities and the millions of lives she touched, to her dying day she held only the most humble conception of her own achievements. Summing up her life in characteristically self-effacing fashion, Mother Teresa said, "By blood, I am Albanian. By citizenship, an Indian. By faith, I am a Catholic nun. As to my calling, I belong to the world. As to my heart, I belong entirely to the Heart of Jesus."
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When Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel died in 1896, he left his fortune to create an annual series of prizes for the individuals who confer "the greatest benefit on mankind." The most prestigious of the awards is the Nobel Peace Prize. Historians believe Alfred Nobel wanted to award people who work for peace to compensate for his own role in inventing dynamite. Since its establishment, the prize has gone to many courageous individuals who have fought for peace and human rights around the world.
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