By Christopher Wells
On 26 August 1910, Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu was born in Skopje, then a part of the Ottoman Empire, to a Kosovar Albanian family. One day later, the baby girl who would go on to become Saint Mother Teresa (St Teresa of Calcutta) was baptized in the nearby church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
It is on the site of that church – which was destroyed by the devastating 1963 earthquake – that Skopje has built the Memorial House of Mother Teresa, to celebrate the life of its most famous daughter. With over 100,000 visitors each year, it is one of Skopje’s most visited monuments.
Saint Mother Teresa’s Mission
“Mother Teresa’s mission was to help, [to show] solidarity, to spread love, and to serve God as well”, said Arijan Aslanaj, the director of the Memorial House.
He told Vatican Radio that the Pope’s visit will be important for the country, encouraging human values including inter-religious and inter-ethnic respect and tolerance. He pointed to Mother Teresa’s life of service, especially to the “poorest of the poor”, whom she assisted without prejudice or discrimination. “Mother Teresa was helping everyone,” Aslanaj said. “That’s the heritage we have from her, and spreading love for one another, and helping God”.
Museum and Chapel
The Memorial House, which was opened in 2009, is of a modern design, but modelled on a typical family home from the time of Mother Teresa’s youth. The first floor houses a small museum with photos, objects relating to Mother Teresa, and several relics, including handwritten notes the Saint and a piece of her sari.
The second floor of the Memorial House includes a chapel, where Mass is celebrated once a week, and on significant dates associated with Saint Mother Teresa. On important feasts and for significant events, the relics of Mother Teresa are exposed for the veneration of the faithful.
Inter-religious and inter-ethnic tolerance
During his visit, Pope Francis will stop in the chapel for a moment of silent prayer before the relics. He will be joined by religious leaders from the various confessions present in North Macedonia, including Eastern Orthodoxy, Methodism, Islam, and Judaism. Aslanaj, whose position as director of the Memorial House is a political appointment, said that, as a Muslim, he is honoured and privileged to care for the monument to Mother Teresa.
He said that if he gets a chance to meet with the Pope, he hopes to be able to pray with him: “Because I’m Albanian, and I’m Muslim here as the director of this memorial house, I would like to have a prayer together. Me in my religion, him in his religion, and it will be… I don’t know. It will be a prayer for Mother Teresa’s spirit”, that is, a prayer to share in the spirit that animated St Teresa of Calcutta. Aslanaj said he expects the Pope’s visit to Skopje to be very good for religion, and for inter-religious and inter-ethnic tolerance in the world, in order “to have a bit more understanding”. “That’s my wish actually”, he said.