On my last trip to Shkodra, in September 2011, I had the pleasure of meeting Sister Maria Goretti of the Missionaries of Charity Order, founded by Mother Teresa. The visit was an unexpected surprise. As I was sitting in our living room with my uncle Deda and chatting with Father Anton Kcira, who was also visiting from Detroit, I heard voices coming from the foyer. Next thing I know this vivacious nun, dressed in the traditional religious sari that is famously recognized as being of the Mother Teresa’s order, walked in. I instantly felt humbled in a way I can’t really explain. I had never in my life come across a nun from the order. In the United States it is very uncommon to cross paths with these Missionaries of Charity. Although their order consists of over 4,500 religious sisters and is active in 133 countries, it is not common to see them walking around in the States as it is in Albania or India.
My aunt Bardha did all the introductions, and Sister Maria sat on a chair opposite me and my husband Vince. I was immediately drawn to her. You could see her spirit was full of life. She spoke to me as though she knew me for years. She wanted to know how long I’d been there…how often I visited…how I liked Albania. I asked her if she had ever met Mother Teresa and she told me that she had. She escorted her while she was on a trip to Albania a few years before she died. She had also been to India and was with her during her trip. It was a very humbling experience to be in the same room with someone who had that closeness with Mother Teresa, someone who espoused the same virtues and experiences as the Mother. I asked her a silly question. Did she ever meet Pope John Paul II? She just looked at me and smiled. Yes, she had met him. I said it was a silly question. Why? Because these nuns are not impressed with celebrity, pomp and glory.
It takes nine years to become a full fledged Missionary of Charity. For one year, candidates become “come-and-see’s.” At first, potential Sisters work as assistants in Shishu Bhavan and Nirmal Hriday (hospitals for the sick), tending to the patients there. After one year, if the young women still wish to join and are still considered candidates, they choose religious names and begin to study. During the novitiate they study sacred Scripture, the Constitutions of the Society, Church History, and Theology. If they are not from English-speaking countries, they learn to speak the language. Novices wear white saris without the three blue stripes. After two years, they take vows, and renew them after the fourth and fifth years. They also receive the blue striped sari of the Congregation. In the sixth year, they travel to Rome, or Calcutta, for a year in deep spiritual growth. A Sister’s possessions include: three saris (one to wear, one to wash, one to mend), a pair of sandals, crucifix and rosary.They also have a plate and metal spoon, a canvas bag, and prayer book. In cold countries, possessions also include a cardigan. They never wear anything but sandals on their feet.
I don’t know anyone who would sacrifice their lives to give so wholly of themselves, renounce all worldly goods, families, all possessions to serve God, do you? Sister Maria Goretti is one of those people. She regularly visits my elderly aunt and uncle in Shkodra, tending to their needs when necessary, never expecting anything in return and always because it is her duty and love of God and people. Yes, I was very humbled to have met her and even though she doesn’t like recognition and adulation, I have to say that to me she’s a true gift from God, an inspiration, and I am very humbled to have met her! I hope that on my next trip to Shkodra this September I will again have the honor to be in the same room with her. She is a real inspiration!!