MY AUNTIE SAINT MOTHER THERESA
Krzysztof Tadej, a journalist for the TVP talks with Alojz Gombar - a cousin of Mother Theresa
KRZYSZTOF TADEJ: What was Mother Theresa like?
ALOJZ GOMBAR: Humble, straightforward. For me she was saint already during her life. I would like everybody to remember about her good heart. About what she was doing for others. Unfortunately, it seems to me that less and less people know how wonderful she was.
Your first meeting with Mother Theresa…
Began with disappointment ….
I was a little boy. My parents used to say that my auntie from abroad was arriving. They were very moved. I was wondering what presents I would get. When, finally, she appeared at the door, I saw a short old nun. And wearing sandals, in addition. Having greeted me, she gave me…..one caramel candy!
I was staring at these sandals – old, very worn out. I noticed that she had also the new ones with her. I asked spontaneously: ‘Auntie, why are wearing such old sandals? You have got the new ones, after all!’. She answered: ‘Oh, my child. My road is still very long’.
When was it?
In the 70s, after a short time, she arrived at Skopje. She was living with us. Later she visited us twice, but after that a priest or people from Church used to organize her visits and she used to stay in a parish house. When she was arriving in the city, first she went to the church and then to our house. We used to talk.
Did she ask you about your life, education?
She did. She asked me what school I attended, what marks I had. She asked me to cite her a poem. She tested my knowledge of catechism. She asked: ‘Do you know the prayer ‘Our Father…’? . When I told her the prayer, she stroke my head and asked me another question: ‘Do you go to church every day?’. I was surprised. Later my parents explained me that it was something obvious for Mother Theresa. When she was 14 or 15, she took no interest in anything but church and prayer – deep, contemplative prayer. At one moment her parents got concerned. Every day she used to go to church. They thought she exaggerated.
Mother Theresa told you how to live, how to behave, didn’t she?
She used to say that it is necessary to think about tomorrow. She often stroke me on the head, saying: ‘You must be good in life, go to church, pray’. And at the end when leaving our home, she used to say: ‘Be happy! Pray for me so that God would give me strength. I pray for you, too’.
When did you realize that she was an unusual person?
I asked her a lot of questions: what is life like in Calcutta? What does she do there? How does she spend each day? Where are the nuns from with whom she lives? …She answered in a simple way, giving the very information, no commenting on it. I found out that she had founded a house for dying people and later a house for children who did not have parents. It was how I get to know about her life. When she stayed with us, I noticed that for the most of time she had her hands put together as if she was praying. She ate very little. And she had a kind of a flame in herself, such energy with which she radiated.
The feeling of being somebody unusual was something obvious in our family. It might have begun when she decided to become a nun and set off Skopje? She wanted to be a missionary. It was a shock.
After all she had everything. She came from a rich family. And she left everything behind…The mother of Mother Theresa, Drana, came from a family of goldsmiths, jewelers. They lived in a city of Prizren in Kosów. They were so rich that it was said that nearly whole Prizren and nearby areas belonged to them. The father of Mother Theresa – Nikola Bojaxiu – was a trader. When epidemic of cholera broke out in Prizren, parents of Mother Theresa moved to Skopje. Her father was very respected. He engaged in the life of the city, he was even one of the founders of the theatre there. He spoke foreign languages and ran business in various places of Europe. He worked hard and thanks to it he was successful. Unfortunately, he was often absent from home, because as a trader he travelled a lot. For example, he travelled to Bucharest, supplying pharmacies. In 1919, when he was nearly 40, he died in suspicious circumstances.
It was written that he had been poisoned…
That’s right. On the day of his funeral, shops and craft workshops got closed in Skopje. It was a gesture of solidarity and opposition to what had happened. But my auntie, saint Mother Theresa, was warm-hearted after her mother.
Not after her father?
Her father was a good man, but as the head of the family – he was quite strict and demanding. Mother looked after household. She always prepared a lot of food. For example, when she was cooking soup, Mother Theresa used to ask her mum: ‘Why are you cooking so much’?. She answered: ‘I am sure there will be somebody who will want to eat’. Certainly, she knew that on that day at least 10 poor and homeless would come. When they were coming, Mother Theresa would ask her mum: ‘Who are they? Are they our family?’. Her mother used to answer that yes, ‘they were a kind of distant family’. Later others used to come. They knew they would receive help at that home.
Mother Theresa left Skopje in 1928.
When she was 18. She decided to become a nun and missionary. Nobody was able to understand it. A young rich girl with her promising future, who had an opportunity for education at the highest level, left everything and left. She left her friends with whom she was in deep relations and despite being sociable. She had a great sense of humour. She went to Dublin first, to a cloister there in order to learn English. And later to Calcutta. Nobody could understand it then.
Your parents were for Mother Theresa…
My mum was her cousin. My grandma and the father of Mother Theresa were siblings. Those were very close relations. At that time the whole life was going round the family. We all lived together. Unlike now. Our family were silversmiths for generations. Have a look at this diploma…(Mr. Alojz is pointing at a diploma on the wall). This diploma belongs to my uncle Lorenz. He was a cousin of Mother Theresa. He was also a goldsmith. He did not have any children. I remember when Mother Theresa arrived once to talk to him. She asked: ‘Wouldn’t you like to adopt a child?’. My uncle was surprised and she went on: ‘Even you are not aware of how many children need help, parental care…’. Even today I remember my uncle’s face expression. He was standing dead still.
And what happened then?
Nothing. My uncle did not adopt any children. Later he inherited a house where Mother Theresa lived with parents, brother and sister. When my uncle died – here I have a document – I inherited the house. But as it is in life, after the tragic earthquake in 1963, it was nationalized and pulled down. It was near the main square in the centre of Skopje. I have not regained the land till today, although I am its owner!
A lot of books, articles were written about Mother Theresa. We know that she was good, entrusted her life to God, served to people in need. But what is not noticed?
My auntie, Mother Theresa, was an excellent manager. Once she said how she was coping with a room for the lepers, the ill. How she organized food for them. Another time – that there were more and more nuns and she was wondering how to provide them with conditions for life, food. She also said about plans of developing the convent in order to help the poor more and bring people closer to God. She was good in management, planning, solving problems. She assigned the money from awards, including the Noble Prize, for the poor, the ill. She behaved in the same way when she received rolls-royce – she sold it.
What don’t people know yet? For example, that she had only 3 – 3.5 hours’ sleep.
Yes. Despite that she was extremely active. I often wondered how she was so strong.
Thanks to God.
I think so, too. Can you see this cross? (Mr. Alojz is pointing at a cross in a red box). In my family there were two identical crosses. One of them was taken by Mother Theresa when she was leaving for Dublin, and later for Calcutta. Another one remained in my family. The sign of close relation not only with God but also with Mother Theresa. For all the years. Mother Theresa had just the same cross with her all the time. And she died with the cross.
Does being a cousin of Mother Theresa oblige one to anything?
I would like to be as humble as her at least partly. But this is hard to achieve.
Do you pray through the intercession of Mother Theresa?
At home I have a small chapel with a small figure of my auntie. Next to it there are two small lamps. Every evening I pray through the intercession of her. Before I go to sleep I touch the image. She helps me when I am experiencing a difficulty.
On 7 may 2019 pope Francis is arriving at Skopje…
I am waiting for him. I want him to remind the whole world that Mother Theresa was from Skopje and tell the world what she was like. Pope Francis is very humble. He is also very talented and always well-informed. One can talk to him about everything. Even about football! He impressed on me when I was in Vatican in 2016, on the Square of St. Peter and I saw a group of students. They were waving at the Pope, greeting him and wanted him to come up to them. But a protocol, his cooperators decided that he should move around in a papamobile. However, the Pope ordered his driver to stop. He came up to them, greeted them and talked to them. This is the Pope who decides! Now I am waiting for him in Skopje. I want to meet and greet him with my whole heart, as friendly as I can.
Translated by Aneta Amrozik
Niedziela 19/2019 (12 V 2019)