TIRANA, Albania — Sitting on the steps outside St. Marie’s church after mass in this capital city, 12-year-old Tereza Njebza notes that she was born on Oct. 19, 2003, the day that Mother Teresa — who has Albanian roots — was beatified as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.
Her father named her after Mother Teresa, who officially becomes Saint Teresa of Calcutta on Sunday. When Tereza was younger, some use to call her Mother Teresa. “I didn’t like it at first,” she said. “Now I embrace it.”
Mother Teresa, whose parents were ethnic Albanians, visited this Balkan nation in 1991. It was just after the fall of Communism, a dark period that saw all religions banned under former dictator Enver Hoxha. Today, religion of all faiths flourishes in the country, which is majority Muslim, and its youth barely remember the days when people prayed in secret and only spoke about religious figures in whispers.
As Pope Francis prepares to make Mother Teresa a saint at the Vatican, people in her ancestral homeland are celebrating their most famous daughter with Albanian roots.
“She made Albanians really proud. And because it’s getting really talked about, Albanians are going to be talked about even more now,” Tereza said. “It’s not that she just got famous, but she also helped lots and lots of people and that’s good, too.”
Mother Teresa’s parents are from what is today Kosovo. She was born as Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu in Skopje, the former capital of the Kosovo Vilayet during the Ottoman Empire and today’s capital of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
Mother Teresa’s dedication to helping the poor has left an imprint on her fellow Albanians of all faiths throughout the Balkans.
A visitor in Tirana, Albania, looks at a special exhibit on Mother Teresa at the Albanian National Museum on Aug. 12, 2016. Mother Teresa, whose parents were ethnic Albanians, will be canonized as a saint by Pope Francis on Sept. 4, 2016, at the Vatican.
In Kosovo, where ethnic Albanians make up 93% of its 1.8 million citizens, locals said they were thrilled over her sainthood.
“I am a Muslim, and I am proud of her because she’s done so much for so many people and she made history,” said Mimoza Xhemshiti, 29, an Albanian Kosovar and translator, as he stopped on Bulevardi Nënë Tereza (Mother Teresa Boulevard) in Pristina, Kosovo’s capital. “That’s what makes us, maybe, better people.”