India calls

Even before Gonxha entered teens, a resolve to serve the poor and sick of a far off country called India began to germinate in her mind.
The seeds of its was sown in young Agnes ‘Gonxha’ by the letters from Yugoslav Jesuit missionaries working in India at Kursiong and Darjeeling missions. Their letters used to be read out in the classes of the school where Gonxha was studying. The letters detailed the horrifying fate suffered by the poor, sick, orphans, lepers, abandoned and the old. They also revealed the cruelty of the society and negligence of the administration. A lot was written about the city called Calcutta which was a sea of human miseries of all kinds.
Gonxha’s heart would go to those unfortunate people. She could hear calls for help coming to her from the miseries of those people, from the wounds of uncured sick lying on road sides and in shanties to die and from the churning stomachs of the starving orphans.
The name ‘Calcutta’ had some familiar ring to Agnes ‘Gonxha’ as if she had lived there in one of her previous births. According to Jesuit letters condition of that city was the worst. The hunger and the diseases were rampant. The authorities had no time for the suffering people.
It chilled Agnes Gonxha.
Her heart was getting warmed up to spark off a burning desire to go to that place to be able to comfort and take case of those sick people. She wanted to put balm on the wounds of the people inflicted by the abject poverty. She wished to give love, hope and shelter to the abandoned people and the orphan children.
At that tender age while other children were reading fairy tales Gonxha’s impressionable mind was coming under the influence of the great saints recognised for the selfless services to the others and the inspiring sacrifices they had made. She read their stories avidly or was told about.
The following examples made the biggest impressions on Gonxha’s mind and touched her heart.
The example of nightingale
Florence Nightingale world over is the most revered legend in the field of the care and the service to the wounded and the dying. The deity of the nursing profession is famed as ‘The lady with the lamp’.
The nurses of all nations of the world take the oath of selfless service to the sick in her name.
The legend of Nightingale was born in Cremea war. A staggering number of soldiers were wounded in that war. The wards and halls were filled with crying, groaning and screaming wounded soldiers. It was a painful scene.
Florence was a nurse taking care of the soldiers. In this task, she went far beyond her call of duty setting up an incredible example of the dedication and the spirit of service. She worked day and night continuously without taking any break.
At night, when doctors, nurses and other medical attendants retired Florence took no rest.
With a candle in hand she would roam through rows of soldiers lying in pain and agony. She made no distinctions between the nationalities of the soldiers. She did whatever she could to provide relief to the suffering soldiers by giving them water, food, medicines, words of cheer and solace whatever was needed.
So immersed would she remain in her nursing mission that forgot to take note of the sunset, the fall of night, breaking of dawn and the rise of the sun. For her time had become seamless and endless stretch of a reeling sterilized bandage. She herself had turned into a human sponge with a limitless capacity to soak the pain and the suffering of the soldiers.
In her the soldiers saw an angel in white come to deliver them from their pain. She was the light in the darkness of apathy.
Her deed of service was so amazing that every child born to the human race is bound to be told the story of the ‘Lady with the candle’. In her human race feels redeemed irrespective of all its shortcomings, wars, follies and hatreds.
In a strange co-incidence Florence Nightingale had died the year Agnes ‘Gonxha’ was born to Bojaxhiu family of Albania. Naturally after the death of Nightingale the people all over paid tributes to her. And her story was told and retold every where.
Gonxha heard the Nightingale’s story at home and at the school umpteen times, The awe inspiring respect the name of Florence Nightingale evoked would naturally influence the aspirations of a young mind like that of Gonxha who would love to emulate her.
Another character that made impression on Gonxha’s mind was a selfless saint who lived centuries ago. His story was also very inspiring and incredible.
Example of saint francis
The birth name of St. Francis was Giovanni Burnadron Francisco. He was born in 1181, inn Asissi province of Italy to the rich merchant father Mr. Pedro Burnadron.
Mr. Pedro called his son ‘Cisco’ lovingly. He hoped his son would make a bigger businessman than he was. For him in life, business and earning profit was all that mattered. Money ran the world, he thought. So, whoever had money owned the world was his theory.
Cisco’s age group boys went to school. But Cisco was no interested in education at all. It was a shock for Mr. Pedro. How could one with no knowledge of writing letters and figures become a successful trader?
Father pressed hard and forced Cisco to go to school. Inspite of the father’s best efforts young Cisco could not progress beyond primary level of the learning. You can’t force a horse to drink water.
So, the utterly frustrated father put his son into business. He tried to teach Cisco on job the tricks of the trade.

Cisco would attend to his business during the day. As soon as the business closed he would dash to his friends who would be waiting for him.
Cisco carried loads of money in his purse every time. The father was generous to his son in the matter of money. He had got reconciled to the fact that his Cisco failed to get educated.
It was a civil wars period in Italy. Various factions were always fighting one another. Cisco was a very passionate young man politically. He could not keep himself off the civil wars. He fought on the side he thought that it stood for the truth and the right cause.
In one such battle Cisco was taken prisoner by the rival side. He remained in prison for one year before he was released. The prison life had gravely ravaged his health. Besides that it had changed his outlook about the life.
Then, one day Cisco was going on his horse when he happened to see a leper beggar on the roadside. Many parts of his body were rotting or falling away and he had white and pinkish patches all over his body. Cisco stared at the miserable man and his heart went to him. How tragic!
Cisco took out his purse and gave all the money it contained to the beggar.
He didn’t go away. He looked at the pitiable face of the beggar and his pathetic condition. His mind reasoned, “Does this man only needs money? Perhaps, he needs love, sympathy, kindness, care and proper treatment more than the money.”
Cisco dismounted and went to the beggar to sit beside him inspite of his filthy condition. He wanted to know the story of the leper beggar.
Cisco learnt that the leper was a lonely soul. His family abandoned him due to his condition. No one would touch or come near a leper. The leprosy was a dreaded and despised disease. A leper was quickly ostracized from the family and the society. Such was the stigma attached to it. So, that leper had to leave home as soon as the hatred against him built up. Since then, he was on the road, dragging himself from place to place seeking alms and pity. He could not even dream of compassion from any quarter.
The fate of the lepers deeply hurt Cisco and he resolved to do something about it. The fact was that there were hundred of such lepers who were suffering the same fate. Now it became a daily routine of Cisco to go around to help the lepers, giving them all the money he could muster, talking to them and consoling them. All his money went to the lepers.
It resulted in his friends distancing from him one by one. He could no more spare any money for the entertainment of the fair weather friends. With no friends around Cisco had more time at his hands which he spent in comforting the lepers and showing them that someone did care for them. For the lepers Cisco was the answer of God to their prayers.
Cisco continued to assist his father in the business. At the age of 25 years, in 1906, his father Mr. Pedro Burnadron sent him on a business trip to another town named Folitano. Cisco took along merchandise loaded on a caravan of horse carriages. In Folitano Cisco made very profitable deals and made good money. Then, he sold the horses and the carriages as well to raise additional funds. At a good price he sold his own horse as well. The latter part of the sale had no sanction of his father. It was Cisco’s own decision. All the money was exchanged for gold.
Cisco began his journey back on foot with the gold bag slung over his shoulders. On the way he passed by an old broken down church at Damiano. He stopped and went down on his knees to offer the prayers. The church was mostly in ruins.
Suddenly, Cisco noticed that in corners and the nooks of the ruins lepers sat cowering for fear of being discovered. The ruins of the church had become a shelter for the lepers who were banished from the town.
Cisco surveyed the area around. He realised that it was wine countryside. He could see vineyards all around belonging to rich people who made costly wines. It hurt Cisco to know that inspite of such prosperity there was no leprosy hospital to treat the unfortunate lepers who were reducted to begging.
Cisco sought out the old Padre of the church who lived in a nearby hut and gave all his gold to him for the reconstruction of the church. They came together and drew plans for the rebuilding of the crumbled structure. Cisco stayed there for the task.
In the meantime, Pedro came to know about the doings of his son which incensed him.
On the other hand, the Bishop of Italy was also enraged when he learnt that the old Padre of Damiano had undertaken the reconstruction of the church without seeking the permission of Bishop. In support of the old Padre, Cisco had argued that since Bishop didn’t accept the responsibility to rebuild in fallen down structure for so many years, the permission to reconstruct it too was not required logically.
Mr. Pedro contacted the Bishop and added fuel to the fire. Both of them reached Damiano in fiery mood ready to explode.
Mr. Pedro gave his son a blast, “It is my money that you are squandering around! What right have you got over it and what do you think you are doing?”
Cisco did not protest. He humbly accepted the claim of his father although he had worked hard to earn the profits made in the deals at Folitano. He gave to his father the gold he was still left with. And incidentally that gold was worth more than Mr. Pedro’s capital invested and the property sold in the form of the horses and carriages. Cisco even took off his clothes and handed them to his father. He wrapped himself in a torn bed sheet borrowed from a leper.
Mr. Pedro stared at his son in disbelief. Then, he surmised that it was merely an asinine act the youth often put up in heat. He hoped that the hunger and the poverty would bring his stupid son to his senses and he would return home a wiser youngman. But the coming events proved him wrong.
Meanwhile, undeterred Cisco started living with the lepers. Every day he would go to towns and villages to beg for a beautiful stone from each household for the reconstruction of the church. The people responded by giving him and his leper companions stones, money in lieu or fed them and donated clothes.
Cisco’s dedication to his cause made him a familiar figure in that area and of course, the lepers adored him. He would carry stones on his back or shoulder. When tired he would take a breather during which he bandaged the wounds of the lepers, cheered them up and spoke words of sympathy to keep up their morale.
Soon all the lepers caught the church building fever from Cisco. Their lives were no more purposeless and full of pain. The passion for the church acted as a pain killer. The lepers were now possessed people who collected and carried the stones feverishly to the church site singing hymns and prayers all the way.
One of the former friends of Cisco had gone into evil ways. His father was fed up with his good for nothing son. His other children were no better. The sad father was a person of great wealth. One night, he took a very unusual decision. He knew the story of Cisco. He gave all his wealth to Cisco.
He stipulated that half of the money be spent on the construction of the church and the remaining half in setting up a hospital for the lepers.
It was a God sent help for Cisco. The con-struction works progressed at fast pace fuelled by the funding.
The two noble souls were joined by a third one to make threesome. He was a doctor. It was just what Cisco needed. The doctor had lost his wife in a terrible accident which turned him into a sorrowing man. His life had become a passage of pain. Helping Cisco in his noble mission had given meaning to his life again. And treating lepers gave him great relief and consolation. The good doctor had no child of his own. He donated all his money to Cisco and dedicated himself to the treatment and the case of lepers full time.
In due course the three founded a mission called ‘The Poor Brothers of Asissi’. Its only aim and objective was to serve the poor and build homes for them. The good work done by the mission attracted more people to the mission.
From three they became twelve.
This noble dozen made six pairs and split to fan around in Italy to spread the message of love and selfless service. The message was well received by the masses. The growing popularity of ‘The Poor Brothers of Asissi’ worried Bishop. He put a street ban on the sermons of the mission.
Cisco and his Brothers realised that the Bishop would not let them work peacefully in Italy as he was too antagonised. So, the Brothers left Italy to carry on their work in neighbouring lands. Even there Bishop didn’t leave them alone. Using the power of church he drove Cisco and his follower brothers away from wherever they went. The agents of Bishop pursued them relentlessly.
The harassed Cisco then went to Rome with his Brothers and managed to have an audience with a very powerful and influential cardinal of the church named Colona. Cisco explained to him the aims, objectives, principles and works done by his organisation.
The cardinal, Colona was very impressed with the achievements and the ideals of the Poor Brothers of Asissi. He issued them permission to carry on their good work and spread their noble message.
Then on, ‘The Poor Brothers of Asissi’ mission made rapid progress.
On personal level, Cisco was a nature lover. The wonders of the nature fascinated him. The sun rise, full moon, plants, tall trees, birds and other creatures gave his immense joy. In forests, amidst flora and fauna he found spiritual peace. He preached against the caging of birds and other animals. It pained him. The animal slaughter horrified him. Needless to say that he was strict vegetarian.
The goodwill of people earned by Cisco’s mission made the church see things from different perspective. Now it saw great advantage and sense in accepting ‘The Poor Brothers of Asissi’ as its own wing. The followers of the mission of Cisco were now more than 1200 strong. The church re-christened the Cisco mission as ‘Franciscons.’
The church asked Cisco to head the ‘Franciscons’ order but he politely refused as he was by now a tired person and in weak health. So, an another person was appointed the head of the order.
Then, Cisco took to bed due to ill health. Even in illness he wrote beautiful prayers in praise of God. He lived in a mud hut outside the leper hospital that had come into existence due to his efforts. He sensed the approach of death.
In the month of October of the year 1226, Giovanni Burnadron Francisco alias Brother Cisco breathed his last surrounded by lepers and his soul soared heavenwards at the age of 45 years.
Young Gonxha was so influenced by his example that later, when she became Mother Teresa, the songs written by Cisco became the prayers of her Missions.

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