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By Julie Zimmerman

The following Links for Learners study guide is based on an article in the St. Anthony Messenger online edition. It is designed for young Catholics, particularly those in high school.

Links for Learners | October 2003

Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta and Pope John Paul II: 25 Years of Service



Finding Curriculum Connections
Understanding Basic Terms
Giants of Faith
Heeding God's Call
Prayer and Faith
Reaching Out
Internet Resources
Research Resources

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Links for Learning

Finding Curriculum Connections for High School Students and Their Teachers

This month’s Links for Learners will support high school curriculum in:

• Religion - Christian life-styles; evangelization; lives of service; vocation and career
• World history - political and social influence of prominent Catholics; role of the Church in world events
• Vocation - responding to what God wants us to do, even when it is difficult or not what we want to do

Understanding Basic Terms in This Month’s Article

Look for these key words and terms as you read the article.  Definitions or explanations can be researched from the article itself, or from the resource materials cited throughout the Link for Learners. 

Pastor of the universal Church

Public Mass



World Youth Day





Presence of God


Public acclaim

"fast track" to canonization


miraculous cure


"Second calling"

gospel values




Giants of Faith

This month we look at two giants of faith whose lives overlapped during the later part of the 20th century: Blessed Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II. Even most non-Catholics are familiar with these two Catholic personalities, whose influence has stretched around the world. Their lives differed greatly: the pope is a religious and world leader who has spent much of his papacy traveling around the world, while Mother Teresa spent her life amid the poverty and squalor of Calcutta. But despite the differences, both are examples of true disciples of Jesus Christ. The world celebrates their faith and devotion in October 2003, as Pope John Paul marks the 25th anniversary of his papacy and beatifies Mother Teresa in the same week.

Heeding God's Call

Both Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa grew up in households that were dedicated to God, and both felt a call to a religious vocation as young adults. Karol Wojtyla, as John Paul II was known before he became pope, entered an underground seminary at the age of 22 while Poland was under Nazi occupation. He was ordained four years later and spent much of his early priesthood doing youth ministry.

Mother Teresa said later in life that, although the Church had been a central part of her youth, she never considered becoming a nun until she was 18. At that age she joined the Loreto Sisters of Dublin and moved twice, first to Ireland and then to India.

Even after they answered their call to religious life, the pope and Mother Teresa continued to seek out what God wanted them to do. As a young man, Karol Wojtyla had little interest in politics, preferring the theater and other artistic pursuits. Yet as a bishop and then a cardinal in Communist Poland, his defense of the family and the worker brought him into conflict with the Communist authorities. His political skill grew so great that he was later widely credited with helping to bring about the fall of Communism.

Mother Teresa's vocation also continued to evolve. As a teacher in a school for wealthy girls in Calcutta, she grew concerned about the destitute and dying living on the streets of the city. She grew to believe that helping them was her "second vocation." It was not easy to change the direction of her vocation: she had to be released from the Sisters of Loreto, and the Church at the time discouraged people from starting new religious orders. But despite the obstacles, she persevered and founded the Missionaries of Charity, dedicated to serving the poorest of the poor.

What is God calling you to do? How do you listen for that call? Are you open to changing your path according to what you think God wants you to do?


Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II both knew suffering throughout their lives. They each lost important people in their lives at a young age. The pope's mother died when he was just eight years old, and by the time he was 22 both his father and his beloved older brother were also dead. Mother Teresa's father died when she was seven, and her mother opened a cloth business to support her three children. These early losses had a profound effect on the pope and Mother Teresa.

In later years, both suffered from physical ailments that also influenced their spirituality. Mother Teresa suffered from heart problems for two decades and finally died of a heart attack in 1997. During his tenure, Pope John Paul II has been transformed from a robust man who enjoys skiing and hiking to a frail, trembling old man who cannot walk in public and often has trouble speaking. Yet both continued their work despite the obstacles of old age and sickness.

What suffering have you encountered in your life? How has it affected your relationship with God?

Prayer and Faith

Even with his busy schedule, Pope John Paul II has always made time for regular prayer. Mother Teresa was the same way: she credited prayer with giving her the strength to accomplish all that she did. Especially in their early years, the pope and Mother Teresa also embraced their faith even when it was risky or difficult to do so. Karol Wojtyla was forced to study at an underground seminary during the Nazi occupation of Poland. It was not easy to be a Catholic then, but he followed his faith without fear of the consequences. In following her vocation, Mother Teresa moved far from her family, into two cultures that were unfamiliar. When she moved to India, she was a member of a minority religion. But her belief in her calling was so great it enabled her to look past these difficulties and do what God wanted her to do.

Do you make time to pray, even when you are busy? If not, what is standing in the way? Have you ever been called to defend your faith when it might be embarrassing or difficult to do so? How did you react?

Reaching Out

Throughout their lives, Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II both reached out to groups they thought especially needed to hear the Gospel. Early in his priesthood, the pope concentrated on young people and youth ministry, because he felt a real connection to them. Even in his old age he continues to enjoy being around young people at World Youth Days and other events, and they respond to him. In his travels he has also made it a priority to visit developing countries, especially in Africa and Asia, where few popes have ever gone before.

Mother Teresa felt a call to help the poor even when she was a young girl. While living in Calcutta, she saw an opportunity to help people that no one else cared about. She saw Jesus in the faces of the dying, the lepers, the orphans, the AIDS patients and others she reached out to, and in helping them she was living out the call of the Gospel.

Do you see Jesus in the people you encounter every day? Who do you reach out to with a kind word or a helping hand?

Internet Resources

To learn more about Pope John Paul II, check out the Vatican Web site, a biographical site from the Daughters of St. Paul, and a site dedicated to his 25th anniversary.

To learn more about Blessed Mother Teresa, see the official site of her cause for canonization, the Nobel Prize site (Mother Teresa won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979), and a Life magazine photo essay about her.

Research Resources

Try accessing some of these Internet sources for further general reference.  Be aware, however, that some of these sites may charge for downloading articles contained within the site’s archives.

The New York Times

The Los Angeles Times

The Chicago Tribune

The Washington Post

The Miami Herald

The Associated Press

Time Magazine



ABC News

Channel One—online resource for the school channel


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