United Nations Honors Mother Teresa With a Postage Stamp

The stamp bears one of St. Teresa of Calcutta’s famous sayings: “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”

UN postage stamp honors Mother Teresa of Calcutta
UN postage stamp honors Mother Teresa of Calcutta (photo: United Nations Postal Administration)

A United Nations stamp to honor a Catholic saint? 

Yes. On Aug. 12, the UN issued a commemorative stamp honoring Mother Teresa, one of the most celebrated women and Catholic missionaries of the 20th century. On the right side of the stamp appears one of Mother Teresa’s most celebrated quotes: “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”

As written in the UN dedication:

“For over 45 years she ministered to the poor, sick, orphaned and dying, while guiding the Missionaries of Charity’s expansion, first in India and then in other countries, including the construction of hospices and homes for the poor and the homeless.”

The United Nations is the only non-state organization in the world that has the privilege of issuing its own stamps. Since 1951, the UN Postal Administration has issued stamps, following Argentina’s 1947 proposal. An agreement was reached with the U.S. postal authorities requiring that stamps be denominated in U.S. currency and used only at UN Headquarters.

Later agreements between the United Nations, Switzerland and Austria made it possible for UN stamps to be issued in Swiss francs and Austrian schillings (later Euros). Consequently, the UN is the only postal authority to issue stamps in three different currencies — U.S. dollars, Swiss francs and Euros.

UN stamps are messengers, relying on the goals of the UN, its universal themes or commemorating anniversaries of women and men who have made an impact on history.

This is not the first time the UN is honoring Mother Teresa for serving the poorest of the poor. In 2012 the UN established Sept. 5 as the International Day of Charity, with the focus of helping people in need through philanthropy and volunteering. The choice of that date was not accidental, the UN explained:

“The date of 5 September was chosen in order to commemorate the anniversary of the passing away of Mother Teresa of Calcutta… For over 45 years she ministered to the poor, sick, orphaned and dying, while guiding the Missionaries of Charity’s expansion, first in India and then in other countries, including hospices and homes for the poorest and homeless. Mother Teresa’s work has been recognized and acclaimed throughout the world and she has received a number of awards and distinctions, including the Nobel Peace Prize. Mother Teresa died on September 5th 1997, at 87 years of age.”

The two UN recognitions of Mother Teresa — the “Do Small Things with Great Love” stamp and the International Day of Charity recognition — complement each other. Let me explain.

For Mother Teresa the all-important factor was how much love and dedication one puts into following one’s calling, and here lay the crux of her message and life’s work. While there is one calling with different expressions, her motto is always the same — to do small things with a great love, and to live your calling wherever you are with great dedication. She experienced that intense thirst with a similar love — her multiplicity of loves for the poorest of the poor, her sisters, her brothers and her family members was intense. Mother loved until it hurt, and in her life, she satisfied all these loves by mirroring the prototype — Jesus.

The motto, “Do small things with great love,” speaks of Mother’s lifelong devotion to St. Thérèse of Lisieux (1873-1897), Mother Teresa’s namesake. Thérèse’s little way — which reminds us that the ordinary things of life, when done with extraordinary love, are transformed into something extraordinary — became Mother Teresa’s principle in life. Mother was always ready to contribute her small part to alleviate suffering and carry the cross, as she said during her 1984 visit to famine-stricken Ethiopia. She did not hesitate to do her small part to help the world's hungriest nation:

“Ethiopia is an open Calvary, not an open hell. You and I can do our little part and then life will be saved.’

While doing “small things with great love,” Mother Teresa became one of the most ardent advocates of human rights which for her, started with the right to life, the most fundamental among human rights. For Mother, Jesus identified with the poor, the marginal, the leper, the unborn, the small and the voiceless — the rights of whom she was on the front line defending. So, Mother’s vigorous defense of life from conception to natural death was a human dignity and human rights issue that was deeply Christological and Christocentric. She knew that men, women and children (born and unborn) are created for great things — to love and be loved — and that Jesus Christ is both the foundation and the source of all rights.

Mother Teresa’s championship of human rights and human dignity won her a place of honor at the Human Rights Porch of the National (Episcopal) Cathedral in Washington D.C. The Human Rights Porch of the Cathedral has been dedicated to those individuals “who have taken significant, profound, and life-changing actions in the fight for human rights, social justice, civil rights, and the welfare of other human beings.”

Additionally, the theological virtue of charity is a step to Christian perfection. Love and charity go hand in hand. Charity is the love of God, in which one participates in God’s actions, or gets a taste to love as God’s loves.

If Mother Teresa’s motto is applied to charity, Mother did small things with great charity, loving those she served and imitating Christ’s selfless and sacrificial love. Mother cherished God above all things for his own sake and cherished humanity for God’s sake. Everyone can be a missionary of charity only through humble love and service, discovering the face of Jesus under the distressing disguise of the needy. Thus, love and charity are bound together and became the defining mark of St. Teresa of Calcutta’s mission to do small things with great love and charity. All her life, Mother stood staunchly for both. 

The UN commemorative stamp provides an opportunity for the world — which is in great need of small things being done with great love and charity – to reflect on the motto and Mission of Mother Teresa. Perhaps the stamp will help to waken us from any complacency and do small things — as small as writing a letter, putting a stamp on it, and mailing it — with great love.