Silence of the nuns: Missionaries refuse to get drawn into controversy over Mother Teresa

  • Arindam Sarkar, Hindustan Times, Kolkata
  • Updated: Mar 15, 2015 11:12 IST

Nothing seems to disturb the tranquility inside the Mother House at 54A AJC Bose Road. And, like Mother Teresa in her lifetime, the sisters now living without her inside the headquarters of the Missionaries of Charity (MC) are undeterred by criticisms and controversies about them and their Catholic Order.

On February 23, when Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat fired at Bharatpur that the service rendered by Mother Teresa was good but there was a motive behind such social service and that the motive was to convert those she served to Christianity, all hell broke loose. The remark on Mother Teresa shocked the Catholic Church and rocked Parliament. But the MC maintained a stoic silence. “Superior General Sister Mary Prema will not comment on the conversion issue,” said Sister Ita of MC. Spokesperson of MC Sunita Kumar, who has worked with Mother Teresa and MC for 50 years, said the RSS chief was “misinformed” about Mother Teresa.

“Mother Teresa served the poor, the dying, the destitute and the sick irrespective of their religion. Homes set up by Mother Teresa accommodated everyone. When the physically and mentally challenged at these homes passed away, they were cremated or buried according to their faith,” claimed Sunita Kumar.

“I have not seen a single case wherein people were asked to convert to Christianity. It is sad that Mother Teresa is accused of being involved in conversion. All her life she worked amongst the poor for the cause of humanity and peace,” said Sunita Kumar.

Meanwhile, Superior General of MC Fathers in Tijuana, Mexico, Father Brian Kolodiejchuk said: “Mother Teresa believed that conversion is a work of God and that faith is a gift. She respected every person, including atheists or agnostics, and respected the faith they had or even lacked.”

The Constitution of the MC states: “We shall not impose our Catholic Faith on anyone, but have profound respect for all religions, for it is never lawful for anyone to force others to embrace the Catholic Faith against their conscience.”

“This is very much in accord with the thought of Mother Teresa herself,” added Father Brian.

Echoing similar views, former Chief Election Commissioner of India and biographer of Mother Teresa, Navin B Chawla, observed: “Although staunchly and devoutly Catholic, she reached out to people of all denominations irrespective of their faith, or even lack of it. She did not believe that conversion was her work. That was god’s work, she said.”

It was Malcolm Muggeridge in his BBC documentary Something Beautiful For God who first told the world about Mother Teresa’s work in Kolkata in 1964. But, along with praise, came brickbats. Mother Teresa, arguably the most celebrated woman of the Catholic Church in the 20th century, faced a good share of criticism in her lifetime. From Professor Serge Larivie to Christopher Hitchens to Tariq Ali to Robin Fox and the latest being Mohan Bhagwat have all criticized Mother Teresa “for her rather dubious way of caring for the sick, her shady political contacts, her suspicious management of huge funds and donations, her alleged involvement in conversion and her dogmatic views on abortion, contraception and divorce”.

And even 18 years after her death, Mother Teresa continues to be dogged by controversies and her critics do not stop to tarnish the life and works of the Albanian nun.

After Mother Teresa died on September 5, 1997, Pope John Paul II put her Cause for beatification and canonsiation on a fast track. Pope John Paul II beatified and canonised more people than any of his predecessors in 27 years as pontiff. He beatified 1,300 and made nearly 500 saints. An admirer of Mother Teresa, Pope John Paul II bypassed the five-year wait for beginning the sainthood process and beatified her on October 19, 2003.

The church took 400 years to cannonise Joan of Arc and 40 years to make Polish priest Maximillian Maria Kolbe a saint. After Pope John Paul II, the Cause of Mother Teresa is on a backburner. Nevertheless, the Archdiocese of Kolkata believes God will provide the miracle for her sainthood.

Postulator for the Cause of Sainthood of Mother Teresa, Father Brian Kolodiejchuk, has submitted his report on Mother’s life to Vatican. According to him, the MC is hoping and praying but so far there hasn’t been a case that is strong enough to pass the medical board of the Congregation of the Cause of Saints at Vatican. The beatified Mother Teresa is called Blessed Teresa of Kolkata. She needs another miracle to become a saint.

In 1994, two British journalists — Christopher Hitchens and Tariq Ali — produced a critical documentary Hell’s Angel on Mother Teresa for BBC Channel 4. Former Vanity Fair writer Christopher Hitchens launched a scathing attack on Mother Teresa in his book The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice. Subsequently, Christopher Hitchens criticized Mother Teresa’s beatification process in an article in Slate.

He says: “It’s the sheer tawdriness that strikes the eye first of all. It used to be that a person could not even be nominated for ‘beatification’, the first step to ‘sainthood’, until five years after his or her death. This was to guard against local or popular enthusiasm in the promotion of dubious characters. The Pope nominated MT a year after her death in 1997.”

“As for the ‘miracle’ that had to be attested what can one say? Surely any respectable Catholic cringes with shame at the obviousness of fakery…Monica Besra claims a beam of light emerged from a picture of MT and relieved her of a cancerous tumor. Her physician Dr Ranjan Mustafi said she didn’t have a cancerous tumor in the first place and the tubercular cyst that she had was cured by a course of prescription of medicines. Was he interviewed by Vatican investigators? No,” argued Christopher Hitchens. He claimed there was an attempt by Pope John Paul II to make Mother Teresa a saint during his lifetime, but the Vatican turned it down.

According to Professor Larvie, the hallowed reputation of Mother Teresa does not stand up to scrutiny on many counts. Mother Teresa faced serious criticism for taking donation from Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier, who stole millions of dollars from the poor country. She was nailed for taking funds from British publisher Robert Maxwell, whoho embezzled mil-millions of pounds from employees’ pension funds. Mother Teresa also faced flak for demanding leniency in Charles Keating of Lincoln Savings and Loan case. Keating gave huge donations to Mother Teresa and a private jet when she visited the USA. “She was a friend to the worst of the rich, taking misappropriated money from the atrocious …us … Where did that money and all other donations go?” asked Christopher Hitchens.

But Navin Chawla said Mother Teresa was actually given $1,000 by Duvalier’s daughter-in-law and not millions.ns. When Navin Chawla asked Mother Teresa why she took money from shady characters like Duvalier, she replied: “In charity, everyone has a right to give. I have no right to judge them. God alone has that right. I accept no salary, no grant, no government or church funds, nothing. I do not ask for money. But peoplele have right to give.”

Mother Teresa drew the ire of the medical journal, The Lancet, that criticized her for the quality off medical care provided to the terminally ill in her homes. In 1991, editor of The Lancet Robin Fox visited her homes.He observed that thee MC did not distinguish between curable and incurable patients and those who could otherwise survive were at the risk of dying from infection and lack of treatment. He was appalled by the manner in which the MC Sisters attended to the wounds and provided pain management to the patients.

The German magazine Sterntern criticized the champion of the downtrodden for using donations to expand her convents but notot alleviating the condition of the poor inn her homes.

“Also, Mother Teresa’s position on abortion, divorce and contraception was ultra-reactionary and fundamentalist, even in orthodox Catholic terms,” said Christopher Hitchens. He ridiculed her stand that abortion wass “the greatest destroyer of peace”.

Mother Teresa faced a slew of criticisms in her lifetime. Yet, she and her MC never reacted to the diatribes of Devil’s Advocates. Silent work has always been their strength for survival and glory. Today, with 754 homes in 130 countries, the ever-expanding MC is quietly praying and keenly waiting for Pope Francis to make Blessed Teresa of Kolkata a saint.

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