WAS MOTHER TERESA REALLY A SAINT? YES!

At 9:30 PM, September 5th, 1997, Mother Teresa died at her desk of a massive heart attack. She had recently fallen, suffering a broken collar bone and had her lung punctured. A failing heart and the fall were the causes of her death.

Almost immediately the Catholic Church began the process of Sainthood for Mother Teresa. However, it took 19 years to declare her a saint. Besides being an exceptional follower of Christ, two miracles after death are required to be anointed a saint. It wasn’t until 2015 that this latter requirement was met.

The first was the healing of a woman, Monica Bersa, who suffered from a tumor in her abdomen that was so large she appeared to be 6 months pregnant. After the application of a medallion of Mother Teresa, Monica was healed. Despite some controversy about the healing, the church received confirmation from doctors, most of whom were Hindu, that the healing was a miracle.

The second came from a case where a Brazilian man suffered from brain tumors. In 2008, through specific prayers through Mother Teresa, the man was healed. It took seven years to prove this miracle, the approval occurred in 2015. On September 4th, 2016, Pope Francis declared Mother Teresa a saint in front of thousands at the Vatican.

While both of these miracles received extensive review and doubting comments. We should understand, the sainthood process is very thorough and taken seriously by the Catholic Church. Many other miracles were brought forward and did not pass every test. In the end, significant medical evidence was presented in the case of these two miracles.

However, as I researched Mother Teresa, other information came up that cast doubt on her and her sincerity in helping the poor. Naturally, these accusation had to be researched to determine their validity.

As I researched the accusations, I noticed that most of the controversy centered around the comments of two men, Christopher Hitchens and Aroup Chatterjee. Each article, whether in newspapers like the New York Times or the Washington post, or in journal articles, came back to comments made by these two men.

Hitchens produced a documentary film in 1994, called “Hells Angels.” The documentary cast a poor light on the work of Mother Teresa and portrayed her as a fraud.

Aroup Chatterjee, wrote two books about Mother Teresa. The first called, Mother Teresa: The Final Verdict in 2002 and Mother Teresa: The untold Story in 2016. Both were commercial failures. The books maintained that Mother Teresa was a fraud, took money from criminals and didn’t really provide adequate medical treatment. The Final Verdict, currently sells for $900 on Amazon.

As I dug deeper, I discovered that Chatterjee was a significant contributor to the movie, “Hells Angels.” And he and Hitchens were the common thread in all these complaints.

There is no doubt Mother Teresa was a tough woman and perhaps could be overly harsh. However, she had many followers who admired her and the same with those who worked with her.

The organization that Mother Teresa set up called Missionaries of Charity, by 1996 operated 517 facilities in over 100 countries. A wonderful life legacy that rivals the organization skills of Saint Francis of Assisi and Saint Ignatius.

Mother Teresa received many awards during her lifetime that required a significant review of her life’s work. Two in particular are the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1984. In fact, Mother Teresa did not attend the award ceremony for the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She advised President Reagan she had to delay her attendance to work, to which Reagan graciously agreed.

Some of complaints surrounding Mother Teresa revolve around the her working with the “Poorest of the Poor”  or the “untouchables” in Kolkata (formerly known as Calcutta). As her fame grew, the image of Kolkata decreased. Many believing the city was just a slum. However, Kolkata like many cities is diverse and Mother Teresa’s fame cast the city in a bad light. Four of the five Indians who have a won a Nobel prize come from Kolkata. Unwittingly as Mother Teresa’s fame grew, the unintended consequence was that Kolkata became viewed in a poor light. Not that this was her intent, her intent was to help those no one else would.

Another large complaint Chatterjee and Hitchens had with Mother Teresa was with her evangelizing with those she served. Mother Teresa was a nun and believed in Jesus. Her trust was not just in the secular world, but stronger in Christ. As most Christians would, we would expect her to pray for those she tended to and as a matter of course be open about her belief in Jesus. Simply, her living her faith with those she helped was the source of their complaint.

They also accused her of taking money from Charles Keating, the creator of the savings and loan crisis here in the U.S. Certainly this could be viewed as a misstep on Teresa’s part. But of the hundreds of million dollars she received, Keating’s was $1.25 million. All of us have had cases of bad judgement. Knowing Mother Teresa’s commitment to the poor, she would have been hard pressed to turn down the money.

They also complained about the treatment the terminally ill received. Her clinics were accused of reusing needles and not providing pain relief. The British Medical Journal discounted the claim and said about Hitchens’s, “He was long on criticism and short on citation.”  Nurses who worked with Mother Teresa did not observe these practices.

There have been many articles written complaining about Mother Teresa becoming a saint. I am sure she had human imperfections. But her whole body of work of tending to those others wouldn’t around the globe must be measured. Her awards were not handed out capriciously, particularly a Nobel Peace Prize.

It would be hard to grow an organization from one mission to over 516 without real substance. Nuns throughout the world supported her work.

Certainly all famous people had their distractors, as did Mother Teresa. Most of the articles I read, well over twenty had one common source of information, the business partners, Hitchens and Chatterjee. Why didn’t more come forward if these allegations were well founded?

One of Mother Teresa’s most famous quotes is “If you can’t feed a hundred people, feed one.” Many don’t know that she had an experience with Jesus, whom she felt told her to stop teaching and tend the poor. Which she did! For the next fifty years she held on to this direction, despite her self-professed feelings of inadequacy. When she won the Presidential Medal of freedom she proclaimed, “I am not worthy, my work is for the glory of God.”

At the very least the image we know of Mother Teresa is worth following and admiring. But I suspect her real life activities also would lead us to the following conclusion. Not that the Catholic Churches rigorous test of sainthood needs my approval, but I believe they got this one right.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Photo by James Coleman

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