Saint Teresa: Holy or Hoax?
On September 4th, Saint Teresa, more widely known as Mother Teresa of Calcutta, was added to the pantheon of over 10,000 saints that are recognized by the Catholic Church. Saint Teresa, formerly Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, was born in modern-day Macedonia in 1910. At the age of 16, she became a nun and took on the title of ‘Mother Teresa’. In 1950, she founded the Missionaries of Charity in the Indian city of Calcutta. From here, she began her many years of providing shelter to the poor and dying. Her organization has spread across many countries and is still active today, long after her death in 1997. Her mission and deep devotion to God did not spare her of critics however. Saint Teresa has received her fair share of criticism over the years about her motives, practices, and morals. The canonization ceremony was covered by world-wide media sources that revealed the differing views of the holy announcement.
Feminism has become a larger part of culture in the past decade, and while one might think that feminists would support Saint Teresa and her cause, that is not the case. Women in the World, a section of the New York Times, portrays Saint Teresa as an anti-feminist because of her strict views on abortion, divorce, and reproductive rights. Saint Teresa shared her dogmatic views on abortion during her Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in 1979 saying that abortion is the ‘destroyer of peace’. Although this speech is over 35 years old, her canonization has caused feminists to redirect light to the controversy of this statement and whether she is worthy of sainthood. Aside from feminists, millennials, who are noticeably more liberal than past generations, have trouble with accepting Saint Teresa’s morals. One of Saint Teresa’s most vocal critic, Christopher Hitchens, published an article to Slate in 2003. This same article was republished in September when the Pope announced she would be declared a saint. Although the article was written in opposition of her beatification back in 2003, much of the information is still relevant and requires further questioning on Saint Teresa’s legitimacy. In said article, Hitchens reports that in 1997 Saint Teresa shared that she was pleased that her friend, Princess Diana, had gotten a divorce. This statement contradicted her strong stance against divorce that she had established over her years. Her morals also come into question when reports of Mother Teresa accepting money from and praising dictators came about. She is accused of taking donations from the Haitian dictator who was eventually executed for his tortuous methods of control and killing, but the sisters of her convent have constantly denied this. However, no amount of criticism has managed to shake the foundation of the Catholic church and the belief that Saint Teresa is a ‘model of holiness’, as the Pope himself stated.
On the day of the mass, many news sources such as CNN, The Atlantic, and CNBC, shared the excitement and buzz surrounding the mass and tale of how Mother Teresa is well-deserving of a title change. They shared the new process of canonization that John Paul II established. During his time in the Vatican, John Paul II waived the five-year waiting period for Mother Teresa to be considered for sainthood, a step of the process that was incorporated to ensure a saint candidate was truly a holy figure and not a passing time of excitement. Since Mother Teresa was so widely known, John Paul II felt it was acceptable to drop this requirement for her, putting her in the fast track to beatification, as well as canonization.
In St. Peter’s Square on September 4th, around 100,000 people began to cheer before the Pope could even finish his declaration. In attendance of this mass are the two people who received the miracles from Saint Teresa that led her to her canonization. To become a saint, it must be proven that, through the intercedence of God, the deceased candidate has performed two miracles, usually a medical healing. While both miracles were accepted by the Vatican, her first miracle that allowed her beatification received lots of criticism. Most critics were saying that the woman’s tumor that was cured was done so by modern medicine and not a miracle. Other criticism includes statements surrounding her diagnosis altogether, refuting whether her cancerous tumor was legit or a cyst caused by tuberculosis. The tumor is said to have been miraculously cured after the woman, who was turned down by her doctors, was touched with a pendant that had also been touched by Mother Teresa. When doctors couldn’t explain her sudden healing, the Vatican admitted this as Mother Teresa’s first miracle. Those from the same city as the cured woman join in on the excitement of Mother Teresa’s canonization as do the other millions of Catholics world-wide.
One of the most controversial topic focusing on Mother Teresa is her method of running the Missionaries of Charity. The popular opinion of Catholics is that Saint Teresa provided food and shelter to the poorest of poor in India and despite her doubt in the presence of God found the will to help those that had been turned away from society. At the surface, her devotion to helping the poor and lowly sounds divine, but her critics dig deeper than the surface. One volunteer of the Missionaries of Charity shares that during his time in the facility he witnessed needles being reused and fecal-stained blankets washed next to cooking supplies. In defense of denying the improvement of the facilities, sisters would often say ‘this is how Jesus wants it’. Other volunteers say that the most basic medical needs were not met and most nurses failed to recognize when some patients could have been cured. Saint Teresa’s famous home for the dying has continuously been under fire by critics, but despite all of that is revered by many for her work and dedication to the mission. Many of her followers dismiss the claims of the unhygienic facilities and that critics are missing the point. Some volunteers say that it wasn’t her goal to run a 5-star hospice care and that her minimal amount of work still saved thousands of lives.
Other procedures that Saint Teresa has been condemned about is the secret baptizing of her patients. Reports about sisters asking patients for a ‘path to heaven’ and then cooling them with a wet towel, which was soaked in holy water, while saying prayers quietly have been denied. Some news sources claim that her mission was to push conversion to Indians, a primarily Hindu country. These accusations have also been denied but most natives still feel that she has changed the identity of Calcutta because of her work. Since she was based in Calcutta, most citizens feel the rest of the world now views it as a place of poverty and illness. Dr. Aroup Chatterjee, a native to Calcutta, has worked his whole life to reveal the dark side of Mother Teresa’s life and actions. He shared with New York Times his view on present day Calcutta. He feels that the once booming metropolis is now a black hole thanks to her work. Other citizens often deny his opinion, as they feel pride that a Noble Peace Prize winner has brought attention to their city. Often people are afraid to voice their opinion because most of the Western World says Mother Teresa is good and they don’t want to oppose popular opinion. Chatterjee feels that the main reason the West believes she is so good is because they are not as interested in hearing all the details about how she is deceitful and feel it is easier to believe she is good.
The pope has also received censure from some Catholics questioning his decision for her canonization. Skeptics of Mother Teresa believe that the Pope pushed for her canonization so that it would fall in his Year of Mercy. The pope had openly shared that he had hopes the event would take place during his jubilee, but some feel that her expedited journey through the process may have been premature. Although some believe that her canonization was used unfairly as a stepping stool to enhance the Pope’s Year of mercy, many people support him on this decision. Catholics feel that Teresa’s work lines up perfectly with the Corporal Works of Mercy that are the backbone of how they should act. Her canonization will help spread good deeds all over the world. After her death, her diaries were read and it was found that throughout her whole life Mother Teresa never felt the presence of God. Despite this she continued to serve the dying and poor. Most people dub her a hero due to this; she could do such amazing work although she experienced such abandonment. Today, Catholics and others that grew up during her life, are over joyed with her canonization. She was often labeled as the living saint and the official title is only a formality several years in the making.
Although Saint Teresa continues to be criticized and judged from many around the world, the respect and adoration she receives often outweighs those voices. Media sources make it easier to access the positive news about Saint Teresa while finding opposing views are more hidden. Most skeptics even feel that amid this event their voices are drowned out by the excitement. Catholics and non-Catholics alike share an overall pleasure in the canonization of Saint Teresa and feel that her works and life are an example to follow for generations to come.
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