Anish Gupta and Natasha Negi
Terming Mother Teresa’s belief in humanity as a ‘miracle’ is misleading
and demeaning. The canonisation has reduced her to being a Christian missionary who takes orders from only her religion. In fact, the entire system of canonisation can be equated to a fraud when we revisit how Pope John Paul II declared hundreds of people as
saints during his papacy.
Mother Teresa was a woman of Albanian origin who left home just at the age of 18 to participate in missionary activities and refused the most sought after life offered in a developed country and decided to live her entire life in one of the poorest places of India – Kolkata. The catholic nun was selflessly devoted to the cause of destitute, provided home to people suffering from leprosy, HIV/AIDS and ran hundreds of orphanages. Her work imprinted as a celebrated memory is still alive in the hearts of Indians. After a gap of 13 years since her beatification on October 19, 2003, her canonisation for sainthood on September 4, 2016 too made sure that her image stays with us and the world media captured it remarkably well.
In this journey to greatness, along with the uplifted image a tarnished one too came up. Some distrust her motives of work with that of conversion into Christianity. Some questioned her tabooed views on transgender, abortion, contraceptives and criticised her for not providing enough medicines and proper treatment
to the destitute in her ‘Nirmal Hridday’,
while alleging that she took treatment in
However, the criticism seems genuine as one views her merely as a devoted religious woman, motivated by the preaching of her religion. But the charges fall flat if one sees her as a social worker who was filled with empathy for the poor and devoted her life to them. True that her work probably got much attention for her being a “white” who chose to serve in a third world country but if it weren’t about the sainthood but rather only a “Mother” or a humanitarian, these questions wouldn’t have gathered so
Sainthood pales in comparison
It is out of question whether Mother Teresa deserved some particular award or not, what is more pertinent a question is if that award deserved her or not. An award given for her recognition should have matched her stature of a “people’s person” and shouldn’t have distraught her achievement as a selfless worker. For instance, awarding a prize no matter as great as the Nobel Peace, still seems to have disparaged her achievements by sorting her along with people like Henry Kissinger, Jimmy Carter, Al Gore and even Obama, who have rarely done anything for humanity on at grass-roots level.
Some significant angles can be drawn over the episode of canonisation of Mother Teresa or should we say the outright display of categorising a motherly consolation (pun intended). This path to glory in a way not only belittled her lifelong struggles, but also may discourage people from following her path to serve selflessly:
First, people have a habit of comparing every person having exceptional virtues to god, saint or avatar. To call her saint means we lose the will to become somewhat like her and probably alienate ourselves more from her by calling her saint, as she becomes an escape for us to not even try walking on her path. When we’ll start treating her as one of us, we would inspire ourselves more radically than anyone with a supposed supernatural power. For instance the moment we say Gandhi was an avatar, we simply find it impossible to follow his path of non-violence.
Second, by equating Mother Teresa to a saint we would really be doing an injustice to her as sainthood is assigned only after establishment of at least two miracles. This maligns her painstaking contribution as her said capability of producing miracles indicates as if she just had to perform some miraculous tricks to help the poor while in reality she actually went through a lot of physical and mental pain to be able to have her efforts regarded as miracles.
Third, canonisation and beatification of Mother Teresa is in itself ironical as the very act that intended to celebrate her efforts in the name of religious fervour has reduced her identity to a particular religion she belonged to and not on a global level. This whole episode sends a message that her contribution to society was due (pun intended) to her being a Roman Catholic Christian, especially when canonisation and beatification are limited to only those who are Christians, especially Catholics. Otherwise how typical does it appear that Vatican could never find anyone else from a different faith that were capable of performing miracles and could be thus named for beatification and canonisation.
Fourth, Canonisation appears to be a worthless practice as it is done by Popes who are infamous for traditions such as awarding the sainthood to each other. Even after receiving the honour of being a saint, they do not seem to overcome prejudices like that over the transgender community. More so, they have been involved in expansion of their religion by not respecting the indigenous religions of distant or less recognised regions. Thus the woman, who earned the appreciation of millions of people and lives in the heart of thousands of destitute, does not require listing herself along with
chosen few of the particular religion or those who lived highly controversial lives.
The entire system of canonisation can be equated to a fraud when we revisit how Pope John Paul II declared hundreds as saints in his entire papacy of 26 years. He alone canonised around 110 saints where in the entire history of the process after the 5th AD only around 700 people have been canonised. The number of people canonised by the Pope in his years of papacy is even higher than the combined number of people canonised since 17th century by all other popes. It shouldn’t be then difficult to decide if it were some questionable parameters or a divined third eye that led Pope John Paul II to select his saints. What is most astonishing is that almost all the popes of Vatican City have to follow the tradition of being awarded a saint only after the death of his predecessor. Until now 57 popes have been canonised without any proof of miracles. So how then these people who couldn’t really own the sainthood their entire life seem to be the best judge to categorise some one as a saint?
The highest post of Vatican is the Pope that thanks to ruling ideologies is neither meant nor questioned why is not for women. Even the
9th century story of Pope Joan speaks the hypocrisies out loud. She had to hide her identity for two years but was exposed when alleged to give birth to a child. Likewise, the data shows that the selections for canonisation are highly biased on the basis of ethnicity, region and class. In fact all the four steps of canonisation viz. servant of god, venerable, blessed and saint are also questionable on the grounds of rationality and superstition. The incidences of miracles came into question when Pope John Paul II’s image was shattered with the recovery of Sister Simon Pierre. The Pope who claims to have canonised hundreds of saints fell short in front of the miracles of Pope John Paul II who recovered Sister Pierre from Parkinson’s disease. According to the report of The Guardian on March 5, 2010:
“In 2007, Simon-Pierre could barely move her left side, could not write legibly, drive or move around easily and was in constant pain. Her disease worsened after the Pope’s death, and her order prayed for his intervention to ease her suffering. Then after writing his name on a paper one night, she woke up the next day apparently cured and returned to work as a maternity nurse with no traces of the disease.”
But according to the Polish daily newspaper Rzeczpospolita, one of the doctors assigned to scrutinise the nun’s case believed she might have been suffering from a similar nervous disease, not Parkinson’s, which could go into sudden remission. A report on the paper’s website went further, saying that the 49-year-old nun had become sick again with the same illness.
Double standards of ‘rationalists’
The canonisation of Mother Teresa was telecasted by almost all prominent media channels throughout the day. It depicts their double standards as none of the channels discussed the irrational and much questionable ways of canonisation. If similar practices were adopted by other religious sects in India, then without doubt the media would not have just covered it at such grand scale but more so have questioned the methods or miracles. Or as to why didn’t the media discuss how Priyanka Chopra’s mother was denied burial at St John Attamangalam Church at Kumarakom in Kerala just because she married a Hindu while her entire life she was a devoted Christian. How come then our so-called upright rationalists overlooked
such superstitious and fanatic practices of Christianity? On such an uncurious approach of the media no one can say that they are the same people who label most traditions of their own country as superstitious and aberrant
It’s true that in her lifetime of work Mother Teresa faced numerous accusations but despite facing all such negative criticism in her life, she and her believers stood to their ground. This only hints towards a steel-will of which any human being is capable of in his life. Thus, turning her belief into a miraculous theory is not just unacceptable but also misleading, especially in a country like India which is a hub of numerous faiths where each sect wants equal regard for his/her religion. In such a state, it’s only disappointing that the media didn’t even bother to capture the ground reality and was only busy playing a part in the celebration of such hypocrisy. Moreover, from the criticism raised on Mother Teresa, it can be assessed that after all she is more of a human being than a saintly figure because just like any common being she too can err. In our opinion, Mother Teresa was a holy woman and with a “mother like quality”, even before Pope Francis discovered any of
her miracles. Though her Canonisation has reduced her solely to being a missionary woman who appears to be taking commands of only her religion as a Roman Catholic, her “miracle” in true sense is in bringing grave changes in the lives of the masses who otherwise were ignored and left to die by society.
(Anish Gupta teaches economics at University of Delhi and Natasha Negi is a postgraduate student at Panjab University. Authors can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Anish Gupta and Natasha Negi