Mother Teresa with Pope Paul II

Mother Teresa
Born August 27, 1910
Skopje, Ottoman Empire
Died September 5, 1997
Kolkata, India

Mother Teresa of Calcutta, OM, (born Agnesë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu August 27, 1910September 5, 1997), was an Albanian Roman Catholic nun who founded the Missionaries of Charity in India. Her work among the poverty-stricken of Kolkata (Calcutta) made her one of the world's most famous people, and she was beatified by Pope John Paul II in October 2003. Hence, she may be properly called Blessed Teresa by Catholics.

Born in Skopje, in today's Republic of Macedonia, at 18 she left home to join the Sisters of Loretto. In 1962, she received the Magsaysay Award for Peace and International Understanding. In 1971, she was awarded the Pope John XXIII Peace Prize. Teresa was also awarded the Templeton Prize in 1973, the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, and India's highest civilian award, the Bharat Ratna, in 1980. She was awarded the Legion d'Honneur from Jean-Claude Duvalier in 1981. She was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1985 and was made an Honorary Citizen of the United States in 1996. She was the first and only person to be featured on an Indian postage stamp while still alive. Her supporters sometimes referred to her as the "Angel of Mercy" and "Saint of the Gutter."

Teresa was also known for her books about Christian spirituality and prayer, some that were written together with her close friend Frère Roger.

While many Catholics and others considered Teresa the embodiment of a "living saint," critics have raised questions about her public statements, working practices, political connections, and the use of funds donated to her charity.

St. Theresa's Prayer:

May today there be peace within.
May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be.
May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith.
May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you....
May you be content knowing you are a child of God....
Let this presence settle into your bones,
and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love.
It is there for each and every one of us.

St. Theresa's Prayer taken from St. Francis of Assisi's Peace Prayer:

Lord, make me a channel of Thy peace, that
Where there is hatred, I may bring love;
That where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness;
That where there is discord, i may bring harmony;
That where ther is error, I may bring truth;
That where there is doubt, I may bring faith;
That where there is despair, I may bring hope;
That where there are shadows, I may bring light
That where there is sadness, I may bring joy.
Lord, grant that I may seek rather to comfort than to be comforted,
To understand than to be understood;
To love than to be loved.
For it is by forgiving that one is forgiven;
It is by dying tha one is forgiven;
It is dying that one awakes to eternal life.



Foundation of the Missionaries of Charity

Mother Teresa's Home for the Dying in Kolkata (Calcutta)
Mother Teresa's Home for the Dying in Kolkata (Calcutta)

In October, 1950 Teresa received Vatican permission to start her own order, which the Vatican originally labeled as the Diocesan Congregation of the Calcutta Diocese, but which later became known as the Missionaries of Charity, whose mission was to care for (in her own words) "the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers, all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society, people that have become a burden to the society and are shunned by everyone." It began as a small order with 12 members in Calcutta; today it has more than 4,000 nuns running orphanages, AIDS hospices, and charity centres worldwide, and caring for refugees, the blind, disabled, aged, alcoholics, the poor and homeless and victims of floods, epidemics and famine in Asia, Africa, Latin America, North America, Poland, and Australia.

With the help of Indian officials she converted an abandoned Hindu temple into the Kalighat Home for the Dying, a free hospice for the poor. She soon after opened another hospice, Nirmal Hriday (Pure Heart), a home for lepers called Shanti Nagar (City of Peace), and an orphanage. The order soon began to attract both recruits and charitable donations, and by the 1960s had opened hospices, orphanages and leper houses all over India.

In 1965, by granting a Decree of Praise, Pope Paul VI granted Mother Teresa's request to expand her order to other countries. Teresa's order started to rapidly grow, with new homes opening all over the globe. The order's first house outside India was in Venezuela, and others followed in Rome and Tanzania, and eventually in many countries in Asia, Africa, and Europe, including Albania. In addition, the first Missionaries of Charity home in the United States was established in the South Bronx, New York. By 1996, she was operating 517 missions in more than 100 countries. Today over one million workers worldwide are employed by the Missionaries of Charity.


Spiritual life

Analyzing her deed and achievements, John Paul II asked: "Where did Mother Teresa find the strength to place herself completely at the service of others? She found it in prayer and in the silent contemplation of Jesus Christ, his Holy Face, his Sacred Heart."[1]

In his first encyclical Deus Caritas Est, Benedict XVI mentioned Teresa of Calcutta three times and he also used her life to clarify one of his main points of the encyclical. "In the example of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta we have a clear illustration of the fact that time devoted to God in prayer not only does not detract from effective and loving service to our neighbour but is in fact the inexhaustible source of that service."

A Franciscan influence

Although there was no direct connection between Mother Teresa's order and the Franciscan orders, she was known as a great admirer of St. Francis of Assisi. [2] Accordingly her influence and life show influences of Franciscan spirituality.

Her sisters say the peace prayer of St. Francis every morning before breakfast and many of the vows and emphasis of her ministry are similar. St. Francis emphasized poverty, chastity, obedience and submission to Christ. He also devoted much of his own life to service of the poor, especially lepers in the area where he lived. [3]

President Ronald Reagan presents Mother Teresa with the Medal of Freedom at a White House ceremony, 1985.
President Ronald Reagan presents Mother Teresa with the Medal of Freedom at a White House ceremony, 1985.

In 1952 the first Home for the Dying was opened in space made available by the City of Calcutta. Over the years, Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity grew from 12 to thousands serving the "poorest of the poor" in 450 centers around the world. Mother Teresa created many homes for the dying and the unwanted from Calcutta to New York to Albania. She was one of the first to establish homes for AIDS victims. For more than 45 years, Mother Teresa comforted the poor, the dying, and the unwanted around the world.

Mother Teresa's work inspired other Catholics to affiliate themselves with her order. The Missionaries of Charity Brothers was founded in 1963, and a contemplative branch of the Sisters followed in 1976. Lay Catholics and non-Catholics were enrolled in the Co-Workers of Mother Teresa, the Sick and Suffering Co-Workers, and the Lay Missionaries of Charity. In answer to the requests of many priests, in 1981 Mother Teresa also began the Corpus Christi Movement for Priests.

By the early 1970s, Mother Teresa had become an international celebrity. Her fame can be in large part attributed to the 1969 documentary Something Beautiful for God by Malcolm Muggeridge and his 1971 book of the same title, which is still in print. During the filming of the documentary, footage taken in poor lighting conditions, particularly the Home for the Dying, was thought unlikely to be of usable quality by the crew. After returning from India, however, the footage was found to be extremely well-lit. Muggeridge claimed this was a miracle of "divine light" from Mother Teresa herself. Others in the crew thought it more likely ascribable to a new type of Kodak film. Muggeridge later converted to Catholicism.

In 1971 Paul VI awarded her the first Pope John XXIII Peace Prize. Other awards bestowed upon her included a Kennedy Prize (1971), the Balzan prize (1978) for humanity, peace and brotherhood among peoples, the Albert Schweitzer International Prize (1975), the United States Presidential Medal of Freedom (1985) and the Congressional Gold Medal (1994), honorary citizenship of the United States (November 16, 1996), and honorary degrees from a number of universities. In 1972 Mother Teresa was awarded the Nehru Prize for her promotion of international peace and understanding.

In 1979, Mother Teresa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, "for work undertaken in the struggle to overcome poverty and distress, which also constitute a threat to peace." She refused the conventional ceremonial banquet given to laureates, and asked that the $6,000 funds be diverted to the poor in Calcutta, claiming the money would permit her to feed hundreds of needy for a year. She is stated to have said that earthly rewards were important only if they helped her help the world’s needy. When Mother Teresa received the prize, she was asked, "What can we do to promote world peace?" Her answer was simple: "Go home and love your family." In the same year, she was also awarded the Balzan Prize for promoting peace and brotherhood among the nations.

In 1982, Mother Teresa persuaded Israelis and Palestinians, who were in the midst of a skirmish, to cease fire long enough to rescue 37 mentally handicapped patients from a besieged hospital in Beirut.

When the walls of Eastern Europe collapsed, she expanded her efforts to communist countries that had rejected her, embarking on dozens of projects. She was undeterred by criticism about her firm stand against abortion and divorce saying, "No matter who says what, you should accept it with a smile and do your own work."

Mother Teresa traveled to help the hungry in Ethiopia, radiation victims at Chernobyl, and earthquake victims in Armenia.

In 1991, Mother Teresa returned for the first time to her native region and opened a Missionaries of Charity Brothers home in Tirana, Albania.

During her lifetime and after her death, Mother Teresa was consistently found by Gallup to be the single most widely admired person, and in 1999 was ranked as the "most admired person of the 20th century." Notably, Mother Teresa out-polled all other volunteered answers by a wide margin, and was in first place in all major demographic categories except the very young.


Deteriorating health and death

In 1983 Teresa suffered a heart attack in Rome, while visiting Pope John Paul II. After a second attack in 1989 she received a pacemaker. In 1991, after a battle with pneumonia while in Mexico, she had further heart problems.

She offered to resign her position as head of the order. A secret ballot vote was carried out, and all the nuns, except herself, voted for Mother Teresa to stay. Mother Teresa agreed to continue her work as head of the Missionaries of Charity.

In April 1996, Mother Teresa fell and broke her collar bone. Later that year, in August, she suffered from malaria, and failure of the left heart ventricle. She underwent heart surgery, but it was clear that her health was declining. On March 13, 1997 she stepped down from the head of Missionaries of Charity and died on September 5, 1997, just 9 days after her 87th birthday.

The Archbishop of Calcutta, Henry Sebastian D'Souza, said he ordered a priest to perform an exorcism on Mother Teresa shortly before she died because he thought she was being attacked by the devil. Catholic experts agree that, while exorcisms remain an important but rare part of the church's work, the Archbishop may have overreacted in ordering the ceremony. [4]

At the time of her death, Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity had over 4,000 sisters, an associated brotherhood of 300 members, and over 100,000 lay volunteers, operating 610 missions in 123 countries. These included hospices and homes for people with HIV/AIDS, leprosy and tuberculosis, soup kitchens, children's and family counseling programs, orphanages, and schools.

Mother Teresa was granted a full state funeral by the Indian Government, an honor normally given to presidents and prime ministers, in gratitude for her services to the poor of all religions in India. Her death was widely considered a great tragedy within both secular and religious communities. The former U.N. Secretary-General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar, for example, said: "She is the United Nations. She is peace in the world." Nawaz Sharif, the Prime Minister of Pakistan said that Mother Teresa was "A rare and unique individual who lived long for higher purposes. Her life-long devotion to the care of the poor, the sick, and the disadvantaged was one of the highest examples of service to our humanity."


Miracle and beatification

Following Teresa's death in 1997, the Holy See began the process of beatification, the second step towards possible canonization, or sainthood. This process requires the documentation of a miracle performed from the intercession of Mother Teresa. In 2002, the Vatican recognized as a miracle the healing of a tumor in the abdomen of an Indian woman, Monica Besra, following the application of a locket containing Teresa's picture. Monica Besra said that a beam of light emanated from the picture, curing the cancerous tumor.

The issue of the alleged miracle proved controversial in India around the time of Mother Teresa's beatification.[5] Teresa was formally beatified by Pope John Paul II on October 19, 2003 with the title Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. A second miracle is required for her to proceed to canonization.

According to The Daily Telegraph, Besra's husband initially said that the tumor was cured by medical treatment. He is quoted as saying: "This miracle is a hoax. It is much ado about nothing. My wife was cured by the doctors." He later changed his mind, however, and told an interviewer: "It was her miracle healing that cured my wife. Our situation was terrible and we didn't know what to do. Now my children are being educated with the help of the nuns and I have been able to buy a small piece of land. Everything has changed for the better."[6] According to Monica Besra in TIME Asia,[7] records of her treatment were removed by a member of the order from the hospital and are now with a nun. The doctors who treated Monica Besra denied the claims of a miracle healing and said that they had come under pressure from the Missionaries of Charity to acknowledge that the healing process was the result of a miracle.


Political and social views

Mother Teresa frequently spoke against abortion and artificial contraception in meetings with high level government officials. In her Nobel Prize acceptance speech, she declared, "I feel the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a direct war, a direct killing - direct murder by the mother herself ... Because if a mother can kill her own child - what is left for me to kill you and you kill me - there is nothing between."[8]

On February 3, 1994 at a National Prayer Breakfast, sponsored by the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, in Washington, DC, Mother Teresa challenged the audience on such topics as family life and abortion. She said, "Please don't kill the child. I want the child. Please give me the child. I am willing to accept any child who would be aborted and to give that child to a married couple who will love the child and be loved by the child."[9]

In the aftermath of the Bangladesh Liberation War, it was determined that more than 450,000 women in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) had been systematically raped, giving birth to a few thousand war-babies. She asserted her rejection of abortion by publicly renouncing abortion as an option and by calling upon the women left behind to keep their unborn children. She characterized her views later when asked in 1993 about a 14-year-old rape victim in Ireland, "Abortion can never be necessary... because it is pure killing."

While this stance is in line with that of the Roman Catholic Church, which asserts natural family planning is the only acceptable form of birth control, [10] her critics assert that Teresa dogmatically refused to acknowledge the related problems of overpopulation, especially in cities like Calcutta. [11] However, many would argue against the validity of this criticism, as population dynamics was never part of Mother Teresa's ministry; rather, her goal was to care for the poor.

Teresa also campaigned against divorce, which she understood to be an immoral abomination in accordance with the teaching of her faith, insisting it should be made illegal; she organized an unsuccessful campaign to keep the Irish ban on divorce in 1996.

Teresa believed firmly in forgiveness. As she once said "I once picked up a woman from a garbage dump and she was burning with fever; she was in her last days and her only lament was: ‘My son did this to me.’ I begged her: You must forgive your son. In a moment of madness, when he was not himself, he did a thing he regrets. Be a mother to him, forgive him. It took me a long time to make her say: ‘I forgive my son.’ Just before she died in my arms, she was able to say that with a real forgiveness. She was not concerned that she was dying. The breaking of the heart was that her son did not want her. This is something you and I can understand."

Teresa also believed in ecumenism, as she stated "There is only one God and He is God to all; therefore it is important that everyone is seen as equal before God. I’ve always said we should help a Hindu become a better Hindu, a Muslim become a better Muslim, a Catholic become a better Catholic. We believe our work should be our example to people. We have among us 475 souls - 30 families are Catholics and the rest are all Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs — all different religions. But they all come to our prayers." The Roman Catholic view on ecumenism is that unity must be viewed in the context of trying to bring all people into the fullest of unity with Christ and the one true Catholic Church that He founded. [12]


Controversy and critics

Christopher Hitchens, a British journalist now living in Washington, D.C., described Mother Teresa's organization as a cult which promoted suffering and did not help those in need. Hitchens wrote that Mother Teresa's own words on poverty proved that "her intention was not to help people." He quoted Mother Teresa's words at a 1981 press conference in which she was asked: "Do you teach the poor to endure their lot?" She replied: "I think it is very beautiful for the poor to accept their lot, to share it with the passion of Christ. I think the world is being much helped by the suffering of the poor people."

Hitchens further alleged that Mother Teresa lied to donors about what their contributions were to be used for. Donors were told that the money went to aid and the construction of healthcare facilities in India and elsewhere. Evidence points to it instead being spent largely on missionary work and that Mother Teresa was actually the controller of some of the funds. No hospitals were ever built. In 1994, Hitchens published an article in The Nation entitled "The Ghoul of Calcutta".

Hitchens, with British journalist Tariq Ali, co-produced a television documentary for the UK's Channel 4 called Hell's Angel, which was based on Aroup Chatterjee's work. Although he has never disputed the documentary's conclusions, Chatterjee criticized what he called the "sensationalist" approach of the film. The next year Hitchens published The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice, which contained much of the same content, though with more references.

Dr. Aroup Chatterjee, the author of "Mother Teresa: The Final Verdict" (2003), assserted that the public image of Mother Teresa as a helper of the poor, the sick, and the dying was misleading and overstated; the number of people who are served by even the largest of the homes is not nearly as large as westerners are led to believe. [1]

Chatterjee alleged that many operations of the order engage in no absolutely charitable activity at all, but instead use their funds for missionary work. He stated, that none of the eight facilities that the Missionaries of Charity run in Papua New Guinea have residents living there; their sole use is converting people to Catholicism. Some defenders of the order argue that missionary activity — already declared in the name of the order — was a central part of Mother Teresa's calling. [2] In an open letter to Mother Teresa [3] Chatterjee asked for clarification. In the letter, he quotes her as having given numbers of 57,000 helped at a single facility, 250,000 helped at another, thousands helped daily at another. He cast doubt upon these numbers. [4] According to a Stern magazine report about Mother Teresa, the Protestant-aligned Assembly of God charity serves 18,000 meals daily in Calcutta, many more than all the Missionaries of Charity's homes combined.

Chatterjee has stated that although he was responsible for Christopher Hitchens becoming involved with this cause, he is critical of Hitchens for what Chatterjee refers to as Hitchens' "sensationalist" approach and regrets Hitchens' involvement because he undermines the cause of making the truth known. [5]

Chatterjee contends that families of the residents of its homes were not allowed to visit their loved ones and that, among India's charitable organizations, Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity is the only one which refuses to release a public financial account. Hitchens asserts, "I would say it was a certainty that millions of people died because of her work, and millions more were made poorer, stupider, more sick, more diseased, more fearful, and more ignorant".


Baptisms of the dying

In addition to these primary critics Mother Teresa has garnered criticism for her encouragement of sacramental baptisms being performed on the dying (a majority of which were Hindus and Muslims) into the Catholic faith. These were done without regard to the individuals' religion. In a speech at the Scripps Clinic in San Diego, California in January, 1992, she said, "Something very beautiful... not one has died without receiving the special ticket for St. Peter, as we call it. We call baptism 'a ticket for St. Peter.' We ask the person, do you want a blessing by which your sins will be forgiven and you receive God? They have never refused. So 29,000 have died in that one house [in Kalighat] from the time we began in 1952."


Criticism of care provided

In 1991, Dr. Robin Fox, then editor of the British medical journal The Lancet, visited the Home for Dying Destitute in Calcutta and described the medical care the patients received as "haphazard". He observed that sisters and volunteers, some of whom had no medical knowledge, had to make decisions about patient care, because of the lack of doctors in the hospice. Dr. Fox specifically held Teresa responsible for conditions in this home, and observed that her order did not distinguish between curable and incurable patients; people who could otherwise survive their ordeals would be at a heightened risk of dying from infections and lack of treatment.

Fox conceded that the regimen he observed included cleanliness, the tending of wounds and sores, and kindness, but he noted that the sisters' approach to managing pain was "disturbingly lacking". The formulary at the facility Fox visited lacked strong analgesics which he felt clearly separated Mother Teresa's approach from the hospice movement. Fox also wrote that needles were rinsed with warm water, which left them inadequately sterilized, and the facility did not isolate patients with tuberculosis. Some dispute this type of criticism, citing the limited resources of the Home for the Dying, and that--despite its limitations--the Home provides an environment far superior to that of the Calcutta gutter.

There have been a series of other reports documenting inattention to medical care in the order's facilities. Similar points of view have also been expressed by some former volunteers who worked for Teresa's order.


Attitude toward political leaders

Mother Teresa made some public statements regarding political leaders that have produced controversy. After Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's suspension of civil liberties in 1975, Mother Teresa said: "People are happier. There are more jobs. There are no strikes." These approving comments were seen as a result of the friendship between Teresa and the Congress Party. These comments were criticized even in Catholic media. (Chatterjee, p. 276). In 1981 she made a trip to Haiti to accept an honor from Jean-Claude Duvalier, who was notorious as a repressive kleptocrat, and praised the Duvalier family as friends of Haiti's poor. In 1989, she travelled to Albania and laid a wreath at the grave of Enver Hoxha, the nation's hard-line Stalinist leader throughout the Cold War era, who had outlawed religion and sometimes brutally repressed religious expressions, including those of the Catholic Church.

Another example of Teresa apparently abandoning her convictions where the famous and powerful were involved concerns the subject of divorce. In spite of her hostility to the practice, she nevertheless told the Ladies Home Journal that, with respect to the marriage of Prince Charles and Princess Diana, "It is a good thing that it is over. Nobody was happy anyhow." The question of precisely why she felt the marital unhappiness of less exalted people should not be eased in the same way was not raised. [13]


The Catholic Church's official analysis of criticisms

In the process of examining Teresa's suitability for beatification and canonization, the Roman Curia pored over a great deal of documentation of published and unpublished criticisms against her life and work. Vatican officials say Hitchens' allegations have been investigated by the agency charged with such matters, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, and they found no obstacle to Mother Teresa's canonization.


See also


Further reading



  2. ^ Mother Teresa of Calcutta Pays Tribute to St. Francis of Assisi
  3. ^
  4. ^ Archbishop: Mother Teresa underwent exorcism. CNN, September 7, 2001
  5. ^ Retrieved on December 5, 2005.
  6. ^ Telegraph: News: Medicine cured 'miracle' woman - not Mother Teresa, say doctors. Retrieved on December 5, 2005.
  7. ^ TIME Asia Magazine: What's Mother Teresa Got to Do with It? -- Oct. 21, 2002. Retrieved on December 5, 2005.
  8. ^
  9. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^ Mother Teresa - The Case Against. Retrieved on December 5, 2005.

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