A life so avowedly dedicated to humanity’s service has somehow taken a backseat in case of Mother Teresa as Vatican is inclined to rely more on miracles attributed to her for bestowing Sainthood upon her, writes Saadia Azim
In a country where miracles have been the driving force behind faith and religious practices, Mother Teresa is finally ready to be canonized as a saint for two of her miracles that she performed on her devotees. Vatican the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church and home to Pope, the Bishop of Rome and the leader of the worldwide Roman Catholic Church approved Mother Teresa’s elevation to sainthood and set September 4, 2016 as the date for her official canonization. The Archbishop Thomas D’Souza while performing the thanksgiving special mass for the saint said that “the canonization was a formality but an important one”.
Mother Teresa is being elevated to be a saint of the Roman Catholic Church after she performed a second miracle on a person from Brazil who had prayed to her after her death and was cured of multiple tumors of the brain. The church had beatified her after considering the first case of a tribal Bengali woman from Jalpaiguri in West Bengal, who had disposed before the church about the miracle that cleared her of a malignant tumor after praying to Mother.
As the church gave the final clearance to Mother’s sainthood, the Blessed Teresa of Calcutta as she is popularly known, will on September 4, 2016 in a gala ceremony in Rome be declared “Saint Teresa of Calcutta”. The city that she made home and served the ‘poorest of the poor’ has the headquarters of the “missionaries of charity”, the order of catholic nuns founded by her. The novices and Mother Teresa’s devotees have been worshipping her much before she was even considered being a saint.
Sunita Kumar a renowned artist has been associated with the Missionaries of charities for the last 36 years. A practicing Sikh married to a practicing Hindu she had been vociferously and voluntarily serving as the official spokesperson of the Missionaries of Charity for the last 30 years. She has had drawn numerous sketches of Mother Teresa recognisable by her trademark petite look in white and blue bordered cotton saree. Displaying one of her best art work on Mother she explains, “Most of them were signed by Mother but Mother just questioned me always that where were her eyes and lips, not marked in the sketches? I explained her then that I saw the saint in her. She did not need physical features to be identified. In fact her presence was so colossal that I never felt the need to draw features to explain her presence. She was always recognizable”. Sunita Kumar a grandmother now adds that she herself has had a personal experience of Mother’s miracles. “Just two hours before Mother’s death, I had asked her to pray for my young child suffering from Hepatitis B then. But after Mother was gone we checked him out of curiosity and it was gone from his body. My child recovered and I cannot forget this ever”.
Similarly, with folded hands Margeret Rose of Park Street in Kolkata prays every day near Mother Teresa’s statue. On the evening of the special mass at the “Home”, while men and women participating in the mass took turns to visit the adjoining exhibition room and learn options on volunteering at the several homes run by the Missionaries of Charity worldwide, Rose remained indifferent to the flurry of activity around. She was in deep thoughts with Mother with big drops of tears flowing down her cheeks. She finished after complete half-an-hour of prayers. “Mother was a saint always and I have been praying to her even when she was alive”, says the 74-year-old frail woman who comes daily walking down through busy congested lanes to reach Mother’s home in the narrow lane with the wide gates. “I owe my life to her. Her touch was magical and I live till today only because of that saintly magic”.
Novice nuns in their plain white sarees carrying their books, graduate sisters in the trademark blue border on white sarees, head covered with one end of the saree and pinned neatly come one after another to touch the tomb, bow, pray quietly and leave as part of their daily routine. “We have prayed to her earlier too. Indeed, now it means the world recognises her powers as a saint. But for us she was the call, hence, I came all the way from Orissa at the age of eighteen to be a sister at the missionaries of charity. It took complete five years to be so”, says sister Aaronette M.C., a sister from Orissa who has spent 15 years in service with the Missionaries and has travelled the world spreading Mother Teresa’s doctrine for the “poorest of the poor”. The order of about five thousand nuns has millions of followers across the world from all faiths.
This gains significance particularly now after the recent spur of violent attacks on churches and on the several Christian priests across the country for allegedly converting poor Hindus and tribals to Christianity. Mother even in her lifetime has faced persistent indictment for conversions and it continues till today. Just last year the Rashtriya Swyamsevak Sangh Chief Mohan Bhagwat raked up the controversy by saying “People like Mother Teresa did good work and service, but her aim was to convert the poor to Christianity. This kind of service is devalued if conversions are done in the name of service to the poor.” The after effect of the statement was so impactful that the Central Government even considered bringing in a national anti-conversion law.
That time Bhagwat did not question Mother’s powers to perform miracles that won her the “Faithful”. He was rather questioning her service to the people as the reason for conversion. What concerned him was the fact that faithful Hindus were converting to faithful Christians and all due to Mother Teresa’s service for the poor people. He conceded that she was doing service with a selfish motive of converting the poor.
It is a fact that Mother till she lived had spent 45 years serving the poor, the destitute, the sick, the orphaned, and the dying, the untouchables on the streets of Kolkata and many other places. It was her body of work and service to the nation that made her “Mother”. The destitute, the untouchables, the ugly, the unwanted joined her for the love that she gave to the poorest of the poor. Mother was a mother in real sense for her compassion towards the people and her dedication to work for the ‘poorest of the poor’ living in the most wretched conditions.
But that is no miracle. Her sainthood is attributed for the miracles she performed on people and cured them in miraculous circumstances. Bhagwat or anyone questioning Mother’s motive does not have any concerns on the miracles that the “Blessed Teresa of Calcutta” performed. Nor does he or his likes want to question the rationality behind the miracles.
Bhagwat could be partly correct to question Mother’s real motive of service to the poor. Mother was a staunch practicing Christian and she had vehemently in her lifetime conceded that “her faith in Jesus and the church was supreme” and she followed “her faith vehemently”. It is but simple that saints have the power not just to perform miracles but equally influence people by their way of life and the service towards humanity. Many must have willingly chosen to walk her path for the service she did for them. And why should not people of a democracy have that right to decide whom they want to follow or worship.
“Her aura is immense. It was her call that made me a nun of the order” says Sr. Deena MC who took to conversion by choice to follow the leader of the order. Finally Sunita Kumar refuting all charges adds, “Mother practiced a philosophy of humanity where she never asked her followers to convert to her faith. I prayed with her in the same chapel where she always asked me to pray the way I knew”. “She has always been the saint as I know her”.
Ironically, all her followers decided to follow her by being touched by her ability to perform humanly service towards people. But Mother Teresa is a saint today for some miracles that many might find doubtful. Her service towards human kind is known to everyone yet 19 years after her death she is questioned for her motive to do service and not for her miracles. Also the fact remains that the making of a saint in today’s world is also by virtue of performing miracles and not necessarily by the constant tedious hard work for the betterment of humanity. – The writer is a freelance journalist based at Kolkata