Rome, September 4 (BBC): Mother Teresa of Kolkata, revered for her work with the poor in India, was proclaimed a saint by Pope Francis at the Vatican on Sunday in the presence of tens of thousands of people.
Sainthood was conferred on her for two “miraculous” cures of the sick after her death in 1997 when relations of the patients prayed for her intercession.
Cardinal Angelo Amato read a brief biography of Mother Teresa’s work, then asked the Pope to canonize her in the name of the Church, BBC said.
Pope Francis responded: “After due deliberation and frequent prayer for divine assistance, and having sought the counsel of many of our brother bishops, we declare and define Blessed Teresa of Calcutta to be a saint and we enrol her among the saints, decreeing that she is to be venerated as such by the whole Church.”
Many pilgrims arrived at the Vatican before dawn on Sunday to get a good spot among the masses for the ceremony.Hundreds of Missionaries of Charity sisters attended the event, along with 13 heads of state or government.
Some 1,500 homeless people across Italy were also brought to Rome in buses to be given seats of honour at the celebration – and then a pizza lunch served by 250 nuns and priests of the Sisters of Charity order.
One pilgrim, Charlotte Samba from Gabon, told Associated Press: “Her heart, she gave it to the world. Mercy, forgiveness, good works. It is the heart of a mother for the poor.”
Large TV screens were set up at Mother House in Kolkata (Calcutta) for the Vatican ceremony.
Senior sister at the Mother House, Mary Lysa, said: “It’s a day of rejoicing, a day of gratitude and a day of many, many blessings.”
In India, a special Mass was celebrated at the Missionaries of Charity, the order she founded in Kolkata
Mother Teresa founded a sisterhood that runs 19 homes, and won the Nobel Peace Prize. But she was not without her critics. Some people noted a lack of hygiene in the hospitals run by her sisterhood, and said she accepted money from dictators for her charity work.
She died in 1997 – aged 87 – and was beatified in 2003, the first step to sainthood. In 2002, the Vatican ruled that an Indian woman’s stomach tumor had been miraculously cured despite opposition from her husband.
Pope Francis cleared the way for sainthood last year when he recognized a second miracle attributed to her.
Her work complements Francis’ vision of a Church that serves the underprivileged. Her canonisation is a center piece of his Jubilee Year of Mercy.
Born in 1910 to ethnic Albanian parents, Agnese Gonxha Bojaxhiu grew up in what is now the Macedonian capital, Skopje, but was then part of the Ottoman Empire.
Aged 19, she joined the Irish order of Loreto and in 1929 was sent to India, where she taught at a school in Darjeeling under the name of Therese. In 1946, she moved to Kolkata to help the destitute and, after a decade, set up a hospice and a home for abandoned children. She founded the Missionaries of Charity in 1950. The sisterhood now has 4,500 nuns worldwide.
She achieved worldwide acclaim for her work in Kolkata’s slums, but her critics accused her of pushing a hard line Catholicism, mixing with dictators and accepting funds from them for her charity.
It often takes decades for people to reach sainthood after their death, but beatification was rushed through by Pope John Paul II. Pope Francis was known to be keen to complete the process during the Church’s Holy Year of Mercy, which runs to November 2016.
British author Christopher Hitchens described her as a “religious fundamentalist, a political operative, a primitive sermonizer, and an accomplice of worldly secular powers”.
In the much-talked about pamphlet The Missionary Position, Hitchens criticised the nun’s “cult of suffering” and said she had painted her adopted city as a “hell hole” and hobnobbed with dictators. Hitchens also presented Hell’s Angel a sceptical documentary on the nun.
In 2003, London-based physician Dr.Aroup Chatterji published a blistering critique of the nun, after conducting some 100 interviews with people associated with the nun’s sisterhood.
“He flayed what he called the appalling lack of hygiene – reuse of hypodermic needles, for example – and shambolic care facilities at their homes, among other things,” BBC said.
Miami-based Hemley Gonzalez, who worked as a volunteer in one of Teresa’s homes for the poor in Kolkata for two months in 2008, and was “shocked to discover the horrifically negligent manner in which this charity operates and the direct contradiction of the public’s general understanding of their work”.
“Standing firm against planned parenthood, modernisation of equipment, and a myriad of other solution-based initiatives, Mother Teresa was not a friend of the poor but rather a promoter of poverty,” Gonzalez told BBC.
Miracles Are Baseless
In recent years, Indian rationalists like Sanal Edamaruku have questioned the miracles that have led to the nun’s sainthood.To become a saint in the Vatican, a miracle needs to be attributed to prayers made to the individual after their death. Incidents need to be “verified” by evidence before they are accepted as miracles. Often they are cures and recoveries from illnesses which have no logical medical explanation.
Five years after the nun’s death, Pope John Paul II accepted a first miracle – the curing of Bengali tribal woman Monica Besra from an abdominal tumor – and judged it was the result of her supernatural intervention. This cleared the way for her beatification in 2003. Pope Francis recognized a second miracle in 2015, which involved the healing of a Brazilian man with brain tumors in 2008.
Edamaruku wondered how a woman could be cured by a photo of the nun placed on her stomach, when there was evidence to suggest that medicines treated her.
Today, he says, “most people don’t want to challenge the nun any more because of her image as somebody who worked for the poor”.
“If you question Mother Teresa you are seen as anti-poor. I have nothing against her, but miracle-mongering is not scientific.”
And an evidently exasperated Chatterjee told me that the “so-called miracles are too tawdry and puerile to challenge even”.