For Mother Teresa to become a saint, a lengthy process of beatification and canonization needed to first take place. Usually, the process of beatification cannot begin until at least five years after a person’s death. However, Pope John Paul II waived three years of the five-year waiting period in Mother Teresa’s case. To be eligible for beatification a person must have a verified miracle attributed to them by the Catholic Church after their death. After beatification, a second verified miracle must be attributed to the person before the process of canonization can take place. The first miracle attributed to Mother Teresa was announced by the Catholic Church on December 1, 2002. The Church claimed that an Indian woman, Monica Bersa had been miraculously cured of an abdominal tumor which was so severe that doctors had given up hope on her ever being cured. In 1998, a year after Mother Teresa’s death, Bersa was helped into a prayer room by nuns of the Missionaries of Charity. It was claimed that while standing beside a photo of Mother Teresa, “a blinding light” emanated from the portrait and passed through her body. Later one of the nuns placed a Miraculous Medal onto Bersa’s abdomen and prayed over her. It was claimed that Bersa awoke around 1 am that night and that the tumor had miraculously disappeared. In his book, Mother Teresa: The Untold Story, Aroup Chatterjee contested these claims, disputing the idea that Bersa ever had a tumor, believing instead that she had a cyst caused by tuberculosis. Chatterjee attributed Bersa’s cure to the medical treatment she received from the Superintendent of the Balurghat Hospital. Chatterjee’s opinion was confirmed by Bersa’s doctor, Dr. Ranjan Mustafi, who attributed the disappearance of the cyst to the nine months of medication and treatment Bersa received.
Possibly the most serious and justified criticisms of the charitable work carried out by Mother Teresa was the lack of basic hygiene in the Home for Dying Destitutes in Kolkata. Robin Fox, the editor of the journal of the British Medical Association, The Lancet, described the medical care he had witnessed there in 1994, as “haphazard.” Fox reported that doctors only occasionally visited the patients and that the level of pain relief provided was inadequate, which caused unnecessary suffering. Because of this lack of doctors, the nuns and volunteers, many of whom had no formal medical training, had to make decisions in relation to patient care. Fox also noted that the nuns and volunteers did not seem to make a distinction between patients with curable and incurable conditions, which led to patients with treatable conditions receiving inadequate care. Fox did, however, acknowledge the good work which the nuns and volunteers carried out, such as tending to sores and wounds, and the kindness in the way they cared for the patients, but he felt that pain management at the facility was “disturbingly lacking.” He also remarked on the failure to segregate patients with tuberculosis from non-infected patients. A former volunteer at the Home of the Dying Destitutes claimed that needles were inadequately sterilized, that they were rinsed in cold water before being reused, and similarly, soiled and infected clothing was washed by hand before being reused. Another former volunteer claimed that patients were also given expired medication. In the Hell’s Angel documentary, Mary Loudon, a former volunteer at Nirmal Hriday, tells of the inadequate pain relief that terminally ill patients with cancer received, saying that aspirin and occasionally brufen was used. Loudon also recalls a conversation she had with an American doctor in relation to a fifteen-year-old boy with a minor kidney problem, whose condition had deteriorated because he had not received any antibiotics and who needed emergency surgery. The doctor told Loudon that the nuns would not bring him to a hospital to have an operation, because “if they did it for him, then they would have to do it for everyone.” Hitchens believed that had the Home of the Dying Destitutes been operated by any branch of the medical profession it would have been subject to “protest and litigation” and described Mother Teresa’s order as a “cult of death and suffering.”
Mother Teresa was accused of hypocrisy following the discovery of her private writings after her death. Her writings were later compiled in a book entitled Mother Teresa: Come be my light, which was published in 2009. Even though Mother Teresa had wanted her letters to be destroyed to prevent them from ever becoming public, her wishes were overruled. Mother Teresa’s letters detailed an inner struggle with her faith which lasted for almost fifty years and which led her to doubt the existence of Heaven and even God. Mother Teresa’s crisis of faith began in 1948, only a couple of years after she believed she had received her “call within a call” to help the poorest people of Calcutta. She wrote of a strong feeling of God’s “absence” in her life. In a letter to Reverand Michael Van Der Peet in September 1979, Mother Teresa wrote, “Jesus has a very special love for you. [But] as for me – the silence and the emptiness is so great – that I look and do not see, listen and do not hear.” In another letter, Mother Teresa describes the feeling of “emptiness” when “I try to raise my thoughts to Heaven, there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives & hurt my very soul. I am told that God loves me, and yet the reality of darkness & coldness & emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul.” She describes the inner torture she is feeling as Hell on Earth. She writes of the pain being caused by her doubts, “Where is my faith, even deep down right in there is nothing, but emptiness & darknessâ¦I have no Faithâ¦I dare not utter the words & thoughts that crowd in my heart & make me suffer untold agony.” She also writes about the faÃ§ade of the public image she puts on and describes her smile as a “mask” or “a cloak that covers everything.” Mother Teresa herself acknowledged the hypocrisy of her public persona: “I spoke as though my heart was in love with God, tender, personal love, but if you were (there) you would have said, what hypocrisy!”
Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading