Fact or Hypothesis?
Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta may be canonized next year, forecasts a top Catholic Church authority. Hold it, cautioned a Vatican spokesman. That’s just a hypothesis—for now.
Early this month Italy’s newspaper Corriere della Sera reported the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization president as saying that Teresa—the 1979 Nobel Peace Prize laureate—will be enrolled in the calendar of saints on Sept. 4, 2016.
But the Vatican spokesman, Fr. Federico Lombardi, doused Archbishop Salvatore Fisichella’s claim. It’s “a working hypothesis, the [sainthood] process is ongoing, so it’s premature to talk of a date for the canonization.”
After getting permission to leave her teaching order in Calcutta, Teresa started to work, single-handed, with the poorest. She organized the Missionaries of Charity (MC) which today counts 4,501 nuns. That does not count MC priests and brothers.
Here, MC homes are scattered from Tondo, Cebu and Davao to Aklan. They also work in 132 other nations.
St. John Paul II beatified Teresa in October 2003, two years after her death. “This beatification has been the shortest in modern history.” He waived the normal five-year waiting period and instead allowed the immediate opening of her canonization cause.
In 1962, the Philippines’ Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation elected Teresa to receive its award for International Understanding. “The Trustees recognize her merciful cognizance of the abject poor … in whose service she led a new congregation.”
Mother Teresa responded: “I am happy to join you in thanking God to have given our world, torn with suffering, a man like Ramon Magsaysay, who served his people so well.
“This award which is given to me and through me to the young Congregation, to the countless benefactors and to our poor will be a new source of encouragement to serve the poor as Ramon Magsaysay did…
“Our Congregation is dedicated to serve Christ in His distressing disguise of penury. Therefore our homes for the dying, … crippled unwanted children, lepers, our slum schools, all come from that Source and aim, to give wholehearted service to the poor…”
To some critics, however, Teresa is no saint, wrote the Washington Post.
Back in the early 1990s, the Hindu nationalist group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, for example, criticized the intentions behind her work: to convert beneficiaries.
Mohan Bhagwat’s comments whipped up a storm among opposition politicians angered by the implication. Congress party officials led by Rajiv Shukla demanded an apology.
Bhagwat found “an unlikely ally” in the devoutly atheist Christopher Hitchens. The late British became one of the most vocal critics of Teresa in 1994.
With journalist Tariq Ali, he wrote a critical documentary on Teresa. “Hell’s Angel” faults conditions in the facilities of Teresa’s mission in Calcutta. “[They] compared to the photographs of Nazi Germany’s Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.” Worse, “Mother Teresa’s nuns would baptize the dying.”
At about that time, the British medical journal Lancet questioned the adequacy of the care in Teresa’s facilities. But the polemics has died to a whimper today. Teresa, meanwhile, became an honored Indian citizen.
Teresa’s significance in the Catholic Church today “cannot be overstated,” writes Fr. James Martin, Jesuit priest and editor-at-large of America magazine.
“Her very name became a byword for charity,” Martin adds. Only “after her death was it learned that she had experienced spiritual darkness for the second half of her life and had to rely on her earlier mystical experiences. Then, she was seen for what she is: one of the greatest saints in Christian history.”
Martin was referring to a 2007 book based on Mother Teresa’s private journals and letters, which revealed that she had experienced a loss of faith in later life. The nun died at age 87 in 1997.
The special report “Nuns Worldwide” by J.J. Ziegler tracks a decline of women religious to 37,947 in Europe, 14,686 in North America, 5,880 in South America, 1,012 in Oceania, and 358 in Central America.
“This is not the entire story. Between 2002 and 2007, the number of professed women religious increased in 99 nations: 13,542 in Asia, 7,906 in Africa, 370 in the Middle East, and 1,947 in the Caribbean
So is India now the Rome of the East?
Ten of the 10 largest women religious institutes are headquartered in India—where only 1.6 percent of the world’s Catholics live. The number of professed women religious in India grew by 9,398 between 2002 and 2007.
Vietnam, South Korea, the Philippines, Indonesia and Burma (Myanmar) are also among the 25 nations that witnessed the greatest increase in women’s religious vocations between 2002 and 2007.
Africa is home to 14 of the 25 nations that witnessed the largest growth in women’s religious vocations between 2002 and 2007.
“I am not sure exactly what heaven will be like,” Mother Teresa once said, “but I know that when we die and it comes time for God to judge us, he will not ask, ‘How many good things have you done in your life?’ Rather, he will ask, ‘How much love did you put into what you did?’
“The most terrible poverty is loneliness, and the feeling of being unloved…. [Yet] kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless…
“Do not think that love to be genuine has to be extraordinary. What we need is to love without getting tired. Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies…. Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier.”/Juan L. Mercado
Juan L. Mercado was a communication officer for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in Bangkok. Thereafter, he was posted in FAO headquarters in Rome, Italy, as attaché de cabinet. He wrote for the Inquirer as a regular columnist from February 2004 until December 2014.