Monday, July 08, 2013

Mother Teresa: Saint or Saint of the Media?

To be frank, I never was a fan of Christopher Hitchens, therefore, I never took his criticisms of Mother Teresa (born Anjeze Gonxhe Bojaxhiu) seriously, and I'm still not sure if his criticisms are valid. But I want to make sure I'm not allowing my dislike for Hitchens as an excuse to dismiss his accusations completely. After all, to Catholics and non-Catholics alike, Mother Teresa is a modern day icon of altruism, and selflessness in a world where all the focus is on the self, so her sacred personage represents an all-important light in what seems like a never-ending "Dark Night". Nevertheless, there is no justification for failing to get to the truth of the matter.

Through exposure of her private writings, it has come to the attention of many that Mother Theresa, like many Saints before her, did not feel the presence of God, that she experienced Christ "neither in her heart or in the Eucharist," yet despite this, she never stopped serving Christ. While the media played her doubts up as a failure, or hypocrisy on her part, many people of faith would call her continued devotion in the midst of "agonizing doubts" and torment, a sign of the highest level of faith that there is. To be sure, millions of people around the world can relate to her struggle.

However, one question remains. What kind of treatment did the sick and the dying receive in Mother Teresa's facilities considering the vast sums of money collected through her foundation, which included large sums from the Nobel Peace committee as well as numerous institutions and organizations, both religious and secular, not to mention, wealthy individuals?

Serge Larivee and Genevieve Chenard of the University of Montreal and Carole Senechal of the University of Ottawa reviewed more than 280 documents, representing 96% of the published work on Mother Teresa and the Order of the Missionaries of Charity that she founded. The investigators reported that physicians who visited her facilities “observed a significant lack of hygiene, even unfit conditions, as well as a shortage of actual care, inadequate food, and no painkillers.”

Be that as it may, there is nothing like personal first-hand observation. One man, a witness of Mother Teresa and the sisters in her order posted the following comment which may shed some more light on to this issue.

I have personally witnessed and testify to the selfless and unmatched love Missionaries of Charity have displayed working with mentally disabled orphan children in Armenia. In 1988 Armenia's northern part was rocked by a strong earthquake leaving more than 20,000 dead. Within weeks Mother Teresa traveled to Armenia establishing a care center near the city of Spitak, which for many years operated in mobile homes. In 2003 I visited there after an American friend (Ph.D in Music) visited them and recommended me to visit as well. I was struck by the unparallelled love and care these young sisters were giving to more than 40 mentally disabled orphan kids. I would go against my consciousness to say anything less than great about these sister. To this day I remember the true, selfless love and enthusiasm they were putting in their care for these children. I knew I was not that strong, as probably the author of this book, to do the same.

These sisters, who came from different parts of the world, explained that they do this without seeking any reward in this world. Their eyes were toward the Kingdom of Heaven and toward the true love of Jesus, two concepts so foreign to the overwhelming majority of people, including those who are called to serve Him.
As Serge Larivée and his colleagues point out, even if Mother Teresa did not live up to the image portrayed in the media, there have been and continue to be positive effects that can be attributed to the image of Mother Teresa:
If the extraordinary image of Mother Teresa conveyed in the collective imagination has encouraged humanitarian initiatives that are genuinely engaged with those crushed by poverty, we can only rejoice. It is likely that she has inspired many humanitarian workers whose actions have truly relieved the suffering of the destitute and addressed the causes of poverty and isolation without being extolled by the media. Nevertheless, the media coverage of Mother Theresa could have been a little more rigorous."

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