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  • Mother Teresa sainthood

    Was Mother Teresa a saint? In city she made synonymous with suffering, a renewed debate over her legacy


    Mother Teresa is depicted in a mural in Kolkata, where the late Catholic nun tended to the "poorest of the poor" for nearly five decades. (Shashank Bengali / Los Angeles Times)


    By Shashank Bengali

    September 2, 2016, 8:05 AM |Reporting from Kolkata, India



    Few people are as closely identified with a city as Mother Teresa is with Kolkata, the onetime colonial Indian capital where the Albanian nun garnered worldwide admiration for her work with the poor, infirm and outcast.

    As the Catholic Church prepares to canonize her as a saint, the city formerly known as Calcutta is poised for a rare moment in the spotlight.


    But not everyone is celebrating.

    “She had no significant impact on the poor of this city,” said Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya, who served as mayor from 2005 to 2010.







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    “She was responsible for creating a negative image of this city.
    — Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya

    ft

    “Whatever good work she did has also been done by any other philanthropic organization. I don’t find anything extraordinary in it.”

    Bhattacharya is one of a few vocal critics in Kolkata who argue that Mother Teresa’s shelters glorified the ill rather than treating them, and that her charity appeals across the world misstated the reality of what was once among India’s most prosperous cities.

    “No doubt there was poverty in Calcutta, but it was never a city of lepers and beggars, as Mother Teresa presented it,” Bhattacharya said.

    “She was responsible for creating a negative image of this city. As a Calcuttan I feel totally disgusted by it.”

    Pope Francis’ canonization of Mother Teresa in a ceremony at the Vatican on Sunday has renewed a debate over her legacy in the city she made synonymous with suffering and sacrifice.




    Many in Kolkata revere her for the half-century of service that earned her a Nobel Peace Prize and the moniker “saint of the gutters.” The Missionaries of Charity, the order she founded in 1950, sheltered tens of thousands of leprosy victims, sidewalk-dwellers, tuberculosis patients, orphans and the disabled at 19 homes across the city, and now has branches in 150 countries.

    Until her death in 1997 at age 87, she was the Indian government’s favorite adopted citizen, honored with its highest civilian award, the Bharat Ratna, in 1980.

    Even as Hindu nationalist groups rose to prominence and opposed the expansion of Christian missionary organizations, Mother Teresa was usually accommodated. She opened her first shelter — Nirmal Hriday, or Pure Heart, a “home for the dying” — in an abandoned temple next to Kolkata’s most revered Hindu shrine.

    “It is a great blessing that Calcutta is associated with Mother Teresa,” said Sunita Kumar, an artist and socialite who befriended her and served as an unofficial spokeswoman.

    In a city of 5 million that gave India some of its greatest writers and artists, including Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, it is Mother Teresa’s name and visage — swathed in her familiar white sari with blue stripes — that are most prominent.

    Park Street, the city’s main commercial thoroughfare, was renamed for her. Mother House, the gray-washed hostel for nuns where she lived and is now entombed, draws tourists from around the world. Volunteers of all ages flock to her charity homes.





    Park Street, the main commercial thoroughfare in Kolkata, was renamed for Mother Teresa.

    ò






    Park Street, the main commercial thoroughfare in Kolkata, was renamed for Mother Teresa. (Shashank Bengali / Los Angeles Times)




    In the narrow lanes around the Nirmal Hriday house in Kalighat, where colonial-era buildings gently decay in the sticky heat, residents and saffron-clad Hindu priests recalled Mother Teresa — although weakened by a heart ailment in her later years — as an indomitable presence.

    “She would walk through the streets or go around in a wheelchair, speaking with everyone,” said Renu Sarnakar, a bespectacled woman in her 50s who was fashioning packets of Hindu religious offerings out of banana leaves. “Once she caressed my face very lovingly, even though I was ill.”

    A widow, Sarnakar said she was admitted to Nirmal Hriday a decade ago with tuberculosis. Medical care was basic, and Sarnakar recalled that many in the women’s ward did not survive.

    “The ones who die, they die,” Sarnakar said. “But for those who can get better, the sisters are very good to us.”

    Mother Teresa faced criticism over the spartan conditions at Nirmal Hriday beginning in the early 1990s. The editor of the Lancet medical journal, Robin Fox, found after volunteering there that the sisters did not seek medical diagnoses for patients and administered only the most rudimentary painkillers and antibiotics.

    The nuns resisted change, with Mother Teresa often saying that suffering brought one closer to God. A decade after her death, the nun then in charge of the home, Sister Glenda, told the local Telegraph newspaper, “We don’t want modern things.”





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    In the fall of 2008, Hemley Gonzalez, a Cuban-born Miami real estate broker seeking a fresh start after the housing crash, came to Nirmal Hriday as a volunteer. He was tasked with giving daily sponge baths to 50 men, including some suffering from respiratory infections.

    But there was no heating, making the water unbearably cold for the patients, Gonzalez said.

    “The men started screaming when I poured water on them,” he said. “I’m not a doctor, I’m not a nurse, but I can tell by common sense that if someone has a respiratory disease you don’t bathe them with cold water.”

    When Gonzalez proposed raising money for a water heater, senior nuns rebuffed him.

    Gonzalez said the nuns did not distinguish between patients who were terminally ill and those who could be treated and released. He said he observed nuns rinsing dirty needles with tap water and reusing them.

    “It felt like a museum of poverty,” said Gonzalez, 40, who later founded Responsible Charity, a nonprofit organization that promotes children’s education in Kolkata and the western city of Pune.

    See the most-read stories in World News this hour »

    Today, the bathrooms and water systems have been improved, and needles are sterilized. Still the house remains spare. Inside the men’s ward, two dozen slender cots are lined up side by side under ceiling fans. One morning recently, a European volunteer filled a pail to wash the misshapen arms of a crippled man, who howled when the sponge grazed a sore on his palm.

    Kumar said Mother Teresa gave “dignity in death” to thousands who would have perished on the streets and dismissed criticism that the millions she raised were nowhere to be seen in Kolkata.

    “No one can accuse the Missionaries of Charity of mishandling funds,” Kumar said.

    Aroup Chatterjee, a Kolkata-born physician, said when he moved to Britain to practice medicine in the mid-1980s, Westerners told him constantly that his city “must be horrible, because that’s where Mother Teresa works.”


    While Kolkata has vast pockets of poverty — three in 10 residents live in slums — it has lower income inequality and fewer underage workers than other major cities, according to official statistics, and the state’s per capita income is on par with the national average.

    “It was very disturbing for me to hear that people thought that I came from a city and a culture that was so helpless that we couldn’t take care of ourselves, and we had to depend on an Albanian nun to look after our every need,” Chatterjee said.






    Physician Aroup Chatterjee is one of Mother Teresa's harshest critics.

    ò






    Physician Aroup Chatterjee is one of Mother Teresa's harshest critics. (Shashank Bengali / Los Angeles Times)




    A former volunteer at one of her charitable homes, Chatterjee has spoken out against Mother Teresa for more than two decades. His research helped form the basis for “Hell’s Angel,” a 1994 documentary hosted by British author Christopher Hitchens that was the first major critique of Mother Teresa to appear in the mainstream Western media.

    In a 400-page book, recently rereleased under the title “Mother Teresa: The Untold Story,” Chatterjee levels an extensive list of complaints — including her embrace of unsavory donors (including savings and loan swindler Charles Keating) and allegations that she secretly converted Hindu and Muslim patients to Christianity on their deathbeds.

    In a videotaped January 1992 meeting with the staff at Scripps Clinic in San Diego, where she had been treated for pneumonia, she boasted of baptizing as many as 29,000 people who had died at Nirmal Hriday since 1952.

    “Not one has died without receiving the special ‘ticket for St. Peter,’ we call it,” she said. “It is so beautiful to see the people die with so much joy.”

    Chatterjee said Indian officials should have raised concerns that the conversions violated the patients’ religious freedom, but such views remain unpopular. Last year, a prominent Hindu leader drew nationwide outrage when he alleged that conversion was Mother Teresa’s main motive.

    “People are afraid to come out against such a Western icon,” Chatterjee said on a visit to Kolkata. “India is still a colonized nation in its mind.”



    “People are afraid to come out against such a Western icon.
    — Aroup Chatterjee

    ft

    Mother Teresa’s path to sainthood was fast-tracked the year after she died by the then-pope, John Paul II. In December, she cleared the last hurdle when Pope Francis recognized a second miracle attributed to her — the recovery of a Brazilian man who suffered from brain tumors.

    The first miracle was recognized in 2003 after a tribal Indian woman, Monica Besra, said a medallion with Mother Teresa’s image cured her cancerous tumor. Besra’s doctor challenged that claim, saying the tumor was actually a cyst due to tuberculosis, and treated with medication.

    Debasis Bhattacharya, Kolkata-based director of the Science and Rationalists’ Assn. of India, a group that advocates for scientific thinking, said the miracle claim would encourage others to seek dubious cures from gurus and faith healers.

    Bhattacharya, who is no relation to the former mayor, said that despite the money and attention lavished on the Missionaries of Charity, their work has not dented the city’s poverty.

    “I don’t think there’s been any big change in Calcutta due to Mother Teresa,” Bhattacharya said. “It would have been the same with or without her.”

    shashank.bengali@latimes.com
    http://www.latimes.com/world/
    To sit down with these men and deal with them as the representatives of an enlightened and civilized people is to deride ones own dignity and to invite the disaster of their treachery - General Matthew Ridgway

  • #2
    I have a slight bit of insight into this courtesy of a couple of people I know who have had direct dealings with Mother Teresa's order.

    I should preface all of this by saying that the order does some remarkable work in some of the worst places on earth. There is no doubt that thousands of people have been helped. However, this shouldn't be allowed to obscure any problems there might be.

    The first person I met with personal experience of the order was a lady I knew in a University class 20 years ago. Her husband did legal work for the Catholic Church and was one of the people who dealt with nuns from the order when they were in town. Both she & her husband were regular churchgoers. She really didn't like these nuns. She described them as fanatics who just gave her the creeps.

    The other person I know with direct experience is one of my closest friends. His daughter, my goddaughter, was taken care of by Mother Teresa's nun's in Ethiopia for the first year of her life. The place was a hospice where her mother had gone to die of AIDS & leave her baby girl safe. Plenty of other orphans there. it was a hellish place - some of the adopting parents who went there couldn't even walk through the door. She also left a her 12 year old son in the care of the nuns. My mate & his wife only found out about him when the got there. Tried to adopt, but its practically impossible with older children.

    Initially my mate's impressions of the order were very positive. He sent substantial sums of money for the care of the boy. When he went back to Ethiopia about 18 months he discovered that virtually none of the money he sent had gone to the boy. He & two friends had been sent to live in a corrugated iron shack with hessian on the walls. They had received next to no assistance. Apparently the nuns had reacted badly to the Ethiopian orthodox cross my friend had given the boy as a gift.

    Then more detail came out. When the boy's mother - my friend's daughter's mother - was close to death she had refused to be baptised Catholic. She insisted that her body be taken to an Orthodox Church for burial. When she died the nuns just left her body by the road with her 11 year old boy. She had no money for a funeral. The two of them were there for days until he managed to raise the money to have her buried. He & other family had to go begging around her former neighbours - people who themselves had nothing. She was a good cook & well liked, so they found the money.

    Mother Teresa's order is worth billions. They have the money for decent facilities. They have the money to bury a poor women with nothing in the world but two children. They don't need to leave an 11 year old boy by the road with his dead mother or take the money sent for him by his half sister's father.

    My friend decided he would take care of the boy and his best friend. They finished school. The boy is now studying a trade, though he has long term health issues. His best friend is studying medicine and will become a doctor. Happy ending, but one with an interesting perspective on the organisation Mother Teresa created.
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    • #3
      Since she's born here in Skopje, she is popular and therefor many stories can be heard.
      More like what BF described than the other way around.

      Disclaimer, these are all he said, she said, we read about this... since she left the city at a very young age.
      No such thing as a good tax - Churchill

      To make mistakes is human. To blame someone else for your mistake, is strategic.

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      • #4
        The late Christopher Hitchens was discussing exactly these issues two decades ago:

        "Mother Teresa is less interested in helping the poor than in using them as an indefatigable source of wretchedness on which to fuel the expansion of her fundamentalist Roman Catholic beliefs."

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Mi...y_and_Practice
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        • #5
          Perhaps this is the last "sainthood" to witness in the secular age?

          "Miracles/healing camps" were still very popular till the 90s. People with diseases and deformities would visit these camps with big hopes and families would share miracles stories(he prayed and his cancer got cured etc etc) with relatives at night. I recall people playing VHS tapes of these healing's and the room would become packed. All these have vanished today.

          Its funny to recall how some people lived just some 20 years ago. Although a fanatic who swayed thousands in kolkatta away from hospitals and into her retreats, I think teresa was just one of the many in her culture, unconsciously absorbed by the practices of that era. To be realistic, thousands would have died anyway because of the prevailing socio-economic conditions of that time, albeit under a roof courtesy of her.

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          • #6
            Originally posted by Bigfella View Post
            The late Christopher Hitchens was discussing exactly these issues two decades ago:

            "Mother Teresa is less interested in helping the poor than in using them as an indefatigable source of wretchedness on which to fuel the expansion of her fundamentalist Roman Catholic beliefs."

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Mi...y_and_Practice

            The best way to experience Hitch.

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            • #7
              He is a little difficult to catch with the way he seems to mumble at least to me. Nonetheless, I got what he was talking about and it does tie in with all my other research into her. I too remember showing up on the TV much like the Dali Lama does. Yet there was never anything critical back then just blanket acceptance of her goodness. Well, my conclusion is that she clearly did not deserve this honor bestowed on her by the Pope. A fundamentalist Christian in the streets of Calcutta tending to Hindu people out of the goodness of her heart. Ah, not likely...

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              • #8
                I think part of the rationalization for this would be that remember where Francis is from. He is not of the Old World but the New World. Perhaps this was an outreach to the Third World on the part of a New World.

                What also has to be asked is did she do good based on the standards of other faiths or as per the teachings and doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church? Did she advance The Church?

                As a life long Catholic I am, at best, ambivalent. Still, in general, I do like Francis.
                “Loyalty to country ALWAYS. Loyalty to government, when it deserves it.”
                Mark Twain

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                • #9
                  I'd like to offer to your attention the post available at http://puressay.com/blog/essay-on-mother-teresa which describes how Mother Teresa displayed in the service of poorest people of the world. How admired and respected she was!

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Tammy Wood View Post
                    I'd like to offer to your attention the post available at http://puressay.com/blog/essay-on-mother-teresa which describes how Mother Teresa displayed in the service of poorest people of the world. How admired and respected she was!
                    Whom might you be?

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Doktor View Post
                      Since she's born here in Skopje, she is popular and therefor many stories can be heard.
                      More like what BF described than the other way around.

                      Disclaimer, these are all he said, she said, we read about this... since she left the city at a very young age.
                      The opinion of her is generally positive. She made quite a few waves. Rebel who started her own order.

                      The detractors are in the minority, nobody to listens to them. Her legacy is pretty safe.

                      So she is Macedonian, had heard Albanian. Now i finally know : )

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                      • #12
                        Yes she was a saint for me!!!!
                        Regards

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