Blessed Teresa?

Calcuttans share an ambiguous relationship with Mother Teresa. On the one hand, nobody denies her selfless work for the destitute and dying through her Missionaries of Charity. On the other, nobody denies that her selfless work helped nurture an unhealthy image of Calcutta as a city of poverty in the Western mind.

Although Mother Teresa established Nirmal Hriday, a hospital for the poor, after receiving her calling during a visit to Darjeeling in 1946, she shot to international fame courtesy of BBC correspondent Malcolm Muggeridge's documentary "Something Beautiful for God" in 1969, and was recognised with the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. Over the years she has had her shares of awards and brickbats, with detractors often accusing her of proselyting the poor and putting faith before aid.

On the eve of her tenth death anniversary, a new crisis looms over Mother Teresa's legacy, with the publication of a compilation of her private letters and confessions. Although I haven't read the book, "Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light", extracts reprinted in Time magazine reveal a soul in turmoil, and give voice to the anguish of a woman involved in charity that she does not believe in. While the less spiritual among us may harbour feelings of being deserted in moments of crisis, it is singularly depressing to read the beatified Teresa question her faith and wonder, "Did I make a mistake in surrendering blindly to the Call of the Sacred Heart?".

The media have been having a field day over these revelations, with critics speculating whether she is worthy of being canonized. While these correspondences, which incidentally were preserved against her wishes, might change the way future generations judge Mother Teresa's bequest, in my mind the controversy should not cast a shadow on her actual contributions, performed in the true Christian spirit. If anything, it demonstrates that even Saints are fallible.

The evil that men do lives after them
The good is oft interred with their bones.

William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar

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