Mother Teresa

This article is about Mother Teresa, Saint Teresa of Calcutta. For other people and places, see Saint Teresa (disambiguation) and Santa Teresa (disambiguation).

Mother Teresa
Saint Teresa of Calcutta, MC

Mother Teresa at a pro-life meeting
in 1986 in Bonn, West Germany
Virgin, consecrated religious, nun
Born Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu
(1910-08-26)26 August 1910
Üsküp, Kosovo Vilayet, Ottoman Empire
(modern Skopje, Republic of Macedonia)
Died 5 September 1997(1997-09-05) (aged 87)
Calcutta, West Bengal, India
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church
Beatified 19 October 2003, Saint Peter's Square, Vatican City by Pope John Paul II
Canonized 4 September 2016, Saint Peter's Square, Vatican City by Pope Francis
Major shrine Mother House of the Missionaries of Charity, Calcutta, West Bengal, India
Feast 5 September[1]
Mother Teresa, MC
Religion Roman Catholicism
Institute Sisters of Loreto
Missionaries of Charity
Nationality Ottoman subject (1910–1912)
Serbian subject (1912–1915)
Bulgarian subject (1915–1918)
Yugoslavian subject (1918–1943)
Yugoslavian citizen (1943–1948)
Indian subject (1948–1950)
Indian citizen[2] (1950–1997)
Albanian citizen[3] (1991–1997)
Senior posting
Title Superior general
Period in office 1950–1997
Successor Sr. Nirmala Joshi, MC

Mother Teresa MC, known in the Catholic Church as Saint Teresa of Calcutta[4] (born Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu Albanian: [aˈɲɛzə ˈɡɔndʒɛ bɔjaˈdʒiu]; 26 August 1910 – 5 September 1997), was an Albanian-Indian[2] Roman Catholic nun and missionary.[5] She was born in Skopje (now capital of the Republic of Macedonia), then part of the Kosovo Vilayet in the Ottoman Empire. After having lived in Macedonia for eighteen years, she moved to Ireland and then to India, where she lived for most of her life.

In 1950, Teresa founded the Missionaries of Charity, a Roman Catholic religious congregation, which in 2012 consisted of over 4,500 sisters and was active in 133 countries. They run homes for people dying of HIV/AIDS, leprosy and tuberculosis; soup kitchens; dispensaries and mobile clinics; children's and family counselling programmes; orphanages; and schools. Members must adhere to the vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience, as well as a fourth vow, to give "wholehearted free service to the poorest of the poor".[6]

Teresa was the recipient of numerous honours, including the 1962 Ramon Magsaysay Peace Prize and 1979 Nobel Peace Prize. She was canonised (recognised by the church as a saint) on 4 September 2016, and the anniversary of her death, 5 September, was made her feast day.

A controversial figure both during her life and after her death, Teresa was widely admired by many for her charitable works. She was both praised and criticised for her views against abortion. She was criticised for the poor conditions in the houses for the dying she ran. Her authorised biography was written by Indian civil servant Navin Chawla and published in 1992, and there are other books and films about her.

Early life

Teresa was born Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu (Albanian: [aˈɲɛzə ˈɡɔndʒɛ bɔjaˈdʒiu]; Anjezë being the cognate of "Agnes"; Gonxhe meaning "rosebud" or "little flower" in Albanian) on 26 August 1910 into a Kosovar Albanian family[7][8][9][10][11] in Skopje, Ottoman Empire (now the capital of the Republic of Macedonia).[12][13] She later considered 27 August, the day she was baptised, to be her "true birthday".[12]

She was the youngest of the children of Nikollë and Dranafile Bojaxhiu (Bernai).[14] Her father, who was involved in the politics of the Albanian community in Macedonia, died in 1919 when she was eight years old.[12][15] Her father may have been from Prizren, Kosovo, while her mother may have been from a village near Gjakova.[16]

According to a biography written by Joan Graff Clucas, in her early years she was fascinated by stories of the lives of missionaries and their service in Bengal, and by age 12 had become convinced that she should commit herself to a religious life.[17] Her final resolution was taken on 15 August 1928, while praying at the shrine of the Black Madonna of Vitina-Letnice, where she often went on pilgrimage.[18]

She left home in 1928 at the age of 18 to join the Sisters of Loreto at Loreto Abbey in Rathfarnham, Ireland to learn English, with a view to becoming a missionary. English was the language the Sisters of Loreto used to teach schoolchildren in India.[19] She never again saw her mother or her sister.[20] Her family continued to live in Skopje until 1934, when they moved to Tirana in Albania.[21]

She arrived in India in 1929,[22] and began her novitiate in Darjeeling, near the Himalayan mountains,[23] where she learnt Bengali and taught at St. Teresa's School, a schoolhouse close to her convent.[24] She took her first religious vows as a nun on 24 May 1931. At that time she chose to be named after Thérèse de Lisieux, the patron saint of missionaries,[25][26] but because one nun in the convent had already chosen that name, Agnes opted for the Spanish spelling of Teresa.[27]

She took her solemn vows on 14 May 1937, while serving as a teacher at the Loreto convent school in Entally, eastern Calcutta.[12][28][29] Teresa served there for almost twenty years and in 1944 was appointed headmistress.[30]

Although Teresa enjoyed teaching at the school, she was increasingly disturbed by the poverty surrounding her in Calcutta.[31] The Bengal famine of 1943 brought misery and death to the city; and the outbreak of Hindu/Muslim violence in August 1946 plunged the city into despair and horror.[32]

Missionaries of Charity

Missionaries of Charity's Mother House (Headquarters) in Kolkata
Missionaries of Charity with the traditional sari.

On 10 September 1946, Teresa experienced what she later described as "the call within the call" while travelling by train to the Loreto convent in Darjeeling from Calcutta for her annual retreat. "I was to leave the convent and help the poor while living among them. It was an order. To fail would have been to break the faith."[33] One author later observed, "Though no one knew it at the time, Sister Teresa had just become Mother Teresa".[34]

She began her missionary work with the poor in 1948,[22] replacing her traditional Loreto habit with a simple white cotton sari decorated with a blue border. Teresa adopted Indian citizenship, spent a few months in Patna to receive a basic medical training in the Holy Family Hospital and then ventured out into the slums.[35][36] Initially, she started a school in Motijhil (Kolkata); soon she started tending to the needs of the destitute and starving.[37] In the beginning of 1949, she was joined in her effort by a group of young women and laid the foundations of a new religious community helping the "poorest among the poor".

Her efforts quickly caught the attention of Indian officials, including the prime minister, who expressed his appreciation.[38]

Teresa wrote in her diary that her first year was fraught with difficulties. She had no income and had to resort to begging for food and supplies. Teresa experienced doubt, loneliness and the temptation to return to the comfort of convent life during these early months. She wrote in her diary:

"Our Lord wants me to be a free nun covered with the poverty of the cross. Today, I learned a good lesson. The poverty of the poor must be so hard for them. While looking for a home I walked and walked till my arms and legs ached. I thought how much they must ache in body and soul, looking for a home, food and health. Then, the comfort of Loreto [her former congregation] came to tempt me. 'You have only to say the word and all that will be yours again,' the Tempter kept on saying ... Of free choice, my God, and out of love for you, I desire to remain and do whatever be your Holy will in my regard. I did not let a single tear come."[39]

Teresa received Vatican permission on 7 October 1950 to start the diocesan congregation that would become the Missionaries of Charity.[40] Its mission was to care for, in her own words, "the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers, all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society, people that have become a burden to the society and are shunned by everyone."

It began as a small congregation with 13 members in Calcutta; by 1997 it had grown to more than 4,000 sisters running orphanages, AIDS hospices and charity centres worldwide, and caring for refugees, the blind, disabled, aged, alcoholics, the poor and homeless, and victims of floods, epidemics, and famine.[41]

2007 image of Mother Teresa's Home for the Dying, Nirmal Hriday, in Calcutta.

In 1952, Mother Teresa opened the first Home for the Dying in space made available by the city of Calcutta. With the help of Indian officials she converted an abandoned Hindu temple into the Kalighat Home for the Dying, a free hospice for the poor. She renamed it Kalighat, the Home of the Pure Heart (Nirmal Hriday).[42] Those brought to the home received medical attention and were afforded the opportunity to die with dignity, according to the rituals of their faith; Muslims were read the Quran, Hindus received water from the Ganges, and Catholics received the Last Rites.[43] "A beautiful death", she said, "is for people who lived like animals to die like angels—loved and wanted."[43]

Teresa opened a home for those suffering from Hansen's disease, commonly known as leprosy, and called the hospice Shanti Nagar (City of Peace).[44] The Missionaries of Charity also established several leprosy outreach clinics throughout Calcutta, providing medication, bandages and food.[45]

As the Missionaries of Charity took in increasing numbers of lost children, Mother Teresa felt the need to create a home for them. In 1955 she opened the Nirmala Shishu Bhavan, the Children's Home of the Immaculate Heart, as a haven for orphans and homeless youth.[46]

The congregation soon began to attract both recruits and charitable donations, and by the 1960s had opened hospices, orphanages and leper houses all over India. Mother Teresa then expanded the congregation throughout the globe. Its first house outside India opened in Venezuela in 1965 with five sisters.[47] Others followed in Rome, Tanzania, and Austria in 1968; during the 1970s the congregation opened houses and foundations in dozens of countries in Asia, Africa, Europe and the United States.[48]

The Missionaries of Charity Brothers was founded in 1963, and a contemplative branch of the Sisters followed in 1976. Lay Catholics and non-Catholics were enrolled in the Co-Workers of Mother Teresa, the Sick and Suffering Co-Workers, and the Lay Missionaries of Charity. In answer to the requests of many priests, in 1981 Mother Teresa also began the Corpus Christi Movement for Priests,[49] and in 1984 founded with Fr. Joseph Langford the Missionaries of Charity Fathers[50] to combine the vocational aims of the Missionaries of Charity with the resources of the ministerial priesthood. By 2007 the Missionaries of Charity numbered approximately 450 brothers and 5,000 sisters worldwide, operating 600 missions, schools and shelters in 120 countries.[51]

International charity

Teresa said "By blood, I am Albanian. By citizenship, an Indian. By faith, I am a Catholic nun. As to my calling, I belong to the world. As to my heart, I belong entirely to the Heart of Jesus."[2] Fluent in five languages – Bengali,[52] Albanian, Serbian, English, and Hindi – she made occasional trips outside India for humanitarian efforts.[53]

In 1982, at the height of the Siege of Beirut, Teresa rescued 37 children trapped in a front line hospital by brokering a temporary cease-fire between the Israeli army and Palestinian guerrillas.[54] Accompanied by Red Cross workers, she travelled through the war zone to the devastated hospital to evacuate the young patients.[55]

When Eastern Europe experienced increased openness in the late 1980s, she expanded her efforts to Communist countries that had previously rejected the Missionaries of Charity, embarking on dozens of projects. She was undeterred by criticism about her firm stand against abortion and divorce stating, "No matter who says what, you should accept it with a smile and do your own work." She visited the Soviet republic of Armenia following the 1988 earthquake,[56] and met with Nikolai Ryzhkov, the Chairman of the Council of Ministers.[57]

Teresa travelled to assist and minister to the hungry in Ethiopia, radiation victims at Chernobyl, and earthquake victims in Armenia.[58][59][60] In 1991, Mother Teresa returned for the first time to her homeland and opened a Missionaries of Charity Brothers home in Tirana, Albania.

By 1996 Teresa was operating 517 missions in more than 100 countries.[61] Over the years, Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity grew from twelve to thousands serving the "poorest of the poor" in 450 centres around the world. The first Missionaries of Charity home in the United States was established in the South Bronx, New York; by 1984 the congregation operated 19 establishments throughout the country.[62]

Declining health and death

Teresa suffered a heart attack in Rome in 1983 while visiting Pope John Paul II. After a second attack in 1989, she received an artificial pacemaker. In 1991, after having pneumonia while in Mexico, she suffered further heart problems. She offered to resign her position as head of the Missionaries of Charity, but the sisters of the congregation, in a secret ballot, voted for her to stay. Mother Teresa agreed to continue her work as head of the congregation.[63]

In April 1996 Teresa fell and broke her collar bone. In August she suffered from malaria and failure of the left heart ventricle. She had heart surgery but it was clear that her health was declining. The Archbishop of Calcutta, Henry Sebastian D'Souza, said he ordered a priest to perform an exorcism on Mother Teresa with her permission when she was first hospitalised with cardiac problems because he thought she may be under attack by the devil.[64]

On 13 March 1997, she stepped down from the head of Missionaries of Charity. She died on 5 September 1997.[65]

At the time of her death, Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity had over 4,000 sisters, and an associated brotherhood of 300 members, operating 610 missions in 123 countries.[66] These included hospices and homes for people with HIV/AIDS, leprosy and tuberculosis, soup kitchens, children's and family counselling programmes, personal helpers, orphanages and schools. The Missionaries of Charity were also aided by co-workers, who numbered over 1 million by the 1990s.[67]

Teresa lay in repose in St Thomas, Calcutta, for one week prior to her funeral in September 1997. She was granted a state funeral by the Indian government in gratitude for her services to the poor of all religions in India.[68] Her death was mourned in both secular and religious communities. In tribute, Nawaz Sharif, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, said that she was "a rare and unique individual who lived long for higher purposes. Her life-long devotion to the care of the poor, the sick, and the disadvantaged was one of the highest examples of service to our humanity."[69] A former U.N. Secretary-General, Javier Pérez de Cuéllar, said that "She is the United Nations. She is peace in the world."[69]

Recognition and reception

In India

Teresa had first been recognised by the Indian government more than a third of a century earlier when she was awarded the Padma Shri in 1962 and the Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding in 1969.[70] She continued to receive major Indian awards in subsequent years, including India's highest civilian award, the Bharat Ratna, in 1980.[71] Her official biography was written by an Indian civil servant, Navin Chawla, and published in 1992.[72] In Kolkata, she is worshipped by some Hindus as a goddess.[73]

On 28 August 2010, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of her birth, the government of India issued a special 5 rupee coin, being the sum she first arrived in India with. President Pratibha Patil said of Teresa, "Clad in a white sari with a blue border, she and the sisters of Missionaries of Charity became a symbol of hope to many – the aged, the destitute, the unemployed, the diseased, the terminally ill, and those abandoned by their families."[74]

Indian views on Teresa are not uniformly favourable.

Aroup Chatterjee, a physician who was born and raised in Calcutta and worked in the city's slums as an activist for years around 1980 before moving to the UK, recalls that he "never even saw any nuns in those slums".[75] He began a research effort that involved more than 100 interviews with volunteers, nuns and others familiar with the Missionaries of Charity, described in a 2003 book that is highly critical of Teresa.[75] Chatterjee criticizes Teresa for promoting a "cult of suffering" and a distortedly negative image of Calcutta, exaggerating the work done by her Mission, and misusing the funds and privileges at her disposal.[75][76] Chatterjee has acknowledged that some of the hygiene problems he had been criticizing (e.g. needle reuse) were improved after Teresa's death in 1997.[75]

Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya, who was mayor of Kolkata from 2005 to 2010, has stated that "she had no significant impact on the poor of this city", glorified illness instead of treating it, and misrepresented the city's situation: "No doubt there was poverty in Calcutta, but it was never a city of lepers and beggars, as Mother Teresa presented it."[77] On the Hindu right, the Bharatiya Janata Party clashed with her over the Christian Dalits ("untouchables"), but praised her in death, sending a representative to her funeral. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad, on the other hand, opposed the government's decision to grant her a state funeral. Its secretary Giriraj Kishore said that "her first duty was to the Church and social service was incidental" and accused her of favouring Christians and conducting "secret baptisms" of the dying.[78][79] In its front page tribute, the Indian fortnightly Frontline dismissed these charges as "patently false" and said that they had "made no impact on the public perception of her work, especially in Calcutta". Although praising her "selfless caring", energy and bravery, the author of the tribute was critical of Mother Teresa's public campaigning against abortion and that she claimed to be non-political when doing so.[80]

In February 2015, Mohan Bhagwat, leader of the Hindu right-wing organisation Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, said that her objective was "to convert the person, who was being served, into a Christian"[81] Former RSS spokesperson MG Vaidhya backed Bhagwat's remarks. The party accused the media of "distorting facts about Bhagwat's remarks". Trinamool Congress MP Derek O'Brien, CPI leader Atul Anjan and Delhi's chief minister Arvind Kejriwal protested against the remarks.[82]

In the rest of the world

President of the United States Ronald Reagan presents Mother Teresa with the Presidential Medal of Freedom at a White House ceremony as Nancy Reagan looks on (June 1985)

In 1962, Mother Teresa received the Philippines-based Ramon Magsaysay Award for Peace and International Understanding, given for work in South or East Asia. The citation said that "the Board of Trustees recognises her merciful cognisance of the abject poor of a foreign land, in whose service she has led a new congregation".[83] By the early 1970s, Mother Teresa had become an international celebrity. Her fame can be in large part attributed to the 1969 documentary Something Beautiful for God, which was filmed by Malcolm Muggeridge and his 1971 book of the same title. Muggeridge was undergoing a spiritual journey of his own at the time.[84] During the filming of the documentary, footage taken in poor lighting conditions, particularly the Home for the Dying, was thought unlikely to be of usable quality by the crew. After returning from India, however, the footage was found to be extremely well lit. Muggeridge claimed this was a miracle of "divine light" from Mother Teresa herself.[85] Others in the crew said it was due to a new type of ultra-sensitive Kodak film.[86] Muggeridge later converted to Catholicism.

Around this time, the Catholic world began to honour Teresa publicly. In 1971 Pope Paul VI awarded her the first Pope John XXIII Peace Prize, commending her for her work with the poor, display of Christian charity and efforts for peace.[87] She later received the Pacem in Terris Award (1976).[88] Since her death, Mother Teresa progressed rapidly along the steps towards sainthood, completing it by canonisation.

Teresa was honoured by both governments and civilian organisations. She was appointed an honorary Companion of the Order of Australia in 1982, "for service to the community of Australia and humanity at large."[89] The United Kingdom and the United States each repeatedly granted awards, culminating in the Order of Merit in 1983, and honorary citizenship of the United States received on 16 November 1996.[90] Mother Teresa's Albanian homeland granted her the Golden Honour of the Nation in 1994.[80] Her acceptance of this and the Haitian Legion of Honour proved controversial. Mother Teresa attracted criticism from a number of people for implicitly giving support to the Duvaliers and to corrupt businessmen such as Charles Keating and Robert Maxwell. In Keating's case she wrote to the judge of his trial asking for clemency to be shown.[80][91]

Universities in both the West and in India granted her honorary degrees.[80] Other civilian awards include the Balzan Prize for promoting humanity, peace and brotherhood among peoples (1978),[92] and the Albert Schweitzer International Prize (1975).[93] In April 1976, Mother Teresa visited the University of Scranton in northeastern Pennsylvania where she was awarded the La Storta Medal for Human Service by the university’s president, William Byron, S.J.[94] While there, she also addressed a crowd of 4,500 people. In her speech, she called the audience to "know poor people in your own home and local neighbourhood", whether it meant feeding others or simply spreading joy and love.[95] She continued, stating that "the poor will help us grow in sanctity, for they are Christ in the guise of distress", calling the students and residents of the city of Scranton to give to suffering members in their community.[94] Again, in August 1987, Mother Teresa visited the University of Scranton and was awarded an honorary doctor of social science degree in recognition of her selfless service and her ministry to help the destitute and sick.[96] She also spoke to the students as well as members of the Diocese of Scranton, numbering over 4000 individuals,[97] telling them about her service to the "poorest of the poor" and instructing them to "do small things with great love."[98]

External video
The Nobel Peace Prize 1979 – Acceptance Speech by Mother Teresa

In 1979, Mother Teresa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, "for work undertaken in the struggle to overcome poverty and distress, which also constitutes a threat to peace."[99] She refused the conventional ceremonial banquet given to laureates, and asked that the $192,000 funds be given to the poor in India,[100] stating that earthly rewards were important only if they helped her help the world's needy. When Mother Teresa received the prize, she was asked, "What can we do to promote world peace?" She answered "Go home and love your family." Building on this theme in her Nobel Lecture, she said: "Around the world, not only in the poor countries, but I found the poverty of the West so much more difficult to remove. When I pick up a person from the street, hungry, I give him a plate of rice, a piece of bread, I have satisfied. I have removed that hunger. But a person that is shut out, that feels unwanted, unloved, terrified, the person that has been thrown out from society—that poverty is so hurtable [sic] and so much, and I find that very difficult." She also singled out abortion as "the greatest destroyer of peace today. Because if a mother can kill her own child – what is left for me to kill you and you kill me – there is nothing between."[101]

Barbara Smoker from secular humanist magazine The Freethinker criticised Teresa after the award of the Nobel Peace Prize since she felt that Teresa has promoting the Catholic Church's moral teachings on abortion and contraception, which some felt diverted funds from more effective methods of solving India's problems.[102] At the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, Teresa stated "Yet we can destroy this gift of motherhood, especially by the evil of abortion, but also by thinking that other things like jobs or positions are more important than loving." <ref name=MOTHER TERESA'S MESSAGE TO FOURTH UN WOMEN'S CONFERENCE >"Mother Teresa's Message to the Fourth Women's Conference". EWTN. 2006-10-06. Retrieved 2016-03-28. </ref>

During her life, Teresa was named 18 times in the yearly Gallup's most admired man and woman poll as one of the 10 women around the world who Americans admired most, finishing first several times in the 1980s and 1990s.[103] In 1999, a poll of Americans ranked her first in Gallup's List of Most Widely Admired People of the 20th Century.[104] In that survey, she out-polled all other volunteered answers by a wide margin, and was in first place in all major demographic categories except the very young (millennials).[104][105]


According to a paper written by three Canadian academics, Serge Larivée, Geneviève Chénard, and Carole Sénéchal, Teresa's clinics received millions of dollars in donations, yet their conditions drew criticism from people disturbed by the shortage of medical care, systematic diagnosis, and necessary nutrition, as well as the scarcity of analgesics for those in pain;[106] they said that "Mother Teresa believed the sick must suffer like Christ on the cross".[107] Some have argued that the additional money could have had transformative effects on the health of the poor by creating advanced palliative care facilities in the city.[108][109] Abortion rights groups criticised her stance on abortion,[110][111][112] while advocates against abortion praised her support of fetal rights.[113][114][115][116]

One of Teresa's most outspoken critics was the English journalist, literary critic and antitheist Christopher Hitchens, who wrote the extended essay The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice (1995) and wrote in a 2003 article, "This returns us to the medieval corruption of the church, which sold indulgences to the rich while preaching hellfire and continence to the poor. [Mother Teresa] was not a friend of the poor. She was a friend of poverty. She said that suffering was a gift from God. She spent her life opposing the only known cure for poverty, which is the empowerment of women and the emancipation of them from a livestock version of compulsory reproduction."[117] He also accused her of hypocrisy for opting to receive advanced treatment for her heart condition.[118][119]

Hitchens thought he was the only witness called by the Vatican, In fact Aroup Chatterjee, author of Mother Teresa: The Untold Story, was also called to give evidence against Teresa's beatification and canonisation process,[120] because the Vatican had abolished the traditional "devil's advocate" role which fulfilled a similar purpose.[120] Hitchens said that "her intention was not to help people", and that she lied to donors about the use of their contributions. "It was by talking to her that I discovered, and she assured me, that she wasn't working to alleviate poverty", he said, "She was working to expand the number of Catholics. She said, 'I'm not a social worker. I don't do it for this reason. I do it for Christ. I do it for the church.'"[121]

Spiritual life

Analysing her deeds and achievements, John Paul II asked: "Where did Mother Teresa find the strength and perseverance to place herself completely at the service of others? She found it in prayer and in the silent contemplation of Jesus Christ, his Holy Face, his Sacred Heart."[122] Privately, Mother Teresa experienced doubts and struggles over her religious beliefs which lasted nearly 50 years until the end of her life, during which "she felt no presence of God whatsoever", "neither in her heart or in the eucharist" as put by her postulator, the Rev. Brian Kolodiejchuk.[123] Mother Teresa expressed grave doubts about God's existence and pain over her lack of faith:

Where is my faith? Even deep down ... there is nothing but emptiness and darkness ... If there be God—please forgive me. When I try to raise my thoughts to Heaven, there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives and hurt my very soul.[124]
Plaque dedicated to Mother Teresa, Wenceslas Square, Olomouc, Czech Republic

With reference to the above words, Kolodiejchuk (the official responsible for gathering the evidence for her sanctification) said he thought that some might misinterpret her meaning, but her faith that God was working through her remained undiminished, and that while she pined for the lost sentiment of closeness with God, she did not question his existence[citation needed], and that she may have experienced something similar to what is believed of Jesus Christ when crucified who was heard to say "Eli Eli lama sabachthani?" which is translated to "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?"[125] Kolodiejchuk drew comparisons to the 16th-century mystic St. John of the Cross, who coined the term the "Dark Night of the Soul".[84] Many other saints had similar experiences of spiritual dryness, or what Catholics believe to be spiritual tests ("passive purifications"), such as Mother Teresa's namesake, St. Therese of Lisieux, who called it a "night of nothingness."[126] The Rev. James Langford said these doubts were typical and would not be an impediment to canonisation.[126]

Teresa described, after ten years of doubt, a short period of renewed faith. At the time of the death of Pope Pius XII in 1958, praying for him at a Requiem Mass, she said she had been relieved of "the long darkness: that strange suffering." However, five weeks later, she described returning to her difficulties in believing.[127]

Teresa wrote many letters to her confessors and superiors over a 66-year period, most notably to Calcutta Archbishop Ferdinand Perier and a Jesuit priest, Celeste van Exem, who had been her spiritual advisor since the formation of the Missionaries of Charity.[128] She had asked that her letters be destroyed, concerned that "people will think more of me—less of Jesus."[84][129] Despite this request, the correspondences have been compiled in Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light (Doubleday).[84][130] In one publicly released letter to a spiritual confidant, the Rev. Michael van der Peet, she 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—the tongue moves [in prayer] but does not speak ... I want you to pray for me—that I let Him have [a] free hand."

In his first encyclical Deus caritas est, Benedict XVI mentioned Teresa of Calcutta three times and he also used her life to clarify one of his main points of the encyclical. "In the example of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta we have a clear illustration of the fact that time devoted to God in prayer not only does not detract from effective and loving service to our neighbour but is in fact the inexhaustible source of that service."[131] Mother Teresa specified that "It is only by mental prayer and spiritual reading that we can cultivate the gift of prayer."[132]

Although there was no direct connection between Mother Teresa's order and the Franciscan orders, she was known as a great admirer of St. Francis of Assisi.[133] Accordingly, her influence and life show influences of Franciscan spirituality. The Sisters of Charity recite the peace prayer of St. Francis every morning during thanksgiving after Communion and many of the vows and emphasis of her ministry are similar.[133] St. Francis emphasised poverty, chastity, obedience and submission to Christ. He also devoted much of his own life to service of the poor, especially lepers in the area where he lived.


Miracle and beatification

After Mother Teresa's death in 1997, the Holy See began the process of beatification, the third step towards possible canonisation. Asked by the Diocese of Calcutta, Kolodiejchuk was appointed postulator. Kolodiejchuk said, "We didn’t have to prove that she was perfect or never made a mistake..." but he did have to prove that Teresa was of heroic virtue. He submitted 76 documents totalling 35,000 pages based on interviews with 113 witnesses who were each asked to respond to 263 questions.[134] This process requires the documentation of a miracle performed from the intercession of Mother Teresa.[135]

In 2002 the Vatican recognised as a miracle the healing of a tumour in the abdomen of an Indian woman, Monica Besra, after the application of a locket containing Mother Teresa's picture. Besra said that a beam of light emanated from the picture, curing the cancerous tumour. Some of Besra's medical staff and Besra's husband said that conventional medical treatment had eradicated the tumour.[136] Dr. Ranjan Mustafi, who told The New York Times he had treated Besra, said that the cyst was not cancer at all but a cyst caused by tuberculosis. He said, "It was not a miracle.... She took medicines for nine months to one year."[137] According to Besra's husband, "My wife was cured by the doctors and not by any miracle ... This miracle is a hoax."[138] Besra's medical records contain sonograms, prescriptions, and physicians' notes; Monica Besra said that Sister Betta of the Missionaries of Charity took them away. Time magazine said that calls to Sister Betta and to the office of Sister Nirmala, Mother Teresa's successor as head of the order, elicited no comment on this. The officials at the Balurghat Hospital where Besra was seeking medical treatment said that they were being pressured by the Catholic order to say her cure was miraculous.[138] In February 2000 Partho De, the former health minister of West Bengal, ordered a review of Besra's medical care records at the Department of Health in Kolkata and concluded there was nothing unusual about the course of her illness and cure based on the prolonged medical treatment she had received. He also stated that he had previously been approached by the Vatican to provide the name of a doctor who could who would be prepared to certify that Monica Besra’s healing was a miracle, which he had refused to do.[139]

In the process of examining Teresa's suitability for beatification and canonisation, the Roman Curia (the Vatican) studied a great deal of published and unpublished criticism of her life and work. Hitchens as well as Chatterjee, the author of The Final Verdict, a book that is critical of Teresa, spoke to the tribunal. Vatican officials said that the allegations raised had been investigated by the agency charged with such matters, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.[134] The group found no obstacle for the Holy See to Mother Teresa's canonisation, issuing a nihil obstat on 21 April 1999.[140][141] Because of the attacks she received, some Catholic writers called her a sign of contradiction.[142] A separate medical committee ruled that the miracle of Monica Besra, among three Kolodiejchuk considered, was evidence of divine intercession.[134] Mother Teresa was beatified on 19 October 2003, becoming known by Catholics as "Blessed".[143]


On 17 December 2015 the Vatican confirmed that Pope Francis had recognised a second miracle attributed to her, involving the healing of a Brazilian man with multiple brain tumours.[144] Pope Francis canonised her at a ceremony on 4 September 2016 in St. Peter's Square in Vatican City. Tens of thousands of people gathered for the ceremony, including 15 official government delegations and 1,500 homeless people from across Italy.[145][146] The ceremony was televised live on the Vatican channel and streamed online; Skopje, Mother Teresa's hometown, announced a week-long celebration of her canonisation.[145] In India, a special Mass was celebrated at the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta.[146]


Teresa inspired a variety of commemorations. She has been memorialised through museums, been named patroness of various churches, and had various structures and roads named after her, including Albania's international airport. Mother Teresa Day (Dita e Nënë Terezës) on 19 October is a public holiday in Albania. In 2009 the Memorial House of Mother Teresa was opened in her hometown Skopje, in Macedonia. The Roman Catholic cathedral in Pristina, Kosovo, inaugurated in 2010, is also dedicated in her honour.[147] Its construction, begun in 2011, sparked controversy in Muslim circles where it was seen as outsized considering the small numbers of Catholics in the area, as did an initiative to erect a monument to Mother Teresa in the town of Peć which according to activists is 98% Muslim.[147]

The Mother Teresa Women's University[148] in the Indian city of Kodaikanal, Tamil Nadu, was established in 1984 as a public university by the government of Tamil Nadu.

The Mother Theresa Post Graduate and Research Institute of Health Sciences[149] Pondicherry, India was established in 1999 by the government of Puducherry.

The charitable organisation Sevalaya runs the Mother Teresa Girls Home, named in her honour and designed to provide poor and orphan girls children in the vicinity of the underserved Kasuva village in Tamil Nadu with free food, clothing, shelter, and education.[150]

Various tributes have been published in Indian newspapers and magazines written by her biographer, Navin Chawla.[151][152][153][154][155][156][157]

Indian Railways introduced a new train, "Mother Express", named after Mother Teresa, on 26 August 2010 to mark the centenary of her birth.[158]

The Tamil Nadu State government organised centenary celebrations of Mother Teresa on 4 December 2010 in Chennai, headed by Tamil Nadu chief minister M Karunanidhi.[159][160]

Beginning 5 September 2013, the anniversary of her death has been designated as the International Day of Charity by the United Nations General Assembly.[161]

Film and literature


Drama films or television

See also


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Wikimedia Commons has media related to Mother Teresa.
Wikiquote has quotations related to: Mother Teresa
Catholic Church titles
New creation Superior General of the Missionaries of Charity
Succeeded by
Sister Nirmala Joshi, M.C.
Preceded by
Genevieve Caulfield
Ramon Magsaysay Award
Succeeded by
Peace Corps
New award Templeton Prize
Succeeded by
Frère Roger
Preceded by
Anwar El Sadat, Menachem Begin
Nobel Peace Prize
Succeeded by
Adolfo Pérez Esquivel
Preceded by
K. Kamaraj
Bharat Ratna
Succeeded by
Vinoba Bhave
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