What does it take to create a sensation? An icon who perfectly fits the image that an overwhelming majority of the populace is willing to believe in, a public relations agency (read propaganda team) willing to work to build a brand and a powerful organization to provide the social network and the financial services required to manufacture a favorable image of the ambassador you are pinning your hopes on. Thus, it happened that one Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu, born into an ordinary family in an ordinary city went on to become the Mother Teresa that we all know today and most people cherish. But amidst all the hullabaloo and the attempt by several institutions and organizations to brand any criticism of her as bigotry, the truth that lies beneath the carefully constructed image that was presented and projected to the world is slowly but surely coming to light.
Mother Teresa is cherished all over the world today as a messiah for the poor and the downtrodden. But there are uncomfortable truths that are kept buried at all times beneath the blitzkrieg of praise heaped upon her and the hallow of divinity that surrounds her. It is no secret, however, that Mother Teresa was well acquainted with the Duvaliers who ruled Haiti as a police state between 1971-1986. Mother Teresa personally visited them in 1981 and described their regime as ‘friends’ of the poor, the same couple which had robbed Haiti of most of its national treasury as they fled after the uprising of 1986. Not only that, Mother Teresa in an act which would seem bizarre under normal circumstances, laid a wreath on the grave of the Communist dictator, Enver Hoxha, who had violently suppressed religion in Teresa’s native Albania. In 1975, after the imposition of emergency by Indira Gandhi, Mother Teresa infamously remarked, “People are happier. There are more jobs. There are no strikes.”
One particular incidence which casts a serious shadow on her allegedly impeccable character is her close relationship with Charles Keating, a Catholic himself, who was convicted of fraud, racketeering and conspiracy for his involvement in the Savings and Loan Scandal where customers were conned into purchasing worthless junk bonds. Keating had donated a sizable amount of money to Teresa in the 1980s and Teresa wrote on his behalf as he awaited sentencing, appealing for clemency. In reply, the prosecuting attorney, Paul Turner wrote to Teresa, “No church… should allow itself to be used as salve for the conscience of the criminal.” Further, he suggested that Mother Teresa return the money that was given to her by Keating as it was stolen from gullible victims. Paul Turner never received a reply to his letter, nor was the money returned.
One would have been willing to overlook Mother Teresa’s acquaintance with dictators and shady conmen and give her the benefit of the doubt if her work had genuinely benefited the poor and the downtrodden. But as it turns out, the whole mythology around her serving the poor and the helpless would have crumbled instantly if the media had only awarded her work the slightest bit of scrutiny. Perhaps the media had vested interests, perhaps there were actors behind the screen who ensured that the press never pursued her claims too harshly, but at the end of the day, it brings a bitter taste to the mouth that an angel has been made out of a woman who chose to further the cause of her religion at the expense of the misery of the poor.
Various volunteers at Teresa’s clinics, Mary Loudon and Susan Shields being prominent examples, noted the serious lack of amenities. Despite the millions of dollars of donations the Missionaries of Charity received, the clinics lacked in everything apart from the most fundamental necessities. The picture that emerges from the eyewitness accounts of volunteers and doctors such as Robin Fox of the Lancet is bleak at best and horrifying at its worst. No tests were performed to determine the ailments, patients suffering from terminal cancer and in terrible agony were provided with no painkillers apart from aspirin, hospital was out of question and needles were rinsed with tap water and reused without sterilization. As a result, occasionally, patients with illnesses they would normally recover from with adequate treatment became victims of gross negligence on the part of the organization.
All this information is perhaps too hard to believe but perhaps it would be wise to look at some words from her own mouth that might help us decipher the enigma that is Mother Teresa.
In her own words, “I think it is very beautiful for the poor to accept their lot, to share it with the passion of Christ. I think the world is being much helped by the suffering of the poor people.” If these words weren’t morbid enough, Mother Teresa once described AIDS as “just retribution for improper sexual conduct.“
In another bizarre incidence, Mother Teresa said to a man in excruciating pain dying of terminal cancer that he should consider himself fortunate: “You are suffering like Christ on the cross. So Jesus must be kissing you.” Befittingly, the man replied, “Then please tell him to stop kissing me.”
Mother Teresa also seems to have different set of rules for the elites with whom she needed to maintain a healthy social relationship and the ones to whom she preached. Commenting on Princess Diana’s divorce from Prince Charles, she remarked, “It is a good thing that it is over.” On the other hand, she campaigned against legal divorce in Ireland. Such duplicity would not be expected from a personality so revered.
As critics like Michael Hakeem put it, “Mother Teresa is thoroughly saturated with a primitive fundamentalist religious worldview that sees pain, hardship, and suffering as ennobling experiences and a beautiful expression of affiliation with Jesus Christ and his ordeal on the cross.”
By this time, if you are wondering about the miracle that led to the beatification of Mother Teresa, it should not be too much of a surprise to know that it is controversial to say the least. In 2002, the Vatican recognized a miracle in the name of Mother Teresa which involved the ‘miraculous’ cure of a tumor in the abdomen of an Indian woman, Monica Besra. Despite the insistence of the doctor and her husband that it was the prescribed medical treatment that had cured the patient. Dr. Ranjan Mustafi, the person who treated Besra, stated, “It was not a miracle. She took medicines for 9 months to a year.” According to Besra’s husband, “My wife was cured by doctors and not by any miracle.” The officials at the hospital where Besra was receiving treatment have claimed that the Catholic Church were pressurizing them to declare the cure a miracle.
The most damning indictment of Mother Teresa, however, came from the academics at the University of Montreal. After analyzing a vast amount of paper, Serge Larivée and Genevieve Chenard concluded that Mother Teresa was ‘anything but a saint’, with ‘her rather dubious way of caring for the sick, her questionable political contacts, her suspicious management of the enormous sums of money she received, and her overly dogmatic views regarding, in particular, abortion, contraception, and divorce.’
Quoting from the Montreal paper, ‘Mother Teresa was generous with her prayers but rather miserly with her foundation’s millions when it came to humanity’s suffering.’ Further, ‘During numerous floods in India or following the explosion of a pesticide plant in Bhopal, she offered numerous prayers and medallions of the Virgin Mary but no direct or monetary aid.’ And more, ‘On the other hand, she had no qualms about accepting the Legion of Honour and a grant from the Duvalier dictatorship in Haiti.’ According to the academics at Montreal, the only good thing that could have come about from the Mother Teresa sensation was inspiration for those genuinely dedicated towards serving the poor.
The goal of Mother Teresa was never charity, her goal was always serving her Church. No one would have objected if the poor had benefited from her service to the Church but that was quite obviously not the case. The goal it seems, for Mother Teresa, was always religious conversion. As those working for Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity have confirmed, patients were converted on the deathbed on the promise of a ‘ticket to heaven.’
Under ordinary circumstances, if we were told that Mohan Bhagwat of RSS and Christopher Hitchens were on the same side of an issue, we would assume the person was talking about a parallel universe where unicorns farted rainbows but on the issue of Mother Teresa, they are indeed of a similar mind. According to the chief of RSS, “It’s good to work for a cause with selfless intentions. But Mother Teresa’s work had ulterior motive, which was to convert the person who was being served to Christianity.” He further stated, “In the name of service, religious conversions were made . This was followed by other institutes, too.” Although controversial, these are established facts but our political leaders attacked the chief of RSS to pander to their votebanks and conveniently got away with it.
Mother Teresa was granted Sainthood by the Church and it’s a hallmark of our political leadership that the member of a Hindu Nationalist Leadership, Venkaiah Naidu against all conventional wisdom instead of highlighting the fraud that was Mother Teresa paid tributes to her on her birthday. Such an endorsement by a prominent ‘Hindu Nationalist’ betrays the works of the likes of Aroup Chatterjee who have done a lot to highlight the other side of Mother Teresa.
Aroup Chatterjee’s work deserves special mention as it lent a heavy influence on the documentary “Hell’s Angel” by Christopher Hitchens and Pakistani journalist Tariq Ali.
Christopher Hitchens once again summarized the Teresa phenomenon perfectly as only Hitchens could, “Everything everyone thinks they know about [Mother Teresa] is false. It must be the single most successful emotional con job of the twentieth century.”