In September 1997, an iconic figure for many of the world’s faithful passed away in Koltata India. Popularly familiar to most as the “Blessed Teresa of Calcutta,” Mother Teresa’s enduring legacy continues to draw inspiration for many who see her as an embodiment of grace and humility, as well as the epitome of courage, devotion, and goodwill. Her cause led her from her birthplace Macedonia to travel to some of the most downtrodden pockets of the world, earning her many honors and accolades, including the Nobel Peace Prize.
Born in Skopje, Macedonia, in 1910, young Mother Teresa (originally Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu) was raised in a devout Catholic family. In 1929, at the age of 18, she joined the sisters of Loreto as a missionary and traveled to India.
In the 1950’s, she inaugurated the Missionaries of Charity, a Catholic religious congregation dedicated to serving and securing the lives of the needy. Active in more than 130 countries around the world, the congregation was founded with the permission of the Pope, with the explicit purpose of providing for the destitute, the forsaken, and the downtrodden of the world. By 1997, about the time of her death, her stature as a committed international humanitarian had assumed iconic proportions. There were 4,000 Missionaries of Charity and 610 foundations in 123 countries on all seven continents.
On October 19, 2003 Pope John Paul II beatified Mother Teresa a few years following her death. It was at that point when many had imagined that Mother Teresa will soon be named a saint of the Catholic Church, marking her beatification as one of the more significant strides towards her road to sainthood.
However, despite having continued to feature among the world’s most admired figures, Mother Teresa’s legacy is riddled with controversy. A key aspect of her beliefs had been the nature of suffering, hence the conviction that drove all her initiatives and motivated all her campaigns. She is believed to have viewed suffering rather positively or something which had to be endured as destined. This rather controversial perspective attracted a great deal of censure from critics, who went to suggest that the stance may have led to the charity’s evident operational inadequacies.
Apart from having provoked the ire of critics for the lack of facilities, there had also been enormous controversy around her purported posture on civil liberties, as well as perceived lack of transparency on the funding of many of her missionary projects from time to time. Some of her harshest critics had also suspected the veracity of the statistics underlining her missionary work in India. Last but not least, her charities have also been viewed as being driven essentially by a zealous yearning for religious conversion more than anything else.
When Mother Teresa received a Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, many of her critics had vociferously questioned the announcement, exhibiting mixed opinions on her candidacy. However, last year, Pope Francis had recognized a second miracle attributed to Mother Teresa, paving the course for the her to be declared a saint. Now Pope Francis has officially announced that she will be elevated to the illustrious rank of a saint as of September 4 this year. With that set to happen, the likelihood of her critics coming out once again and questioning her legitimacy remains strikingly high.
Meanwhile, in Kolkata, East India, where according to many of her advocates Mother Teresa spent most of her years striving hard for the welfare and benefit of the most deprived and the dispossessed in society, there were cheerful celebrations at a ceremony in a school and orphanage inaugurated by her in 1949.
[Photo by Eddie Adams/AP Images]