Mother Teresa: Is She a Hero?

Mother Teresa’s canonization has invoked both dissent and praise.

September 4th, 2016, marked the canonization of Mother Teresa, a Christian icon. She is known globally for her devotion to serving the impoverished and underprivileged with projects such as the Order of the Missionaries of Charity in 1950. However, dissenters have spoken out against Mother Teresa’s new sainthood, beginning a bitter debate about the merits of her charitable work and legacy.

To be canonized, a candidate has to have demonstrated ‘heroic virtue’ while alive, and performed two miracles posthumously. Most miracles are medically related, called ‘healings,’ and are reviewed by the Vatican with both doctors and theologians. According to NPR, “In Mother Teresa’s case, a woman in India whose stomach tumor disappeared and a man in Brazil with brain abscesses who awoke from a coma both credited their dramatic recovery to prayers offered to the nun after her death in 1997.” With her two miracles acknowledged, Mother Teresa was officially eligible for canonization, though most of her followers already pictured her with a comparable holiness. However, when looking closely at the details, many find it easy to disagree.

After living in an Irish convent, the widespread poverty Mother Teresa witnessed in Calcutta led her to the found the organization, The Missionaries of Charity with the primary objective of looking after the neglected. Over time, she erected shelters through the charities in numerous countries and served the poor with a just and diligent spirit. This is the legacy she has been known for. However, some see in the details a problematic legacy that includes forced conversion of vulnerable patients and inadequate medical care.

Mother Teresa is famed for believing in suffering, claiming that “There is something beautiful in seeing the poor accept their lot, to suffer it like Christ’s Passion.” This belief concerns critics, who find that her appreciation of pain is an unsettling characteristic for a peace-worker and humanitarian.

Her saintly reputation was largely a result of her aiding Calcutta’s poorest, yet critics undercut it with persistent allegations of poor shelter maintenance, imposing religious evangelism in the institutions she founded and more. Some have argued that Mother Teresa is the quintessential white person expending her charity on the third world; her image is that of the white savior shining a light on the world’s poorest brown people. Some even accuse her of working more towards a holy appearance than for social justice.

If she is being granted sainthood, Mother Teresa must be viewed not as an individual acting for her own benefit, but as a figurehead for the Church and her followers. Supporters of her canonization argue that one should judge based on the result of the saint’s actions rather than her motives. As long as Mother Teresa devoted herself to service, and truly helped a number of people along the way, it does not matter that she, for example, misused funds. At least Mother Teresa was attempting to combat poverty, no matter how effective her methods really were.

Although she may have personally struggled to feel God’s love and attention, Mother Teresa made sure that others had this special connection. If doing so meant promoting herself– something many people find conceited and alienating–her loyalty and devoutness moved her to do so. At the end of the day, she was helping people who would otherwise be helpless, even if doing so makes her appear to some as a white supremacist looking down on the colored. Her charity is a topic of great controversy, but it is undisputed that Mother Teresa positively influenced almost every life she touched. That is the work of a Saint. In the words of Pope Francis during Mother Teresa’s canonization, she is a “model of holiness.” Her legacy will be what she stood for and represented– not her motives or mode of operation–and that is hard work, kindness and generosity.

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