Several years ago, when I was just beginning to get tangled in the World Wide Web, I purchased a six-inch wooden cross that was purportedly blessed by Mother Teresa of Calcutta. I was still religious back then – and naïve in the ways of eBay – and I assumed the seller wouldn’t make such a claim were it not true.
I remember feeling as excited as a five-year-old on Christmas morning when the package appeared in my mailbox a week or so later. I could hardly believe that something hanging on my wall had been blessed by the most famous nun in the world, the founder of the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta, India.
At the time of her death in September of 1997, the Missionaries of Charity was operating 610 missions in 123 countries, including hospices and homes for people with HIV/AIDS, leprosy and tuberculosis, soup kitchens, children's and family counseling programs, orphanages and schools. Mother Teresa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 and India's highest civilian honor, the Bharat Ratna, in 1980, and St. Ronnie of Reagan gave her the Presidential Medal of Freedom at a White House ceremony in 1985.
Although my spiritual journey was subsequently sidetracked by Agnostic Atheism, I still thought highly of this wrinkled old woman with all the awards who seemed to care a lot about the least among us. So when I stumbled upon a Facebook group that trashes Mother Teresa, I was disappointed.
The group, STOP The Missionaries of Charity, exists to “hold Mother Teresa's charity accountable for their monumental medical negligence and financial fraud.” I’m not sure how a Facebook group holds anybody accountable for anything but it did provide this former fan with food for thought about the old woman whose photo once adorned my refrigerator and who supposedly kissed my cross.
- The group disapproves of the conditions in Mother Teresa’s orphanages and points to charges of gross neglect and physical and emotional abuse.
- Some group members are ticked off that she was “beatified” by Pope John Paul II following her death and given the title “Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.” (Beatification, the third of four steps leading to canonization in the Catholic Church, is the recognition of a person’s entrance into Heaven and “capacity to intercede on behalf of individuals who pray in his or her name.”) One of the prerequisites of beatification is the performance of a miracle and some say she failed to meet this criterion.
- Group members say many of Mother Teresa’s “houses” are “nothing more than hostels for nuns and priests in training who travel around the world spreading the dogma of their religion” and decry the alleged “extremely low standard of medicine practiced in the medical facilities operated by the Missionaries of Charity – no pain killers, syringes washed in cold water, a fatalistic attitude toward death and a strict regimen for the patients.”
- Someone even posted a video clip of noted author, intellectual and atheist Christopher Hitchens – no stranger to controversy himself – calling Mother Teresa a “fanatic, fundamentalist and fraud who was responsible for innumerable deaths and untold suffering and misery.”
In 1995, Hitchens – who once called this frail old woman the “Ghoul of Calcutta” – wrote a book entitled The Missionary Position in which he accused Mother Teresa of failing to treat people, particularly children, placed in her care and criticized her positions on contraception and abortion and her mission of encouraging the poor to embrace their poverty. (I haven’t read the book yet; I found the summary online.) He also criticized her for using donations to open convents in 150 countries rather than establishing the teaching hospital that donors assumed they were funding, and for accepting large donations from criminals like Charles Keating and Haiti’s Duvalier family, who tortured and murdered thousands.
I’m not sure what to believe. The sources and links found in the Facebook group don’t seem overwhelmingly credible. Hitchens is persuasive, if pompous, but he’s only one guy. I’m at the point in my life where heroes and heroines are in short supply and dwindling. For some reason, for whatever reason, I wish this particular bubble wouldn’t have been burst.
Six-inch wooden cross
Possibly blessed by controversial, beatified nun
$1 million or best offer
If interested, send e-mail to saddened former altar boy/lapsed Catholic at email@example.com.
Sources: CNN, STOP the Missionaries of Charity, Dictionary.com.