Mother Teresa worked with the poorest of the poor giving them hope Photograph: (Getty)
Beyond the confines of the church, she touched the lives of the neediest among us
It was early evening and we were interviewing the Archbishop of Kolkata (erstwhile Calcutta) about Mother Teresa. He told us that he has ordered an exorcism, as he believed Mother Teresa had been possessed by Satan. She was in a hospital at the time and was suffering from a condition of the heart. When he entered her room, she was screaming. He got out and called Father Rosario Storcio to visit the hospital where the Mother was housed and exorcised her.
In Christianity, it is believed that spirit can possess you. To drive out the evil spirit, the afflicted needs to seek help from an exorcist who is often a member of the church and is considered to be graced with special powers or skills. Christian exorcists most commonly believe the authority given to them by the Trinity (Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit) is the source of their ability to cast out demons.
Generally, people considered being possessed are not regarded as evil themselves; they are not held responsible for their actions because they are after all being unwillingly manipulated by evil spirits. A possessed person not only causes harm to others but hurts one’s own self too.
Thus, exorcism in the religious circle is widely considered as a cure rather than a punishment. A priest needs to perform the act after careful deliberation on the nature of the affliction.
Once, we had finished meeting Father Rossario, we realized that to understand the story completely we would have to meet the woman who had received the so-called miracle.
We made our way to meet the doctor in Siliguri and then the Monica Besra who has received the miracle. She described how a football-sized tumor had vanished from her stomach. Dr. Bhattacharya who was a renowned doctor certified that it had really happened. He said he was quite surprised at seeing what he described as a miracle.
The other miracle came from Brazil. In December 2008, Marcilio Haddad Andrino was in a coma from a viral brain infection. He needed an operation and was fighting for his life. Just before the operation, Andrino’s wife visited the Parish of Our Lady of Aparecida in Sao Vicente, asking for help. She was given a medal along with a prayer of Mother Teresa.
Next morning, according to the official version of the incident, Adrion was completely free from his symptoms. In fact, he was feeling well enough to sit on his bed.
Fernanda, Andrino’s wife, has no doubt that it was a miracle; Mother Teresa indeed cured her very sick husband. Along with Andrino’s family and doctors, Pope Francis had no hesitation in declaring the incident as miracle too.
That was the final step needed to declare Mother Teresa a saint.
Aside from the miracles performed by the nun who settled down in Kolkata, a poverty-ridden Third World city, Mother carried out immense humanitarian work both for people of the city and worldwide. When asked why she chose to do what she did, her answer was simple: she received “the call within the call”. She was already dedicated to the work of God but she needed to take it beyond the confines of the church so that she could touch the life of the neediest among us.
Her initial days of service outside the official fold of the church were fraught with difficulties. Evidently, she had no money and had to beg for food and supplies. But notwithstanding all the temptations to give up, she stood there like a rock, struggling against all odds. The efforts bore fruit eventually in 1950 when she founded the Missionaries of Charity. A Roman Catholic religious congregation, it consists of 4,500 sisters who run homes for people dying of HIV/AIDS, leprosy and tuberculosis.
They run soup kitchens for people too poor to purchase their daily victuals; dispensaries and mobile clinics set by them provide much needed medical treatment to people who cannot afford proper medical attention. The orphanages run by the Missionaries of Charity open their shelter for any children abandoned by their families. They raise these kids wrapped in love till someone adopts them and gives them a family.
All members of Missionaries of Charity take a vow of chastity, poverty, and obedience. But the most important of the vow they take is one of giving “wholehearted free service to the poorest of the poor”.
Charity has no religion
Religious conversions are a big issue in India. It has been said that Mother Teresa was part of the missionary and her primary role here was to proselytize. But Mother Teresa’s work was beyond that. Her work with the lepers stood out. She worked with the poorest of the poor giving them hope. Her achievement of sainthood is a celebration of somebody who went above and beyond to work for the marginalised.
I only met Mother Teresa once when I was a fourteen-year-old but through her work over the years, I have seen the impact she has had on many. If we were to all learn from her and just help change the state of people who needed the help, we would live in a much happier world.