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Vatican prepares to canonize Mother Teresa: Why now?

Mother Teresa, known for her legacy of helping the 'poorest of the poor,' is slated to be named a saint on Sunday. But some say the time isn't right.

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    Pope John Paul II, right, holds his arm around Mother Teresa as they ride in the popemobile outside the Home of the Dying in Calcutta, India in this February 1986 photo.
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Mother Teresa, the nun known for helping the "poorest of the poor," is scheduled to officially enter into sainthood on Sunday when she is canonized by Pope Francis. 

But the woman who won a Nobel Peace Prize for her work around the world was, internally, not as joyful and optimistic as most believed her to be. For nearly 50 years, Mother Teresa experienced what the church calls a "dark night of the soul": a period of spiritual doubt, characterized by such loneliness and unhappiness that she believed she was experiencing the "tortures of hell" and found herself unable to pray. Those feeling came to light in letters made public in a 2007 book, "Come Be My Light."

The secret despair of Mother Teresa – combined with allegations from critics that the institutions she founded misused funds, had poor medical care, and practiced religious evangelism – makes her canonization more controversial than most. Some argue that the time isn't right, as her weaknesses are still fresh in people's minds. But others say these imperfections are exactly why Mother Teresa should be made into a saint. 

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"In the past the church allowed decades, even centuries, to pass before declaring someone a saint," writes Paul Vallely, author of "Pope Francis: Untying the Knots – The Struggle for the Soul of Catholicism," in an opinion piece for The Guardian. "With the passing of time a candidate's foibles and weaknesses faded from common memory, leaving only their towering heroic virtue in the general mind."

But the canonization process has accelerated in recent years, following a new standard set by Pope John Paul II. And Mother Teresa's track to sainthood was especially quick: "The first step towards sainthood, termed 'beatification', was fast-tracked after her death, waiving the normal five-year wait period," the Christian Science Monitor's Jason Thomson reported in March. 

Mr. Vallely writes that the trend of accelerating the process is a "serious mistake." 

"Mother Teresa may merit sainthood, but that is a judgment it would be better to make a century from now," he says. 

Others argue that Pope Francis's canonization of Mother Teresa is in part because of her flaws, not despite them. The move deliberately sends a message that nobody is perfect; even saints can suffer or feel unloved by God, says Ines Angeli Murzaku, a professor of church history at Seton Hall University in New Jersey.

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"That existential periphery which is suffering and being marginalized, he wants to bring that to the attention of the world," Dr. Murzaku told the Associated Press. Mother Teresa, she added, "is so real. She's not remote. She's not a perfect, perfect saint." 

This report contains material from the Associated Press. 

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