Mother Teresa will become a saint on Sept. 4th, Pope Francis announced Tuesday.
The announcement has been expected ever since December, when the Pope approved a second miracle attributed to Mother Teresa, and it will mark something of a centerpiece in Francis’s yearlong efforts to focus attention on the merciful nature of the Catholic church.
Many will celebrate this recognition of the work and life of Nobel Laureate Mother Teresa, but there are those who question the near-universal praise bestowed upon her.
“Mother Teresa's life was driven by a passion to build lives through forgiveness, healing, giving them respect and through making them true human beings in the image and likeness of God,” the archbishop of Ranchi, India, told the Vatican-affiliated AsiaNews.
Born in 1910 in what is now the Republic of Macedonia, Mother Teresa was famed for her foundation of the Order of the Missionaries of Charity, a group of Roman Catholic women dedicated to the destitute, particularly in India.
She left home to become a nun at the age of 18, spent 17 years teaching at a high school in Calcutta, and then received permission from her superiors in the convent school to go and work directly with the “poorest of the poor” in the slums.
At the time of her passing in 1997, Mother Teresa’s order consisted of hundreds of centers in more than 90 countries, with 4,000 nuns and hundreds of thousands of lay workers, and in her lifetime she was awarded numerous awards, none more famous than the Nobel Peace Prize, in 1979.
Yet even in her acceptance speech for this accolade, the revered nun courted controversy, offering her thoughts on the subject of Bosnian women who sought abortions after they were raped by Serbs:
“I feel the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a direct war, a direct killing – direct murder by the mother herself.”
The centers that she founded to care for the poor also drew criticism, described by some as unhygienic places where the sick went to find medical care, but found squalid conditions.
“Mother Teresa was not a friend of the poor. She was a friend of poverty. She said that suffering was a gift from God,” wrote Christopher Hitchens, perhaps her best-known detractor. “She spent her life opposing the only known cure for poverty, which is the empowerment of women and the emancipation of them from a livestock version of compulsory reproduction.”
Skepticism abounds regarding the veracity of the miracles attributed to Mother Teresa, as well as the way in which the first step towards sainthood, termed “beatification”, was fast-tracked after her death, waiving the normal five-year wait period.
A group of researchers from the University of Montreal and the University of Ottawa undertook exhaustive research in 2013 on the literature surrounding Mother Teresa, leading them to become increasingly skeptical and lament the lack of journalistic rigor surrounding the nun’s exploits.
Yet they also offered the following conclusion:
“If the extraordinary image of Mother Teresa conveyed in the collective imagination has encouraged humanitarian initiatives that are genuinely engaged with those crushed by poverty, we can only rejoice.
“It is likely that she has inspired many humanitarian workers whose actions have truly relieved the suffering of the destitute and addressed the causes of poverty and isolation without being extolled by the media.”