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Shadows and Light on Mother Teresa

September 09, 2016

While we recognize what is admirable in Mother Teresa's life, we cannot ignore the grave ecumenical ambiguities that filled her beliefs and work:

The canonization Mass for Mother Teresa of Calcutta (1910-1997) was celebrated on Sunday, September 4, 2016, in St. Peter’s Square in the presence of 120,000 people, a dozen official delegates and 600 journalists, and broadcasted live by 120 television channels throughout the world.

In his homily, Pope Francis presented Mother Teresa as a “generous dispenser of divine mercy”. He explained that her mission to the “peripheries remains for us today an eloquent witness to God’s closeness to the poorest of the poor.” The sovereign pontiff encouraged the “whole world of volunteers” to follow the example of this “emblematic figure of womanhood and of consecrated life”: “may she be your model of holiness!” he exhorted them.

Her Life

Gonxha (Agnes) Bojaxhiu was born on August 26, 1910, in Skopje, today the Republic of Macedonia, to Catholic parents. At the age of eighteen, driven by the desire to become a missionary, Gonxha left her family in September 1928 to enter the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (the Sisters of Our Lady of Loretto), in Ireland. In this missionary congregation with a Jesuit spirituality, she received the name of Sister Mary Teresa (for St. Therese of the Child Jesus). She was sent to India and arrived in Calcutta on January 6, 1929. After her first vows on May 25, 1931, Sr. Teresa began teaching the young girls at St. Mary’s School. On May 24, 1937, she made her perpetual vows and became “Mother Teresa.”

Upon hearing an inner call in 1946 to found the Congregation of the Missionaries of Charity for the most destitute, she donned the white, blue-bordered sari on August 17, 1948. After being formed by the Sisters of the Medical Mission in Patna, Mother Teresa returned to Calcutta where she was lodged by the Little Sisters of the Poor. In December she visited the slums. After a few months, her former students began to join her one by one. On October 7, 1950, the new congregation of the Missionaries of Charity was officially established in the archdiocese of Calcutta to care for the most destitute, the dying, abandoned children and lepers. In the early 1960’s Mother Teresa began sending her sisters to other regions of India. The approval granted by Paul VI in February 1965 encouraged her to open a house in Venezuela, after which she founded houses in Rome, Tanzania and on all five continents. After 1980, Mother Teresa opened houses in the Communist countries, including Russia, Albania and Cuba. She founded the Missionary Brothers of Charity in 1963, the contemplative branch of Sisters in 1976, and Contemplative Brothers in 1979, and in 1984 the Missionaries of Charity Fathers. Mother Teresa died in Calcutta on September 5, 1997, at the age of 87.

Less than two years after her death, in view of Mother Teresa’s widespread reputation of holiness and the favors being reported, Pope John Paul II permitted the opening of her Cause of Canonization. On 20 December 2002 he approved the decrees of her heroic virtues and miracles,” published the Vatican.

On September 2, 2016, during a press conference at the Vatican, Fr. Brian Kolodiejchuk, postulator for Mother Teresa’s cause of beatification and canonization, declared:

[E]verywhere the saint went, she was a sign of mercy, and because she herself felt the need for God’s merciful tenderness, she went to confession often and regularly.”


Knowing everyone listened to her, Mother Teresa did not hesitate to use her notoriety to draw the world’s attention to moral and social matters. She called abortion the ‘greatest destroyer of peace’ during her acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979”,

wrote Jean-Marie Guénois in Le Figaro on September 4.

The foundress of the Missionaries of Charity was beatified by John Paul II on October 19, 2003, after the recognition of the miraculous character of the healing, on September 5, 1998, of a young 30-year-old Indian woman, Monica Bersa, who was suffering from an abdominal tumor. And that despite the fact that the miracle was contested by the Indian doctors. On December 17, 2015, Pope Francis approved the recognition of a second miracle attribute to the Blessed: the healing of Marcilio Haddad Andrino, a 35-year-old Brazilian who was suffering from multiple brain tumors. On March 15, Francis signed the decree for Mother Teresa’s canonization.

Ecumenical and Interreligious Ambiguities 

After Mother Teresa’s beatification, Nouvelles de Chrétienté in its November-December issue #84, published an article by Fr. Hervé Gresland, SSPX, under the title: Mother Teresa, an ambiguous beatification. After relating the life of Mother Teresa, the author suggested that she should “be judged – insofar as men can do so – for God alone can judge” “in the light of objective and public facts that cannot be silenced.”

We quote here a few extracts from the study established by Fr. Gresland.

John Paul II had a great admiration for Mother Teresa. He wanted the beatification process to be exceptionally quick: with a special dispensation from the Holy See, the process was opened as early as July 1999. And her beatification was in a way the pope’s gift to the Church for the 25th anniversary of his pontificate. Had the Curia not opposed the idea, he would have beatified and canonized her on the same day.

“The two were in perfect harmony of spirit, and defended a Catholicism that their adversaries considered ‘conservative’, especially in the moral domain. Mother Teresa said of abortion: ‘it is the most diabolical thing a human hand can do. Let us ask Our Lady to remove from the hearts of mothers this horrible desire to suppress the child they are carrying.’

“Anticlericals find her Christian vision of suffering and death intolerable. She comes across as a reactionary, and has little use for the progressivist priests who, in her eyes, are ashamed of their priesthood. For her, confession must play an essential role in the life of Christians. She said beautiful things on priesthood: priests, who are other Christs, must be holy priests. As far as the religious life and the notion of sin, etc., go, she answers innovators ironically and criticizes them. The progressivists reproach her for her ‘ancient’ theology and morals (on the theology of liberation, the role of laymen and women in the Church, contraception), and for taking the pope’s side.” (…)

“But it is when it comes to ecumenism that we must reproach her. She is typically conciliar: for her, faith is subjective; Catholicism is good for Catholics.

“She declared, speaking of the dying persons welcomed in her home: we give them what they want according to their faith. And Bishop Jean-Michel Di Falco said: ‘Mother Teresa wishes to help each person die according to his own religion. (…) For Catholics, priests are there to administer the last sacraments. For others, what counts is that they die at peace with themselves and with God. Mother Teresa, easily accused of ecumenism, did not wait for Vatican Council II to practice ecumenism and to lend an ear to non-Christian religions. And this behavior has not failed to earn her criticism from certain members of the clergy, who reproached her with neglecting her missionary function.’ (Bishop Jean-Michel Di Falco, Mère Teresa ou les miracles de la foi, Le Livre de Poche, 1997, p.98-99)”…

“To a journalist who asked her: ‘can your example convert?’ she only answered: ‘Oh, I hope I convert. But I do not mean that in the same way you do. What we try to do, what we all try to do by our work in serving people, is to grow closer to God. If, when face to face with God, we accept Him in our lives, then we convert, we become a better Hindu, a better Muslim, a better Catholic. What would be my approach? For me, of course, it would be the Catholic approach, for you it could be a Hindu approach, for someone else it could be a Buddhist approach. According to your own conscience, what God is in your mind, that is what you must accept.’ (Desmond Doig, Mother Teresa, her people and her work, William Collins, Glasgow, 1976; quoted by Mgr Fellay in Le Sel de la terre n°1, p.16) So she did not try to convert the poor people she helped…. a far cry from the great apostle of India, St. Francis Xavier.

“Mother Teresa did not baptize dying children. And it is the same today: in her houses orphan children are not baptized, which goes against Catholic principles.

“For the 25th anniversary of her congregation in October 1975, the members of all the religions practiced in Calcutta invited Mother Teresa to ceremonies celebrated in honor of this jubilee. During a very full week (from September 28 to October 7), she went to all the temples of the eighteen different religions to pray with them in their rites. Note that this was eleven years before the ‘summit’ of all the religions in Assisi.  (An account of this week written by a sister of her congregation published in the March 1976 issue of the newsletter Missi). (…)

“Mother Teresa was present at the great ecumenical reunion in Assisi on October 27, 1986. She even arrived late, and everyone turned to look at her when she came in. (…)

“We do not wish to deny the immense charity work of Mother Teresa, nor her sincere love for God and the Church. (…) But while we recognize what is admirable in such a life, and the lessons we can draw from it for ourselves, we cannot ignore the grave ecumenical ambiguities that filled Mother Teresa’s life, especially after Vatican Council II.”

Sources: apic/imedia/Vatican/radiovatican/lefigaro/NDC – DICI#340 Sept. 9, 2016