If there is one word in the lexicon that comprises all forms of love; which is above all other words and can speak a thousand words with a mere pronunciation then it is ‘Mother’ and when that powerful word is suffixed with Teresa, then the first picture that comes to our mind is that of a wrinkled-face nun with her head covered in a white saree with blue border.
But the journey from Mother Teresa to Saint Teresa has not been an easy one. The Saint from Kolkata has been criticised widely for being a sinner and for her hypocrisy but her fans and supporters have been equally vocal about her goodness and her service to the poor and the needy.
From being called a fake to being pelted stones at, subjected to tests and even abused, Mother Teresa underwent all sorts of cruelty but continued to surge ahead with her practical assistance for the poorest of the poor.
Gonxha (Agnus) Bojaxhiu, or fondly remembered as Mother Teresa and now Saint Teresa, was born in Albania on August 28, 1910 and stayed there until old enough when she shifted to India and joined the Loreto order and continued teaching for 19 years. It is so said that God sent her a message to give up her life for the service of the poor and thus young Agnus started the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta and later came to be known as Sister Teresa.
She created a home for the dying in a Hindu temple which enraged the Hindus and they went to the extent of pelting stones at her. It was then that Teresa performed a Hindu ritual and sprinkled the holy water of Ganges on the lips of the dying man as a Hindu ritual to pacify the enraged people. Ever since that incident, tens and thousands visited Sister Teresa and her reverence as the “living saint” slowly gained pace.
Concentrating on the homeless, poor, destitute and dying people of India, Teresa first learnt nursing in Patna and later returned to Calcutta to start her order of nuns or the Missionaries of Charity.
Among several criticisms, the accolades slowly started to pour in and the Bengal government gave her a place first in a portion of the Kalighat temple in Calcutta and later a 34-acre land near Asansol to expand her service to the poor and dying.
Her likes gradually joined her and they too, like her, denounced their lives to the service of the needy. In 1965, Pope Paul VI placed the Missionaries of Charity directly under the papacy and asked Mother Teresa to expand her works beyond the boundaries of India.
Later in the years, Mother Teresa won several awards, which we all know, like the Padmashree, Peace Prize and Nobel among others.
She believed that: “If you judge people, you have no time to love them”, and this kept her focused. On September 5, 1997, the world lost its Mother, who was no less than a messiah for the poor.
But all these are stories of her greatness that had formed nothing more than a ground for her to be revered as a great person who had left the worldly pleasures for the service of the needy.
However, her journey to be conferred upon with Sainthood is a completely different story. It is pertinent to remember that a person’s greatness is a compilation of his/ her great deeds while ‘alive’ but there is a mountain of difference between a ‘great person’ and a ‘Saint’.
Remember, the road to Sainthood is an outright intangible path as the first and foremost prerequisite for being conferred upon with this honour is two firstly posthumous and secondly proven miracles.
There are hundreds, if not thousands of cases pending with the Vatican for Sainthood to be conferred upon and Mother Teresa’s case itself took 19 years for a lone reason-proof.
Merely stating that a dead person has done some miracle from the heavens above is not enough for Sainthood to be bestowed upon the person. There has to be a proof that the miracles did not take place under the influence of anything else other than ‘miracle’.
In Mother Teresa’s case too, it took two miracles and their confirmations as proven miracles for the Vatican to finally call her Saint Teresa.
In 1998, a year after Mother Teresa left for heavenly abode, a Tribal woman of eastern India’s Dhulinakod, Monica Besra, was suffering from an abdominal tumour which, as reported, even after being under medication for nine to 12 months, could not be cured.
It is said that the nuns of Missionaries of Charity took her to a hospital in Siliguri where the doctors said that if operated, Besra’s chances of living would be almost negligible.
Having lost all hopes and in complete despair, Monica and her family had almost believed that the mother of five would not live any more. But it was until September 4, 1998, when Mother’s intercession cured ailing Besra of her tumour that the road was paved for her beatification.
On September 4, a day before the first death anniversary of Mother Teresa, a few nuns literally helped Besra on her feet and took her to a church to offer prayers for her. It is reported that Besra was so ill that she could not even walk.
On entering the church and walking past a picture of Mother Teresa, Besra felt a “blinding light” emanating from the photograph that engulfed her and passed through her which almost made her faint. At once, said Besra later on several accounts, she knew Mother Teresa would cure her.
The nuns lay her on a bed and kept a locket having Mother Teresa’s photograph on her protruding tumour-filled stomach and prayed to Mother for her immediate recovery.
It is said that Besra earlier could not sleep throughout the night for many days because of her pain. But that night, she had a sound sleep. She woke up at around 1 am and to much of her surprise, she felt cured. Her stomach was flat and Besra could walk up to the bathroom without help.
In was Mother Teresa’s divine intervention that cured Besra is what the 50-year-old woman still believes. Later taken to a doctor for the confirmation, the sisters too were surprised at her miraculous recovery. But this story was just that of a miracle and not a proven one.
It is said that Roman Catholic authorities embrace the idea of miracles from heaven with such confidence that they invite sceptics to challenge them. Before candidates qualify for Sainthood, the miracles attributed to them must be proven.
If someone is suddenly healed after praying to a would-be saint, the Vatican has doctors verify that there is no medical reason behind it.
The same was done in Besra’s case. A team of sceptics was sent to confirm it from doctors treating her and to much of their despair, the doctors stuck to the version of medical healing.
Dr Ranjan Kumar Mustafi of Balurghat hospital, who was Besra’s doctor, said that she was cured only after medication for Tuberculosis and that the talks of miracles are “nonsense”.
However, Catholic Bishop Salvatore Lobo, who chaired the local committee that investigated Besra’s case for the Vatican, said they repeatedly asked Mustafi and the two others to testify, but they never appeared.
Meanwhile, he said, several other doctors involved in her treatment confirmed Besra’s version of events which paved way for Mother’s beatification. In 2003, Besra was flown to Vatican for Mother’s beatification but according to the Catholic law, another miracle after the date of beatification was still required as the confirmation for the Sainthood of Mother Teresa.
Though Pope John Paul II was eager to wrap up the Sainthood on Mother, his health did not permit him to stay alive until the next one was confirmed.
However, the second miracle did not take much time. In 2008, a Brazilian man Marcilio Haddad Andrino, who is what the Italians call the miracolato — the person who experienced a miracle attributed to the saint’s intercession, in this case a miraculous recovery from brain abscesses.
The recovery occurred after his wife, Fernanda Nascimento Rocha, prayed to Mother Teresa for help as she watched her husband clinging to life.
Marcilio was long ailing with brain abscesses and doctors had said that an operation would not help him out or he may not be able to survive. But the family’s constant faith in Mother Teresa led to Marcilio’s cure and the final confirmation about Mother’s saintly capabilities.
Marcilio was sick for two years before it was discovered he had eight brain abscesses. He and his wife asked for the intercession of Mother Teresa. They placed a relic of her on his head and prayed together. At the time, he did not even believe miracles were possible.
On December 9, 2008, Marcilio woke up with a headache. His doctors recommended an emergency surgery. He was rushed to an intensive care unit.
But when he was wheeled into the operating room, a miracle occurred. He told doctors he felt an overwhelming sense of peace. The headache went away and the doctors decided to wait until the next day for the surgery.
A scan the next day revealed he was cured. His abscesses were receding and the fluid in his brain was going away. Within three days he was totally cured and did not even show scars on his brain from the abscesses. The sudden cure cannot be explained by any means except a miracle.
The Vatican, however, got this confirmed as well and Marcilio had to appear before a Tribunal to confirm that it was Mother Teresa’s intercession that cured him and no medicinal help.
These two cases of proven miracles led Pope Francis to confirm Mother Teresa’s Sainthood in December 2015 and on Sunday the Mother of the world was forever conferred upon Sainthood.
It is said that an atheist is a person who sees things and then says it is untrue. Similarly, while some people may not agree to Mother Teresa’s saintly capabilities, it rests upon the people who believe in miracles and Godly presence on Earth to keep alive that belief.
But Mother Teresa was there for all including non-believers and served them until her demise. Though a saint now, as the Vatican conferred upon her the title, Gonxha (Agnus) Bojaxhiu will always be remembered fondly as Mother Teresa, at least in India and particularly in Kolkata.
Changes in the Canon Law
Earlier, there was no formal need of confirmed miracles for Sainthood to be conferred upon a person or so to say a martyr.
Under the 1917 Code of Canon Law, two, three or four miracles were required for a person’s canonisation.
In 1983, Pope John Paul II reduced the required number of miracles to two, i.e. one for the beatification and the other for the final canonisation.