But should she be?

The Myanmar Times - - The Pulse -

AS the Vat­i­can de­clared Mother Teresa a saint on Septem­ber 4, in the In­dian city where she rose to fame, claims of med­i­cal neg­li­gence and fi­nan­cial mis­man­age­ment at her care homes threaten to cloud her le­gacy.

Pope Fran­cis ap­proved the canon­i­sa­tion of the widely beloved Roman Catholic nun in De­cem­ber 2015, nearly two decades after she died in Kolkata, in whose teem­ing slums she de­voted her life to help­ing the des­ti­tute and the sick.

Yet crit­i­cisms of the soon-to-be Saint Teresa of Kolkata abound, with doc­tors and former vol­un­teers re­count­ing grim tales of poor san­i­ta­tion, med­i­cal ne­glect and forced con­ver­sions of the dy­ing.

Born Agnes Gonxha Bo­jax­hiu to Al­ba­nian par­ents in what is now Mace­do­nia, her Mis­sion­ar­ies of Char­ity homes for the dy­ing earned her a No­bel Peace Prize and the so­bri­quet Saint of the Gut­ters.

“We feel that Mother Teresa’s el­e­va­tion to saint­hood would be a re­newed thrust to [her] char­i­ta­ble works,” Thomas D’Souza, the Arch­bishop of Kolkata, told AFP.

Like mil­lions of Catholics world­wide, Gau­tam Lewis is ex­cited to cel­e­brate the canon­i­sa­tion of the woman he calls his “sec­ond mother”, who res­cued the or­phan after he was struck with po­lio aged two.

“Mother Teresa used to carry me to church ev­ery Sun­day and she per­son­ally su­per­vised my treat­ment when I un­der­went surg­eries and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion to get rid of po­lio,” Lewis, now a pilot in Lon­don, told AFP. “I re­mem­ber feel­ing very safe and se­cure in her pres­ence,” said the 39-year-old, in Kolkata for cel­e­bra­tions of the nun.

Al­ready con­sid­ered a liv­ing saint by many, the hu­man­i­tar­ian’s path to canon­i­sa­tion was sealed after the Vat­i­can last year recog­nised the sec­ond of the two re­quired mir­a­cles, fol­low­ing her death.

A crit­i­cally ill Ben­gali tribal woman and a Brazil­ian man suf­fer­ing from mul­ti­ple brain tu­mours both cred­ited prayers to the de­ceased nun with sav­ing their lives. But Aroup Chat­ter­jee, a Bri­tish doc­tor born in the city for­merly known as Cal­cutta, said that “her whole em­pha­sis was prop­a­ga­tion of her faith at any cost”.

“To con­vert a dy­ing, un­con­scious per­son is very, very low be­hav­iour, very dis­gust­ing,” the 58-year-old author of a con­tro­ver­sial 2003 book on the nun said.

“Mother Teresa did that on an in­dus­trial ba­sis.” One of Mother Teresa’s most vo­cal crit­ics, the late Bri­tish-born author Christopher Hitchens, ac­cused her of ex­ac­er­bat­ing the plight of the poor with her staunch op­po­si­tion to con­tra­cep­tion and abor­tion.

The fa­mous athe­ist, who made a provoca­tive film about the nun called Hell’s An­gel in 1994, said she de­nied ba­sic care to pa­tients out of a be­lief that suf­fer­ing brought them closer to God. “I think it is very beau­ti­ful for the poor to ac­cept their lot, to share it with the pas­sion of Christ,” Hitchens quoted her as say­ing in 1981, in his book The Mis­sion­ary Po­si­tion.

Some former vol­un­teers say her or­der glo­ri­fies pain and poverty and ac­cuse it of de­liv­er­ing bare-bones care, de­spite re­ceiv­ing mil­lions of dol­lars in do­na­tions.

Hem­ley Gon­za­lez, who started his own NGO in Kolkata as a re­sponse to the al­leged de­fi­cien­cies he wit­nessed when vol­un­teer­ing at Mis­sion­ar­ies of Char­ity eight years ago, calls it “a mod­ern-day cult”. Nuns washed nee­dles with tap wa­ter be­fore reusing them, he said, and scolded him for giv­ing ter­mi­nal pa­tients hair­cuts be­cause they were go­ing to die any­way.

“Right un­der the eyes of ev­ery­one ... they’re get­ting away with med­i­cal neg­li­gence,” Gon­za­lez said.

S Bed­ford, a jour­nal­ist who spent two months vol­un­teer­ing at the home in Kolkata, re­called grim san­i­tary con­di­tions.

“The squat-style toi­lets were in a nar­row room slick with wa­ter, urine and fae­ces ... [Many had] to crawl through the mess,” she wrote in a 2014 ar­ti­cle. Mis­sion­ar­ies of Char­ity has vastly ex­panded since Mother Teresa’s death, and now has 758 cen­tres in 139 coun­tries staffed by more than 5000 nuns. Yet the or­der re­mains opaque, de­clin­ing to pub­lish its fund­ing sources or ac­counts, a stance which has elicited sus­pi­cion over its man­age­ment of al­legedly vast sums.

“What busi­ness is it of any­body’s what we do with the money? Why should we ex­pose our own ac­counts to others? Mother Teresa’s fo­cus was not to build five-star hos­pi­tals - it was to pro­vide for the poor,” said Su­nita Ku­mar, a spokesper­son for Mis­sion­ar­ies.

While she re­mains a po­lar­is­ing fig­ure, the nuns car­ry­ing on her life’s work in Kolkata be­lieve the flow of do­na­tions and vol­un­teers is proof of higher as­sent.

“Mother Teresa be­lieved that it is God’s work and God will take care of ev­ery­thing,” Sis­ter Mary Lysa said.

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