The nun who was loved and attacked

The nun who was loved and attacked

The nun who was loved and attacked

For those who revered her, Mother Teresa’s elevation to the Catholic sainthood on Sunday came not a moment too soon. The diminutive nun, whose journey from a corner of the Ottoman Empire to the slums of India made her one of the most famous women in the world, was regarded by many as a saint during her lifetime.

Those who knew her best describe her as someone who loved fun, chocolate and ice-cream. But there was another school of thought. Australian feminist Germaine Greer called her a “religious imperialist”, who preyed on the most vulnerable in the name of harvesting souls for Jesus.

And her most ferocious critic, British polemicist Christopher Hitchens, called her “a fanatic, a fundamentalist and a fraud”.  But St Teresa was always far more revered than reviled. Millions acclaimed her as an icon of Christian charity and a global symbol of anti-materialism and worthwhile self-sacrifice.

Her adopted homeland, India, took her to its heart. “It is natural for every Indian to take pride in Mother Teresa’s canonisation," Prime Minister Narendra Modi said earlier this week.

On her death in 1997, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II predicted Mother Teresa would “continue to live on in the hearts of all those who have been touched by her selfless love”.

The private St Teresa was a more complex personality than she appeared to the world. Behind her gaunt and wrinkled face lay a troubled soul. For long periods, she was plagued by doubts about the faith that drove her mission to provide comfort to the dying.
“There is so much contradiction in my soul,” she wrote to the Bishop of Calcutta in a posthumously published 1957 letter.

“Heaven means nothing to me, it looks like an empty place.” Two years later, Mother Teresa wrote to a priest friend saying: “If I ever become a saint, I will surely be one of darkness; I will continually be absent from heaven - to light the light of those in darkness on earth.”

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