St Teresa, a Mother for all

St Teresa, a Mother for all

The canonisation of Mother Teresa was a recognition of love and compassion, the greatest of all human virtues, as the dominating passion of her life and service to others as its driving force. She had, during her life time and later, been awarded all the high honours that the world had, including the Nobel Prize and the Bharat Ratna. She has been held as a saint by millions of people even before the Catholic church declared her a saint on Sunday. The status of a saint has a special significance in the church. Pope Francis declared her St Teresa of Calcutta after prayers to her were proved to have worked two miracles. The status recognises the agency of a human being to intercede with God for alleviation of pain and suffering in life on earth. But the theology of sainthood was not the concern of the vast humanity who felt her kind touch, had their lives transformed by her and looked up to her as an embodiment of the divine spirit.

The journey from Sister Teresa of Albania to Mother Teresa to St Teresa was one of love and fellow feeling that rose above the divisions of caste, creed, faith and race. She started her work among the poor, the sick and the unwanted in the gutters of Kolkata and moved to other places in India and the world. She reached out to the most neglected, the abandoned and the dying, and gave them dignity in life and for many, dignity in death. What began as individual humanitarian acts, became an institutional effort to render care to the poor and needy all over. The Missionaries of Charity which she founded consists of thousands of sisters now and is active in most countries. It runs hospices and homes for sick people, orphanages, dispensaries and mobile clinics, counselling centres and schools. The white saree with blue borders has become a sign of care and kindness.

Her work, style and words have been subjected to controversies. Her idea of social service has been criticised as religious. She has also been called a fundamentalist and a proselytiser and attacked for raising funds from sources which had no human rights credentials. She is considered to have supported the Emergency. Whether these are true or not, these will not be the standards by which she will be judged. She left behind a legacy that goes beyond these controversies and will be a source of inspiration. It is particularly important for our country where there is a great need for compassion and charity in social and individual lives.

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