Sunday, October 12, 2008

Mother Teresa

Ms Agnes Bojaxhiu, better known as Mother Teresa, needs no introduction. But her epitaph would be more informed if some excerpts from Christopher Hitchens' The Missionary Position were to be included.

... I began the project of judging Mother Teresa's reputation by her actions and words rather than her actions and words by her reputation.

For just one example, Ms Bojaxhiu's charitable organization was the recipient of 1.25 million dollars (of other people's money) in charity from a convicted fraudster, Charles Keating. She wrote a letter to the judge presiding over his trial, and I quote:
I do not know anything about Mr. Charles Keating's work or his business or the matters you are dealing with.

I only know that he has always been kind and generous to God's poor, and always ready to help whenever there was a need.


Whenever someone asks me to speak to a judge, I always tell them the same thing. I ask them to pray, to look into their heart, and to do what Jesus would do in that circumstance. And this is what I am asking of you, your Honor.

The reply from one of the prosecutors is perhaps more interesting:

You urge Judge Ito to look into his heart - as he sentences Charles Keating - and do what Jesus would do. I submit the same challenge to you. Ask yourself what Jesus would do if he were given the fruits of a crime; what Jesus would do if he were in possession of money that had been stolen; what Jesus would do if he were being exploited by a thief to ease his conscience?

I submit that Jesus would promptly and unhesitatingly return the stolen property to its rightful owners. You should do the same. You have been given money by Mr. Keating that he has been convicted of stealing by fraud. Do not permit him the `indulgence' he desires. Do not keep the money. Return it to those who worked for it and earned it!

If you contact me I will put you in direct contact with the rightful owners of the property now in your possession.

Ms Bojaxhiu did not reply to this or return the money.

Another excerpt sheds light on the way her organization refused strong analgesics to terminally ill patients:

She described a person who was in the last agonies of cancer and suffering unbearable pain. With a smile, Mother Teresa told the camera what she told this terminal patient: `You are suffering like Christ on the cross. So Jesus must be kissing you.' Unconscious of the account to which this irony might be charged, she then told of the sufferer's reply: `Then please tell him to stop kissing me.' There are many people in the direst need and pain who have had cause to wish, in their own extremity, that Mother Teresa was less free with her own metaphysical caresses and a little more attentive to actual suffering.

On a side note, Raghu Rai, a noted photographer from India has eulogized Mother Teresa in a photo-book named Mère Teresa (Mère means Mother in Italian) with enough pictures of her wizened face, and her reputed humility and compassion, though it is an interesting question as to why a humble person would allow her humility to be marketed in photo books.

A picture may say a thousand words, but sometimes, a researched footnote is infinitely more useful than a long poem.

(Mother Teresa holding hands with one of the most corrupt women of the twentieth century, Michele Duvalier. Mother Teresa received the Legion of Honor for her visit. She never denounced the Duvalier regime or its corruption and atrocities, or returned the award.)


Surbhi said...

Religion driven charities are always questionable! as i read your post and the reference to suffering and being close to Jesus, i was reminded of some of the poems written by William Blake where he highlights how religion/social institutions like parenthood and government are actually justifying exploitation of blacks, bonded labourers, little children as chimney sweepers, by giving a similar reason: their suffering takes them closer to God. ..
"the horse rider has changed, the whip remains the same.."

Anonymous said...

We all know that Mother Teresa's motivation behind her action was to convert people to christianity. Along with food she give bible to the poor. Helping poor is off course a good deed, but it should be universal. Next to bengal was bangladesh where living condition of the people were as a bad as bengal. But Teresa's helping hand didn't reach there. Like Jesus she also was feared about her life, and didn't try to convert any muslims there.