MADRAS, India — In a time of harrowing sectarian strife, the Vatican has shown that there is an ocean of compassion and tolerance in the highest form of faith.
Pope John Paul II recently announced that Mother Teresa would be beatified in a ceremony in Rome on Oct. 19. Although a miracle was credited to her intercession, her lifetime work had more to do with humanity than Christianity.
Admittedly, the miracle involved an element of Christian belief: a young Indian woman, Monica Besra, was miraculously cured of her stomach tumor when an image of Mother Teresa was placed on her abdomen. A team of doctors consulted by the Vatican ruled that there was no medical or scientific explanation for the woman’s recovery.
Miracles are a prerequisite for attaining sainthood, and in this case the marvel was undoubtedly brought about by a Christian belief.
Yet no one can deny that the Vatican would have beatified Mother Teresa even if no such spectacle had been ascribed to her.
Born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu in Macedonia in 1910, Mother Teresa joined the Loreto Order of Nuns in 1928. In 1946, when she was traveling by train from Calcutta to Darjeeling, she heard the “voice of God,” which inspired her to found the Missionaries of Charity in 1948.
That journey “was the most important in my life,” Mother Teresa once said. “It was then that I really heard God’s voice. It was an order, a duty, an absolute certainty. His message was clear: Help the poorest of the poor and live with them.”
In 1952 she established the Home for the Dying Destitutes in Calcutta’s Kali Temple. The Vatican is never known to have even murmured a note of protest over a Christian nun opening a shelter in a Hindu temple.
The home has since provided solace to thousands of desperately ill men, women and children. Some who survived have said: “At the home, we all felt the healing touch of human and divine love. We could feel that we were also children of God.”
Even more remarkable, Mother Teresa and her Sisters never attempted to convert any person to Christianity, and they never differentiated between a Christian and a non-Christian when they went about offering refuge to the desperately needy.
Mother Teresa, who died in 1997, established several other institutions — for orphaned children, AIDS victims and so on — but it was her Home for the Dying Destitutes that attracted the most sympathy and funding.
Mother Teresa faced her share of criticism, but her devotion to those ailing and impaired, her love for her fellow human beings, and her empathy for the downtrodden masses placed her high above every accusing finger.
The Vatican, despite being a Christian body, has recognized this aspect of Mother Teresa’s work, which was carried out with no religious strings attached and serves as a shining example of what a pure religion ought to be.
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