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"A Biographer’s Tribute" published in The Telegraph on August 25,2009
Navin B. Chawla looks back on his twenty- three-year-long association with Mother Teresa
Mother Teresa, with whom I had 23 years of association, was a multidimensional figure, both simple and complex at the same time. Mother Teresa’s work — indeed the continuing work of the Sisters and Brothers of the Missionaries of Charity — became possible because she saw in each person she ministered to a manifestation of her God. So, whether it was taking care of an abandoned infant on a Calcutta street, or a homeless destitute sleeping on a cold wintry night in a cardboard box under London’s Waterloo Bridge, or the hungry standing in silent queues in a Vatican Square, awaiting their only hot meal from Mother Teresa’sashram adjoining the papal audience chamber, all this could become possible only out of her deepest conviction that she was ministering to her God.
Mother Teresa, once described as a “religious imperialist” and more universally regarded as a saint, was at many levels a very ordinary woman, yet someone who led one of the most extraordinary lives of her century. Armed with an abundance of faith, she proceeded a small step at a time; by the time she passed away in 1997, she had established a multinational organization in 123 countries that served her special constituency of the homeless, destitute, hungry and dying. In the process, she became one of the world’s principal conscience keepers.
Although she herself remained fiercely Catholic, her brand of religion was not exclusive. Convinced that each person she ministered to was Christ in suffering, she reached out to people of all faiths. The very faith that sustained her infuriated her detractors who saw her as a symbol of a right-wing conspiracy and, worse, the principal mouthpiece of the Vatican’s well-known views against abortion. Interestingly, such criticism went largely unnoticed in India, where she was widely revered.
As her biographer, I confronted her with the stinging accusation that she accepted money for her work from some rather dubious characters. Her answer was concise: “I have never asked anybody for money. I take no salary, no government grant, no church assistance, nothing. But everyone has a right to give. I have no right to judge anybody. God alone has that right.” The Missionaries of Charity remains perhaps the only global charitable organization that explicitly forbids fund-raising.