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"The miracle of faith" published in The Hindu on August 26, 2007
Once described as a ‘religious imperialist’ and more commonly regarded as a saint, Mother Teresa was at many levels a very ordinary woman, yet someone who led one of the most extraordinary lives of her century. Armed only with an abundance of faith, she proceeded one small step at a time. By the time she passed away 10 years ago, she had established a multinational organisation in over 123 countries that served her special constituency of destitution: the aband oned, homeless, hungry, and dying. In the process, she became one of the world’s principal conscience keepers.
Although she herself remained staunchly 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 was largely unnoticed in India, where there has always been great reverence for holiness, and where people admired and respected her irrespective of her faith or their own.
My first meeting with Mother Teresa, in 1975, left the experience indelibly printed on my mind. That morning I had accompanied Delhi’s Lieutenant Governor, with whom I was then attached, to her home for the destitute. I was taken aback when I came face to face with her. She was smaller than I had imagined, dressed in a spotless, hand-woven sari that was neatly darned in several places. Her back even then was bent. I noticed that her feet were twisted and her hands were gnarled, testimony to her arduous life in the streets and slums.
Her words moved me profoundly. She spoke of simple things, of loving, caring and sharing. She seemed at many levels a very ordinary woman. Yet she was a powerful communicator and reached straight into the heart of those who were listening to her. Within a short while I realised that she was no different from those she served, for she and her Sisters seemed to be as poor as those surrounding us.