ARTICLES ON MOTHER TERESA

"Touch the Poor" published in India Today Magazine on September 15, 1997

"Touch the Poor..."

Navin Chawla with Mother Teresa

Mother Teresa, once described as a 'religious imperialist' and more commonly regarded as a 'saint', was at many levels a very ordinary woman, yet someone who has led one of the most extraordinary lives of this century. Armed only with an abundance of faith, she proceeded a small step at a time; today she has established a multinational organisation in over 120 countries that serves 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 is 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 right-wing conspiracy and, worse, the principal mouthpiece of the Vatican's well-known views against abortion. Interestingly, such criticism has gone largely unnoticed in Hindu-dominated India, where she is 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." Hers remains the only charitable organisation that explicitly forbids fund-raising. "I do convert," she once said to me when she was accused of converting Hindus to Catholicism. "I convert you to become a better Hindu or Muslim or Buddhist or Protestant. When you have found God, it is up to you to do with him what you wish."

Mother Teresa was the youngest of three children. Her Albanian father died in mysterious circumstances when she was seven; from her mother, who struggled to rear the three children, she imbibed her deep faith, her charitableness, a fierce determination and even a sense of frugality. Inspired by the accounts of a group of Yugoslav Jesuits, she decided at 18 to join the Loreto Order of nuns then serving in the field of education in India.

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