Mother Teresa’s example continues to speak

Her official declaration as a saint simply confirmed what many already accepted in worldly terms

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 September, 2016, 12:14am
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 September, 2016, 12:14am

When Pope Francis officially declared Mother Teresa a saint in St Peter’s Square, he simply confirmed what many already accepted in worldly terms. Her love and care for the sick and the poor in the back streets of Calcutta inspired people to look up to her as a living saint regardless of faith or creed. Indeed, as Francis said, many people might have difficulty calling her saint instead of the spontaneous Mother Teresa.

Days after the sudden, accidental death of Diana, Princess of Wales sparked global mourning, the less unexpected passing of Mother Teresa 19 years ago received only a fraction of the media attention. Where some might see irony or distorted values, it was also appropriate in the sense that Mother Teresa continually and humbly reminded admirers her passing would have no effect on the Missionaries of Charity order that she founded. She was just the pencil, she said, guided by the hand of God. In any case, after Diana’s funeral heads of state and dignitaries also attended the funeral for the “living saint”.

How Mother Teresa rose above criticism to sainthood

Mother Teresa knew how to use her celebrity status to get her voice for the poor heard by the powerful. But her contacts with the high and mighty did not affect her simple life. For example, on the last of her regular visits to Hong Kong and the mission her order founded, she balked at an offer of a room at a five-star hotel, preferring to stay out of the spotlight at the mission.

Pope Francis opened the way for canonisation after recognising the second of two required miracles, in both cases recoveries from seemingly incurable illness attributed to Mother Teresa’s intercession. Like all “living saints”, she was not without detractors, including doctors and former volunteers who recalled poor sanitation and medical neglect in her order’s clinics and shelters. But as this newspaper said on her death, it is to ordinary people that her example continues to speak. Her simple message for Hong Kong resonates today: “In this beautiful rich city there should be more tender love and care.”