Despite what critics say, she’ll always be a saint to many people. A living saint indeed—especially to the dying and the destitute—when she roamed this world. And today, almost two decades after her 1997 death, Mother Teresa is finally canonized by Pope Francis.
Born Agnes Bojaxhiu to an Albanian family in the former Yugoslavia republic of Macedonia, Mother Teresa won the world’s admiration and the 1979 Nobel Peace Prize for her lifetime devotion to the poorest of the poor, the abandoned, the sick, the outcasts of society particularly in Calcutta, India.
The Missionaries of Charity which she established in 1950 has more than 4500 religious sisters spread around the world. She came to the Philippines thrice starting in 1977 and her congregation runs an orphanage and home for the aged located in Tayuman, Tondo in Manila.
Mother Teresa’s lifetime of service to the poor and needy was a shining testament on how one can indeed leave everything behind to share the material poverty of the poor with an ever-present smile that made the downtrodden feel truly loved.
Yet behind her smile was inner turmoil. Unknown to the world while she was alive, Mother Teresa was tormented with the “tortures of hell” as she experienced a terrifying “dark night of the soul” when spiritual doubt and despair took hold of her for about 50 years.
“In my soul I feel just that terrible pain of loss,” Mother Teresa wrote in 1959, “of God not wanting me—of God not being God—of God not existing.”
Her shocking thoughts were revealed in a book, “Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light,” that came out in 2007 with some excerpts published in Time magazine. The book was based on her private journals and letters that came to light during her beatification.
"There is so much contradiction in my soul. Such deep longing for God, so deep that it is painful, a suffering continual, and yet not wanted by God, repulsed, empty, no faith, no love, no zeal," she said in a February 28, 1957 letter to Archbishop Ferdinand Perier. "Heaven means nothing, to me it looks like an empty place. The thought of it means nothing to me and yet this torturing longing for God."
Fr. Brian Kolodiejchuk, a Canadian priest who published the letters and campaigned for Mother Teresa's sainthood, explained that by canonizing her, Pope Francis “is recognizing that Mother Teresa not only shared the material poverty of the poor but the spiritual poverty of those who feel unloved, unwanted, uncared for."
"That was her experience in her relationship with Jesus," Kolodiejchuk stressed in an interview. "She understood very well when people would share their horror stories, their pain and suffering of being unloved, lonely. She would be able to share that empathy because she herself was experiencing it."
The revelations added fuel to criticisms particularly from Christopher Hitchens, a religious critic and polemicist, who called Mother Teresa a “fanatic, a fundamentalist, and a fraud,” arguing she “was not a friend of the poor” and that “even more will be poor and sick if her example is followed.”
“She was a friend of poverty. She said that suffering was a gift from God. She spent her life opposing the only known cure for poverty, which is the empowerment of women and the emancipation of them from a livestock version of compulsory reproduction,” Hitchens said as he hit Mother Teresa’s stand against abortion which she said is “the greatest destroyer of peace.”
And while critics claim her ever-present smile was to mask her doubts about God, Kolodiejchuk says Mother Teresa was no hypocrite. “You can be joyful even if you’re suffering because you are accepting, and you are working and acting with love that gives meaning to the suffering.”