HARIRAMPUR, India -- Sitting in her mud house in eastern India, Monica Besra vividly recalls the “blinding light” emanating from Mother Teresa’s photo that she believes helped cure her cancer — one of the two recognized miracles that propelled the nun towards sainthood.
Besra, a tribal woman from West Bengal, became an overnight sensation in September 1998 when she claimed that a picture and a medallion of the world’s most famous Roman Catholic nun had cured her ovarian tumor.
“Two sisters carried me to the church since I was too weak to stand or walk by myself,” the 50-year-old told AFP at her tin-roofed home in Harirampur on Thursday.
Her village is some 400 kilometres (250 miles) from Kolkata, where Mother Teresa — who is set to be canonised on Sunday — devoted her life to helping the sick, the poor and the dying.
“As soon as I entered (the church), a blinding, divine light emitted from Mother’s photo and enveloped me. I closed my eyes, I couldn’t understand what was happening. It was indescribable, I felt faint,” the mother of five said.
On September 5, 1998 — exactly a year after Mother Teresa’s death — nuns placed a tiny aluminium medallion that had been blessed by the future Saint Teresa of Kolkata on Besra’s stomach and prayed for her.
She recounts how she awoke to go to the bathroom a few hours later, a walk usually too painful for her to carry out alone.
“I got up from my bed feeling so light and good. I looked down to see the giant lump had disappeared. I couldn’t believe it. I touched that part, poked it, pinched it. It was really gone. I wasn’t dreaming it,” said Besra, who still wears the medallion around her neck.
The next day she was proclaimed cured, a feat hailed by the Vatican as a miracle leading to Mother Teresa’s beatification — a crucial step on the path to sainthood — that took place in October 2003 in Rome, with Besra in attendance.
The Pope last year recognized a second miracle attributed to Mother Teresa — the 2008 recovery of a Brazilian man suffering from multiple brain tumors, paving the way for her canonisation by the Vatican.
Besra’s claim, however, is not without its detractors.
Doctors who treated her have said there was no evidence of a miracle and that her tumor, which was at an early stage, had responded to medicine.
“Besra was rid of her tumor with the help of very strong medicines and treatment for several days at Balurghat Hospital,” former West Bengal health minister Partho De told AFP in 2002.
“I mean no disrespect to Mother Teresa but it is stretching the truth to say that it was a miracle worked by her.”
Prabir Ghosh, general secretary of the Indian Rationalist and Scientific Thinking Association, has challenged her story from the outset.
“The miracles attributed to Mother Teresa for her sainthood are fictitious claims. There is no scientific evidence to prove the claims,” Ghosh told AFP in Kolkata.
“Missionaries of Charity (the nun’s order) has fudged facts to claim miracles to secure sainthood for the Roman Catholic nun.”
Missionaries of Charity has consistently declined to respond on the issue.
For her part, Besra, whose beliefs are not strictly in line with the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, remains unmoved by her critics.
She maintains that Mother Teresa “performs miracles only for those who believe and I have always believed”.
Although her sainthood is only now being made official, Besra said she always considered the nun a saint with the power to heal.
“Her canonization is a wish come true,” she said.