Mother Theresa: Her Journey to Your Heart |
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Date: 5 December, 2003
on the book cover above to purchase it and raise money for Christian Aid projects.
Image: Hodder & Stoughton
not that I wanted to read a shocking exposé of corruption and cruelty,
just a story about human beings. Just the truth.'
Reviewed by Steve
It seemed inevitable that when Mother Theresa
died, the world would stop what it was doing and doff its cap. For days, the media
would be full of it (and not just in the usual sense that the media is 'full of
it') - tributes and testimonies, biogs and obits, pictures and footage, world
leaders and religious celebs saluting the saint of the century.
short of an unexpected global nuclear war could prevent it - except for one thing:
dying within days of Princess Diana.
In a way, it seemed
outrageous that her passing should be so overlooked, the supersaint overshadowed
by the pseudosaint. But then such an untrumpeted exit is so exactly what Mother
Theresa would have chosen you could almost think she did choose it.
portrait of Mother Theresa that emerges from this biography by a close friend
is not just of a self-effacing woman, but of one who threw herself into the most
utter poverty and hardship, not just to serve the people of India but to suffer
alongside them. 'It made it easier for [her and her nuns] to know love and serve
the poor better.'
It also shows a surprisingly liberal
side to her, considering that she was by all accounts a fiercely conservative
Catholic, encouraging Hindus and Muslims to pray in their own way, and providing
the rituals that they might die according to their own traditions.
book tells the story of her fervently religious upbringing in Yugoslavia, her
calling to be a nun, and her 'call within a call' to devote herself to the poor
of India - to see every despised leper and dying beggar as her beloved Jesus and
to treat them accordingly. It tells of her struggles to establish the first hospice,
and how her little movement grew into a worldwide empire - though that's not a
word Mother Theresa or Mr Mundakel would use.
we run into the problem of the book: it is written so completely in praise of
Mother Theresa, and so completely accepting her own point of view, that it is
One niggling way in which
this is manifest is a tendency to sidestep the usual laws of cause and effect.
For example, when Mother Theresa asks one Father Van Exem to become her spiritual
father, he says that he does not want to. 'Nevertheless,' we are told, 'the impossible
became possible when God wanted it,' leaving us asking 'But how, precisely?'
seriously, the book is so relentlessly positive and adulatory that its portrait
is entirely in shades of white, and that goes for all Mother Theresa's associates
too. The only people in the book in whom we see any failing or weakness at all
are her Communist and Hindu opponents and others who stood in her way.
Theresa and her nuns are always full of joy and peace and perfect faith. A life
of servitude and squalor, on starvation rations, surrounded by death and desolation,
is a constant source of unalloyed happiness for all of them. 'None of them ever
complained,' we are told. 'There is immense joy in suffering for Jesus. It is
this joy that makes the sisters perpetually happy.'
of religious biography, including myself, are usually quick to assure potential
readers that their book is 'not hagiography', meaning that it is a warts-and-all
account of a flesh and blood person. Blessed Mother Theresa is hagiography all
the way. It's not that I wanted to read a shocking exposé of corruption
and cruelty, just a story about human beings. Just the truth.
Munkadel is entirely uncritical of Mother Theresa. Of course, one hardly expects
a friend and admirer to deliver a blistering indictment of everything she did
and stood for, but you would expect the writer of a serious biography to engage
with some of the serious criticisms made of her.
example, Mother Theresa has been accused in Christopher Hitchens's book The Missionary
Position, of soliciting hundreds of millions of pounds, only a small proportion
of which has been spent on the poor: 'the rest has simply been used for the greater
glory of her order and the building of dogmatic, religious institutions'. See
for more on this.
She is also accused of taking large
sums from known crooked financiers and supporting dictators. One would hope for
a biography to rebut such claims - or concede them - but not to ignore them.
Mother Theresa: Her journey into your heart
T T Mundakel, published by Simon
and Schuster, 209pp.