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Via Workers World News Service
Reprinted from the Sept. 25, 1997
issue of Workers World newspaper
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Her holy message: Poverty is beautiful

Behind the ruling-class rush to make Mother Teresa a saint

By Sara Flounders

Princes, presidents, prime ministers, ambassadors, celebrities, special representatives of heads of state and three queens attended the state funeral for Mother Teresa in Calcutta Sept. 13. Six hours of ceremonies included a military escort and prayers from a battery of cardinals, archbishops and top leaders of other religious groups.

This funeral was a highly political event that raises many interesting questions.

Why did so many of the world's most powerful and privileged people travel so far to pay their respects to a humble nun who cared for destitute and sick people? Why did the wealthiest stratum of society especially love Mother Teresa?

Why have the major corporate media spent countless hours urging that the example and the message of Mother Teresa be followed? Why are so many of the illustrious people who are paying homage to Mother Teresa notorious for their utter disregard for the poor of their own countries?

Then there's this: The media had predicted a million poor mourners would line the street. Why did less than 5 percent of that number actually turn out?

Aren't poor people grateful?

Mother Teresa was hardly the first or the only person concerned about the poor. In her lifetime millions of self- sacrificing people have been attacked, jailed, persecuted and even killed for trying to change the conditions of poor people.

What is so moving in Mother Teresa's message that she gained world fame? Why was she called a living saint? Why did she receive the Nobel Peace Prize and countless other humanitarian awards?

'THE POOR SHOULD ACCEPT POVERTY'

The day before the funeral her successor, Sister Nirmala, reaffirmed Mother Teresa's view that "poverty is beautiful."

She said Mother Teresa was not interested in what causes poverty or in changing the social environment. "Poverty will always exist," she said.

"We want the poor to see poverty in the right way--to accept it and believe that the lord will provide."

This is the message that the wealthy of every corner of the globe came to honor. For them, it is truly a holy message.

Mother Teresa never spoke of justice. She did not organize poor people to fight for their rights or to demand a better life for themselves or their children.

She and the religious order she founded in Calcutta, the Missionaries of Charity, sacrificed themselves caring for destitute, dying people and orphans. But the rich and powerful loved her because she did not demand health care, pensions, a minimum wage, schools, unions or an end to vicious caste discrimination against "untouchables."

Pope John Paul II embraced Mother Teresa and the Vatican secretary of state led her funeral mass. However, within the Roman Catholic Church many priests and nuns who are deeply involved in working with the "poorest of the poor" are purged or suppressed.

The popular religious movement in Latin America called "liberation theology" organizes for radical political and economic change. Militant priests and nuns support the demands of landless peasants and impoverished urban workers allied with communist-led liberation struggles and armed guerrilla movements.

They do not agree with Mother Teresa that "suffering and disease are gifts from God." They see grinding poverty as the result of a corrupt economic system that puts the drive for profit before people's needs.

Mother Teresa was an outspoken opponent of liberation theology. She was also a friend and supporter of such dictators as Duvalier in Haiti.

She first came to prominence as an opponent of Pope John XXIII and the more liberal ideas of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s. She was a strong opponent of abortion, birth control and all forms of family planning.

When Ireland was holding a referendum on whether to lift Europe's only constitutional ban on divorce and remarriage, Mother Teresa hurried there. She lectured poor Irish women on the sinfulness of demanding change.

RED CALCUTTA

Calcutta, the headquarters of the Missionaries of Charity, has a population of 11 million people. It is a city of enormous poverty, chronic unemployment and overcrowding.

One-third of the population lives in slums. People lack adequate sanitation, running water or electricity. Two million people are homeless, migrant or "floating."

Calcutta was the capital of British colonialism in India. The British East Indies Company established the city 300 years ago as a trading center, seaport, site for cheap textile factories--and the center of the opium trade forced on China.

Calcutta was also a center of the explosive movement that ended British colonialism. It has the biggest and most militant working class in India.

The city is a major industrial center, with India's largest port. It has a powerful communist movement that has organized general strikes.

Demonstrations in Calcutta often mobilize hundreds of thousands of people. Outpourings of over a million are not unusual. Poor and working people turn out in massive numbers where there is the possibility of winning rights, improving their standard of living and forcing concessions from an unjust society.

In this highly class-conscious city, the angry poor must have viewed the applause for Mother Teresa's message-- especially coming from the Western media--with deep suspicion.

While the rich and powerful move to canonize Mother Teresa as a saint, the "poorest of the poor" are far more likely to look for leadership that seeks to end poverty, not to bless it.

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