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Critics of Mother Teresa Question 'Miracle' Cure - 2003-10-19

Mother Teresa is revered by millions of people around the world and inspires legions of Christian faithful. The Albanian-born Roman Catholic nun, who dedicated her life to India's poor, took another step closer to sainthood Sunday, when she was beatified at the Vatican in Rome. But some in India question whether the veneration paid to Mother Teresa is in the best interest of their country. But the famous nun has her critics, including some who question the authenticity of a miracle cure that has been attributed to her.

The miracle is said to have taken place on October 5, 1998 - exactly a year after Mother Teresa's death. A woman suffering from a cyst related to tuberculosis sought care at Mother Teresa's order, the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta.

Fearing the worst, two nuns gave the woman a medallion with Mother Teresa's picture on it. The woman prayed to Mother Teresa all night. In the morning, the nuns said, she was healed. To the faithful, the story represents a divine intercession by Mother Teresa - proof that her compassion for the poor continues after her death.

It takes two miracles, verified by the Vatican, to become a saint. The first opens the door to beatification, or the formal "blessing" of an individual.

The Vatican is to formally beatify Mother Teresa on Sunday and the event is being celebrated by millions of Christians.

But some in India, where the nun lived most of her life caring for the poor, are skeptical.

One is Dr. Ranjan Mustaphi from the Balurghat District hospital in Calcutta, who treated the sick woman the nuns say was cured by a miracle. He said the woman's recovery was the result of medical science, not religion.

"At home she was taking anti-tubercular drugs. In addition to that on the basis of religion, she can have a prayer to Mother Teresa also. That is a separate thing - every patient prays to God for relief - but at the same time she was taking anti-tubercular drugs…," he said.

Others are criticizing the beatification process because they said it gives false hopes instead of practical solutions to people living in a developing nation trying to give health care to millions of poor.

The beatification of Mother Teresa poses a problem for India, says Fanal Edamaruku, of the New Delhi office of Rationalists International, a private organization that campaigns against what it calls superstition in favor of scientific progress.

"We in India are facing a serious problem in lack of communication in health services. People in rural areas … are not aware of medical facilities. Many people still think prayer is better than medical care …. At the same time, here is one big event, which projects that medication is not the way, but miracles … can cure you. This … goes deep into the big problems that we [are] facing in India," Mr. Edamaruku said.

Mother Teresa's work with India's poor gained worldwide attention. She won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 for her work with Missionaries of Charity. The group has 500 centers worldwide dedicated to helping the poor and giving homes to the dying people who otherwise would have nowhere to go.

But with the recognition came criticism of what some say is Missionaries of Charity's extreme asceticism. Some charge that given the money connected to those prizes, plus hundreds of thousands of dollars in private donations, Missionaries of Charity could provide much better health care than it does.

Those assertions are dismissed by the Missionaries of Charity. Sister Paula Marie speaks on the group's behalf about Mother Teresa.

"All I can say to that is that she gave herself 100 percent, and that's all anybody can do - if we give ourselves 100 percent. She did that and she did that faithfully," Sister Marie said.

The push and pull between science and religion is an ancient one, but one that raises new problems for developing countries like India.

In the end, it seems, one's position on the beatification of Mother Teresa may just come down to a question of faith.