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"Freedom to convert" is counterproductive as a generalized doctrine. It fails to come to terms with the complex interrelationships between self and society that make the concept of individual choice meaningful. Hence, religious conversion undermines, and in extremes would dissolve, that individual autonomy and human freedom.

Thursday, October 30, 2003

Beatification Boon: Asia Firmly on Catholic Roadmap

[ THURSDAY, OCTOBER 30, 2003 12:01:02 AM ]
The controversy over her sainthood apart, it is amusing to note the manner in which the beatification of Mother Teresa of Kolkata was received in the supposedly secular media in India.
Newspapers and television channels vied with each other to report the spectacle at the Vatican.

In contrast, when an NDA minister, Sanjay Paswan espouses tantra as being part of Indian spiritual tradition, he is lampooned and dismissed as an obscurantist. One cannot help observe the irony of Pope John Paul II worn down by Parkinson's disease beatifying Mother Teresa for the miracle cure she performed when she herself needed sophisticated medical attention in her lifetime. While she was alive, Mother Teresa did not perform any supernatural acts, least of all miracles of healing. She only prayed to God for them.

The media and secularists don't even bother to examine why the Vatican is determined to elevate her to sainthood so quickly after her death. Few have cared to find out why Mother Teresa was nominated by three American Conservative and controversial senators Pete Domenici, Mark O Hatfield, and Hubert Humphrey for the Nobel peace prize. Most Indian were thrilled with the fairytale of a white Slavic nun from remote Albania giving up a comfortable life in Europe to nurse the children of a lesser God in Motijheel slum of Kolkata. The argument is that Indians acknowledged her saintliness during her lifetime, the Vatican is only institutionalising this after her death.

The Church usually beatifies its servants for their efforts in popularising Christianity. But with the precondition that such a person must have healed someone miraculously even if this is after their death. Three incidents are often cited to bolster Mother Teresa's claim to eventual sainthood.

A Frenchwoman in the United States who broke her ribs in an accident is said to have been healed after wearing a locket with Mother Teresa's image, a Palestinian girl is said to have been healed after Mother appeared in her dreams. But the most publicised case is that of Monica Besra of West Bengal who claims that a beam of light emerged from a picture of Mother Teresa kept at her home and cured her of a cancerous tumour.

It is customary for the Vatican to set up an inquiry committee to scrutinise claims in support of beatification. It traditionally included an office called advocatus diaboli (or Devil's Advocate) whose purpose was to test the veracity of any extraordinary claims. Pope John Paul II abolished this office altogether in order to create instant saints. Ironically, the Vatican committee did not even deem it necessary to interview the doctor who treated Monica Besra. Her physician, Dr Ranjan Mustafi, has made it clear that Monica never suffered from any cancerous tumour and that her tubercular cyst was cured by a course of prescribed medicine.

The Vatican debars anybody from being nominated for beatification until five years after his or her death. As for sainthood, it usually takes more than a century if not several centuries. Historically, Saint Francis is the only exception to this norm. He was canonised by Pope Innocent IX one year after his death. But Pope John Paul II has expedited the sainthood process. He bent the rules to nominate Mother Teresa for canonisation within a year of her death.

The legitimacy of having performed a miracle-cure as a condition for canonisation is not the core issue here. The legacy of the miracle-cure comes directly from Jesus Christ's faith-healings recorded in the New Testament. It certainly played a crucial role in mediaeval Europe which was very deficient in medical science. Its reliability declined in proportion to the growth of modern medical science in the West, quite on the same lines as the Church's views on astronomy, geology and the evolution of Mankind.

In the Indian tradition, people and posterity decide who is a saint or who is not. It is not for any institution to certify a person's spiritual status. This is probably due to the decentralised and diffused nature of Hinduism. Kabir, Raidas, Tulsidas are saints by the people's verdict, not by the act of any institution.

It is most important to understand whether this act of beatification was motivated. John Paul II who completed 25 years of the papacy the same week is a conservative determined to push a Catholic roadmap. He is one of the most political Popes ever — he helped bring about the end of Communism in his native Poland. His predecessor Paul VI, who had begun to modernise and decentralise the Church appointed only 26 new cardinals during his 15-year tenure. John Paul II has appointed 226 during his papacy. On the day of the beatification, he appointed 31 others (keeping the 31st name a secret). They are all carefully chosen fellow conservatives to further the Church's agenda, and one of them is going to succeed him.

Pope John Paul II wishes to create many role models for people who have not been reached yet. It is not out of place to remember his mission as distinctly pronounced in November 1999 in New Delhi — the evangelisation of Asia in the third millennium on the lines of Europe in the first millennium and America in the second. The beatification of Mother Teresa is a step in that direction.


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