The head of the Indian Hindu nationalist group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Mohan Bhagwat, took a swipe at the late Mother Teresa of Calcutta on Monday, claiming her motives for serving the poor were selfish.
At a function in a village in Bharatpur, Bhagwat said that Mother Teresa’s reputation of selfless service was false, and that the central motive behind her aid to the indigent was converting them to Christianity.
“It’s good to work for a cause with selfless intentions. But Mother Teresa’s work had ulterior motive, which was to convert the person who was being served to Christianity,” said Bhagwat. “In the name of service, religious conversions were made.”
Bhagwat’s accusation seems to fly in the face of Mother Teresa’s defined policy regarding the work that she and her sisters did. She claimed that the primary purpose of their work was to make present the love of God, without proselytizing.
“We never try to convert those whom we receive to Christianity,” she said, “but in our work we bear witness to the love of God’s presence and if Catholics, Protestants, Buddhists, or agnostics become for this better men—simply better—we will be satisfied.”
Teresa believed that those who find love, find God, and that the best way to bring people to God is by sharing our love with them. “Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier,” she said. “Be the living expression of God’s kindness: kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile.”
Another Hindu and the former Director General of the Border Security Force, Prakash Singh, also criticized Mother Teresa, downplaying the contribution she made to Indian society and suggesting that it had been blown out of proportion.
“There are many other organizations that have done far more good work than her. But Christians with the help of media were able to publicize their work,” he said.
Paradoxically, the comments of Bhagwat and Singh follow on a series of attacks on Christian churches in Delhi and elsewhere, as well as recent accusations that the RSS itself has resorted to the use of force to convert people to Hinduism.
Minority groups in India such as Christians have expressed fear that a rise in Hindu nationalism under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi may be behind the rash of recent vandalism of Catholic churches in the nation’s capital. Modi’s government has taken a hard line with religious minorities, most recently by attempting to cancel Christmas and denying visas to Vatican officials.
Modi belongs to the BJP, a right-wing political party closely tied the Hindu fundamentalist RSS. Both Singh and Bhagwat have praised Modi.
The late Mother Teresa of Calcutta, a virtual icon for millions of disinterested service of “the poorest of the poor” and the 1979 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, has taken her share of abuse over the years.
She was especially vilified for her vocal pro-life stance, which brought down opprobrium upon her from the pro-abortion establishment, notably by secularists and feminists, such as Germaine Greer.
In her Harvard address of 1982, Mother Teresa said: “I feel the greatest destroyer of peace today is ‘abortion,’ because it is a war against the child… A direct killing of the innocent child, ‘Murder’ by the mother herself… And if we can accept that a mother can kill even her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another?”
And in an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1994, Teresa wrote:
The so-called right to abortion has pitted mothers against their children and women against men. It has sown violence and discord at the heart of the most intimate human relationships. It has aggravated the derogation of the father’s role in an increasingly fatherless society. It has portrayed the greatest of gifts—a child—as a competitor, an intrusion and an inconvenience.
Mother Teresa was beatified in 2003 by Pope John Paul II. In his homily, John Paul praised Teresa for her many virtues, and singled out her love for the unborn.
“I remember,” John Paul said, “her pro-life and anti-abortion interventions, even when she was awarded the Nobel Prize for peace (Oslo, 10 December 1979). She often used to say: ‘If you hear of some woman who does not want to keep her child and wants to have an abortion, try to persuade her to bring him to me. I will love that child, seeing in him the sign of God’s love.’”
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter: @tdwilliamsrome.