An Indian archbishop has strongly rejected recent criticism of Mother Teresa by a Hindu nationalist politician, suggesting the legendary “apostle of the poor” and soon-to-be saint had plotted to “Christianize” India.
Those “rash comments,” according to Archbishop Thomas Menamparampil, are not only untrue, they risk demeaning the “great religion” of Hinduism they purport to represent.
Earlier in June, Gorakhpur Yogi Adityanath, a member of India’s parliament, accused Mother Teresa of “a conspiracy to Christianize India” while speaking at a Ram Katha event, a Hindu religious festival honoring Ram, in Basti in the northeast state of Uttar Pradesh.
Adityanath is a member of the BJP, the party that’s widely seen as the political wing of Indian’s often militant Hindu nationalist movements.
Speaking to Crux, Menamparampil largely dismissed the substance of that charge, predicting that “very few will give weight to his words.”
The prelate said that although Mother Teresa’s work “had an eloquence of its own and projected the image of an ideal Christian in the noblest possible way,” he “strongly disagrees” with the suggestion that she engaged in “proselytism.”
“Mother Teresa does not need any defense,” Menamparampil said. “Whatever she did, she did openly. Her motives were transparent. She was an open book to those who lived around her, the people of Calcutta and of Bengal who considered her as their own.”
Menamparampil, 79, was previously the archbishop of Guwati in northeastern India, and presently serves as apostolic administrator of the Jowai diocese.
Mother Teresa, who was born in modern-day Macedonia but spent most of her life in India, is set to be declared a saint by Pope Francis in a canonization ceremony in Rome on Sept. 4.
“She was always the first to admit that she was sincerely seeking to witness to Christ,” Menamparampil said. “The people of Calcutta, no matter what religion they belonged to, including also ardent Communists, saw no negative motive in her words or activities.”
“They were the first to come to her defense when she was attacked by highly secularized intellectuals from the West or Hindu zealots from India itself,” he said.
What worries him most about Adityanath’s attack on Mother Teresa, Menamparampil told Crux, is that it may suggest that an “obscurantist fringe” is taking control of India’s right-wing Hindu nationalist movements.
“Will intellectual non-entities turn into political heavyweights in India, making irresponsible statements before the world community and embarrassing the Indian public, and reckless decisions damaging the long-term interests of the nation?”
“People with low thinking power mistake rash statements for courageous stands,” he said.
“Yogi Adityanath is demeaning the great religion that he claims to represent,” Menamparampil said. “A religion that has withstood the questioning attitudes of Indian intellectuals and the aggressive designs of outside forces for several millennia does not need to feel threatened by a fragile nun whose only strength was her weakness.”
Menamparampil said “the Indian mind has proved itself deep, and is not easily influenced by cheap machinations,” but added that a new political elite today “suffers from an inferiority complex.”
“It would seem that democratic India is falling into the hands of those who wish to control independent thinking and prevent interactions with the best intellects of the world,” he said, praying that “the nation be preserved from closed-minded individuals who seek to marginalize India’s most gifted intellectuals and most dynamic spiritual forces.”