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Doubts, exorcism shine spotlight on Mother Teresa

Mother Teresa's work on behalf of the poor earned her the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979.  

From Satinder Bindra
CNN New Delhi Bureau

KOLKATA, India (CNN) -- Four years after her death, the world is discovering a new Mother Teresa -- one at times fraught with painful feelings of abandonment by God and once the subject of an exorcism, but all the more deserving of sainthood, church leaders say.

This week, church officials offered fresh insights into Mother Teresa, the late Roman Catholic nun and Nobel Peace Prize winner known for her lifelong dedication to the poor.

The archbishop of Kolkata, formerly known as Calcutta, confirmed this week that a priest performed an exorcism on the nun while she was in the hospital. Henry D'Souza said he ordered the act for fear "the mother, being so holy, could possibly be object of an attack by Satan."

The church also released letters this week showing Mother Teresa's painful spiritual struggle during the 1950s and 1960s.

CNN's Satinder Bindra reports on letters from Mother Teresa that show she often was tormented by doubts over her faith (September 7)

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CNN's Satinder Bindra talks with Archbishop Henry D'Souza about the exorcism performed on Mother Teresa (September 7)

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What is an exorcism?  
Excerpts from Mother Teresa's letters  

"When I try to raise my thoughts to heaven, there is such convincing emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives and hurt my very soul. Love -- the word -- it brings nothing," wrote the woman known the world over as the "Messiah of Love."

These revelations, church officials say, should only strengthen Mother Teresa's case for sainthood -- the struggle with her own spirituality and purpose ultimately showing her humanity.

"You can't be a saint without having suffered," said the Rev. Edward de Joly, who once served as spiritual adviser to sisters in the Missionaries of Charity, the Kolkata-based humanitarian order founded by Mother Teresa in 1950.

Sister Nirmala, head of the Missionaries of Charity and one of the late nun's closest confidants, said the sometimes difficult spiritual journey was natural -- and fitting Mother Teresa's claim that she was human like everyone else.

"This is a part of the spiritual life of people, and God sometimes wants to unite the soul very closely to himself," Nirmala said. "He will allow them to feel abandoned by him. And Jesus also on the cross felt abandoned."

As to the exorcism, D'Souza says it indicates Mother Teresa was a supremely holy figure, even in the devil's eyes.

"When the person is being attacked by the devil and there is some evidence of that, it's further indication that the person has a very special holiness and therefore, a very special object of attack by Satan," he said. "So it will not hurt her process at all."

D'Souza said the nun herself didn't realize she was the subject of an attack, saying her humility would prevent her from thinking Satan would bother with her.

Mother Teresa's mission and purpose, meanwhile, continue to thrive at the Missionaries of Charity. Since she died at the age of 87, the order has opened 72 centers worldwide to serve the disadvantaged -- with a total of 4,000 members now carrying out her cause in 125 countries.

In Kolkata alone, the Missionaries of Charity help 90,000 lepers, feed 500,000 families and educate 20,000 children each year.

• Mother Teresa
• The Vatican

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