So Mother Teresa of Calcutta is now officially St. Teresa of Kolkata.
Most of the coverage of the canonization rites played the story straight, with the joy -- and tensions -- of the day included in hard-news reports. We can let the Associated Press report that will be read by the majority of American news consumers sum up the coverage.
Oh, and tensions during the rites?
My only real criticism of the solid AP report is found right up top, when a key fact about the event was separated from its cause. Read carefully:
VATICAN CITY (AP) -- Elevating the "saint of the gutters" to one of the Catholic Church's highest honors, Pope Francis on Sunday praised Mother Teresa for her radical dedication to society's outcasts and her courage in shaming world leaders for the "crimes of poverty they themselves created."
An estimated 120,000 people filled St. Peter's Square for the canonization ceremony, less than half the number who turned out for her 2003 beatification. It was nevertheless the highlight of Francis' Holy Year of Mercy and quite possibly one of the defining moments of his mercy-focused papacy.
Look at that second sentence. Why the smaller crowd for this ceremony? Has enthusiasm for the cause of the tiny Albanian nun declined in the past decade?
Actually, no. Much, much later in the report there is this crucial reference.
While big, the crowd attending the canonization wasn't even half of the 300,000 who turned out for Mother Teresa's 2003 beatification celebrated by an ailing St. John Paul II. The low turnout suggested that financial belt-tightening and security fears in the wake of Islamic extremist attacks in Europe may have kept pilgrims away.
Those fears prompted a huge, 3,000-strong law enforcement presence to secure the area around the Vatican and close the airspace above. Many of those security measures have been in place for the duration of the Jubilee year, which officially ends in November.
I think it would have been quite easy to have slipped a brief reference to fears of terrorism into the report's second sentence. After all, many American newspapers will -- alas -- not run the full text of this story, thus losing the probable explanation for the crowd size.
Otherwise, this is a fine story, complete with a quick reference to you know who:
Teresa's most famous critic, Christopher Hitchens, has accused her of taking donations from dictators -- charges church authorities deny. Francis chose to emphasize her other dealings with the powerful.
"She made her voice heard before the powers of the world, so that they might recognize their guilt for the crimes of poverty they themselves created," he said, repeating for emphasis "the crimes of poverty."
From my perspective, it was crucial that the AP report included another mysterious detail from St. Teresa's remarkable life -- the long sense of spiritual oblivion that she experienced after her prayer in 1951 that she be granted a taste of the darkness, loneliness and pain that Jesus experienced on the cross.
Her letters and journals made it clear that this prayer was granted. Yet she carried on with her work.
While Francis is clearly keen to hold Teresa up as a model for her joyful dedication to the poor, he was also recognizing holiness in a nun who lived most of her adult life in spiritual agony, sensing that God had abandoned her.
According to correspondence that came to light after she died in 1997, Teresa experienced what the church calls a "dark night of the soul" -- a period of spiritual doubt, despair and loneliness that many of the great mystics experienced. In Teresa's case, it lasted for nearly 50 years -- an almost unheard of trial.
At this point, let me wrap things up by pointing readers to two interesting commentaries on the coverage of this story -- one from a Catholic progressive and the other from the conservative Media Research Center.
First there is this:
Here is a sample of Father Martin's piece in the journal America:
... Others critique something else: Jesus's choice of healings. Rachel, 27, a fisherman’s wife from Capernaum, tells the now well-known story of Jesus healing the man with the “unclean spirit,” as locals called him. One morning in the Capernaum synagogue, a clearly deranged man encountered Jesus. After the encounter, all agree, the man was found to be in his right mind.
“Why didn’t he heal everyone in Capernaum?” asked Rachel, echoing a question found in the new book The Ridiculous Messiah, a lacerating critique of Jesus by Cyrus of Caesaria, the popular Cynic. One of the most damaging charges from the bestselling book is what the author calls the “selectivity” of Jesus’s healing.
Rachel noted, accurately, that many others in Capernaum were known to be ill that day. “My mother has dropsy. My brother has a bad back. And I had a migraine. Jesus didn’t bother to ask if we wanted to be healed.”
Also, say critics, if Jesus was concerned about the sick, why would he not build a proper hospital or shelter?
“He’s a carpenter, isn’t he?” said Rachel. “Build us a hospital!”
Actually, this piece of satire had a major flaw, if the goal was to criticize most of the mainstream news coverage of Mother Teresa's critics, both secular and religious. Thus, I tweeted back, in jest:
For me, the most interesting part of the "Newsbusters" piece at the Media Research Center was its glance into some of the facts behind the criticisms of Mother Teresa's work.
Let me again stress that I think it was perfectly valid for mainstream newsrooms to write features calling attention to the fact that the new saint had critics, as well as supporters (click here for previous post on this topic). I simply thought that some of the news reports needed to allow some space for researchers at the Vatican and elsewhere to respond to some of the fact claims by her critics. In other words, I wanted journalists to cover both sides of the debate.
Especially note the story behind this headline at CNN:
'Troubled individual:' Mother Teresa no saint to her critics
Read it all. And, if I missed some exceptionally good or bad coverage of the Vatican rite, please let me know. As you would expect, the team at Crux has created a hub page for all of its coverage. Go there.