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Mother Teresa and the Kidney Stone

5 minute read
David Van Biema

This week the Catholic News Service reported that the cause for the canonization of Mother Teresa could “cross its last hurdle” if the Vatican validated a cure reported by a priest in Guwahati, India, on Sept. 5, the 10th anniversary of the beloved nun’s death. The cure in question, originally reported by the Asian Catholic news agency UCA News, was described as “the disappearance of a half-inch kidney stone in his lower ureter.”

Here is the timetable of the miracle, as provided to UCA News by the Archbishop of Guwahati , Thomas Menamparampil: The priest, Fr. V.M. Thomas, suffered several months with the stone, and had taken medications to no avail. Most kidney stones can be removed surgically, however, in what is often an outpatient procedure. Indeed, Fr. Thomas had scheduled a surgery for September 6 and entered the hospital for prep on the 5th. However, he reportedly asked and received permission to leave the hospital and celebrate a Mass at a children’s home founded by Teresa. At the Mass he asked participants to pray to her on his behalf. When he returned to the hospital x-rays indicated the stone had disappeared. The surgery was canceled. Notes provided to UCA News by the archbishop included a case summary signed by the surgeon stating, “It indeed seemed like a miracle and unique incident as the stone, which could not be dissolved with medicine, just vanished on the particular day.”

At first glance the elimination of a mineral deposit may seem too insignificant to merit sainthood. Indeed, the criterion of the early Church for sainthood was martyrdom. Even when popes established an alternative requirement of anywhere from two to four posthumous miracles, those have tended to be cures of dire, often life-threatening ailments. They were seldom conditions that the sufferer could have dealt with by other means, but simply didn’t.

It was unclear from the CNS report whether Mother Teresa’s order, the Missionaries of Charity, had officially submitted the reported cure for investigation by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints. A call and e-mail to a Missionaries official went unanswered. [UPDATE: The idea of submitting Fr. Thomas’s cure toward Mother Teresa’s canonization seems not to have originated with her order, the Missionaries of Charity. On Tuesday Oct. 9, a senior member of the order suggested that the group would not press it. Fr. Brian Kolodiechuk, the Missionaries’ postulator for Mother Teresa’s candidacy, told TIME, “Our first take on the alleged miracle is that it is not one that we can use but I still need to verify that is really the case. Thus it is too early to say definitively one way or the other.”]

A certain degree of urgency may have come to attend Teresa’s miracle count. Normally the process of recognizing a saint takes decades or even centuries. But after Mother Teresa’s death, Pope John Paul II waived a traditional five-year waiting period, initiating what some have called a “fast-track” canonization process. The first major step, the establishment of her “heroic virtue,” proceeded quickly. However, verifiable reports of posthumous miracles have apparently been scarce. Teresa was beatified after the first one in 2003. But on Sep. 5 Teresa’s successor, Sister Nirmala, told Agence France Presse that “We are waiting for a second miracle for sainthood to the Mother.” The cure of Fr. Thomas, who had reportedly known Mother Teresa for 18 years before her death, occurred that day.

However minor this second miracle may seem, if validated it will probably prove less problematic than Teresa’s first. In that case, an Indian woman named Monica Besra reported that she had prayed for the Mother’s assistance and been cured of an abdominal tumor. However, members of Besra’s medical staff and her husband maintained that her cure could have been brought about by the conventional medical treatment she was receiving. Besra has subsequently complained to the press that after Teresa’s beatification the Missionaries abandoned her.

To be fair, not every historical miracle was earth-shaking or, for that matter, without controversy. Consider St. Antonio de Sant’Anna Galvao, whom Pope Benedict XVI canonized last December. Galvao, who died in 1822 (he was on the slow track) was a Franciscan monk in Sao Paolo who distributed “pills” that were actually folded bits of rice paper bearing the prayer: “After birth, the Virgin remained intact. Mother of God, intercede on our behalf.” Believers swallowed them for various ailments. After Galvao’s death, nuns in his monastery took up the pill production. According to England’s Daily Telegraph, as his cause for sainthood began picking up steam, they were up to 10,000 pills a day. The Telegraph reported that the local hierarchy opposed the practice, and a senior archbishop commented that it “foster[s] suspicion.” However, the Vatican was apparently satisfied.

Galvao’s first posthumous cure was of kidney stones.

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