THE new documentary Mother Teresa: No Greater Love (Cert. PG) is about the founder of the Missionaries of Charity (MC). Produced by the Knights of Columbus, an international faith-in-action group, it is part of Fathom Events’ Saint Series collection of films. We are presented with a film intended to inspire. From small beginnings in Calcutta, hundreds of centres have spread around the world. These Sisters and other male offshoot communities continue to tend the destitute and dying, whether through poverty, handicap, AIDS, addiction, or persecution.
An older generation first had its attention drawn to Teresa more than 50 years ago with Malcolm Muggeridge’s BBC film and subsequent book Something Beautiful for God. While further documentaries have followed, there is clearly scope for enlightening or reminding people not only of the work of these communities, but of the reasons for doing so. Teresa is often quoted as saying that they are not social workers. It arises out of the worship of Jesus. What bread is to the body, prayer is to the soul, she says. “Every person is Christ for me.” These Sisters give the poorest of the poor dignity as children of God.
The film shows the Missionaries working in Kenya, Mexico, Haiti etc. but probably there was a special feeling when they set up a house in Teresa’s native Albania. The communist regime had denied her access until 1989. Wherever a house was established, she called it a tabernacle for Christ. One could argue that it didn’t require a film lasting nearly two hours to convey the extent of MC’s work or the goodness of the order’s founder. The skill in maintaining our interest lies in the director David Naglieri’s ability to introduce successive facets to our understanding of a spiritual giant and her legacy.
There is a plethora of witnesses from the communities and among those touched by Mother Teresa’s holiness, whether former drug addicts, biographers, clergy, beggars, prisoners, or photographers. A wall in each house’s chapel displays the words of Jesus “I thirst”. This is like a mantra that impels the Sisters to go out and serve — and serve not only those with the least material goods. It is believed that in the West there a deeper hunger — for love. Legalised abortion, Mother Teresa claimed, was symptomatic of what impoverishes many countries and was a threat to peace. This controversial statement is only briefly mentioned. Neither that nor other criticisms levelled by Christopher Hitchens, Murray Kempton, Aroup Chatterjee, and others are examined.
The strength of the film lies in facing up to the spiritual darkness that Teresa experienced over many decades. Amid caring and motivating others to do so, she frequently felt abandoned by God. This was never revealed during her lifetime. Only when private letters were published as Come Be My Light (News, 29 August 2007) was it fully known. She took solace in recognising her condition as identifying with Christ’s Passion. Her canonisation in 2016 would probably not have impressed her. “I am a pencil in the hand of God that he wrote love letters to the world with.” The film asks us to do likewise.
In selected cinemas on 2 and 3 November only. Booking: at www.motherteresamovie.com or through specific venues.