New film about Mother Teresa ignites controversy over saint’s ‘spiritual struggle’

Mother Teresa circa 1994 Credit C LOsservatore Romano CNA Mother Teresa around the year 1994. | L'Osservatore Romano.

The producer of a new film about St. Mother Teresa are defending their movie after one of the nun’s chief advocates argued it was hampered by “grave errors” in how the film’s director portrayed the life of the celebrated charity worker.

The film, “Mother Teresa and Me,” uses a framing narrative of a young woman considering abortion to tell the story of St. Teresa, including the pervasive religious doubts she experienced in her life even as she devoted herself to living out the Gospel in her care for the sick and poor. 

Father Brian Kolodiejchuk, the director of the Mother Teresa Center and the postulator of the Cause of Beatification and Canonization of Mother Teresa, said in a statement after the movie’s release that its creators committed “several crucial errors” in adopting this approach to their movie. 

He pointed to a statement that the film’s writer and director, Kamal Musale, made on the film’s website, before it was revised, that the film’s portrayal of Teresa is “more true to life” because of its treatment of how she “lost her faith” and apparently “never recovered from it.” 

“During [an] approximately 12-year period, Teresa goes through a complete change, from the intensity of her epiphany to the disillusionment and the realization that her connection with God is lost,” Musale had said.

Back-and-forth between postulator, filmmakers

“Unfortunately, the producers of the film appear unaware of Mother Teresa’s own interpretation of her darkness, or the significance it had for her life and vocation,” Kolodiejchuk said.

“As her own writings attest, one of the most profound things about Mother Teresa is that she never ‘lost her faith,’ even amid desolation and uncertainty. Her personal letters speak of her ’unbroken union [with God]’ during her darkness and observe that ‘my mind and heart is habitually with God’.”

“She describes the ‘doubt’ in which she lived ‘for the rest of her life’ as, instead, a trial of faith — an experience well-known in the Catholic mystical tradition,” Kolodiejchuk said. 

In response to Kolodiejchuk’s statement, Thierry Cagianut, the executive producer of “Mother Teresa & Me,” said in a release that the filmmakers were “deeply saddened” by that criticism, “as it is the exact opposite of what we hoped to achieve with the movie.”  

Cagianut, who is also president of the nonprofit charity group the Zariya Foundation, said the film “does not make a statement about Mother Teresa’s ‘loss of faith’; this was not the goal of the movie and we would have been utterly unqualified to make any judgment of the sort.” 

“In the film, we have attempted to show Mother Teresa’s spiritual struggle, her pain, her sense of abandonment by Jesus and her longing for God,” Cagianut said.

“We show how, despite her ongoing suffering, Mother Teresa kept to the mission entrusted to her by Jesus, never throwing in the towel,” he added. “Day after day for years, she kept being a loving presence for the poor and the dying, and was an inspiration to all her Sisters, whom she directed towards Jesus.”

Cagianut said Musale realized that “his statement did not properly reflect on Mother Teresa’s inner struggle,” and that he “revised this statement many weeks ago.”

“[W]e want to make it clear that we understand that Mother’s ‘dark night of the soul’ was not a loss of faith, but rather a perseverance in faith, which is a lesson for all of us,” he said. 

He noted that “all the proceeds from the film will go to the poorest of the poor in the spirit of Mother Teresa, especially toward the education and health needs of children in India.”

The film premiered as a one-night-only release on Oct. 5 in 800 theaters around the United States. It was produced by Curry Western Movies out of India along with Switzerland’s Les Films du Lotus. 

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The movie has been hailed by numerous Catholic groups and experts. James Stella, the director of the Mother Teresa Project at Ave Maria University, called it “a stirring film that reminds us through the beacon of Mother Teresa’s shining light that every person receives the gift of life ultimately from God.

Father Robert Sirico, the president emeritus of the Acton Institute, said he was “impressed” with the movie and that it was “well-written, acted and produced.”

And Derry Connolly, the president of JPCatholic University, described it as “one of the best saint movies I've seen in a long time” and that it “was very well done.

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