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Review: New Mother Teresa documentary brings her closer to everyone

Matthew Neugebauer

Monday, October 31, 2022

"Mother Teresa: No Greater Love" airs in Canadian theatres November 2 and 3. (Source: Film website)
“Mother Teresa: No Greater Love” is a hagiography, but the experience of viewing it is almost like a Novena. The moving new documentary produced by the Knights of Columbus is surprisingly meditative and prayerful, even as it recounts the compassionate work of the Missionaries of Charity and the holiness of their founder, St. Teresa of Kolkata.
This sense of prayerfulness is achieved through an accessible, consistent structure. Segments documenting the current work of the Order throughout the world are interspersed with a series of pivotal points in Mother Teresa's life. The turning point is Mother’s reception of the 1979 Nobel Peace Prize. It’s at this point that her life and work, humbly feeding and caring for the poorest of Kolkata’s poor, begins to garner global attention.
The film’s meditative experience comes from its style as much as its structure and content. Slow, quiet scenes of humble service, sometimes even in slow motion, permeate the film. Those scenes are presented on top of a serene, string-heavy soundtrack, and often conclude with St. Teresa's world-renowned smile.
The most striking feature of this documentary is the way it brings St. Teresa of Kolkata closer to everyday viewers. Yes, her life, commitment and obedience to Christ's mission were truly extraordinary, and the film pays ample attention to her unique and courageous efforts. But it also highlights the universal message that she bore: everyone longs for connection and belonging, and everyone can find that belonging by giving their lives in love to Christ. Her diagnosis of Western society, repeated throughout the documentary, similarly leads to a more accessible welcome rather than a stern rebuke: it's not that we're necessarily selfish or greedy, but that we're lonely and isolated from each other. The cure: follow Jesus to the most vulnerable, most lonely and isolated, where you too can give and receive His love.
Furthermore, the documentary quite literally brings this Albanian-born Indian citizen and the Missionaries of Charity home to North American viewers. It does begin by tracing their origins in Kolkata and features the vital work currently ongoing in Brazil, Kenya, and elsewhere. But the film then highlights the Missionaries' work pursuing racial reconciliation amidst gang wars in Chicago and bursting through fear-induced stigmas during the AIDS crisis in San Francisco. I was grateful to learn about Sister Bernice, the first African American member of the Order, who continues to serve the poor in the Bronx.
The film also offers a helpful wrinkle of complexity, devoting some vital moments to her lifelong struggle to experience God’s loving acceptance herself. This struggle, expressed over multiple journals and letters, was a surprise to me as it was to the Postulator and others working on her cause for canonization. But this mention of St. Teresa of Kolkata’s “dark night of the soul” still fits seamlessly with the film’s presentation of her message: that invitation to give and receive Christ’s love is open to all people, not simply despite our doubts and fears but also because of them. Our suffering, as we are present with those suffering the most in the world, can be offered to Christ as our sharing in His suffering in love for the world.
The film doesn’t aim to be a coldly journalistic account of the ups and downs, trials and controversies that Mother Teresa faced throughout her life. It succeeds precisely as an inspiring and meditative reflection on one of the great saints of our time.
"Mother Teresa: No Greater Love" will air in theatres on November 2 and 3. Purchase your tickets here

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