by Tim Roberts, President, Dignity/Los Angeles
The Board of Directors of our chapter decided to observe the Year of Mercy by showing to the membership a film about the life of Mother Teresa. The intention was to contemplate the mystery of mercy by gazing on the mercy of God that extends into the depths of the hurt and pain within us and around us. The goal was to grasp what the Lord's mercy truly means in the brokenness of life that can lead to a wellspring of joy, serenity, and peace. Mother Teresa was chosen for having founded the Missionaries of Charity, being active in 133 countries, and known for establishing many hospices, soup kitchens, dispensaries, mobile clinics, and orphanages.
Little did the chapter officers anticipate the controversy that their decision would generate. Some members felt that such a designation of the year was a hollow action, that a real demonstration of mercy, simply put as loving kindness, was more appropriate. Members called for a move on the part of the Roman Catholic Church to reconcile with those who have gone through a horrible experience, such as a divorce, and fully welcome them into the church community. Other members spoke to a full incorporation of gays and lesbians, and some official apology for the unrelenting attacks on LGBT civil rights, as well as finally providing access to contraception as a guaranteed provision of women's medical care.
Adding to the mixed reception of the proposed Year of Mercy action were concerns over what many regarded as the problematic legacy of Mother Teresa, the chosen symbol of mercy. Comments were made about allegations of forced conversions, questionable relations with dictators, gross mismanagement, and poor medical care. Concerns were raised about purported myths of altruism and generosity surrounding her, leading to the conclusion that her hallowed image did not stand up so well, and was likely the result of a forced media campaign from the church.
In the end, after all the members' concerns were raised and commentaries shared, the chapter went ahead with the screening of the Mother Teresa film. The attendance was rather light, and the take-away feelings about the movie and its subject were decidedly mixed. But the exploration of sentiments and strong feelings about the particular way the chapter chose to observe the Year of Mercy proved to be more insightful, and even transformative, than the mere watching of a movie.