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Blessed Teresa's coverage slips away

Not only the fault of the newspapers but also the Church to blame for its lack of access

  • C M Paul, Kolkata
  • India
  • September 7, 2011
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If media coverage of events surrounding the conclusion of the commemoration of Mother Teresa’s birth on August 26, 1910 is any indication, Kolkata – the base for Blessed Teresa’s humanitarian operations – has seen a sea change in attitudes towards the saint.

The eastern city publishes eight daily newspapers in English and numerous others in Bengali, Hindi and Urdu. There is even one Chinese-language daily.

However, few lines have appeared about Kolkata’s saint.

“Unfortunately, hardly anything was covered by the print media,” said Eugene Gonsalves, president of the Catholic Association of Bengal, one of the oldest lay associations in India.

Gonsalves admitted that even his own association has done little to garner media coverage and said he hoped the Archdiocese of Kolkata’s Media and Communications Commission would look into the matter.

Kolkata marked the centenary with several religious and cultural programs.

Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Salvatore Pennacchio led the concluding Mass at St. Xavier’s College on September 4 along with some 60 priests. Hundreds of Missionaries of Charity Sisters as well as faithful and friends attended.

The nuncio also led the dawn Mass at Missionaries of Charity Mother House on September 5, her feast day and the 14th anniversary of her death.

City celebrities including singing sensation Usha Uthup, a long-time Mother Teresa associate, and Sanajit Mondol, a maestro of Baul – Bengali folk songs – flocked to Mother House to pay their respects during day-long events held at Blessed Teresa’s tomb.

The English papers, however, largely ignored the events and related ceremonies.

“Yes, it is unfortunate to see that such an important event has gone by without much media coverage,” said the archdiocesan public relations officer Father Dominic Gomes.

The events did get some coverage. The Bengal Post carried a front-page article and photo and the oldest Kolkata daily, The Statesman, founded in 1818, featured two photographs of the archdiocese’ concluding celebrations.

Sunil Lucas, a Catholic lay leader, said the media should not be singled out for criticism over the lack of coverage.

“It is not a question of media losing interest in Mother Teresa. Often, it is a harrowing experience for media people to get access to the Mother House,” he said.

He cited several missed media opportunities during the birth centenary celebrations. “Do the media know the Missionaries of Charity spokesperson or the Church spokesperson to whom they can turn for news?”

Other than one representative, Sister Christine from Japan, and a land-line phone, the Missionaries of Charity has no public relations officer to facilitate media access, and their headquarters does not have a mobile phone or internet access.

Shaymal Baran Roy, a senior correspondent with the Press Trust of India news agency who covered Blessed Teresa's activities when she was alive, said she is no longer a subject for mainstream media apart from events related to her canonization or if some controversy related to her or her past work happens to crop up.

Coverage of Mother Teresa’s birth anniversary did get substantial coverage in print and on television on August 26. But Roy said this was to be expected.

“Celebrating the jayanti [birthday] of a great person is more auspicious [for Indians] than celebrating his or her death anniversary.”

Roy added that The Statesman has had a long-standing attachment to Blessed Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity. It began its coverage on December 20, 1949, with a front-page photo of her Motijhil school.

This attachment seems not to have been a factor, given the publication contained no coverage of recent centenary celebrations.

Father CM Paul is an India-based Catholic journalist
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