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Mother Teresa's letters reveal doubts

Kolkata, India (CNN), September 7, 2001

Mother Teresa, the late Roman Catholic nun whose aid for the poor put her on the path to sainthood, at times felt abandoned by God, according to her recently released letters.

The letters, written by Mother Teresa in the 1950s and 1960s to her church spiritual guides, also reveal the troubling and, at times, painful conflicts she sometimes had with her faith.

"I am told God lives in me -- and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul," she wrote in one of the letters.

The letters' release comes days after the archbishop of Kolkata, the city formerly known as Calcutta, said church officials performed an exorcism on Mother Teresa at a hospital later in her life. This act and the letters showed Mother Teresa was "both holy and human," making her even more special, Archbishop Henry D'Souza said.

The nun's letters were largely forgotten until two years ago, when the Vatican began gathering paperwork on Mother Teresa -- including all her confessional letters -- for sainthood proceedings. The correspondences were sent from India to Rome, with some being published in the "Journal of Theological Reflection."

Some of the letters depict a spiritually bereft Mother Teresa, struggling to maintain her belief.

"Where I try to raise my thoughts to heaven, there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives and hurt my very soul. Love -- the word -- it brings nothing," wrote the woman known the world over as the "Messiah of Love."

In another letter, Mother Teresa wrote, "In my soul, I can't tell you how dark it is, how painful, how terrible -- I feel like refusing God."

Church officials said the letters strengthen Mother Teresa's case for sainthood -- the struggle with her own spirituality and purpose showing her humanity.

"You can't be a saint without having suffered," said the Rev. Edward de Joly, who once served as spiritual adviser to sisters in the Missionaries of Charity, the Kolkata-based humanitarian order founded by Mother Teresa in 1950.

"This is part of the spiritual life of people, and God sometimes wants to unite the soul very closely to himself," added Sister Nirmala, head of Missionaries of Charity and one of the late nun's closest confidantes. "He will allow them to feel abandoned by him. And Jesus also on the cross felt he was abandoned."

The Missionaries of Charity feeds 500,000 families, treats 90,000 leprosy patients and educates 2,000 children each year in Kolkata alone. Mother Teresa's work on behalf of the poor in India and around the world earned her a Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. She died four years ago this week at the age of 87.

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