As Moscow prepares to unveil a bronze monument to Mother Teresa, the city authorities have demolished a shelter owned by her Catholic order, citing a lack of permits for the running of the building.
The two buildings in eastern Moscow which served as a shelter for the homeless and disabled attracted the City Hall's attention three years ago when the local authorities went to court to force Missionaries of Charity, a Catholic religious organization founded by Mother Teresa, to demolish one of the buildings and remove the top floor from the other.
"No country has ever launched legal proceedings against Mother Teresa's organization," said shelter volunteer Yelena Blinova.
Though Russian Orthodox Church officials, including Patriarch Kirill, tried to resolve the conflict, one of the buildings was destroyed on Friday.
"The demolished building was constructed with voluntary donations from people all over the world, and its destruction is a sign of blindness to human grief and contempt for those who help the poorest," Missionaries of Charity said in a statement, published by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese in Moscow.
"Everybody knows how hard the sisters have worked for the past 20 years. Did their work bother anyone?" said Pavel Pezzi, metropolitan archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese in Moscow.
City Hall authorities refused to comment.
The demolition of the shelter coincided with the September 24 unveiling of a bronze statue of Mother Teresa near Moscow's Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.
Mother Teresa, who was beatified soon after her death in 1997, founded the Missionaries of Charity in 1950 to take care of the disabled, the elderly, alcoholics, the poor, and the homeless. Since then the organization has expanded to 365 shelters in 120 countries with over 330,000 affiliated volunteers.
The Moscow branch, which was opened in 1990 and consists of nuns from all over the world, deals not only with abandoned children and the terminally ill, but also serves as a meeting place for recovering alcoholics.
Blinova says that the authorities have no interest in helping the occupants of the shelter, many of whom only require a modicum of support to get back on their feet.
"I knew a woman who found herself on the street after going bankrupt. When our volunteers helped her, she practically came back to life and got a good job in a bank," Blinova said.
An inscription engraved on the wall of Mother Teresa's school in Calcutta once read "What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight. Build anyway."
But her Moscow nuns will have to buy, not build.
Blinova said that the order would definitely continue its work, but would probably have to purchase a new building since "unlike in all other countries, where the Missionaries of Charity receive buildings from the government for free" the authorities have so far shown no interest in helping them find a new home.