MOTHER Teresa, the nun whose work with the dying and destitute of Kolkata made her a global icon of Christian charity, was made a saint today (4).
Her elevation to Roman Catholicism’s celestial pantheon came in a canonisation mass in St Peter’s square in the Vatican that was presided over by Pope Francis in the presence of 100,000 pilgrims.
“For the honour of the blessed trinity… we declare and define Blessed Teresa of Calcutta (Kolkata) to be a saint and we enrol her among the saints, decreeing that she is to be venerated as such by the whole church,” the pontiff said in Latin.
The ceremony came a day before the 19th anniversary of Mother Teresa’s death in Kolkata, the capital of West Bengal in India, where she spent nearly four decades tending to the poorest of the poor.
Among the assembled crowd were some 1,500 poor people looked after by the Italian branches of Mother Teresa’s order, the Missionaries of Charity.
After the mass they were to be Pope Francis’s guests at the Vatican for a giant pizza lunch served by 250 sisters and 50 male members of the order.
Mother Teresa spent all her adult life in India, first teaching, then tending to the dying poor.
It was in the latter role, at the head of her now worldwide order that Mother Teresa became one of the most famous women on the planet.
Born to Kosovan Albanian parents in Skopje - then part of the Ottoman empire, now the capital of Macedonia - she won the 1979 Nobel Peace Prize and was revered around the world as a beacon for the Christian values of self-sacrifice and charity.
By historical standards, Mother Teresa has been fast-tracked to sainthood, thanks largely to one of the few people to have achieved canonisation faster, John Paul II.
The Polish cleric was a personal friend of Mother Teresa and as the pope at the time of her death, he was responsible for her being beatified in 2003.
Achieving sainthood requires the Vatican to approve accounts of two miracles occurring as a result of prayers for Mother Teresa’s intercession.
The first one, ratified in 2002, was of an Indian woman, Monica Besra, who says she recovered from ovarian cancer a year after Teresa’s death - something local health officials have put down to medical advances rather than the power of prayer.
In the second, approved last year, Brazilian Marcilio Haddad Andrino says his wife’s prayers to Teresa led to brain tumours disappearing. Eight years later, Andrino and his wife Fernanda were in the congregation today.
Many Indians also made the trip to Rome, among them Kiran Kakumanu, 40, who was blessed by Mother Teresa when he was a baby and grew up to become a priest.
Abraham, an Indian expatriate in London, said Mother Teresa’s life had set a unique example to the world.
“She practised Christianity. The majority of Christians only spend their time talking about it.”
No major ceremony was planned in Kolkata, where the first Missionaries of Charity mission was set up in 1952, but prayers, talks and cultural events were due to take place in an atmosphere of quiet pride.
Pramod Sharma, a Kolkata resident who grew up near a convent school and childcare centre where Mother Teresa worked, said she had chosen India as her home.
”(She) belonged to our India and stayed with the Indians and will forever stay in our hearts,” Sharma said.
A delegation from India was among a dozen national governments at the Vatican.