Mother Teresa became synonymous with the slums of Kolkata. On the eve of her nineteenth death anniversary, Pope Francis declared her a saint on Sunday (September 04). To be considered for sainthood, a figure must be credited with two miracles. In 2002, the Vatican ruled it was a miracle when a poor Indian tribal woman named Monica Besra from a remote village in eastern India was mysteriously cured of stomach tumour after praying to Mother Teresa.
In 2008, a Brazilian man named Marcilio Andrino suffering from severe viral brain infection got cured after praying to Mother Teresa when doctors had given him little hope of survival. In December of 2015, the Vatican acknowledged this miracle cure as an attribution to Mother Teresa. These two extraordinary occurrences paved the way for Sunday's ceremony. In a statement announcing the canonisation, the Vatican called Mother Teresa a "metaphor for selfless devotion and holiness."
An estimated 120,000 Roman Catholics gathered in Rome's St. Peter's Square for the canonisation ceremony, as helicopters hovered overhead giving extra security. There were hundreds of Missionaries of Charity (founded by Mother Teresa) sisters in their trademark blue-and white-saris gathered to witness this historic moment. Pope Francis announced that Mother Teresa would now be called "Saint Teresa of Kolkata." He furthermore said, he shared Mother Teresa's "ideal of a church as a kind of 'field hospital' for the souls of the world's poorest and most desperate."
Mother Teresa was born on August 26, 1910 in Skopje, Albania as Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu to ethnic Albanian parents. They went to Albania from Macedonia. She left Albania at age 18 when she felt there was a higher calling for her to go and to help others in a distant part of the world. Upon arriving in Calcutta, she had joined the sisters of Loreto convent and taught there. That school was primarily for the privileged children of Calcutta. She later wandered through the streets of Calcutta and was very saddened by the plight of the "untouchables," the poor and the hungry. She decided to leave the convent to help the poor. She later founded the Missionaries of Charity.
From then on the poor and the needy in Kolkata got Mother Teresa among them. She came to be known as the "saint of the gutters." She uncompromisingly gave her best to help the poor, the hungry and the sick by taking care of them. With her diminutive stature, she had worked non-stop to feed the hungry and comforting the dying and the sick in Kolkata. Mother Teresa fought to eradicate poverty, disease and human suffering by roaming the streets. At night, she went looking for the poor and the needy and took them with her and gave them food, shelter and endless love.
Many abandoned and orphaned children in the streets of Kolkata had known Mother Teresa as their mother. Her Mission has many "Homes of Hope" for the lost, deserted and forgotten in India. Mother Teresa had felt that the dying deserved a place where one can feel love and die with dignity.
She was a symbol of grace and had considered life as an adventure. She had helped others to overcome struggle and tragedy and taught them to replace them with promise and dignity. To Mother, each life was precious and she believed that when given an opportunity one can overcome all sorrows and difficulties and can live with optimism. Through her continuous work to improve the quality of human life she worked unfailingly until the very end of her life.
Mother Teresa died at eighty-seven, in Kolkata on September 05, 1997. After her death, in 2010, on the eve of her centennial of birth, Mother Teresa became a subject of governmental wrangling between India and Albania. Albania demanded that her body be exhumed and flown back to Albania to be buried next to her mother and sister at the Albanian capital, Tirana. Since an official request was made, the entire nation of India was appalled. There had been protests and the nuns of Mother Teresa's order were shocked as to why Albania would raise the issue since Mother Teresa had little connection with the country, where she spent her adolescent years only. Since Skopje is now part of Macedonia, the Missionaries of Charity order feared that the Macedonians may also make such an unreasonable and absurd request. In the end, it was settled that Mother Teresa was an Indian citizen and she should be resting in her own country, her own land, and her remains must not be disturbed.
Mother Teresa chose to serve the poorest of the poor and to live like them and among them. She tried her best to restore the concept of human dignity among those who forgot about it because of their status and position in society. She frequented the leper colony and helped its inhabitants with whatever they needed, even with massage oil that was scarce to them. They got relief when they applied it to their deformed hands without fingers. She touched and embraced them without any fear.
Mother Teresa taught India many lessons and her voice was heard. Pope John Paul II and the Vatican accorded her a lot of respect and supported her cause. Pope Francis himself has modelled his papacy on Mother Teresa's simple lifestyle and selfless struggle to the poor of the world. Like Mother, he has denounced today's "throwaway" culture that abandons the unborn, young children, the sick and the elderly without any hesitation.
Mother Teresa does not belong only to Kolkata; she belongs to the wider world where there is suffering and injustice against the poor, the helpless and the sick. She attained recognition in life and in death. She appeared on the cover of Time magazine way back in December 1975 ("A Living Saint").
In 1979, Mother Teresa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, "for work undertaken in the struggle to overcome poverty and distress, which also constitutes a threat to peace." She donated the prize money that went to the poor of Kolkata.
Mother Teresa's legacy is not without controversy. When her canonisation approached, the doctors and volunteers in her Mission of Charity recounted grim tales about poor sanitation and bare-bone patient care despite receiving millions of dollars in donations. There are some criticisms about non-disclosure of accounts and forced deathbed conversion into Catholicism by Mother's order.
Though accused of glorifying pain and poverty, Mother Teresa was a widely beloved Catholic nun. She was a polarising figure and will continue to be known and loved for her tenacity, fortitude and decisiveness. She believed her mission is "God's work and God will take care of everything."
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