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‘Messiah’ of the poor: Mother Teresa to be canonised as saint today by Pope Francis

KOLKATA: Mother Teresa of Calcutta, a Nobel peace laureate known as the “saint of the gutters” during her lifetime, will be made a saint of the Roman Catholic Church on Sunday. More than 100,000 pilgrims are expected to attend a service led by Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican to honour the tiny nun who worked among the world’s neediest in the slums of Kolkata.

Mother Teresa

Mother Teresa and her Missionaries of Charity (MoC) order are revered by Catholics as a model of compassion.

Thousands attended a papal audience on Saturday in the Vatican, where a large canvas of the late nun in her blue-hemmed white robes hung from St. Peter’s basilica. “Her testimony makes us reflect and transform…and make a better world,” Brazilian priest Carlos Jose Nacimento said.

From India, a 12-member central delegation led by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and two state government-level delegations from Delhi and West Bengal, led by Chief Ministers Arvind Kejriwal and Mamata Banerjee, respectively, will be in attendance during the function.

A group of around 40-50 nuns from different parts of the country will be present at the ceremony led by Missionaries of Charity Superior General Sister Mary Prema. Besides Archbishop of Kolkata Thomas D’Souza, about 45 bishops from all over India are now in Vatican.

Delegations from at least 15 national governments are expected at the Vatican.

From Skopje to Calcutta
Mother Teresa was born to Albanians Gonxha Agnes Bojaxhiu in Skopje, in what was then part of the Ottoman empire and is now Macedonia, on August 26, 1910. She became a nun at the age of 16. She moved to Kolkata, then called Calcutta, in 1929 and established her mission in 1950, working to help the destitute.

She worked with the poor in Kolkata for nearly four decades, having initially come to India as a missionary teacher with Ireland’s Loreto order. She died in 1997. By then she was a household name around the world and also a citizen of India.

Criteria for sainthood
The Church defines as saints those believed to have led such holy lives they are now in Heaven and can intercede with God to perform miracles – two of which are needed to confer sainthood.

Mother Teresa is credited with healing an Indian woman from stomach cancer in 1998 and a Brazilian man from a brain infection in 2008.

Her legacy fits neatly with Francis’s vision of a poor church that strives to serve the poor, and the ceremony will be a highlight of his Holy Year of Mercy which runs until Nov. 8.

However, the Nobel Laureate was criticised both during her life and since her death in 1997. Critics say she did little to alleviate the pain of the terminally ill and nothing to tackle the root causes of poverty. Atheist writer Christopher Hitchens made a documentary about her called “Hell’s Angel”. She was also accused of trying to convert the destitute in predominantly-Hindu India to Christianity, a charge her mission has repeatedly denied.

But Pope John Paul II, who met her often, had no doubt about her eligibility for sainthood, and put her on a fast track to elevation two years after her death instead of the usual five.

Celebrations across the world
The canonisation will also be celebrated in Skopje, the capital of modern Macedonia where Mother Teresa was born. In Kolkata, where the first MoC mission was set up in 1952, there will be prayers, talks and cultural events, but no major ceremony

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