Francis’ decision came in today’s ordinary public consistory for the canonisation of the blessed. The life of the "little sister" devoted to the poorest of the poor went from a shack in a Kolkata slum to a Nobel Peace Prize and global reach of the Missionaries of Charity.
Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Pope Francis has decided that Mother Teresa of Kolkata* will be proclaimed a saint on 4 September in Rome. The pontiff made the announcement at today’s ordinary public consistory for the canonisation of the Blessed. In addition to Mother Teresa, the other Blessed to be canonised are Joseph Sanchez del Rio, Stanisłaus of Jesus and Mary, Joseph Gabriel del Rosario Brochero, and Mary Elizabeth Esselblad.
Mother Teresa was born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu on 26 August 1910 in Skopje (former Jugoslavia, now Macedonia), into an Albanian Catholic family. At the age of 18, she decided to enter the Congregation of the Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Loreto.
In 1928, she went to Ireland, and the next year she was sent to India, where in 1931 she took her first vows, adopting the new name of Sister Mary Theresa of the Child Jesus. For 17 years, she taught history and geography at the College of the Sisters of Loreto in Entally, Kolkata. In 1944, she became the school’s principal.
The turning point in her life came on 10 September 1946. Sister Teresa was travelling by train to Darjeeling for a spiritual retreat, when she heard her "second calling" – Jesus on the cross crying out, “I thirst”. Speaking about it, she said, "I felt the Lord was asking me to give up the quiet life in my religious congregation to go out into the streets to serve the poor. It was an order. It was not a suggestion, invitation or proposal."
It was a call to dedicate herself to the poorest of the poor, whom she saw die every day in the streets of Kolkata, without any respect for their dignity at that moment. "I thirst" is written on all the crucifixes in the chapels of the Sisters of Mother Teresa.
When Sister Teresa decided to leave the convent in Entally, it took her two years to convince the sisters and the archbishop of Kolkata, and obtain the necessary authorisations. On 15 August 1948, she left the Sisters of Loreto and became Mother Teresa. That same year she took out Indian citizenship, marking forever her relationship with that country. Her first home was a shack in the slum of Motijheel in Kolkata.
On 7 October 1950, the Congregation of the Missionaries of Charity obtained its first recognition, from the diocese of Kolkata. The number of nuns grew so rapidly that in February 1953 the diocese gave them a new home at 54A Lower Circular Road, which is still the Motherhouse of the Missionaries of Charity.
The year before, in 1952, the Kalighat Home for the Dying was established for people to die with dignity and according to the rites of their faith.
Her next step was to get involved with people with leprosy, who are also "the poorest of the poor”. In 1957, Mother Teresa began to accept some of them. Shortly afterward, she set up mobile clinics to contain outbreaks, and in 1958, she opened a centre for leprosy patients in Tigarah, on the outskirts of Kolkata.
The following years marked a rapid growth of the Missionaries of Charity. In February 1965, Paul VI granted them the status of "congregation of pontifical right" with the possibility of operating outside of India. In July, the first such house opened in Cocote, Venezuela. As of 31 December 2008, the congregation had 5,194 religious in 762 houses.
Mother Teresa’s fame continued to grow with countless awards for her activities, from the 1962 Magsaysay Award for Peace and International Understanding to the 1972 Templeton Prize not to mention the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, given to her "for work undertaken in the struggle to overcome poverty and distress in the world, which also constitute a threat to peace.”
Despite a declining health, Mother Teresa remained tireless until the end, which came in Kolkata at 9.30 pm, on Friday 5 September 1997, at the age of 87. On her grave, in Kolkata, one can read, from the Gospel, "Love one another as I have loved you”.
Her process of beatification began on 26 July 1999, three years ahead of the five required under Canon law, by will of John Paul II, who was close to the nun.
On 17 December 2015, Pope Francis approved the promulgation of the decree recognising a miracle attributed to the intercession of Blessed Teresa of Kolkata. The case presented by the Postulator of her cause for canonisation concerns a miraculous healing that took place in 2008 in Santos, Brazil, involving a man with a viral infection of the brain that led to multiple abscesses with triventricular hydrocephalus.
* In 2001, the city’s name changed from the anglicised Calcutta to the Bangla Kolkata.
The saint of Kolkata is a Jubilee icon, and can help promote corporal and spiritual works of mercy. The pope is praised but not understood. For Mother Teresa, as for Francis, the Church "is not an NGO". The Mother is also an example of how to reconcile contemplation and action, sacrament and mission, witness and commitment in the world, rectifying the discrepancies of those who are traditionalist and inward looking as well those who hold shapeless liberal views.
Free copies of the Gospel of St Luke were handed out. Memorising works of mercy makes it “easier to fulfil them”. As the adulterous woman stood in front of Jesus, they were like “misery and mercy, facing each other,” like us when we go to the confessional. “God does not nail us to our sins; he does not identify us with the wrongs we have done.” Instead, “He wants to free us” so as to make us into “new creatures”.
The archbishop of the metropolis during the soon-to-be-proclaimed Saint’s mission, Msgr. Henry Sebastian D'Souza, tells AsiaNews about the last days of Mother Teresa and her legacy for India and for the world: "The beauty of life and of Mother Teresa's mission is that she was able to transcend the barriers of race, language, culture, social status ... Whatever barrier. She was the image of Jesus, His face in the world".
“Where is God? Where is God, if evil is present in our world, if there are men and women who are hungry and thirsty, homeless, exiles and refugees? Where is God, when innocent persons die as a result of violence, terrorism and war?” Yet, “In the face of evil, suffering and sin, the only response possible for a disciple of Jesus is the gift of self, even of one’s own life”. Indeed, "I wish that we, as Christians, could stand by the sick the way Jesus did with silence, a touch, a prayer”. He also called to embrace “our Syrian brothers and sisters, who fled war.”
The Conference of Religious India has come up with a five-part action plan to carry out concrete works of mercy wherever they live. Its members plan to meet before the end of the Jubilee to take stock of their work. The latter includes avoiding gossip, respecting employees, and keeping the Church simple and poor.