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Non-Catholic India Goes Big on Mother Teresa Centenary

08/26/2010 Comments (2)

DELHI, India — Blessed Teresa of Calcutta’s adopted country is celebrating the 100th anniversary of her birth in a big way.

“By blood, I am Albanian. By citizenship, an Indian,” Mother Teresa would say. “By faith, I am a Catholic nun. As to my calling, I belong to the world. As to my heart, I belong entirely to the Heart of Jesus.”

The country she left to serve as a missionary sister in 1929 will honor her birthday centenary today, even though the majority of the population is Hindu.

“This is a historic occasion, and we are making it a memorable day in the history of the nation,” Father Babu Joseph, spokesman for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India told the Register Aug. 23 after a photo exhibition on Mother Teresa was launched in the Indian capital.

The exhibition, sponsored by the bishops’ conference, along with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, will run at the convention center in Delhi through Aug. 30.

Many of the photos on display at the exhibition are by Raghu Rai, who is Hindu but who can be called India’s Malcolm Muggeridge: He was the first one to introduce Mother Teresa to the Indian media in 1970 and then enjoyed easy access to her.

The exhibit also showcases photos taken by Missionaries of Charity brothers around the world.

Rai recounted his incredible experiences of Mother Teresa’s concern and love for the poor. He told the Register that he followed her closely from 1970 and used to visit her for “spiritual nourishment” whenever he was upset or faced problems in life.

Armoogum Parsuramen, UNESCO representative in India, said that India, Albania and Macedonia appealed to UNESCO to declare 2010 the “Year of Mother Teresa” and that UNESCO unanimously approved it. UNESCO is hosting the exhibition in Delhi, Calcutta and other Indian cities during the year. Parsuramen said Mother Teresa “stood for values of understanding, compassion and care that UNESCO promotes.”


Mother Teresa Express

The Indian government itself planned several programs for the centenary. Indian Railways is launching an exhibition train, the Mother Teresa Express. The three-car blue train (recognizing the blue border of the white sari habit of the Missionaries of Charity, which Mother Teresa founded in 1950), will have photographs and writings to illustrate the life and work of the “saint of the gutters.” It will travel to different stations of the country for viewing over the next six months, beginning in a suburb of Calcutta.

On Aug. 28, Missionaries of Charity superior general Sister Mary Prema will join Indian President Pratibha Devisingh Patil to release a 100-rupee coin memorializing Mother Teresa at the government’s convention center in New Delhi. Since the coin will be too expensive for most people to purchase, the government will also release a 5-rupee coin with the same portrait.

A day before the coin release, in the Indian capital, the Church and the government will hold a major seminar on Mother Teresa’s legacy, with experts from different walks of life.

Meanwhile, Calcutta, where Mother Teresa established the motherhouse of the Missionaries of Charity, has been spruced up to celebrate the centenary of the Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

In fact, even the Communists who have ruled the West Bengal state (with Calcutta as its capital) for three decades call her “Mother.” They have allowed Signis India, a Catholic forum of audio-visual experts, to organize an international film festival about Mother Teresa at the state’s film center. Sunil Lucas, president of the organizing committee, told the Register that 16 films, including feature films like In the Name of God’s Poor by Dominic Lapierre, starring Geraldine Chaplin (daughter of Charlie Chaplin) as Mother Teresa, and Italy’s Madre Teresa, starring Olivia Hussey, will be screened at the festival, which is sponsored by UNESCO.

The British Broadcasting Corporation will be screening the Malcolm Muggeridge 1969 documentary Something Beautiful for God, which catapulted Mother Teresa to international fame.


At the Heart


Though special Masses will be celebrated today throughout the world, few people will have access to the Mass celebrated by Cardinal Telesphore Toppo of Ranchi, former president of the Indian bishops’ conference, at the Missionaries of Charity chapel at the motherhouse in Calcutta. There, Mother Teresa used to commence her day before stepping out to serve the “poorest of the poor” in Calcutta’s streets.

“We have exhausted all the passes,” Sister Christie of the Missionaries of Charity told the Register.

Meanwhile, leaders of India’s diverse faiths — Bahai, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and Sikh — gathered at the Jesus and Mary School adjacent to the Sacred Heart Cathedral in New Delhi Aug. 24 to share their “idea of service” from their religious perspective to mark the birth centenary.

Said Father Dominic Emmanuel, spokesman for the Delhi Archdiocese, which organized the interreligious meeting, “They all have the same admiration for Mother like us. Indeed she is ‘Mother’ to all.”

Anto Akkara writes from Bangalore, India.

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