KOLKATA, India — While thousands of pilgrims from around the world thronged St. Peter’s Square in Rome Sept. 4 for the long-awaited canonization of Mother Teresa — known as the “saint of the gutters” — hundreds of pilgrims in the saint’s adopted homeland embraced the festivities.
At the congregation’s motherhouse in Kolkata, hundreds of nuns and novices of the Missionaries of Charity (MC), the congregation founded by St. Teresa, volunteers and admirers of Mother Teresa cutting across creed enthusiastically applauded in unison as Pope Francis declared: “For the honor of the Blessed Trinity ... we declare and define Blessed Teresa of Calcutta to be a saint, and we enroll her among the saints, decreeing that she is to be venerated as such by the whole Church.”
Three large digital screens had been set up in the austere motherhouse, along with one on the road outside for those who could not enter the building.
Following the regularly scheduled 6am morning Mass, hundreds of devotees and admirers made a beeline with flowers and bouquets to visit her tomb prior to the commencement of the canonization telecast from the Vatican. Even before the proceedings began at the Vatican, top political leaders of Kolkata descended at the motherhouse to pay tributes to Mother Teresa, whose first official feast day was the following day.
“Today is a proud day for Kolkata, Bengal, India and the world. Our Mother is being officially declared a saint,” said Iqbal Ahmed, a legislator of West Bengal state (which has Kolkata as its capital), addressing a civic meeting outside the motherhouse prior to the canonization. “I have seen Mother from my student days taking care of the sick. I congratulate all the sisters who have been with Mother and continuing her work. With her canonization as St. Teresa, Kolkata is being honored.”
Several top political leaders paid similar tributes to St. Teresa with Sister Lysa, the Missionaries of Charity’s assistant superior general, joining them at the podium.
Addressing the gathering in front of dozens of TV crews, cameramen and reporters who had to wait patiently outside for hours for their turn to enter briefly the motherhouse, which was packed to capacity, Sister Lysa highlighted the “inseparable connection” between Mother Teresa and Kolkata.
Throughout her life, she worked on AJC Bose Road — where the motherhouse is located — and all other neighboring streets and slums, giving humble love and service to the unwanted, the orphans, the sick, the dying and leprosy patients, Sister Lysa recalled.
The civic gathering, organized by the Kolkata Municipal Corp., concluded abruptly as the canonization telecasts began on the screen behind the podium.
One of the dignitaries who wasn’t able to speak was Swami Saradanananda of the Hindu Ramakrishna Mission.
“It is a proud moment for all of us,” Swami Saradanananda told the Register while exiting the motherhouse after paying his respects to St. Teresa at her tomb.
“Mother was an icon of love and service and a model to everyone,” the Hindu leader added.
“Mother’s service to the world was beyond religion,” added Hasan Habib, a Muslim artist who came to the motherhouse with his memorabilia, including an autograph signed by the newly canonized saint.
“I cannot express in words my joy when Mother is being recognized as a saint by the Catholic Church. She was the soul of Kolkata and immortalized it,” the ecstatic artist told the Register.
Political Leaders’ Praise
President Pranab Mukherjee of India joined the ranks of ordinary Indians who have been uplifted by the canonization of St. Teresa.
Mukherjee, a native of West Bengal state, spoke for Indians of all creeds when he declared, “Every citizen of India will take pride in the recognition being accorded to Mother Teresa through this canonization. Let her example inspire all of us to dedicate ourselves to the welfare of mankind.”
Describing her as an “embodiment of compassion,” Mukherjee said, “Mother Teresa provided dignity and respect to those who had been defeated by life. She was a messiah of the poor and a pillar of support for the weak and suffering people. Her simple manners touched the hearts of millions of people of all faiths.”
“She glorified her life with the dignity of humble service. In recognition of Mother Teresa’s selfless and dedicated services, a grateful nation conferred on her India’s highest civilian award, Bharat Ratna (Jewel of India), in 1980,” the president of India said.
“When Mother Teresa, who served the poor in India all through her life, is accorded sainthood, it is quite natural for us Indians to feel proud,” Modi reiterated in his monthly radio address to the nation on Aug. 28.
Due to the heavy rush of devotees and non-Christian admirers of Mother Teresa, the Missionaries of Charity sisters broke the usual custom of closing the doors of the motherhouse at 6pm. Even at 8:30, sisters had to oblige visitors who thronged the headquarters.
As this reporter walked out, three novices clad in their white sarees (without blue borders) were carrying large vessels on the pathway nearby. The novices were busy distributing biriyani (a special meal to mark the canonization) to the destitute and beggars congregating around the motherhouse.
For the missionaries, the service to the poorest of the poor didn’t stop, even on the greatest day in the history of their congregation, followed by St. Teresa’s feast day.
First Feast Day
With Archbishop Thomas D’Souza of Kolkata at the Vatican for the canonization, the first feast of St. Teresa of Calcutta was led by the apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Salvatore Pennacchio, at Mother Teresa’ s tomb on Sept. 5 with the 6am Mass.
“St. Teresa of Calcutta is God’s gift to the world,” declared Archbishop Pennacchio in his homily. “Mother is an ambassador of God’s mercy to the entire world. The secret of Mother’s dedicated service to the poor and less fortunate was that she saw the face of Jesus in all of them.”
After the solemn Mass, the nuncio lit a candle, which was colored in blue strips, at the tomb and stood in prayer along with dozens of priests who concelebrated the Mass with him.
Then the entire congregation — which had been on different floors during the Mass because the chapel couldn’t hold all of them — moved to the balconies on the three floors of the motherhouse, where dozens of Missionaries of Charity sisters sang Happy Feast to Mother, with their eyes turned to a giant portrait of their sainted foundress.
Register correspondent Anto Akkara writes from Bangalore, India. He filed this report from Kolkata.