ROME — Sister Blandina, an Indian nun working in central Italy, has never had much doubt the founder of her order would one day receive the Church's official recognition of her holiness.
“I've always felt she would be made a saint because her example has inspired so many people,” Sister Blandina said from the bleak mountain town of L'Aquila, where the Missionaries of Charity have one of their communities.
The Indian-born sister, who came to Italy nine years ago, was one of the thousands Mother Teresa inspired by her devotion to the poor and needy. She makes no secret of her joy that the “Mother,” who died five years ago this week, is to be beatified soon.
“I'm longing for the day when we can travel to Rome to see the Pope declare her blessed,” she said.
Mother Teresa's cause for beatification, the penultimate stage on the ladder to canonization, is indeed moving ahead quickly. According to a senior official at the Vatican congregation dealing with beatification processes, the solemn ceremony in St. Peter's could come this fall or next spring.
One Italian daily even reported recently that an Oct. 13 date has already been scheduled. But neither the Congregation for Sainthood Causes nor the priest coordinating Mother Teresa's cause could confirm the report.
“I'm very happy with the way things are “I'm very happy with the way things are going,” said Father Brian Kolodiejchuk, promoter of the cause. “But it's premature to talk about dates because the process isn't finished yet.”
However, he said, of the two options being considered he thought spring the more realistic one.
The first phase of Mother Teresa's beatification process began in July 1999 and ended last August. During the two years the Indian Archdiocese of Calcutta collected a huge quantity of material on the Albanian-born nun, including writings by and about her and personal testimony from people who knew her.
All this material was entrusted to Father Kolodiejchuk, a Missionaries of Charity priest in Canada whose job it is to steer Mother Teresa's cause through the second phase of the process in the Vatican. Father Kolodiejchuk, officially termed the “postulator” of the cause, has been working since August 2001 to prepare all the documentation required for examination by the Congregation for Sainthood Causes.
In late April he submitted a four-volume, 5,000-page biography of Mother Teresa recounting her “life, virtue and reputation for holiness.”
The report, known as a positio, must be studied by nine theologians. If they judge Mother Teresa lived a life of “heroic virtue,” the position will be passed on to 12 cardinals and bishops who are members of the congregation. If their decision is also positive, then a decree recognizing her heroic virtue will be published and signed by the Pope.
Father Kolodiejchuk and his collaborators have also recently finished another report, detailing the unexplained healing of a non-Christian woman in India. This could be the miracle required by canon law for beatification.
The possible miracle happened on Sept. 5, 1998, exactly a year after Mother Teresa's death. Monica Besra, 30, was in the care of the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta and suffered from what appeared to be a huge abdominal tumor.
“The doctors said she was too weak to be operated on, but meanwhile the situation was worsening,” Father Kolodiejchuk recounted. “Some of the Missionaries of Charity who were assisting her started to pray, and they laid on her a ‘miraculous medal,’ which had been in contact with Mother Teresa's body before her burial. During the night the woman, who had gone to sleep, woke up and realized that the mass had disappeared.
“Now the doctors have to check that it's all true and see if there is sufficient evidence to define it a miracle,” he said.
So, before “Madre” Teresa, as some call her, can be declared blessed, three separate panels within the congregation — composed of theologians, doctors and cardinals — have to give their go-ahead. It might seem a lot, but this particular cause is on a fast track, which could mean everything will be approved within a few months.
“Madre Teresa's cause has had absolute top priority all the way,” said Father Peter Gumpel, a senior official in the Congregation for Sainthood Causes.
Normally, a cause of beatification cannot start until the candidate has been dead for at least five years, he explained. But in Mother Teresa's case an exception was made and the Pope waived the rule.
“It is understandable that Mother Teresa should be given this sort of treatment because of the universal devotion she enjoys,” he said. “The pastoral importance of the cause is greater than others. It's not just local or even national. It extends to the whole world.”
When a cause such as Mother Teresa's is given top priority, it also jumps ahead in the line. Instead of waiting its turn for examination by the congregation, the Pope commanded it be looked at as soon as possible. Processes that can normally take decades need only a few years. Given that there are several hundred causes on the congregation's books waiting to be vetted, Mother Teresa's is no mean advantage.
What this all means is that Mother Teresa looks set to break all records. If she is beatified in the next year, it will have been only five years after her death.
Until now the fastest beatification in memory is that of Josémaria Escriva de Balaguer, the founder of Opus Dei, who was declared blessed 17 years after his death.
Moving from the status of blessed to full sainthood could also happen quickly. The key requirement is that another miracle be attributed to her divine intervention after she has been beatified.
In the recent case of St. Padre Pio, a Franciscan friar with a wide following in Italy and elsewhere who was canonized in June, the final step to canonization took three years. Mother Teresa certainly commands no less devotion and can be expected to complete the process in a similar time or less.
‘Only Moved House’
In the meantime, the Missionaries of Charity founded by Mother Teresa goes from strength to strength. Now under the guidance of Mother Nirmala, it has 679 centers helping the poor in 125 countries. The new mother superior said in a recent interview that the death of her world-famous predecessor had done nothing to clip the congregation's wings.
“Mother Teresa has only moved house, you see, from the earth to heaven,” she said. “But she's still here, right beside us, and the grace of God continues to spread out. Since Mother Teresa died we have set up 85 new homes.”
Asked what people could do to help the Missionaries in their work, Mother Nirmala replied promptly: “Oh, we never ask anybody for help. Whoever wants to just gives spontaneously because God touches their heart.”
After a moment's thought, she came up with the following recipe: “Pray more, love more and learn to respect the rights of others.”
Martin Penner is based in Rome.
Life of Service
E Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu was born in Skopje, Albania, in 1910.
E She feels called to be a nun. She joins the Sisters of Loretto in Dublin, Ireland, in 1928 and takes the name of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, who was canonized in 1927.
E Arrives in Calcutta, India, in 1929 to teach at St. Mary's high school.
E In 1946, as a result of words of Jesus she received during a train ride, she founded the Missionaries of Charity order, which immediately set about helping and sheltering the poorest of the poor.
E In 1965, Pope Paul VI places the Missionaries of Charity directly under papal control. He authorizes Mother Teresa to expand the order outside of India.
E In 1979 she is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
E She persuades Israelis and Palestinians in 1982 to stop shooting long enough to allow her to rescue 37 retarded children from a hospital in besieged Beirut.
E In 1985, President Ronald Reagan awards her the medal of freedom.
E Today her order comprises about 4,000 nuns and almost 400 priests. It runs some 679 aid shelters in 125 countries.