Mother Teresa to be canonised at Vatican on Sunday

Kosovar Albanian nun who founded Missionaries of Charity dedicated life to India’s poor

Mother Teresa in 1993. Sunday’s ceremony at the Vatican will be attended by 100,000 faithful and at least 15 foreign delegations, including Indian state representatives. Photograph: AP Photo

Mother Teresa in 1993. Sunday’s ceremony at the Vatican will be attended by 100,000 faithful and at least 15 foreign delegations, including Indian state representatives. Photograph: AP Photo

 

Mother Teresa will be canonised by Pope Francis in St Peter’s Square on Sunday morning in a ceremony to be attended by 100,000 faithful and at least 15 foreign delegations, including Indian state representatives.

Presenting the canonisation at a news conference on Friday, senior Vatican spokesman Greg Burke called it the “key” canonisation of this Holy Year of Mercy.

The vast majority of new saints canonised by today’s Catholic Church are entirely unknown to the secular, non-Catholic world. Mother Teresa, the frail little Kosovar Albanian nun of the Indian slums, breaks that mould. Her story has reached millions – a story of how, while travelling on a train to Darjeeling in India in 1946, she felt a “call within the call” urging her to leave her convent and go help the poor by living among them.

Two years later, she began her work with the poor. Essentially, having received some basic medical training, she moved into the slums of Calcutta, where she not only cared for the needs of the destitute and hungry but also started a school. She was soon joined by a group of young women who joined with her to help “the poorest of the poor”. By 1950, she had founded her own order, the Missionaries of Charity*.

Speaking at Friday’s news conference, Sister Mary Prema Peirick, the current superior general of the Missionaries of Charity, recalled life with Mother Teresa, saying:

“In her lifetime, she took us close to God and she is still doing that . . . She was a teacher and we (Missionaries of Charity nuns) all wanted to be close to her . . . Mother’s love for Jesus was put into action for everyone. She tried to teach us in a practical way how to live the high demands of our [Christian] spirituality. Her smile was her gift to people and the world, people have enough sadness, people need the joy and the hope that comes from Jesus.”

Much respected and admired by Pope John Paul II, and awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, she was given an Indian state funeral following her death in 1997. Then prime minister of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif called her “a rare and unique individual who lived long for higher purposes”, while the former UN secretary general Javier Pérez de Cuéllar said simply that “she was the United Nations”.

By the time of her death, the Missionaries of Charity had more than 4,000 sisters (today approximately 5,500), operating 610 missions in 123 countries, missions which included homes for people with HIV/Aids, leprosy and tuberculosis as well as soup kitchens, orphanages and schools. 

Curiously, at Friday’s news conference, Fr Brian Kolodiejchuk, the postulator of her canonisation cause, pointed out how she also had her moments of “darkness”, her dark night of the soul and her struggles with her faith. Quoting Mother Teresa, Fr Kolodiejchuk said:

“I have come to love the darkness, for I believe now that it is a part, a very small part of Jesus’s darkness and pain on earth. . . Today, really I felt a deep joy – that Jesus can’t go anymore through the agony – but that He wants to go through it in me. More than ever I surrender myself to him.  Yes, more than ever, I will be at his disposal.”

Calling her the patron saint of “those who cannot have a child” and of “frequent flyers”, Fr Kolodiejchuk said that in this year of mercy, the message of Mother Teresa is that “Calcutta is everywhere, there is interior poverty, the Calcutta of the heart”.

* This article was amended on Wednesday, September 7th, to correct an error