‘We owe our lives to Mother Teresa’

ADMIRERS of Mother Teresa wept with joy and prayed in her adopted hometown of Calcutta yesterday as Pope John Paul II beatified the Saint of the Gutters.

Rallies, prayers and feasts were held across the country in honour of the nun, an ethnic Albanian born in what is now Macedonia, who devoted her life to serving the poor.

In Calcutta, more than 500 schoolchildren marched in a rally carrying placards and portraits of Mother Teresa.

People in orphanages and leprosy homes run by her charity and in hundreds of thousands of homes all over India watched the beatification ceremony beamed live from Rome. More than 50 churches in the capital, New Delhi, held celebratory prayers.

The Pope was such an ardent admirer of Mother Teresa’s dedication that he put her on the fast track toward sainthood after her death in Calcutta in 1997 at 87. Being beatified is the last step on the way to sainthood.

John Paul approved the required miracle for the beatification, the recovery of an Indian woman being treated for what doctors said was an incurable abdominal tumour. A second miracle is needed after beatification for elevation to sainthood.

A special service was held at the modest building on a narrow Calcutta lane where Mother Teresa lived for most of her life.

Known as Mother House, it is the global headquarters of the Missionaries of Charity, the order she founded in 1949. Today, it operates from some 650 centres in 123 countries run by about 4,000 nuns and volunteers.

“Sunday’s Mass is dedicated to Mother Teresa. It’s a day of rejoicing for all of us,” priest Joseph Maliyackal told hundreds of worshippers. Dozens of nuns, wearing the characteristic white saris with blue stripes, led the singing of hymns and prayers.

“This is an unforgettable day for us. We owe our lives to Mother Teresa,” said Rupak Biswas, 34, a teacher from Calcutta, who received free education at a school run by the missionaries.

Admirers streamed past Mother Teresa’s tomb decorated with white flowers and candles. Some people kissed the tomb while others touched it with their foreheads.

“Mother Teresa’s motto was ‘service to others,’ so any celebration has to be through prayer and service,” said Bikash Khan, as he stood in a long queue of people lining up to place flowers around the marble tomb.

Among those whose lives had been touched by Mother Teresa was 34-year-old Barun Dasgupta, whose legs are crippled from polio .

“I used to feel bad because of my disability. I felt I was a burden on others. When I told Mother Teresa this, she said, ‘a man’s identity is his work.’ You can work and feed yourself and many others as well,” said Dasgupta, who works in a bookshop. “I haven’t seen God, but I consider Mother Teresa a god.”

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