Pope John Paul II bestowed one of the Catholic Church’s highest honours today on Mother Teresa, the nun who cared for many of the world’s poorest people.
The beatification ceremony took place in a pilgrim-packed St Peter’s Square.
The square and nearby streets overflowed with people. Some 200,000 tickets were given out for the ceremony, and tens of thousands more were streaming towards the Vatican when the ceremony began this morning.
John Paul, wheeled in an upholstered chair across the front steps of St. Peter’s Basilica toward an altar sheltered by a canopy, was alert and seemed pleased by the joyous crowd.
“Brothers and sisters, even in our days God inspires new models of sainthood.
“Some impose themselves for their radicalness, like that offered by Mother Teresa of Calcutta, whom today we add to the ranks of the blessed.
“In her, we perceive the urgency to put oneself in a state of service, especially for the poorest and most forgotten, the last of the last,” John Paul said, speaking in a slow and shaky voice.
Nuns from her order wiped away tears and the crowd clapped when he pronounced her blessed and a poster of her smiling, wrinkled face was unveiled to the crowd from the façade of the basilica.
Among the crowd were thousands of pilgrims from Asia and North and South America, and those singing hymns with gusto included nuns from the Missionaries of Charity, the order established by Mother Teresa in 1949 to tend to the destitute.
Front-row seats were reserved for VIPs, including a queen, princesses, presidents and ministers, and about 2,000 of the poor who sleep and eat and shelters run by Mother Teresa’s followers, including one inside the Vatican’s walls.
Mother Teresa, an ethnic Albanian, was born in what is now Skopje, Macedonia. She spent most of her life working in India and established convents and homes for the needy, including those with Aids, the homeless and single mothers around the world.
The head of the Indian bishops’ conference, Archbishop Telesphore Toppo, who is due to be made a cardinal on Tuesday by the pope, said he hoped the beatification of the 1979 Nobel Peace Prize winner would also “produce fruits for inter-religious harmony.”
“We’re not expecting a miracle, there can’t be a change all of the sudden, but this event is the work of God and many will listen to the message of peace, harmony and service to humanity that Mother Teresa left us,” he said.
The pope was such an ardent admirer of Mother Teresa’s devotion to the needy that he put her on the fast track toward sainthood after her death in Calcutta in 1997.
The pontiff broke with the church practice of waiting five years after a candidate’s death before starting the often decades-long process of beatification, the last formal step on the way to sainthood.
Last year he approved the required miracle for her beatification, the recovery of an Indian woman who was being treated for what doctors said was an incurable abdominal tumour. A second miracle is needed after beatification for elevation to sainthood.
In an interview with The Associated Press a few days before the beatification, the woman, Monica Besra, recounted how nuns from Mother Teresa’s order tied a medal with her image around her waist and prayed. The day was exactly one year after Mother Teresa’s death.
“That day I fell asleep and I had a deep sleep,” said Besra, who embraced Catholicism after her recovery. “When I woke up, I touched my stomach and I found that the tumour was no more. And I felt light.”
Some have scorned the miracle, including some who fear publicity about Besra’s recovery could discourage the poor, the very people Mother Teresa helped, from seeking medical care.