Mother Teresa, Nobel prize winner and the iconic nun who spent her life serving the poor and sick in India was declared a Saint of the Roman Catholic Church earlier this month.
The sainthood for Mother Teresa came 19 years after her death and has been widely celebrated.
Bismillah Geelani has this report on how the news is being received in India.
At New Delhi’s Sacred Heart Cathedral, a special mass has been organised to mark Mother Teresa’s elevation to sainthood.
Throngs of devotees and admirers have turned up to pay homage.
Father Savari Muthu Sankar, spokesperson for the Delhi Catholic Archdiocese says it’s a special moment for them both as Christians and Indians.
“For us as Christians as Catholics she has been given the greatest honour the church can give, what we call in technical terms elevating to the honours of the altar, but also as citizens of this country because for every Indian she was an ambassador of this great country.”
Sankar continued, “She was an embodiment of love and hope for millions of people, especially the poorest of the poor and the destitute, therefore it is a moment of great joy and pride for every citizen.”
In the Vatican City where the canonisation ceremony was held, the crowd reached tens of thousands.
Hundreds of Indians, including a high-level state delegation led by the Minister of External Affairs were also in the audience as Pope Frances officially declared Mother Teresa a saint.
Also known as the ‘saint of gutters,’ Mother Teresa was originally from Albania.
She became a nun in her late teens and was sent to India, then a British Colony, to teach at a convent school in West Bengal.
A decade and a half later she discovered that teaching in a school was not her true calling.
Sunita Kumar, a close associate of Mother Teresa explains.
“She was going on a retreat and retreats for her meant prayer and she got the call again to step out and do work for the poor. She got the first call on her way to Darjeeling in the train so slowly she got into this thing of stepping out,” Kumar recalls.
And that’s how the idea of Missionaries of Charity – the order of Catholic nuns that Mother Teresa founded – was born.
“The first thing she did was she went into one of the Bastis next to the school and she saw a very sick man and then another one who was lying on the street and she got them both together and the people in the Basti offered her a little space where those men were kept and so her life went on from there,” said Kumar.
The Missionaries of Charity today works in more than 130 countries, providing shelter, healthcare, education and nutrition to the poor, orphans, and the elderly, as well as people with illness and disabilities.
It was at one of the orphanages run by the organisation where 35-year-old Jyoti found a new home after her parents abandoned her soon after her birth.
“We didn’t need a miracle for mother to be a saint. She was always a saint for us,” says Jyoti.
“I spent 30 years with mother and she has been a saint for me, she is the person who changed my life, she has been my mentor, she’s always been there.”
The Vatican however required evidence of at least two miracles before bestowing sainthood on Mother Teresa.
And the first came just a year after her death in 1997 when Monica Besra a woman from Kolkata claimed that Mother Teresa cured her tumour.
Besra says the doctor had declared her incurable and then she began praying in front of Mother Teresa’s picture. One day a light emerged from the picture and came towards her and next day her tumour was gone.
A similar claim by another patient in Brazil was held to be the second miracle.
While many have raised questions on these claims of miracles, Mother Teresa’s services as a social worker have been widely acclaimed both in India and abroad.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi used his monthly radio address to shower praise on Mother Teresa.
“Mother Teresa devoted her entire life to the service of the poor in India. She left no stone unturned to provide succour to the poor and the needy. Today when she is being honoured with sainthood, every Indian should naturally be proud of it,” announced Modi.
But it has not gone down well with many in the prime minister’s own party, and among allied Hindu nationalist groups, who accuse Mother Teresa of using social work as a means to convert Hindus to Christianity.
Meenakshi Lekhi is spokesperson for the ruling Bharatya Janata Party (BJP).
“If somebody from the missionaries would have come forward and said that we only do social and service and we don’t convert I would have understood that but Mother Teresa herself during an interview says a lot of people confuse me as a social worker but I am not a social worker. I am in the service of Jesus and my job is to spread the word of Christianity and bring people to its fold,” Lekhi said.
The Christian community has expressed deep outrage over the remarks and asked the prime minister to intervene, and take action against those involved.