A Mother and a Saint

Mother Teresa was canonised by the Catholic Church in a week-long grand ceremony in the Vatican on the first Sunday in September. A contingent of nuns, priests, volunteers, followers, academics and government officials from India were in attendance to witness the historic event that formally elevated the “saint of the gutters”, as Mother Teresa is famously known, to Saint Teresa of Calcutta. When the canonisation mass began at the iconic St. Peters Square, nuns and novices of the Order of the Missionaries of Charity as well as their followers caught the service through live streaming at Mother’s Home, the headquarters of the humanitarian network initiated by Mother Teresa in Kolkata.

Mother Teresa, now St Teresa of Calcutta.

Immediately before the canonisation, there was ­palpable enthusiasm in the air at the Mother’s Home although the nuns, dressed in their typical white saris with blue striped borders, continued to follow their tranquil daily routine of silent prayers and service to the poor. The ordained women, in fact, pray to the Mother to give them the strength to carry on her work. “Much before the beatification by the Church, we have been praying to the Mother. She is revered by the nuns as well as the visitors coming to the Home. Her statue is at the entrance and people stop by it to say their prayers,” explains Sister Ita MC, who joined the Missionaries of Charity two decades back when she came to India from Indiana in the United States.

People walk into the hallowed premises of the ­Mother’s Home to pray, volunteer, seek spiritual ­guidance and ­counselling; many come looking for financial aid and medical support. And the nuns are there to ­provide the necessary solace. “The spirit of giving and ­reaching out to those in need hasn’t changed. We are ­keeping Mother’s legacy and philosophy alive,” says ­Sister Blasilla MC.

Margret Frank, a school teacher, is one of the many for whom praying to the Mother for compassion and the courage to face ­challenges — qualities she lived by and ­practised in her ­lifetime — is a morning ritual.
“I have deep faith in her and my prayers have always been answered. I truly believe that she has great healing powers,” she says.

Bess and Ana, too, were in the city all the way from Kerala to mark the big day. One of the two ­sisters was adopted from Shishu Bhawan, the ­children’s home of the Missionaries of Charity, and they were here with their mother Kavita. “She has always been a saint for us. It was encouragement from her that motivated me to speak to my family about adopting a girl,” reveals the older woman.

Sister Lysa (left), Deputy Head of the Missionaries of Charity, conducting a special prayer marking the 106th birthday of Mother Teresa.

On way to the grotto of Mother Mary in the Mother’s Home it is customary to pay respects at Mother Teresa’s statue on the ground floor. Sitting on the benches nearby are the ­novices, easily identifiable by their white saris, who wait for their turn to receive “blessings” as they get ready to spend another day in ­theological studies. Flanking the statue are relics of the Mother that the pilgrims are eager to touch to “sanctify themselves”; there’s also a locked box in which children drop chits of paper with their special prayers and wishes penned down. Sister Felomina MC from ­Simdega in Jharkhand, an elderly nun of the Missionaries, who joined the order at the call of Mother Teresa, says, “For us she has always been saintly. She had special powers that motivated, directed and blessed restless souls.”
While the devout honour her with prayers and stories about her ­“miracles”, acclaimed ­photographer Kounteya Sinha, along with a group of young Kolkatans, has attempted to capture the true spirit of the city that inspired a young Agnes Gonxha (as Mother Teresa was known before she took her vows) from Albania to stay on and make it her home. This initiative was part of the crowd-funded Sainthood Project under which streets of Rome were turned into an open air gallery ­showcasing the different facets of Kolkata to the crowds that came in for the ­canonisation. Significantly, Sinha’s camera has consciously looked beyond the ­impoverishment and squalor that envelope the city and instead concentrated on highlighting its beauty and heritage. ­Srijita Deb Burman, 25, who is associated with the Sainthood Project, says, “This is our way of paying tribute to Mother Teresa. The images that we are showing depict the real ­character of Kolkata that must have attracted Mother to the city.”

For many of us Mother has always been the saint who heals and inspires. The world will now recognise what we have always known.

There were several other academics, priests, students and artists who held ­seminars, exhibitions and prayer ­meetings across the city to spread “Mother Teresa’s philosophy and humanity.” Artist Sunita Kumar, an ardent follower of the Mother, has made “several new paintings ­depicting her ideology”. A practising Sikh, she volunteers with the ­Missionaries of Charity, and vividly recounts several ­miracles of the Mother. “She remains the face of extreme penance and ­sacrifice all across the world,” she remarks.

A cathedral in Baruipur, near Kolkata, becomes the first official church where followers can officially offer prayers in the name of their beloved saint. The city’s landmark Park Street area, where a statue of Mother Teresa serenely looks over the milling crowds, has now been renamed Mother Teresa Sarani in her honour.

“Her work and ideology, rooted in human values and rights, have a universal appeal. Be it Christians or people practising other faiths, Mother Teresa is an icon for everyone. For me, it’s her capacity to bring everyone together that makes her a saint,” says Aarti Kumari, a regular visitor to Mother’s Home, who comes seeking counsel from the nuns on family issues. Mitali Basak, a homemaker, adds, “I have observed Mother Teresa from close quarters for most years of my life and I feel blessed to have seen a saint in real life.”

Sister Asharita MC from Tamil Nadu has the final word, “It was her call that brought me to the order and I am happy to be following in her footsteps. For many of us Mother has always been the saint who heals and inspires. The world will now recognise what we have always known.”

(© Women’s Feature Service)

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