Canonisation of Mother Teresa, the Saint of the Gutters

On Sunday, September 4 2016 Pope Francis will declare Blessed Teresa of Calcutta a saint at St Peter’s Square, Vatican in the presence of over 500000 pilgrims from all over the world. Mother Teresa of Calcutta who is popularly also known as the mother of the gutters has been considered more than a personality by the world, she has proved to be an event in the history.

Anjeze Gonxha Bojaxhiu—the original name of Mother Teresa—was an Albanian Roman Catholic born at Bojaxhiu at Skopje, the modern Republic of Macedonia, on August 26, 1910 as the youngest of the five children to Nikola and Dronda Bojaxhiu that ran a successful construction business.

Although she was closely associated with Church activities as a young girl, Mother Teresa later revealed that she never thought of becoming a religious nun until she was grown up. At the age of 18, she decided to enter religious life and joined the Loreto Sisters of Dublin in Ireland in 1928. In the following year in 1929, Gonxha was sent to Darjeeling, West Bengal, India to begin the novitiate of the Sisters of Loreto. After the novitiate she made her First Religious Profession in the year 1931 and chose the name of Teresa, honouring both saints of the same name, Teresa of Avila and Therese of Lisieux. The newly professed Teresa took up the profession of teaching and taught history and geography for the next 15 years at St Mary's Girls High School in a district of Calcutta.

While she was very happy with what she did as a young religious at Loreto convent, a turnaround of events happened when she received a “second calling” from God on her train journey to Darjeeling for a retreat in 1946. She had a unique experience in which she heard the voice of Jesus telling her to stop teaching profession and dedicate her life to care for the poor people of India.

Teresa left Loreto convent with due permission from Church authorities and went to the slums in Calcutta and started a school and a home for the dying in 1948. Two years later in 1950 she founded a religious order for women, the Missionaries of Charity (MC Sisters). The group began with only 12 followers, but Mother Teresa built a global network of nuns in the succeeding decades, expanding it into one of the largest women’s religious orders in the Catholic Church. Her goal was to provide help and comfort to those that society neglect and forget. She reached out to the orphans and the homeless, cared for the sick and dying, and even worked with lepers and people with deadly diseases. She cared for all irrespective of their gender, caste and religion.

Mother Teresa continued her good work and started orphanages, facilities for people with leprosy and various clinics. The religious order that she began with just a handful of sisters began to spread to other parts of the country and the world. Today, the Order of Missionaries of Charity has over 5000 sisters with over 600 different types of charitable organizations or foundations established in about 120 countries worldwide.

Many awards and recognitions both national and international came to her along the way. She was awarded the prestigious Nobel Prize for Peace in 1979, at the age of 69, for the work she carried out for the poor and the destitute in the slums of Calcutta, an award that she said, “Personally, I am unworthy”. She refused to attend the traditional ceremonial banquet given in her honour, asking that the huge money spend for the dinner be donated to the poor of India.

Amidst all these, Mother Teresa continued her work among the poorest of the poor, depending on God for all of her needs. Despite years of strenuous physical, emotional and spiritual work, she seemed unstoppable. Though frail and bent, with numerous ailments, she would always return to her work to care for the sick, poor and the abandoned.

On 13 March 1997, she stepped down from the head of Missionaries of Charity handing over the responsibility to Sr Nirmala Joshi. Mother Teresa, the “Saint of the gutters” who brought much love and consolation to hundreds of unwanted, unloved and uncared of the society died on 5 September 1997 in her convent in Calcutta.

Shortly after the death and burial of Mother Teresa, the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints opened an investigation into Mother Teresa although traditionally the process doesn’t begin until at least five years after the death of the person. But Pope John Paul II waived that traditional waiting period, allowing the process to begin only 18 months after her death because she was considered a “living saint”. In some cases, the process of canonization can last centuries. In the case of Mother Teresa the entire process took only 18 years.

Once the process begins, the person is called a “Servant of God”. This first phase has to do with gathering testimony, public and private writings, and getting them examined, and has to be established by the Diocese.

In the second phase, a summary of the findings is presented to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. Nine theologians scrutinize the evidence and documentation. If a majority passes it, it goes to the Pope and once the Pontiff recognizes it, the candidate is called “Venerable”.

The third step is “Beatification”. For a person to be declared Blessed, there has to be approval of a “miracle”, proving that the miracle is through the intercessory power of the Venerable Servant of God, an indication that the person has united with God after death. In 2002, the Pope acknowledged the healing of a tumour in the abdomen of a Bengali tribal woman, Monica Besra, as Mother Teresa’s first miracle. The Scientific Commission appointed to study the healing of a tumour in the abdomen of a Bengali tribal woman presented their findings to the Pontiff and Pope John Paul II acknowledged the findings of the Commission and declared that what happened in the case of Monica Bersa was indeed a “miracle” through the intercession of Venerable Servant of God Mother Teresa. On 19 October 2003, she was beatified "Blessed Teresa of Calcutta" by the Roman Catholic Church.

For the final step which is the canonization, there has to be a second miracle and the same procedure is followed. The second miracle involving a Brazilian man named Marcilio Haddad Andrino with brain tumours was miraculously healed through the intercession of Mother Teresa. Pope Francis recognized the miracle in December 2015.

It has been a long road to sainthood for Mother Teresa who, for millions of people all over the world, lived a saintly life while on Earth. She indeed set an example of a true disciple of Jesus Christ who taught, “Whatever you did to the least of my people, you did it to me.” The world remembers and honours her today not for the many titles and awards she won or for the many institutions she established all over the world, but for what she taught the world through her words and actions. The legacy that she has left behind will continue to inspire men and women, young and old in the centuries to come.

Mother Teresa is to be canonized by Pope Francis on 4 September in a ceremony expected to draw hundreds of thousands of pilgrims to Rome and TV viewers across the world. The Roman Pontiff will declare Mother Teresa a saint of the Roman Catholic Church at 10.30 am on September 4 — 2 pm in India — at a special Mass in St Peter’s Square, Vatican City. For millions of people from all walks of life, Mother Teresa’s canonization is providentially taking place during Pope Francis’ Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. This is entirely fitting since she is seen both inside and outside of the Church as an icon of God’s mercy to those in need.

Fr Thomas Mangamthanath SSP

(Priest of Society of St Paul, an international religious congregation involved in the spread of the Gospel through the means of Social Communications.)