Mother Teresa will be canonised by the Catholic Church in a week-long grand ceremony in Rome on 4 September, 2016.
A contingent of nuns, priests, volunteers, followers, academics and government officials will be travelling to Rome to witness the ceremony. When the mass for canonisation of the blessed Teresa of Kolkata begins at St. Peters Square on the morning of the first Sunday in September, many of the nuns of the order and other followers will watch the ceremony through live streaming at Mother Teresa’s home, the headquarters of the Missionaries of Charity that she founded for her humanitarian work.
The excitement for the D-Day has already built up. Visitors flock all day at Mother’s home. Nuns guard the big gate distributing photos, quotes and little artefacts with Mother’s images imprinted on them. People come to pray, volunteer, seek solace and get counselled by the nuns. Many also come in for their usual aid and medical support from the Missionaries.
“This has always been there. During the time of Mother and even now; we want to keep alive the philosophy that she founded,” explains Sister Ita M.C, who chose the order and joined the Missionaries, far away from Indiana in the United States 20 back.
Margaret Rose, a 70-year-old woman from nearby Park Street, walks everyday to the home to pray in front of the statue of Mother Teresa. She bends with folded hands and tears flow from her eyes as she prays to the Mother for half an hour in deep concentration. “I am living today because of the Mother. She picked me up from the gutters to make me a human,” remembers Margaret who lives with her children and relatives in Kolkata. Margaret gleefully shares the fact that she was dying and sickly at one point of time but her constant prayer to Mother made her hale and hearty today.
The metal statue stands at the entrance and every visitor to Mother’s home, on their way to the grotto of Mother Mary, stops to pray to Mother Teresa. The novices in their white sarees carry their books to the Mother’s tomb on the ground floor of the home to get them blessed for their studies. Mother’s relics are kept separately in one corner that believers touch to sanctify themselves.
Children are coaxed by their parents to write their secret prayers in small chits and drop them in a locked box asking the Mother, the saint already, to pray and help them achieve their goals. “For us, we have always found her saintly. She had special powers that motivated, directed and blessed restless souls,” says Sister Felomina MC from Simdega in Jharkhand, an old nun of the missionaries, who converted to join the order at the call of Mother Teresa.
Special thanksgiving prayers have been organised on 26 August to mark Mother’s birthday and to also commemorate her journey to sainthood. While there are a lot many activities planned at Mother’s home for the canonisation ceremony, a group of young independent photographers are busy clicking awesome pictures of the Kolkata city to represent Mother Teresa’s fascination for the city that she chose as her home. This is a part of crowdsourced 'Sainthood Project', that the photographers intend to showcase in several locations in Rome during the period of the canonisation ceremony in early September. They are volunteers from different sectors intending to highlight aspects of the young 'Gonxha Agnes' from Albania who chose 'the City of Joy', as Kolkata is fondly referred to, at the call of Christ and joined the order to serve the “poorest of the poor” in India.
The youngsters are funding their own travel to Rome to participate in the grand ceremony and exhibit the photographs in open air galleries set across different parts of the city. “This is our tribute to Mother. We are presently capturing remarkable pictures of the city as 'No Bodies' that we will take to Rome to tell stories from Mother’s hometown. These images will depict the inspiration that must have attracted Mother to this city,” says 25-year-old business professional Srijita Deb Burman.
Many others, including academics, priests, students, artists are continuously holding seminars, exhibitions, prayer meetings everyday across the city to propagate “Mother Teresa’s philosophy towards humanity”.
“I have made several new paintings depicting her ideology that will be exhibited at the arts exhibition at St. Xavier’s School in Kolkata till her canonisation,” says a devotee and noted artist Sunita Kumar. A practicing Sikh, Kumar volunteers for the Missionaries of Charity and herself recounts several personal miracles of Mother.
Kumar, who is known for her paintings on Mother Teresa, reminisces the times she prayed to Mother Teresa. “It was just before she passed away. My son was diagnosed for Hepatitis B. I met her and asked her to pray for him. She passed away few hours later and out of curiosity I got my sons blood tested. His infection was gone. Since then, I have had deep faith on her saintly powers.”
The doors of her tomb are open for all and followers and admirers come every day visiting and praying in her tomb. Many say they had been doing so for long and vouch that their prayers have been heard. “Be a practicing Christian or followers of other faith, Mother Teresa has always been the icon for the confluence of faiths and that’s why I have such devotion for her saintly powers,” explains Aarti Kumari, a Hindu and a regular visitor who come for counseling from the nuns on family issues.
Kolkata’s vibrant street and a prominent hangout for youngsters, Park Street has already been renamed as 'Mother Teresa Sarani' as a mark to commemorate her great work. Special festivities will continue in that locality till Christmas this year. At Baruipur, in the outskirts of Kolkata, a cathedral is named after Mother Teresa and will host special masses and prayer meetings during her canonisation ceremony.
About 30 of the nuns, high in the order, are travelling to Rome on invitation from the Catholic Church in the Vatican City where the ceremonies will take place from 1 September onwards for the entire week. German born Sister Mary Prema MC, the superior general, is already in Rome to facilitate the process and accommodate the guests. On her invitation, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee and her entourage are also expected to visit Rome and witness the historic ceremony. Upon their return, a series of festivities have been planned across the city where Mother’s philosophy will be propagated by those whose lives she had touched.
“For us Mother always remained as Saint Teresa and it was her call that brought me here. While I was regularly praying to her during my studies, I always found her very inspiring,” says a novice sister from Jharkhand.
As Kolkata gets ready to celebrate Saint Teresa, many believe that Mother’s work towards addressing poverty and the poor, the most haunting challenges of the city had already made her a saint. And the occasion of canonisation remains symbolic.
Yet to her detractors, who questioned her faith and mission in India, relating it to religious conversion, the Missionaries brought forth testimonies from her associates describing her affection for all human beings irrespective of race and religion. Kumar sums up, “I am married to a practicing Hindu and we have prayed the way we want to. Mother never enforced her Christian faith on us.”
After the canonisation, the Missionaries of Charity will propagate Mother Teresa’s philosophy for humanity with their planned programmes through the Mother Teresa of Calcutta Center. The center is a non-profit organisation established by the Missionaries of Charity that aim to serve as a centralised and authoritative source of information on Mother Teresa spiritualism and philosophy.
Be it Mother Teresa’s decision to give up her Western upbringing for the blue three stripped saree to look like a rural Bengali woman or the decision of the Missionaries to stop adoption of children due to new laws of the Indian government attributing it to their Christian values, the Mother Teresa of Calcutta Centre will explain all the ideas behind.