What's canonisation and why would Mother Teresa become a saint: All you need to know

As the sainthood for the widely-beloved Roman Catholic nun, Mother Teresa, will be declared by the Vatican on Sunday, here is all you should know about the canonisation process.

A canonisation process involves volumes of historical research, the hunt for miracles and teams of experts to weigh the evidence, which the Catholic Church goes through before making it official and declaring the candidate a saint. In Mother Teresa's case, the process will come to a formal end on Sunday when Pope Francis declares the Church's newest saint.

Members of Mother Teresa's order, the Missionaries of Charity, gather around the official canonisation portrait of Mother Teresa after the unveiling at the John Paul II National Shrine in Washington, US on Thursday. Reuters

Members of Mother Teresa's order, the Missionaries of Charity, gather around her official canonisation portrait after the unveiling at the John Paul II National Shrine in Washington, US on Thursday. Reuters

Explained: Canonisation process

The process to find a new saint usually begins in the diocese where he or she lived or died; in Mother Teresa's case: Kolkata.

A postulator — essentially the cheerleader spearheading the project — gathers testimony and documentation and presents the case to the Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

If the congregation's experts agree that the candidate lived a virtuous life, the case is forwarded to the pope, who signs a decree attesting to the candidate's "heroic virtues."

If the postulator finds someone was healed after praying for the candidate's intercession, and if the cure cannot be medically explained, the case is presented to the congregation as the possible miracle needed for beatification – the first major hurdle in the saint-making process.

Panels of doctors, theologians, bishops and cardinals must certify that the cure was instantaneous, complete and lasting - and was due to the intercession of the saintly candidate. If convinced, the congregation sends the case to the pope, who signs a decree saying the candidate can be beatified.

A second miracle is needed for the person to be declared a saint.

The saint-making process has long been criticised as being expensive, secretive, ripe for abuses and subject to political, financial or theological winds that can push one candidate to sainthood in record time and leave another languishing for centuries.

Pope Francis has raised eyebrows with some rule-breaking beatifications and canonisations, waiving the need for miracles and canonising more people in a single clip — more than 800 15th-century martyrs — than John Paul did in his 26-year pontificate (482).

Francis has also imposed new financial accountability standards on the multimillion-dollar machine after uncovering gross abuses that were subsequently revealed in two books. The books estimated the average cost for each beatification at around €5,00,000 ($5,50,000), with much of the proceeds going to a few lucky people with contracts to do the time-consuming investigations into the candidates' lives.

For the record, the postulator of Mother Teresa's cause says her case, which stretched over 20 years, cost less than €100,000.

Why is Mother Teresa a saint? And why is she the icon for Pope Francis' Holy Year of Mercy?

For her admirers, it's obvious.

"Mother is known throughout the whole world for her works of mercy, recognised by Christians and non-Christians alike," said Sister Mary Prema Pierick, the current superior general of Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity order.

"Reflecting about Mother and the life of our mother, we see all the works of mercy — corporal and spiritual — put into action."

Her biographer, the Reverend Lush Gjergji, said she founded her life on two pillars: "For God and for the human being."

"She crossed all barriers like castes, races, gender, ethnic, religious, cultural and turned into and remained the mother of the whole civilisation," he said.

"In the history of sainthood and that of Christianity, she is the first saint of Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, non-religious and of course for Christians."

Pope Francis waves at a picture of Mother Teresa during World Youth Days in Poland.  (File image: Reuters)

Pope Francis waves as a picture of Mother Teresa is seen during World Youth Days in Poland. (File image: Reuters)

However, she was not the beloved of all. She was criticised for the quality of care in her clinics and accused of taking donations from Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier and disgraced American financier Charles Keating.

Mother Teresa is most often associated with St. John Paul II, who was pope during the heyday of her work. But Pope Francis seems more a pope in her likeness, eschewing the Apostolic Palace for a simple hotel room, focusing his ministry on the most marginal of society and traveling to the peripheries to find lost souls - just as Mother Teresa did.

In one of his first public audiences after being elected pope in 2013, Francis said he longed for a "church that is poor and for the poor."

"Right from the beginning we said, 'Oh wow, this is a really an 'MC' pope!" said the Reverend Brian Kolodiejchuk, the MC (Missionaries of Charity) priest in charge of the cause.

"He would have been one of our best members - if he hadn't joined the Jesuits."

That Francis is crowning his Jubilee Year of Mercy with Teresa's canonisation is evidence that he sees her as the model of the merciful church he envisions.

"There will be other canonisations, but this (is) perhaps the key canonisation in what is the key year, the Year of Mercy," said the Vatican spokesman, Greg Burke.

With more than 1,00,000 people expected to jam St. Peter's Square on Sunday, including at least 13 heads of state or government, security is an obvious concern given that the Islamic State group has said Rome is their ultimate target as the seat of Christianity.

With inputs from AP

Updated Date: Sep 03, 2016 19:37 PM

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