Mother Teresa remembered

2007-09-05 11:41

Kolkata - Roman Catholic Masses, candle processions and interfaith prayer on Wednesday marked the 10th anniversary of the death of Mother Teresa, who dedicated her life to serving the poorest of the poor in this eastern Indian city.

Kolkata's Archbishop Lucas Sirkar led an early morning Mass attended by nuns and volunteers at Mother House, the headquarters of the Missionaries of Charity order she founded In 1950.

Carrying strings of rosary beads, her supporters followed the prayers with candlelight processions at clinics and schools that Mother Teresa opened in the city's slums and ramshackle poor neighbourhoods during her nearly seven decades in India.

An interfaith prayer session was also organised in the city by the All India Minorities Forum.

Serve 'the poorest of the poor'

Nobel Peace Prize winner Mother Teresa came to Calcutta in 1929 as Sister Teresa after she said she heard a call from God to serve "the poorest of the poor." She set up schools for street children and medical clinics for slum-dwellers in this overwhelmingly Hindu country where Christians account for a mere 2.4 percent of 1.1 billion people.

When she died on September 5, 1997 at 87, her Missionaries of Charity had nearly 4 000 nuns and ran roughly 600 orphanages, soup kitchens, homeless shelters and clinics around the world.

But Mother Teresa was not beloved by all.

She was criticised for taking donations from Haitian dictator Jean Claude Duvalier and disgraced American financier Charles Keating. Detractors opposed her stance against birth-control use in Calcutta's slums.

After her death, there were concerns that the Missionaries of Charity would flounder without her charisma and leadership.

Charity has expanded

But the past decade has seen the Missionaries of Charity expand into new countries and open new clinics. There are now more than 4 800 sisters and more than 750 homes around the world, according to the order.

The group has "continued to function in the same spirit and work with the same sincerity among the poor and unprivileged," said Dr Ruma Chatterjee of the Society for the Visually Handicapped, a nonprofit group that works with Mother Teresa's organisation.

Sister Nirmala, a Hindu-born Indian convert to Roman Catholicism, now oversees the order. She hasn't become a household name like Mother Teresa, but she never expected to be.

"My way of coping with the challenge is simple - just to be myself," she said earlier this week. "I didn't fill Mother's shoes, that is impossible. I followed the footsteps left by the Mother."

On track to sainthood

Mother Teresa was beatified in 2003 after the Vatican said an Indian woman's prayers to the nun rid her of an incurable tumour, and millions of Catholics have called for her to be elevated to sainthood, a process fast-tracked by the late Pope John Paul II.

Under Catholic tradition, an additional miracle attributable to her must be verified for her to become a saint.

While those who worked with her feel confident she will achieve sainthood, they're not worried about when she will be recognised.

"In the heart of people," said Sister Nirmala, "Mother is always a saint."