For many in India’s Kolkata city, Mother Teresa had already acquired sainthood during her lifetime. For them, the forthcoming declaration of her sainthood by Pope Francis on Sunday is merely a matter of formality.
When he was a young journalist, Jamil Saagar took his motorcycle to a repair shop one Sunday morning. Back then, he had been covering the life and activities of Mother Teresa for a long time and always had a desire to meet her in person. This morning in 1995, his wish came true: the Roman Catholic nun was standing outside, right beside the motorcycle shop, in the middle of a group of women dressed in blue and white saris.
“In that moment, I just wanted to be blessed by her,” the journalist recalls. He threw away his cigarette, approached her and touched her feet in respect. “I was very nervous when she touched my forehead with her hand. Even today, I can feel her warmth,” Saagar told DW.
Many people in the eastern Indian city of Kolkata who had met Mother Teresa talk about her “special presence.” Some call her the “conscience of Kolkata.”
In her adopted hometown in West Bengal, Mother Teresa worked for the poorest, gave them food and nursed the severely sick for many decades. In 1950, she founded the Sisters of the Missionaries of Charity. Today, the Roman Catholic nuns are running 19 facilities for women, orphans and the people in need across Kolkata.
Icon of the modern church
In 1929, the 19-year-old Albanian nun Anjezë Gonxha Bojaxhiu came to India. She had been working as a teacher in Kolkata when she finally followed her real vocation. In 1979, Mother Teresa won the Nobel Peace Price for her commitment to the poor people living in India’s slums.
“When she was awarded the Nobel prize, she wasn’t considered a foreigner in India anymore,” Sagaar said.
Even after her death, she continues to be an important figure for the Catholic Church in India, according to Father Savarimuthu Sankar in New Delhi. “When you talk about the Catholic Church in India, you have to mention Mother Teresa. They are inseparable.”
Father Sankar said that Mother Teresa had highlighted that the church was more than just a religious institution.
But Mother Teresa’s life was not without controversies. She was accused of converting the poor people to Christianity or to accept donations from anywhere to support her institution. A few weeks ago, an Indian politician said that Mother Teresa was part of a conspiracy to spread Christianity in India.
Mother Teresa always defended the Roman Catholic Church. But Ajitha Menon, a journalist who had interviewed Mother Teresa many times, said that she had never tried to convert people to Christianity.
“She was a very honest person, willing to accept any financial help for the welfare of the poor. It was not her job to check where the money was coming from,” Menon told DW.
Mother Teresa passed away in 1997 aged 87. In 2003, she was beatified by Pope John Paul II.
India’s Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj plans to attend Mother Teresa’s sainthood celebrations at the Vatican. In Kolkata, weeks of celebrations have been scheduled. To honor her, there will be a film festival and a big Thanksgiving Mass among other events.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said last week that every Indian citizen should be proud of Mother Teresa.
And India is indeed proud: “In Kolkata, we will always call her ‘Mother,'” said Sagaar.
Author Cosima Gill / tko