Mother Teresa’s centenary celebrated

Life, work to be honored around world

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CALCUTTA | The site is on a chaotic south Calcutta lane filled with kiosks of cheap merchandise, haggling prostitutes and the Hindu visitors to a famous temple of the demon-slaying goddess Kali.

But devoted volunteers from around the world head for this lane, the home of Nirmal Hriday (Pure Heart), the home for the dying set up 58 years ago by Mother Teresa, the late Nobel Peace Prize-winning nun who was born 100 years ago Thursday.

In this home, the austere sari-clad sisters of the Missionaries of Charity tend to the sick, infirm and abandoned people huddled around beds built in rows, showing what Mother Teresa meant when she said she was helping the poor die with dignity.

The faceless inmates inside the hall have nowhere to go in this unforgiving city of 15 million people, many of whom live and die on the squalid streets. At Nirmal Hriday, the volunteers or the sisters of the order, which Mother Teresa founded in 1950, do not squirm at the inmates’ festering wounds.

Krishna, a 55-year-old man who has been here for more than three decades, is grateful to the sisters.

“I am cared for with same compassion as it was in the time of Mother,” he said.

Mother Teresa is no more, but her spirit of compassion lives on in Calcutta.

The city joined the world Thursday to celebrate the ethnic-Albanian nun, who was born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu on Aug. 26, 1910, in Uskub, Ottoman Empire (now Skopje, Macedonia).

An anniversary Mass to begin the Catholic Church’s Year of Mother Teresa was celebrated Thursday in Calcutta at the Missionaries of Charity headquarters, with more than 1,000 people present and Cardinal Telesphore Placidus Toppo, archbishop of Ranchi, India, presiding.

A message from Pope Benedict XVI, which was read aloud, said the pope was “confident that this year will be, for the church and the world, an occasion of joyful gratitude to God for the inestimable gift that Mother Teresa was in her lifetime and continues to be through the affectionate and tireless work of you, her spiritual children.”

Celebratory Masses also were said in Albania, with Prime Minister Sali Berisha and other senior political leaders present, and Macedonia. The latter country’s parliament even held a special session to honor Mother Teresa.

But amid all the special prayers, film festivals, an Indian government-issued coin, Indian Railways’ blue-and-white Mother Express to carry an exhibition about her across the country for six months, and even the dedication of a church in her name, the nuns in their signature blue-bordered white saris continued to work tirelessly for the poorest of the poor, whom Mother Teresa, a hero in India known simply as “Mother” despite being a foreign-born member of a minority religion, embraced as her own.

A second miracle is eagerly awaited for conferment of sainthood on the 1979 Nobel laureate, but the Missionaries of Charity order is not in a hurry.

The sisters believe God “will choose his own time” for a second miracle. Mother Teresa was beatified in 2003.

“Her life and work continue to be an inspiration for young and old, rich and poor from all walks of life, religions and nations,” said Sister Prema, the order’s present superior general.

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