- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 26, 2010

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.

She said the sisters live by Mother’s message: “We are called for something infinitely greater than riches, talent, fame or passing pleasures.

“Let us celebrate Mother’s birth centenary by sharing the joy of loving and being loved. Let us pray to know better God’s love for us,” she said, citing examples.

“In our [Children’s Home] in Calcutta, we had a severely handicapped girl who lived to 39 years of age. Her name was Sungari, which means ‘beautiful.’ She owned nothing, and could do nothing with her completely gnarled body but lie in bed. But there was one thing she did well - she could give a big smile with great joy lighting up her whole face, communicating all the love that she had in her heart.

“She knew that she was loved and cared for, that she was precious to many. Sungari was not very pretty, but she was very beautiful,” Sister Prema recalled.

According to a longtime associate of Mother Teresa’s, the Rev. Orson Welles of the Church of Christ the King in central Calcutta’s Park Circus, the sisters can work in the same spirit because they can draw from her life.

“Her philosophy survives because her inner strength is exemplary. The sisters draw from that strength,” said Father Welles, who worked with Mother Teresa in India and Italy.

“I think the most befitting way of paying a tribute to her is by doing what she did,” he said.

The centenary celebrations began Monday at Baruipur, on the outskirts of Calcutta, with the dedication of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and Mother Teresa Cathedral.

“I am happy that after 30 years of building up of faith, hope and charity of our people in the diocese, now we are able to present a cathedral dedicated to Immaculate Heart of Mary and Blessed Teresa of Calcutta,” said Bishop Salvadore Lobo of Baruipur Diocese.

“On Mother Teresa’s birth centenary, we have decorated the cathedral with pictures and relief work based on her activities and philosophy,” said Subrata Ganguly of Church Art - a Calcutta-based firm that has done the sanctuary, interior decoration and artwork of the cathedral.

The pictures show Mother Teresa in myriad moods - ranging from a smiling Mother Teresa blessing the sisters to her being immersed in deep thought at the sight of a suffering child.

She is seen cradling a small child in her arms, a symbol of her giving shelter to the countless orphans left to die.

Calcutta also is hosting a film festival through Sunday. Disabled people will get their own special screenings during the Mother Teresa International Film Festival, the organizers say.

“We’re looking to have residents from leading disabled centers as well as those from [Missionaries of Charity] homes in the audiences,” said Sunil Lucas, director of the festival.

Mother Teresa came to Calcutta in 1929 after 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 1950, she founded the Missionaries of Charity.

When she died Sept. 5, 1997, the order had nearly 4,000 nuns and operated about 600 orphanages, shelters for the homeless and clinics. Today, there are 766 convents with more than 4,500 nuns in 137 countries.

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