Kolkata Testifies to the Grace of Mother Teresa, Its New Saint

Nuns from the Missionaries of Charity in Kolkata, India, watched a live broadcast of the canonization ceremony of Mother Teresa on Sunday.

KOLKATA, India — When Mother Teresa’s canonization took place on Sunday, a battered-looking audience gathered in front of a screen some 4,500 miles east of St. Peter’s Square: men with caved-in chests, weeping sores wrapped in gauze, extremities missing entirely, legs so thin you could encircle them with a finger and thumb.

Celebratory balloons had been strung from the rafters at Nirmal Hriday Home for the Dying Destitute, and they bounced around merrily under the overhead fans while nuns sang hymns in reedy voices. It is a spare, whitewashed space, not much changed since 1952, when Mother Teresa welcomed the hospice’s first patient, a man found near death on the street.

The Home for the Dying Destitute became a central part of her legend, and Sunday’s small celebration had a proprietary air. Volunteers began filing in at 8 a.m., and one, who gave his name only as Pablo, delivered an envelope that he said contained $3,500 in cash. Neighborhood men said they had grown up watching nuns carry in desperate patients.

“They were at the last stage of life,” said Apu Sil, 47. “There would be blood coming out of one side of their bodies. Some had worms in their bodies. They are lifted in someone’s arms to bring them in.”

The children used to watch as the nuns cleaned the patients’ wounds, gently pulling out maggots, and their revulsion gradually faded, Mr. Sil said.

“We were scared at first, and then after seeing them treated, we thought, ‘These are gods in human bodies,’” he said. “‘If they can do it, so can I.’”

Kolkata is an intellectual, disputatious city, and over the years, voices from the right and the left have expressed ambivalence about Mother Teresa’s work.

Hindu groups, including the powerful Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, have long held that Mother Teresa’s true agenda was to convert Indians to Christianity.

Different kinds of complaints came from other quarters. The editor of the Lancet, a British medical journal, charged in 1994 that caregivers in the homes put too little effort into diagnosing treatable illnesses. And the novelist Amit Chaudhuri complained that the Western focus on Mother Teresa had reduced Kolkata, in the imagination of outsiders, to a “black hole” peopled by the mute poor.

“This canonization, I don’t know what that’s all about,” he said on Sunday. “I’m not going to say anything churlish right now. But she’s not in the line of saints or important Christian figures who are dissenters. In that sense, she got appropriated a little bit. She was on peaceable terms with everybody.”

For the last few days, though, the critiques have largely taken a back seat.

Mother House, the headquarters of the Missionaries of Charity, erupted in cheers when Pope Francis declared her a saint. Women in saris, soaked with sweat in the steamy afternoon, fell to their knees, pressing their foreheads to her marble tomb.

“Oh, my god, she was like my mother,” said Karnel Paul, 42, who sells trinkets to Hindu pilgrims near the hospice. Once, he recalled, Mother Teresa had learned of a government plan to shut down the trinket stalls, and submitted a written protest, blocking the move. The trinket-sellers shut their businesses for two days when she died in 1997, he said.

“She is the mother of all shopkeepers,” he said. “She showered love on each and every person on this street.”

Everyone seemed to have a story. Mohammad Salam, 55, who lives in a narrow lane beside Mother House, said Mother Teresa kept a hawk eye on him when he was a young man, peppering him with questions if she saw him spending time with youths who looked disreputable and urging him to advance himself. When she saw someone who looked cold, she came back with a blanket.



Pilgrims Pay Tribute to St. Teresa

Pope Francis declared Mother Teresa to be a Roman Catholic saint, and visitors to Vatican City shared their admiration of her after the canonization.

“May she be your model of holiness. I think that we will find it difficult calling her Saint Teresa, her sainthood is very close to us. It is so tender, that spontaneously we will continue to say Mother Teresa.”
“Mother Teresa of Calcutta is a Christian figure of affection, simplicity and love. She reached out to people, particularly the poor. These are the features of a real saint.”
“I feel really proud. I’m originally from India. She spent most of her life helping poor people in my country so I don’t think I have words to explain, really.”

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Pope Francis declared Mother Teresa to be a Roman Catholic saint, and visitors to Vatican City shared their admiration of her after the canonization.CreditCredit...Stefano Rellandini/Reuters

“There are no words to explain,” he said. “Whatever I say in praise of her will be too little.”

Inside the Home for the Dying Destitute, rows of narrow cots had been dragged into a diagonal position so that the men could see the video feed from the Vatican. Men who could not walk were carried to their beds by volunteers.

Among them was Champa Minj, who guessed his age at about 35. After suffering a financial setback, he had begun to drink heavily, sleeping in public places where people stepped around him. He said he believed he was in that state for a year and a half, too ashamed to ask for help from the nuns.

“It was the end of the world for me,” Mr. Minj said. “Nobody asks how you are. Nobody asks for you. You just keep lying there.”

By the time he was brought in, he said, his face was swollen, his limbs shrunken and his stomach distended. After several months here, Mr. Minj has gained weight, and he receives a regular close shave — his greatest pleasure — from a priest. He wears a crucifix, and starts his day with a prayer to the Virgin Mary, whom he ranked as an especially powerful deity, alongside the Hindu goddess Kali.

“Here, I got love and care,” he said. “That is why whatever I was back then, I left. I believe in this community and these people.”

Out on the street, Hindu worshipers were coursing toward the Kalighat temple. Abhimanya Chatterjee, who manages an office in the temple complex, said Mother Teresa had left an imprint on everyone in the neighborhood.

“One lone girl,” he said. “Where did she come from? She chose India’s soil. She left the entire big world and chose India.“ He shook his head.

“A hundred years from now, when people hear about her, they will be totally wonder-struck that she ever existed,” he said.

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