Rome basks in Mother's Indian halo - 'Little woman in love with god' named blessed teresa of CAlcutta

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By AMIT ROY in Rome
  • Published 19.10.03

Rome, Oct. 19: Mother Teresa of Calcutta was beatified by Pope John Paul II this morning in Rome in bright sunshine before an estimated half-a-million people who packed St Peter’s Square and the surrounding streets.

Calling her “this little woman in love with God”, the 83-year-old Pope presided over a two-and-a-half- hour ceremony despite his frail health and said in a quavering voice: “We honour one of the most outstanding figures of our time.”

Monica Besra, the woman from Bengal and the beneficiary of the miracle which was necessary for Mother Teresa’s beatification, was dressed in a pink sari and a black shawl and given a seat of honour not too far from the Pope. She was later presented to the Pontiff.

She smiled shyly and told The Telegraph: “I am a Santhal and cannot speak much English.”

In Bengali, she explained how she had gone to doctor after doctor, seeking relief for the painful and huge tumour in her stomach until Mother Teresa’s intercession cured her overnight. This was not an occasion to discuss medical details, however. With her doctor by her side, she sat in the blazing sunshine, one figure in a sea of seething humanity.

Aamar khoob bhalo lagchhe (I love being here),” she said.

The scowling doctor (“there is a time and place for everything”) abruptly cut short the interview lest she be probed too deeply about the miracle.

The overnight monsoon-like torrential downpour, which at one stage had looked like being Mother Teresa’s last little gift from Calcutta, cleared, and today was like a lovely summer’s day.

The ceremony deviated on several occasions as a concession to Calcutta. For example, there was a song in Bengali called Shraddhanjali, which had the ring of Gitanjali about it. This was the first time that so many Indian touches had been incorporated into a beatification.

At one point, a group of Indian women, dressed in saffron, white and green saris to denote the Tricolour, did a little dance in front of the baffled Pope. They showered the ground with petals from plates which contained burning incense and oil.

Perhaps the most moving moment for Indians came when five Indian women in white saris, accompanied by five Indian children also dressed in white, came up the slope to where the Pontiff sat on a mobile chair. He had been wheeled out at the dot of 10 am from the Basilica of St Peter. The children carried diyas and waved them before the Pope.

Mother Teresa’s successor, Sister Nirmala, was present, too, and said before she was rushed off by a band of her protective sisters: “I am full of joy and deeply grateful.”

From Calcutta came flags bearing the image and the messages of Mother Teresa. “We are from Entally (central Calcutta),” declared Father Orson Wells, one of the bearers.

“We had the messages printed in Bengali before coming.”

Judging by the flags in St Peter’s Square, the appeal of Mother Teresa, henceforth to be called Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, until another miracle elevates her to sainthood, is still extraordinary and international.

The cheers for the Pope were accompanied by the flags of the Vatican, Italy, Poland, Germany, the US, the nations of Latin America and the East European countries, too new to be recognised. Indian flags were also there, including some outsize ones held aloft with pride.

The Pope’s homily in praise of Mother Teresa explained why he had pushed through her beatification quickly as possibly one of his last important acts as the Pontiff.

“I have joy in inscribing her name in the Rolls of the Blessed,” he said. “I am personally grateful to this courageous woman, whom I have always felt by my side.”

He went on: “Her life is a testimony to the dignity and the privilege of humble service. She has chosen to be not just the least but to be the servant of the least.”

This last remark was much quoted by western TV correspondents.

He inserted an additional aside before the bells of the Basilica rang out to conclude the beatification: “I offer warm greetings to the English-speaking pilgrims, especially from India.”

What Mother Teresa would have made of the long and elaborate ceremony can only be the subject of speculation. But she would have approved of the free lunch given this afternoon to 2,000 poor people.

One Indian wit could not resist making a joke which would probably have amused Mother Teresa: “Aaj brishti pareni, shetai arekta miracle (That it has not rained today is in itself another miracle)!”