One of the most iconic figures of the 20th century, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, is set to become a Catholic saint on Sunday in an open-air Mass led by Pope Francis.
Father Brian Kolodiejchuk, the Canadian priest who promoted her sainthood cause, said on Thursday in Vatican that hundreds of thousands of faithful are expected to attend the canonisation service to be led by Pope Francis in front of St. Peter’s basilica.
He said that her canonisation is one of the highlights of Francis’ Jubilee of Mercy.
He said, “Affectionately called the “saint of the gutters” during her lifetime, Mother Teresa of Calcutta will be made an official saint of the Roman Catholic Church on Sunday, just 19 years after her death.
“The Church defines saints as those believed to have been holy enough during their lives to now be in Heaven and able to intercede with God to perform miracles.
“She has been credited with two miracles, both involving the healing of sick people.”
Kolodiejchuk said that Mother Teresa was one of the most influential women in the Church’s 2,000-year history, acclaimed for her work amongst the worlds poorest of the poor in the slums of the Indian city now called Kolkata.
He said critics view her differently, arguing she did little to alleviate the pain of the terminally ill and nothing to stamp out the root causes of poverty.
The priest recalled that in 1991, the British medical journal the Lancet visited a home she ran in Kolkata for the dying and said untrained carers failed to recognise when some patients could have been cured.
Kolodiejchuk said her detractors missed the point of her mission, arguing that she had created a place to comfort people in their final days rather than establish hospitals.
“We don’t have to prove that saints were perfect, because no one is perfect,” he said.
He said that several events are planned in the run up to the ceremony, including a prayer vigil on Friday, an audience in St Peter’s Square with Francis on Saturday morning.
Kolodiejchuk said it would be followed in the evening by a veneration of Teresa’s relics in a Roman basilica outside of the Vatican.
He said, “As the canonisation falls on the eve of Teresa’s feast day, which marks the anniversary of her death on September 5, 1997, there are expected to be more celebrations and religious services on Monday and later on in the week.”
He said that on September 7-8, pilgrims would be allowed to visit the room Teresa used on visits to Rome, in the convent of the Church of San Gregorio Magno near the Colosseum, where her Missionaries of Charity have a local branch.
Kolodiejchuk said that the Indian Foreign Minister, Sushma Swaraj and other dignitaries from Teresa’s adopted nation are scheduled to attend the Mass.
Mother Teresa was born Agnese Gonxha Bojaxhiu of Albanian parents in 1910 in what was then part of the Ottoman Empire and is now Macedonia.
She became a nun at 16 and moved to India in 1929, creating her mission in 1950 and gained worldwide recognition for her work, including a Nobel Peace Prize in 1979.
Private letters published after her death in 1997 also revealed that for the last 50 years of her life she despaired over having lost a personal connection with Jesus, while she continued steadfastly to serve his cause.
In a preface to a book on the soon-to-be saint, published in July, Francis recalled how giving to the needy is a key to Christian teaching.
Pope said that “Mother Teresa made this page of the Gospel the guide for her life and the path to her holiness and it can be for us, as well.”
Mother Teresa still has legions of supporters in India, including BJP Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Modi observed that all her life she worked to serve poorer sections of Indian society.
He said, “When such a person is conferred with sainthood, it is natural for Indians to feel proud.”
The Roman Catholic Church has more than 10,000 saints, many of whom had to wait centuries before their elevation.
But Mother Teresa, one of the most recognisable faces of the 20th century, was put on the fast track to sainthood after dying of a heart attack on Sept. 5, 1997.
The late Pope John Paul II bent Vatican rules to allow the procedure to establish her case for sainthood to be launched two years after her death instead of the usual five, and she was beatified in 2003.