Outpouring of love, Papal message mark Mother Teresa centenary

Kolkata, Aug 26 (IANS) Slumdwellers and admirers from abroad were among the thousands who poured into the Missionaries of Charity (MoC) headquarters here to celebrate Mother Teresa’s birth centenary Thursday. The Pope, in a message from the Vatican, said she was ‘an inestimable gift’ in her lifetime.

Kolkata, the city where the Albania-born nun arrived in 1929, did not foget to mark the birthday of the Nobel Peace Prize winner who had selflessly served the poor, old, infirm and the dying.

Her birth centenary celebrations were launched with a two-hour early morning mass at what is called Mother House in the city, which was the epicentre of the nun’s work among the poor, old, infirm and the dying.

Candles were lit at Mother Teresa’s flower-bedecked grave – a simple, rectangular three-foot high cement tomb on the ground floor of the two-storeyed building. Pigeons and balloons were also released in the air.

The mass was led by Cardinal Telesphore Placidus Toppo, the Archbishop of Ranchi, and was concelebrated by around 60 other priests, including Archbishop of Kolkata Lucas Sarkar and Bishop of Baruipur Salvadore Lobo.

The nuns of MoC, a Catholic Christian order founded by Mother Teresa, took part in the prayers, draped in their traditional white saris. About 1,000 people, including many commoners, also joined in the prayers.

In his homily, Toppo said Mother Teresa realised the need to protect the environment even before the church became aware of its duty to the ecology. ‘Her insistence on poverty in life is (also) a fine illustration of this,’ he said.

MoC superior-general Sister Prema, and her predecessor, Sister Nirmala, also attended the mass held at the first-floor chapel.

In his message from the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI described Mother Teresa as an ‘exemplary model of Christian virtue’.

Giving his ‘paternal, apostolic Blessing’ to the MoC and all those the order served, he said: ‘I encourage you to draw constantly from the spirituality and example of Mother Teresa, and in her footsteps to take up Christ’s invitation: ‘Come, be my light’.’

Mother Teresa exemplified love, the Pope said, and added: ‘May this love continue to inspire you as Missionaries of Charity, to give yourselves generously to Jesus, whom you see and serve in the poor, the sick, the infirm and the abandoned.’

In a message to Sister Prema, the Pope expressed confidence that the centenary year will be for the church and the world an occasion of joyful gratitude to god for the ‘inestimable gift’ that the Mother was in her lifetime.

The doors of Mother House were thrown open to the public and hundreds of slum dwellers from the city walked in and prayed before Mother’s tomb. A large number of people also came from abroad.

A four-day Mother Teresa International Film Festival 2010 (MTIFF 2010) on the life and message of the ‘Angel of Mercy’ was declared open by Sister Prema.

‘We have organised this film festival to pay our homage to Mother Teresa. The festival will spread the message of love and peace that Mother has preached all through his life. The festival will travel to many foreign countries and across 100 cities and towns across India,’ said Sunil Lucas, festival director.

A special train would also mark the centenary celebrations. It is a tribute from the Indian Railways showcasing the nun’s life and philanthropic deeds. Christened ‘Mother Express’, the train will travel to different stations of the country over the next six months.

Born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu to Albanian parents in Skopje, which is now in Macedonia, Aug 26, 1910, Mother Teresa left her parental home at 18, and joined the Sisters of Loreto, an Irish community of nuns with missions in India.

Years later, she took Indian citizenship and left the convent with the church’s nod to serve the poor and the ailing. She set up Missionaries of Charity in 1950 at 14, Creek Lane, but shifted to the Mother House in 1953 as her order expanded.

Mother Teresa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 and given India’s highest civilian honour, Bharat Ratna, in 1980 for her humanitarian work. MoC now comprises over 4,500 sisters and is active in 133 countries.

It runs homes for people with HIV/AIDS, leprosy and tuberculosis. It also conducts children’s and family counselling programmes and runs orphanages and schools.