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Kolkata Together Prays To The “Saint of Calcutta”

By Saadia Azim

Those were the prayers that had been said silently many a times to the Saint. On Sunday afternoon it was loud and clear, not just at the Missionary run several centers in India but across the country.


In Kolkata, the otherwise reclusive Shishu Bhavan (Children´s Home) located on the same road as the Missionaries of Charity (MOC) headquarters, children, destitute, nuns and novices with huge curtains drawn on their ground floor hallway, sat silently glued to the TV screen for the live telecast of the canonization ceremony. While commoners and followers went ahead to invoke their prayers at the Mother´s Tomb, the nuns and the children of the Shishu Bhavan (Children´s Home), preferred to stay indoors and celebrate the historic moment all by themselves. “It is a day of feast for us. Brothers and sisters of the Missionaries of Charity are watching this in all the establishments of the MOC, but many of the sisters are visiting the headquarters for the special thanksgiving mass after the ceremony in the evening”, said Sister Benoy MC who had come from the MOC home at Dumdum to help the sisters with the large inflow of visitors.


In the narrow lane leading to the headquarters of Missionaries of Charity hundreds of people had gathered together not just to witness the live ceremony that made the “the Blessed of Kolkata, the “Saint of Calcutta” but also to invoke her in their prayers. Special arrangements outside the home had been made for live viewing and devotees gathered with their little memories of the “Blessed” one. Some were carrying pictures, some flowers and some photographs declaring their love and devotion towards the “Holy Soul”. The euphoria was eclectic. Hymns were sung by the visitors and the nuns but also commoners who gathered outside. Souvenir shops had come up and people went around buying little artifacts being attributed to Mother Teresa.


Mohammad Ahsan a sixty two year old had come to visit the nuns and pray at the tomb. He had carried his photographs with Mother Teresa that he had clicked in 1994. “My association with her is more than two decades old. These pictures are my priced possessions. My life is much peaceful now and I owe it to the saint of Calcutta”, he said gleefully. Diana Silvester a renowned television producer from Kerela came carrying a poster of Mother Teresa. “I came to witness a historic moment. Mother Teresa was and will be the icon of love, compassion and service to humanity for all days to come”.


The poor, the sick and the old had gathered like a usual Sunday outside the gates of Shishu Bhavan with hopes of their Sunday afternoon meal. They were obliged by the nuns and the cooks of the home who brought them food filled in plates. “This has been our home. What would you call someone who provides you food, medicine and shelter”, says a destitute Amina, a regular for food and medicine at Mother´s home. After the meal she and her mother waited to watch the ceremony. She sang hymns and prayed silently to the saint near her statue.


Twenty year old Sister Babita from Orissa in India was equally ecstatic during the ceremony. She chose to sit with her teammates who were graduating from their “post lance” training at the convent watching the ceremony. “For us it was sheer the call of the Saint of Calcutta”, she said.


“If not a saint then why would the world follow her footsteps nineteen years after her death? Her life through sheer humanitarian work and her healing touch is the everyday miracle that keeps us going”, says Sister Adelica MC from Bangladesh.


Before leaving for Vatican, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee who is a part of the forty-member official delegation from Bengal prayed to Mother saying “Mother was the mother of humanity. Her love for the ailing, the needy, entire humanity was unbounded. Bengal is more proud as Mother lived and worked here and showered us with her abundant love and care. Bless us Mother so that we can continue to serve the people.”


Four hundred kilometers away from Kolkata in Nakor village of South Dinajpur district of Bengal, the tribal woman Monica Besra whose first testimony for the miracle was recognized by Vatican, sat and prayed at the nearby cathedral. “I miss not being at Vatican. But I was there for the beatification ceremony. For me she was a saint always and I invoked her always in my prayers. Today the world recognizes her and prays to her”, she said shyly. Monica has been living a low profiled life of a daily wager in the fields in the far away village. Eighteen years ago it was the painful tumor that had made her life miserable. And it was her sheer poverty that she could not undertake expensive medical surgery in the nearby city hospital for the cure of her ailment. “I was dying. Mother had a healing touch and she healed me. That is enough for us. We are much better and a happy family now”, she says in chaste Bangla over the phone.


Many who have been still critical of the Missionaries ask if the mission of the Mother to serve poor and eradicate poverty was ever accomplished even in the by lanes of Kolkata. That the novices and nuns came in from underserved communities and spent their whole life serving people from disadvantaged communities could not be sufficient so as to address the biggest challenge of poverty. Some raised questions of unprofessional administration of MOC while many more talked about the lack of transparency behind. Yet large number of her devotees across religions agreed that “miracles were official testimonies for Catholic Saints and Mother Teresa´s healing touch for common people was the miracle for humanity.


So Sunday was different. People, wretched, poor, unwanted, VIP or celebrated all prayed together to the “Saint of Calcutta”. Some prayed to the saint for their faith some for her amazing work towards humanity but many prayed silently to the Saint for making them “feel loved and wanted again in the world”.

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