With Pope Francis recognizing a second miracle attributed to, Mother Teresa, who had served the poor, the destitutes and those unwanted and unloved, is soon going to be a Saint. The Roman Catholic nun who was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for her work helping the poor of Kolkata, India, is one her way for her canonization next year, the Vatican announced last week. “It is a real Christmas gift that the Holy Father has given,” the archbishop of Kolkata, Thomas D’Souza, said after the Vatican’s announcement.
Mother Teresa died in 1997 at age 87. Though there is normally a five-year waiting period before the process toward sainthood can begin, Pope John Paul II waived it through a special dispensation in 1999 and he beatified her — the first step to sainthood — in 2003. Francis made the decision on Thursday, his 79th birthday, after meeting with Cardinal Angelo Amato, the prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
Her eventual canonization has long been expected, but the timing had not been clear. In May, the Italian news media widely speculated that she would be canonized on Sept. 4, 2016, which has been scheduled as a day to honor the work of volunteers, as part of the Jubilee of Mercy, a yearlong celebration of the virtues of compassion and charity.
But a Vatican spokesman, Rev. Federico Lombardi, said at the time that the speculation was “premature” and only “a working hypothesis.” The Vatican did not announce a date for her canonization, saying only that “the Holy Father has authorized the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to proclaim the decree concerning the miracle attributed to the intercession of blessed Mother Teresa.”
Two miracles are generally required for canonization. Mother Teresa was beatified in 2003 after the Vatican concluded that an Indian woman’s prayers to the nun caused her incurable tumor to disappear. The second miracle involves a Brazilian man who suffered a viral brain infection that caused multiple abscesses, and eventually left him in a coma and dying. His wife had been praying for months to Mother Teresa, and on Dec. 9, 2008, as he was about to be taken to emergency surgery, she and her husband’s priest and relatives intensified their prayers.
The next morning, the man fully awoke, with normal cognition, according to the Rev. Brian Kolodiejchuk, a Canadian priest who was the postulator, or chief proponent, of Mother Teresa’s canonization. The man did not need surgery, and resumed his work as a mechanical engineer. Moreover, although doctors had previously told him that he was sterile because of his weakened immune system and antibiotics, he and his wife had two healthy children, in 2009 and 2012, Father Kolodiejchuk said.
According to reports, on Sept. 10 of this year, a medical commission “voted unanimously that the cure is inexplicable in the light of present-day medical knowledge,” and on Oct. 8 a theological inquiry “voted unanimously that there was a perfect connection of cause and effect between the invocation of Mother Teresa and the scientifically inexplicable healing,” Father Kolodiejchuk said.
Since the start of his papacy in 2013, Francis has canonized, among others, 813 Italians who were killed in 1480 for refusing to convert to Islam; two of his predecessors, John XXIII and John Paul II;Junípero Serra, a Spanish Franciscan friar who evangelized in California in the 18th century; and the parents of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, a 19th-century French Carmelite nun. In May, he beatified Óscar Romero, the archbishop of San Salvador who was assassinated in 1980 after advocating fervently against poverty, social injustice and torture.
Mother Teresa, an ethnic Albanian, was born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu in 1910 in Skopje, which is now the capital of Macedonia but at the time was part of the Ottoman Empire. She joined the Loreto order of nuns in 1928, moved to India a year later and founded her order, the Missionaries of Charity, in 1950. They wore simple white saris with blue trim that were once associated with street-sweepers in Kolkata, the former capital of British India that is also known as Calcutta.
The order eventually expanded into a network of thousands of nuns who run hundreds of orphanages, soup kitchens, mobile clinics, homeless shelters and hospices in more than 130 countries around the world. Mother Teresa was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1979, reportedly over candidates like President Jimmy Carter and the anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko.
She said she did not deserve the prize but accepted it “in the name of the hungry, the naked, the homeless, of the crippled, of the blind, of the lepers, of all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society, people that have become a burden to the society and are shunned by everyone.”
She began her Nobel Prize lecture on Dec. 11, 1979, with a prayer from St. Francis of Assisi — after whom the current pope, the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, chose the name Francis upon his election. “There is so much suffering, so much hatred, so much misery, and we with our prayer, with our sacrifice are beginning at home,” Mother Teresa said in her lecture. “Love begins at home, and it is not how much we do, but how much love we put in the action that we do.”