When Pope Francis declares Mother Teresa a saint on Sunday, canonizing the nun and Nobel Peace Prize winner who cared for the destitute and the dying, it will just be a culmination of the belief of people of Kolkata and millions others who never doubted that she was more than a mere mortal.
The news from Vatican City is likley to set off celebrations across the world. However, Kolkata is determined to stand out by taking it up a notch. After all, this is the place that she called home.
The Missionaries of Charity center has been bustling with activity. Three giant screens have been set up where the canonisation will be aired live. “One of the screens will be in the courtyard, one will be inside Mother’s room and the third one will be at the chapel upstairs. Immediately after the event, at about 1 pm, there will be a thanksgiving. Prayers will be on from morning,” said spokesperson Sunita Kumar.
Gautam Lewis, who was rescued by the celebrated nun when he was abandoned as a child suffering from polio, is all set to release a song, ‘Mora Gaang’, dedicated to Mother, in 220 countries. Its lyrics, “Oh, beautiful sky, Oh mother, hold me up, let me fly”, depict how his life changed after the Missionaries of Charity took him under their wing. Lewis will also be putting up an exhibition of photographs titled ‘Mother Teresa and Me’.
While the nun’s confirmation as a Catholic saint took two decades of confirming miracles, an enormous amount of paperwork and papal promotion, Kolkata never doubted that she was more than merely mortal. Take for instance the curious case of Park Street, the city’s iconic entertainment hub, which was renamed Mother Teresa Sarani in 2004. On the face of it, there couldn’t be a street less likely to be associated with Mother Teresa’s cause. But look closer and you will see a different story. Namita, a pavement dweller who has lived on Park Street all her life, said, “The renaming was like a sign. For us street dwellers, the Mother was more than a nun. It wasn’t about religion. Ultimately, it was just the fact that we knew that somewhere in this unforgiving city, there was someone who cared.”
Hundreds have been pouring into Kolkata ahead of the canonisation. They assemble outside Mother House, and can be seen praying, lighting incense sticks or “just wanting to know where and how she lived”. Unsurprisingly, the state government has decided to promote Mother Teresa’s legacy as a vital part of the city’s crumbling tourism infrastructure. State tourism minister Gautam Deb said details of the late nun’s life and work will be uploaded on the tourism website. “The Missionaries of Charity has been among the topmost spots of attraction in the city,” he added.
The state government has even decided to put up screens in different parts of the city to telecast the canonisation. Authorities of the West Bengal Housing Infrastructure Development Corporation (HIDCO), which had established the ‘Mother’s Wax Museum’, said screens will be set up across New Town. “A documentary depicting the life of Mother Teresa and her work across the world for the poor and downtrodden will also be screened,” said an official.
Meanwhile, a shop outside the Missionaries of Charity center has displayed a collection of over 200 types of memorabilia depicting the soon-to-be saint. “We have lockets and postcards which cost Rs 5 and statues which cost Rs 8,000. There are a host of items from rosaries, mugs to bracelets, paper weights etc.,” said Fatima Chowdhury, the owner of the shop, beaming.
At a time when politicians are drawing clear lines attempting to define different religions, Mother’s upcoming sainthood has even brought leaders of several communities together. “She did not work so she could get sainthood and neither does her fame depend on the canonisation. Those who are conferring it on her are being obliged. We will be putting up programmes of universal brotherhood across the state next week. Leaders of several religions will participate,” said Herod Mullick, state working president of the Bangiya Christiya Pariseba.