This is Apulina Naskar’s first visit to 54A, AJC Bose Road. Nestled in her mother, Seema Naskar’s arms, one-and-a-half-month-old Apulina is blissfully unaware of the historical import of Kolkata’s most famous address. Being inside the headquarters of Missionaries of Charity might mean nothing to the infant who has a group of sisters wrapped around her little fingers. They coo to her, marvel at her little fingers and take turns to hold her in their arms. Around them, a steady stream of visitors make their way to Mother Teresa’s shrine.
A day ago, when Pope Francis recognised a second miracle attributed to the Mother, clearing the way for the Roman Catholic nun to be declared a saint next year, 54A, AJC Bose Road didn’t erupt in joy. Instead, there was a late evening prayer, which was attended by the Archbishop of Kolkata, Thomas D’Souza. “Joy means something else to us. Joy is not only about laughing and shouting in glee. Joy is also about peace and complete contentment,” says a sister here.
Yet, at the evening prayer mass, there were tears in the eyes of many. “We were moved. This is something we wanted for a long time,” says the sister who has been with the Missionaries of Charity for more than three decades. To make her point, she points to the notice board at the first floor of the building, where a write-up describes in detail the second miracle, which happened thousand of miles away from Kolkata, in Brazil.
According to the write-up, the case involves a man having a bacterial brain infection that resulted in multiple abscesses with triventricular hydrocephalus. The patient’s wife continuously sought the intercession of Mother Teresa for her husband. On December 9, 2008, when the patient turned serious and had to be taken for an emergency operation, the patient’s wife went to her parish church, and along with the pastor, prayed to Mother Teresa to cure her husband. At that very moment, the neurosurgeon entered the operating room and found the patient inexplicably awake and without pain.
“And they went on to have two children afterwards in 2010 and 2012,” says the sister.
Matthew Spring (34) and Ashley Spring (30) are reading the write-up. They have come down to Kolkata all the way from Wadeye, New Zealand, only to visit the Mother House. “I am here because I believe that the greatest miracle is the fact that the sisters here unselfishly devote their life to a cause they believe in,” says Ashley.
Mother Teresa was born to Albanian parents in Macedonia in 1910 and came to India in 1929. She set up the Missionaries of Charity in 1950 and dedicated her entire life to the service of the poor. She was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1979. She died on September 5, 1997.
Incidentally, she was beatified — the first step towards sainthood — way back in 2003.
Sunita Kumar, a spokesperson of the orgnisation, who had a long association with Mother Teresa, says that the process is a long and meticulous one. “I got a call from the Mother House Friday morning informing me about the development that the second miracle has been approved, and that itself is a big step,” Kumar says.
The afternoon prayers are about to start and the sisters gather in the chapel. The sister says that there hasn’t been a rush of visitors yet. “Maybe people are waiting for the official announcement, it will be announced sometime next year,” she adds.
Anirban Goswami, 29, a student of XLRI Jamshedpur, has just offered his respects at the shrine at the ground floor of the building. As strains of Christmas carol are heard from the chapel, Goswami says, “I come here because I find a lot of peace here”.
India has had a love-hate relationship with the Missionaries of Charity, even though the order and Mother Teresa has garnered worldwide acclaim and appreciation. In February this year, the head of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) Mohan Bhagwat sparked outrage when he criticised Mother Teresa’s intention by saying that her motive was to convert people to Christianity. Later this year, the Missionaries of Charity said it was forced to close its adoption centres because India’s new adoption laws, allowing single, divorced and separated couples to adopt, went against its religious views. “I feel we need to focus on Mothe and the work she did instead of dwelling on her motives. Look around, don’t you feel that a place like this is rare?” asks Goswami.