The saint

mother_teresa-smaller.14704.articlefull.0Pope Francis announced that Mother Teresa is becoming a saint. She will be canonized next fall.

The pontiff attributed the miraculous healing of a Brazilian man with multiple brain tumors, which means the Albanian-born nun can now ascend to the most vaulted status in the Catholic church.

But for me, and millions in my hometown of Kolkata, Mother Teresa’s true miracles were on the streets of that city. She didn’t just save the life of a terminally ill Brazilian man; she saved the poorest of the poor.

Mother Teresa gave everything to make something of people who had nowhere to go. People who had no hope.

I saw this firsthand when I volunteered at an institution run by the Missionaries of Charity. Their main chapel was just down the street from my parents’ home in central Kolkata. I met Mother Teresa many years ago, before she was a Nobel laureate, before the world knew much about her.

She has been criticized in India from various corners. Some thought she was pushing a Catholic agenda in a mostly Hindu city. Others said she gained fame because she was a foreigner. I don’t pretend to know every truth about her. But I will say this: I know she helped care for desperate people who otherwise would have gone without help. I don’t know of anyone else who gave so tirelessly to the poor.

That makes her a saint in my book.

Tussling over Teresa

One of the quietest, most peaceful places in the heart of Kolkata is Mother House.

The non-descript building can be easily missed. The entrance on Lower Circular Road is far from grand.
But inside, nuns clad in crisp white saris with blue borders go about their business. The rooms are sparse but sparkling clean.
And thousands flock to the tomb of Mother Teresa, who arrived in India many years ago to pick up the poor from the streets and given them shelter, food — and most importantly, love.
Kolkata claimed the Macedonian-born, ethnic Albanian Catholic nun as one of their own. She became an Indian citizen later in life and the South Asian nation embraced her.
Hailed as a savior for the destitute, Mother Teresa relinquished her gala Nobel Peace Prize dinner in 1979 and asked that the money be spent on poor people.
She died in 1997 now a squabble has erupted over her remains. Albania wants her sent to that country before her 100th birthday next year. The prime minister says Mother Teresa ought to be buried next to her mother and sister.
India says: No.
She should remain in her adopted home, where she made her life, India says.
I’m not sure exactly what motives are here, but if the intention is to make Mother Teresa a tourist destination, the fight over her remains should fade quickly. There’s something distinctly wrong about the notion that a woman who gave selflessly all her life should not become such a bickering point over tourist dollars that will, I am sure, not go to help the needy.
Few people identify Mother Teresa with Tirana. They think of her with leprosy victims and slum dwellers in my hometown. I know what an impact she had in Kolkata because I spent several months teaching slum children in a program run by the Missionaries of Charity. Perhaps it’s best to leave her in that plain compound on Lower Circular Road.
I have an etching of Mother Teresa done by B.P. Panesar, one of India’s most talented artists. I look at her weary face every evening when I get dressed for work. And find hope in her ever-so-faint smile.
It seems such a shame that we would think to trouble her in her final rest.
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