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Kolkata’s Saint Teresa

Her elevation to Roman Catholicism’s celestial pantheon came in a canonisation mass at St Peter’s Square in the Vatican that was presided over by Pope Francis in the presence of 100,000 pilgrims.

“For the honour of the Blessed Trinity... we declare and define Blessed Teresa of Calcutta (Kolkata) to be a Saint and we enroll her among the Saints, decreeing that she is to be venerated as such by the whole Church,” the pontiff said in Latin.

The ceremony came a day before the 19th anniversary of Teresa’s death in Kolkata.

Singing popular Bengali devotional songs, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Sunday walked with members of her delegation to St Peter’s Basilica to participate in the canonisation of Mother Teresa.

Sporting a white saree with blue border, much like what the Nobel Laureate used to wear, Banerjee – flanked by Trinamool Congress parliamentarians Sudip Bandyopadhyay and Derek O’Brien, among others – covered the six-kilometre distance from Rome to the St Peter’s Basilica doing a traditional Bengali ‘prabhat pheri’ (morning choir).

As the delegation crossed important junctions and marched through roads and lanes, crowds gathered and passersby stopped to listen to immortal Tagore creations ‘Aguner Poroshmoni’.

They also sang devotional songs like ‘Biswapita tumi he prabhu’ and ‘Mangaladeep jele’, with Banerjee taking the lead.

O’Brien – dressed in the traditional Bengali wear of kurta and dhoti – and Bandopadhyay, clad in kurta-pyjama with a blue jacket, matched steps with Banerjee to witness the historic occasion for which dignitaries from across the globe had congregated.

Passionate about walking, Banerjee much like in Bengal, has never let go any opportunity to cover on foot distances during her foreign visits also. During her trips to Singapore and Bhutan, Banerjee and her team would often walk their way to famous tourist attractions.

Sporting small placards with the words “City of Mother Team Bengal”, the team from Bengal reached the famous holy site in time to watch the canonisation ceremony, which along with the entire world, Kolkata – Teresa’a adopted home – has been waiting for with baited breath.

To mark the occasion,Banerjee – who is in Vatican to attend the ceremony – presented a bouquet of 106 roses through Cabinet Minister Firhad Hakim. The minister was representing the state government at the event at Mother House, the world headquarters of the Missionaries of Charity.

Famous lines from Tagore, “Baro Asha Kore Esheychi Go Janani” (I come with great hopes, oh Mother,)” were sung  to remember the Nobel Peace Laureate’s service to Kolkata.

For the Bengal CM, Teresa had always been a motherly figure. It came as no surprise that Banerjee was accorded pride of place at the canonisation ceremony and seated in an enclosure meant for top international dignitaries.

With the majestic 16th century basilica of St Peter’s and an azure sky providing the backdrop, the faithful basked in the late summer sun as Francis presided over a ritual mass that has barely changed for centuries.

Such was the demand from pilgrims, the Vatican could easily have issued double the number of tickets but for space and security restrictions.

Helicopters had earlier buzzed over the headquarters of the Roman Catholic church, testifying to the huge but relatively discreet security operation under way. Some 3,000 officers were on duty to ensure that the day passed off peacefully.

Among the assembled crowd were some 1,500 poor people looked after by the Italian branches of Teresa’s order, the Missionaries of Charity. After the mass they were to be Francis’s guests at the Vatican for a giant pizza lunch served by 250 sisters and 50 male members of the order.

Teresa spent all her adult life in India, first teaching, then tending to the dying poor.

It was in the latter role, at the head of her now worldwide order that Teresa became one of the most famous women on the planet.

Born to Kosovan Albanian parents in Skopje – then part of the Ottoman empire, now the capital of Macedonia – she won the 1979 Nobel Peace Prize and was revered around the world as a beacon for the Christian values of self-sacrifice and charity.
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