Kolkata gears up for celebrations of 'St. Teresa'

Men build a book booth in Kolkata, India, Jan. 25. Although the Sept. 4 canonization of Blessed Teresa is at the Vatican, special festivities to honor her will continue in Kolkata until Christmas. (CNS photo/Piyal Adhikary, EPA)

A group of young independent photographers are busy clicking away, taking photos of the "City of Joy."

Their photos, part of the crowdsourced "Sainthood Project," will be displayed in several locations in Rome in early September, to coincide with the canonization of Blessed Teresa of Kolkata. The photographers are volunteers, trying to highlight aspects of the young Mother Teresa, who founded the Missionaries of Charity to serve the "poorest of the poor" in India. The young people are funding their own travel to Rome to participate in the ceremony and exhibit the photographs in open-air galleries.

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"This is our tribute to Mother," said Srijita Deb Burman, 25, a business professional. "These images will depict the inspiration that must have attracted Mother to this city."

Although the Sept. 4 canonization is at the Vatican, Kolkata is making preparations. Scholars, priests, students and artists are continuously holding seminars, exhibitions and prayer meetings every day across the city to propagate "Mother Teresa's philosophy towards humanity."

"I have made several new paintings depicting her ideology that will be exhibited at the arts exhibition at St. Xavier's School in Kolkata until her canonization," said noted artist Sunita Kumar, a Sikh who volunteers for the Missionaries of Charity. 

Park Street, Kolkata's vibrant street and a prominent hangout for young people, has already been renamed Mother Teresa Sarani. Special festivities will continue in that area until Christmas.

At Mother Teresa's home, the headquarters of the Missionaries of Charity, the doors are open for all, and followers and admirers come every day, visiting and praying in her tomb. Many say they have been doing so for a long time and vouch that their prayers have been heard. Some people drop in to be counseled by the sisters, asking for solace; others come looking for medicine or other daily items. 

"Mother Teresa has always been the icon for the confluence of faiths, and that's why I have such devotion for her saintly powers," said Aarti Kumari, a Hindu and a regular visitor who comes for counseling from the nuns on family issues. 

Mother's home is already a place of worship, where novices and ordinary people can be seen carrying their books to the tomb seeking blessings.

"It was her influence that I joined the order at 18," recalled Sister Ruth from Andhra Pradesh state. 

Sisters Laisa and Ansavio stood near Mother Teresa's statue, distributing small packets of medicine to a few local visitors who had come seeking help. 

"I came volunteering for Mother's home at her call, and I feel so fulfilled," said a woman who identified herself only as Federica from Rome; she will return to Rome just before the canonization.

Mother Teresa's relics have been placed near her tomb on the ground floor of the motherhouse, but very soon the place will be dedicated for worship to the saint. Representatives of the Missionaries of Charity say they have plans for regular special Masses and prayer meetings. 

A thanksgiving mass will be held Aug. 26, Mother Teresa's birthday, ahead of the canonization. On Sept. 4, nuns, novices and followers will participate in the canonization in St. Peter's Square through a live viewing party.

"We, too, will witness the live ceremony here. This is a blessing and no one is going to miss it here," said Sister Blacila.

About 30 members of the Missionaries of Charity will travel to the Vatican for the canonization. German-born Sister Mary Prema, superior general, is already in Rome to facilitate the process and accommodate the guests. 

Later in September, a series of festivities have been planned across the city, where many believe Mother Teresa's work had already made her a saint.

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