08/29/2006, 00.00
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Celebrating Mother Teresa's 96th birthday in Kolkata

People came together at the Missionaries of Charity motherhouse to remember her message of love and service.

Kolkata (AsiaNews/UCAN) – The sisters of the Missionaries of Charity celebrated the 96th birthday of their founder, the Blessed Teresa of Kolkata, last Saturday August 26, stressing her message of love and service to human kind. Sister Nirmala Joshi, who succeeded the Blessed as head of the congregation, said that their founder's message of love was "the only answer to today's world," which is filled with war and hatred.

Sister Nirmala met Indian media at the Missionaries of Charity motherhouse in Kolkata, where the Blessed Teresa began her work, the capital city of the state of West Bengal once known as Calcutta, 1,460 kilometers south-east of New Delhi.

She reitereated the importance of the Blessed's message which is that only love can be the answer to the world's tragedies. For her, those who "believe in killing people would only have evil come back in another form."

Nuns, novices, co-workers and friends filled the motherhouse chapel for the 6 am anniversary mass. They then went down to her tomb to sing a jubilant chorus of 'Happy Birthday', clapping their hands.

The Blessed Teresa's white marble tomb was adorned with numerous candles and flowers: carnations, marigolds, orchids and roses of several hues.

Missionaries of Charity Fr Cyril D'Silva said Blessed Teresa's parents were eager to consecrate her to God and baptised her Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu on August 27, 1910, a day after she was born. He said that excerpts from her diary reveal how her roots and father and mother, Nikola and Dranafile Bojaxhiu, infused her with the spirit of piety and generosity.

The clergyman emphasised the importance of the Eucharist for Mother Teresa, saying she would not go on any trip—even if it was very late at night—without receiving the Eucharist. Constantly fed with the body of Christ, she could feed others with her love for Jesus, he said.

Alex Dias from Barcelona, Spain, who works with one of the Missionaries of Charity centres, said that the life of the founder inspired him to undertake tasks of love.

Two Bengali Hindu women, Bandana Pal and Shanti Bardhan, who work with the sisters, remember how, when Mother Teresa was alive, they would bring flowers, fruit and cakes on her birthdays.

David Yen from Taiwan, who prayed at the late nun's tomb, said the congregation has only two communities in his country, but they are "very good examples of the Catholic Church to those of other religions."

West Bengal Transport Minister Subash Chakraborty was among those who visited the tomb last Saturday.  The Communist leader later told media that the Blessed Teresa was "a person of peace so important to emulate in these troubled times of ours."

Pradeep Bhattacharyya, leader of the opposition Congress party, said in remarks at the tomb that the nun's message of peace has relevance in these days of violence and hatred. He said the people of India were "blessed to have known Mother Teresa, a person of flesh and blood whom they had seen and heard."

Idris Ali, a Muslim and president of the All India Minority Forum, said he asked the state government to start a hospital in the nun's name and commission a statue of her in the city to help spread her message.

Finally, sister Nirmala asked the people gathered at the motherhouse to pray so that the Blessed Teresa may intervene and work a miracle which will speed up her journey to sainthood.

In general, the Church must acknowledge one miracle to start the process of beatification. A second one is needed for the person to be declared a saint. No miracles are required in the case of martyrdom.

In Mother Teresa's case, a miraculous recovery was attributed to her and the late Pope John Paul II proclaimed her blessed on October 19, 2003.

A novena for the Blessed began at the motherhouse last Sunday and will continue until next Tuesday September 5, her feast day, which is also the anniversary of her death.  The ceremony will end with a mass, special prayers and meditation at her tomb.

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