VATICAN CITY – Mother Teresa, the diminutive Albanian nun whose work to feed the hungry and comfort the dying in India became the foundation of a new religious order and earned her a Nobel Peace Prize, was named a saint on Sunday by Pope Francis.
Tens of thousands of Roman Catholic faithful gathered for the canonization ceremony under a cloudless sky and amid tight security. Francis declared Mother Teresa -- now to be called Saint Teresa of Kolkata -- someone who “taught us to contemplate and adore Jesus every day, and to recognize Him and serve Him as well as to recognize and serve our brothers in need.”
Francis, who has declared 2016 as a Jubilee Year of Mercy, said he shared Mother Teresa’s ideal of a church as a kind of “field hospital” for the souls of the world’s poorest and most desperate.
"She bowed down before those who were spent, left to die on the side of the road, seeing in them their God-given dignity," Francis said. "She made her voice heard before the powers of this world, so that they might recognize their guilt for the crime of poverty they created."
“It’s so beautiful,” said a crying Sister Anna Maria Mendez, 56, one of the nearly 5,000 members of the Missionaries of Charity religious order Mother Teresa founded in 1950. Mendez was in Saint Peter’s Square in a group of around a dozen fellow nuns, all dressed in the white saris with blue trim Mother Teresa made famous.
“I was moved by Mother Teresa’s works, and moved by this ceremony. It’s so wonderful to see her honored in this way,” she said.
Carla O’Brien, a 66-year-old store manager from Trenton, N.J., traveled from a family vacation spot near Florence for the ceremony.
“Pope Francis, Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa are the church figures I admire and love most and in some way all three are here today,” O’Brien said. “I am vacationing with family and some friends in Tuscany and when I read about this ceremony I left for the day so I could be here.”
There were no official estimates for the size of the crowd on hand, but the Vatican said 100,000 tickets were issued, and police said they were told to brace for as many as 200,000 faithful, including many in standing-room-only sections.
The crowd included 13 heads of state or government and dozens of cardinals, bishops, and other church leaders.
Hundreds of people in the crowds held up signs showing support for the nun born Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu in the Ottoman Empire near the border between modern-day Albania and Macedonia before beginning her missionary work in India. “Always a saint in our hearts, now a saint for all the world,” one Italian-language sign read.
Flags from dozens of countries -- including many from India and Albania -- were on display, and when Francis declared the woman already known as “the saint of the gutters” an official saint, a roar of applause and cheers rattled across St. Peter’s Square. Many in the crowd cheered, “Santa Teresa! Santa Teresa!” in unison.
Hundreds of nuns from the Missionaries of Charity were on hand for the ceremony, with plans to feed 1,500 homeless people with pizza.
Monday will be the 19th anniversary of Mother Teresa’s death, making her canonization astonishingly rapid by church standards; only Pope John Paul II, canonized two years ago, just nine years after his death, was declared a saint faster in the modern era. It was John Paul who, just months after her 1997 death, launched Mother Teresa’s sainthood process by waiving the normal five-year waiting period before the beatification procedure can start. She was formally beatified in 2003.
A figure must be credited with two miracles to be considered for sainthood. In 2002, the Vatican ruled it was a miracle when an Indian woman was inexplicably cured of stomach tumors after praying to Mother Teresa. And in December, Francis declared the healing of a Brazilian man suffering from multiple brain tumors a second miracle, paving the way for Sunday’s ceremony. In a statement announcing the canonization, the Vatican called her a “metaphor for selfless devotion and holiness.”
But Mother Teresa was not without detractors. Doctors who visited her field hospitals said she perpetuated suffering by denying patients pain medication and working more to convert the suffering to Catholicism than to cure them. She also has been criticized for bowing down to scandal-ridden figures like jailed 1980s U.S. savings and loan mogul Charles Keating and Haitian dictator Baby Doc Duvalier.
A small group of Mother Teresa’s critics were on the edge of St. Peter’s Square handing out literature reading in part that the church “discredited itself” by honoring a “fraud” like Mother Teresa.
But Rome native Renzo Tarcone, a 22-year-old literature student who read one of the pamphlets, said he didn’t mind that they attended the event.
“I have a lot of admiration for Mother Teresa but I think everyone should be welcome here,” Tarcone said. “She taught us that good Christians should love everyone. Even those who may be critical.”