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Local nuns 'wouldn't miss' Mother Teresa ceremony

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FOUR sisters who belong to Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity in Winnipeg will be up early today to catch the beatification ceremony broadcast live on TV from the Vatican.

"We wouldn't miss that," said one of the sisters who acts as spokeswoman for the quiet and unassuming order, but who didn't wish to be named.

Following the example of Mother Teresa, who died in 1997, the humble north-end home of the Missionaries of Charity on Aikins Street doesn't have a TV or any luxuries. However, the sisters have made an exception in order to see today's pre-dawn televised event that will be re-broadcast at 8 p.m. on Vision TV.

"We have some good friends who've offered to lend us a TV," the nun said.

The sisters plan to get up early to watch it live. "We want to actually see the real thing," she said.

In Rome, up to 300,000 people were expected in St. Peter's Square today when Pope John Paul II leads a long ceremony to put the nun on the fast track to sainthood.

Front-row seats were reserved for politicians, diplomats and about 2,000 people cared for by the Missionaries of Charity.

Now stooped and ailing, as was Mother Teresa in her final years of religious mission, John Paul was so impressed by her tireless devotion to the dying and destitute that he broke with the church practice of waiting five years after a candidate's death before starting the often decades-long process of beatification, a step on the road to canonization, or sainthood.

Following several days of long public ceremonies to mark the 25th anniversary of John Paul's pontificate, today's two-hour ceremony underscores the Pope's determination to give the faithful fresh and, in this case, modern role models.

Among Mother Teresa's spiritual sisters at the Missionaries of Charity in Winnipeg, however, there will be little fanfare.

"No, we're not having a party. Our party is spiritual. But we're extremely happy," said the spokeswoman.

"It's a family affair. Mother Teresa is part of our family and she's very much alive to us and many people. Many people loved Mother for what she stood for -- she loved everyone."

A Winnipeg-born priest, Father Brian Kolodiejchuk, was pivotal in pushing the project forward.

After years of interviews and investigation, he presented a 35,000-word report late last year to the Pope, who announced just before Christmas the beatification of Mother Teresa -- the first step toward canonization.

The order was started in Calcutta, India, by Mother Teresa, who was born Agnes Gonxha Bejaxhiu in Skopje, Macedonia, in 1910. She became a nun and taught school in Calcutta until 1946, when she experienced what she described as a "call within a call" to aid the desperately poor of India in a way that required her to leave her convent.

She received permission from Rome, then began her work by bringing dying persons from the streets into a home where they could die in peace and dignity. She also set up an orphanage.

Over time, other women joined her and in 1950 she received official approval for a congregation of sisters, called the Missionaries of Charity, whose members are dedicated to serving the poorest of the poor. In 1979, Mother Teresa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Mother Teresa visited Winnipeg in September of 1982 to accept the St. Boniface Hospital Research Foundation Award, given to people for their humanitarian work.

Her Missionaries of Charity today has 570 missions with 4,000 nuns, a brotherhood of 300 members and more than 100,000 lay volunteers operating homes around the world for AIDS, leprosy and tuberculosis patients; soup kitchens, children's and family counselling programs, orphanages, and schools.

"To her, every human being was a child of God," said the Missionaries' Winnipeg spokeswoman. "Individually, everybody was special to her," said the member of the Missionaries of Charity, which runs a north-end soup kitchen five days a week.

"Well, we try to see the people in the same way," she said. "Everybody's a child of God. Everybody has their dignity."

After the beatification, Mother Teresa will be called Blessed Mother Teresa by those who knew her, but officially referred to as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. She needs one more miracle attributed to her before she can be canonized, at which time she would be referred to as Saint Teresa of Calcutta.

A special mass will be held to celebrate Mother Teresa's beatification at the Missionaries of Charity's neighbourhood parish on Nov. 22 at 5 p.m. at Holy Ghost Church on Selkirk Avenue.

The public is welcome.

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca
-- with files from Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 19, 2003 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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