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Saturday, December 21, 2002

Mother Teresa closer to sainthood
Pope approves young woman's miracle cure credited to nun's intercession


VATICAN CITY -- Mother Teresa, the Roman Catholic nun who spent much of her life caring for the poor of Calcutta's slums, moved a step closer to sainthood yesterday when Pope John Paul II approved a miracle credited to her intercession.

With the miracle, Mother Teresa will be beatified in a ceremony scheduled for Oct. 19 in Rome, her order said. The date is the Catholic Church's Mission Sunday, and the Sunday closest to the 25th anniversary of John Paul's election as pope.

John Paul, who has elevated more than 460 people to sainthood in his 24 years as pope, has long held the nun in high esteem.

He waived the customary five-year waiting period and began the process that can lead to sainthood just a year after Mother Teresa died in 1997 at age 87.

A second miracle is required for sainthood.

Nuns at Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity house in Calcutta, India, rejoiced yesterday at word that a miracle had been approved, and they passed out candies to about 100 orphans to celebrate.

"The mood is joyous. It's great news for us," said Sister Priscilla. "This is something very special, not only to India, but to the whole world."

The pope approved the miracle -- as well as 13 others for other saintly candidates -- in a solemn ceremony in the Vatican's Apostolic Palace.

Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, head of the Congregation of the Causes of Saints, outlined Mother Teresa's "heroic virtues" to the pope, calling her work with the poor in Calcutta's slums a "world emblem of Christian charity."

Her example launched a "vast movement" in support of society's most marginalized, he said.

The miracle attributed to Mother Teresa's intercession involves the recovery of a young Indian woman, Monica Besra, who had a stomach tumor.

A panel of doctors the Vatican consulted judged her recovery, after an image of Mother Teresa was placed on her stomach, to be without any medical explanation.

However, doctors who work for the state of West Bengal, of which Calcutta is the capital, have challenged the church's claim that Besra was cured only by the image.

The state health department says Besra was treated with medicine to cure a form of meningitis and an ovarian tumor. They would not say what medicine they gave her.

Mother Teresa has other doubters and detractors.

British journalist Christopher Hitchens, in his 1995 book, "The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice," accused the nun of consoling and supporting the wealthy and powerful while preaching resignation to the poor.

Hitchens criticized Mother Teresa for praising Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier and taking donations from disgraced American financier Charles Keating.

But the Rev. Brian Kolodiejchuk, appointed to oversee the beatification process, said the depths of Mother Teresa's holiness "place her among the ranks of the great mystics of the church."

Mother Teresa was born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu on Aug. 26, 1910, in Skopje, Macedonia.

She joined the Loreto order of nuns in 1928. In 1946, while traveling by train from Calcutta to Darjeeling, she was inspired to found the Missionaries of Charity order.

The order was established four years later. It since has opened 131 houses worldwide to provide comfort and care for the needy, sick and "poorest of the poor."

Mother Teresa won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 for her work with Calcutta's destitute and ill -- work that continued even after she took sick.

"The poor give us much more than we give them," Mother Teresa said in 1977. "They're such strong people, living day to day with no food. And they never curse, never complain."

John Paul has stressed saint-making in his papacy as a way of giving the faithful models of Catholics whose lives reflect their beliefs in goodness and courage.

The pope also approved miracles yesterday for two Croats, Maria Di Gesu Crocifisso Petkovic and Ivan Merz, who will be beatified when John Paul travels to Croatia next spring.

He approved second miracles for Bishop Daniele Comboni, an Italian who founded a missionary order that worked extensively in Africa, and the Rev. Joseph Freinademetz, who worked for years in China, which does not recognize the Vatican and allows Chinese Catholics to worship only at state-sanctioned churches.

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