V A T I C A N C I T Y, Oct. 14 -- As she ministered to the destitute on the streets of Calcutta, Mother Teresa was often called a "living saint." Now, six years after her death, she is about to take the last step toward official canonization.
Pope John Paul II plans to beatify Mother Teresa on Sunday at the Vatican. Beatification is the recognition by the pope that a deceased person lived a holy life and is worthy of public veneration, and is a prerequisite for being declared a saint.
"There was just no mistaking that this little tiny woman who had worked so hard and for so long was a saint," said Linda Schaefer, author of Come and See: A Photojournalist's Journey into the World of Mother Teresa.
Mother Teresa was born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu on Aug. 27, 1910, to Albanian parents in what is now Skopje, Macedonia. After taking her vows as a nun, she moved to India, where she spent nearly a half-century caring for the poor and dying in the city of Calcutta. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979.
At the time of her death in 1997, her Missionaries of Charity order had expanded to 500 centers in 132 countries. Since then, the number has risen to 710, with nuns from her order stationed in places ranging from the Gaza Strip to Gallup, N.M.
"She challenged all of us to do whatever it takes in our lives to make the life of the poor, especially the poor in the Third World, much better," said the Rev. Thomas J. Reese, author of Inside the Vatican.
A Special Bond
Traditionally it is decades — and more often centuries — after death that someone is formally recognized as a saint. Mother Teresa's canonization, however, is on the fastest of tracks. Just five years after the Calcutta nun's death, John Paul began laying the groundwork for her sainthood.
"This is the fastest beatification we've had in centuries," Reese said.
The pope has scheduled Mother Teresa's beatification for the same week as the celebration of this 25th year of his papacy, signifying his great devotion to the late missionary.