From the façade of the St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, a portrait of Mother Teresa with a halo around her head smiled down at the thick crowds in St Peters Square.
The blue-and-white of the Missionaries of Charity sari could be spotted from nearly half a kilometre away down the long Via della Conziliazone, emanating from square centre.
“She had completely embraced India and Indians consider her one of theirs,” Theodore Mascarenhas, the Bishop of Ranchi who was part of the official Indian delegation, told Scroll.in.
Mascarenhas had spent nearly a decade at the Vatican and witnessed many canonisations, including of Indians, but this one is the most unique for him. “She was one of the first nuns to don a sari,” he said. Each nuns of the Missionaries of Charity order, which Teresa started in 1950, owns only three saris: one to wear, one to wash and one for special events.
“But of course, it’s not just her attire,” Mascarenhas said. "She taught in Bengali for years before she started her work that also ties her deeply to India."
Tens of thousands of people waited under the scorching sun for hours, before Pope Francis declared Mother Teresa a saint. Indian flags were raised as the crowd broke into applause as hymns started filling the air.
An hour before the canonisation ceremony began, the sound of church bells drowned the din of the crowds jostling about in several lines as they waited at security check points around the Basilica. "We have no words to describe what we feel,” a group of nuns from Kerala rushing to find a good spot told Scroll.in. Asked if they really believe in the miracles, they nodded. “Yes, yes,” they said, and rushed off.
Even the tourist’s shops in Rome have been selling Mother Teresa memorabilia. Now that she is a saint to a little under billion Catholics around the world, churches can be named after her.
Dr Albert D’Souza, the Archbishop of Agra, who met Mother Teresa several times, said that her aura was strong. “She was a woman of few words and when she spoke there was always depth in her words," he said.
Hundreds of other Indians roaming the streets of the Vatican consider the new saint theirs too. Media from the world over were flocking to interview Indians, including a group of Sikhs, who were telling Italian journalists: “She is a saint for Indians across all religions."
Hitesh Lohia, a 32-year-old diamond merchant from Mumbai, came to the square at the crack of dawn, four hours before the ceremony, to make sure he had a good view of the ceremony. Lohia, who is a converted Catholic, said that it was Mother Teresa’s “love” that transformed him. He said that he spends a lot of time in homes for the sick and destitute run by the Missionaries of Charity.
'She exuded joy'
Said Cardinal Oswald Gracias, the Archbishop of Mumbai: “She spoke to me often about her houses in India and also of her obstacles, but she was never perturbed and always exuded a sense of joy.” Cardinal Gracias is an influential Indian at the Vatican as a voting cardinal and as one of the Pope’s council of nine. Apart from him there are three other Indian voting cardinals
Italian student Antonia Innocenti, 28, a non-believer, said that she was impressed by the energy of the people in the square. “I don’t understand their superstition," she said, "and of course I believe she is just a brand for the Catholic Church.”
But the fans and devotees at the Vatican brushed aside questions being raised about Mother Teresa’s legacy. Most dismissed all critiques as hypocrisy.
Said Mascarenhas, the Bishop of Ranchi: "Let them criticise her but perhaps they should only feel entitled to do so if they have at least once cleaned someone’s wounds or taken out maggots from someone suffering from leprosy.”