Mother Teresa of Calcutta, known as the “saint of the gutters” during her life, was declared a saint of the Roman Catholic Church by Pope Francis on Sunday, fast-tracked to canonisation just 19 years after her death.
Tens of thousands of pilgrims packed St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican for a service to honor the tiny nun, who worked among the world’s neediest in the slums of the Indian city now called Kolkata and become one of the most recognisable faces of the 20th century.
A Nobel peace laureate, her legacy complements Pope Francis’s vision of a humble church that strives to serve the poor, and the festivities in her honor are a highlight of his Holy Year of Mercy, which runs until November 8.
Standing under a canvas hung from St. Peter’s Basilica showing the late nun in her blue-hemmed white robes, Francis said she was a “dispenser of divine mercy” and held world powers to account “for the crimes of poverty they created”.
“For Mother Teresa, mercy was the salt which gave flavour to her work, it was the light which shone in the darkness of the many who no longer had tears to shed for their poverty and suffering.”
Around 120,000 people attended the ceremony, according to Vatican estimates, celebrating the life of a woman who Francis said it might be difficult to call “Saint” as people felt so close to her they spontaneously used “Mother”.
“Everything she did gave an example to the entire world,” said 17-year-old student Massimiliano D’Aniello, from Grosseto, Italy, adding he had made a musical about her with his friends.