The day one year after Mother Teresa died is forever etched in Monica Besra's mind.
That was the day the Indian woman received divine grace through Mother Teresa's intercession. Doctors in India had diagnosed the 34-year-old mother of five with a stomach tumor in 1998. Reports say the tumor was large enough to make the woman appear pregnant and that she was in such pain from the pressure of the tumor that she could not sleep.
Healing recognized as miracle
On the first anniversary of Mother Teresa's death, Besra visited the Missionaries of Charity at their house in West Bengal, India. The nuns there placed a Miraculous Medal on Besra's stomach and prayed for Mother Teresa's intercession -- the same medal that had been placed on Mother's body after she died. When Besra woke up the next morning, the tumor had disappeared. Within days, she was able to return to work in the fields, according to reports.
Last fall, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints concluded that the healing was a miracle worked through Mother Teresa's intercession. And on Dec. 20, Pope John Paul II officially approved the nun's "heroic virtues" before consenting to the findings on the miracle. The diminutive nun will be beatified in St. Peter's Square on World Mission Sunday, Oct. 19. Another miracle will be required for her canonization.
Calcutta's "Angel of Mercy" is on the fast track to sainthood with the miracle. Her beatification is expected to draw more than 300,000 people from around the world to St. Peter's Square. And the beatification will be the quickest in modern times -- coming only six years after her death in 1997.
Serving the poorest of the poor
Born in 1910 in what is now Macedonia, Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu joined the Loretto Sisters when she was 18. She felt such a strong call to missionary work that she took the religious name "Teresa" after St. Therese of Lisieux, the Patroness of Missions. A year later, she was sent to India where she served as a much-loved teacher and headmistress.
Then, in 1946, while riding a train to the mountain town of Darjeeling in India to recover from tuberculosis, she received a calling from God to serve Him among the poorest of the poor. Four years later, she founded the Missionaries of Charity. What began as a congregation with 12 members has grown to more than 4,000 nuns running orphanages, AIDS hospices, and other charity centers worldwide.
It wasn't long before the Church -- and indeed, the world -- began to recognize that Mother Teresa was breaking new ground in serving Christ in the poorest of the poor. In 1962, she won a prestigious prize in India for her humanitarian work. Then, in 1979, she won the Nobel Peace Prize.
Mother Teresa became a model of how to follow Christ. In his tribute to Mother Teresa, two days after her death, the Pope described how her call to serve came from her love of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist. "Her mission began every day, before dawn, in the presence of the Eucharist," he said during his Sunday Angelus. "In the silence of contemplation, Mother Teresa of Calcutta heard the echo of Jesus' cry on the Cross: 'I thirst.' This cry, received in the depths of her heart, spurred her to seek out Jesus in the poor."
Mother Teresa also was regarded as one of the greatest defenders of life in the womb. She took world leaders to task for their legalization of abortion.
"Her life was Divine Mercy"
Shortly before her death in 1997, Mother Teresa began to learn more about then Blessed Faustina Kowalska and the message of Divine Mercy. Nine days after her death, several Missionaries of Charity began "spontaneously" praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet at her tomb in their mother house in Calcutta.
"Mother must have had a big hand in it since it started at her tomb," Sr. Nirmala Joshi, Mother Teresa's successor, said in a 1997 interview with this magazine. "She did not know the Chaplet. Her main devotion was the Rosary. But her life was Divine Mercy."
In that interview, Sr. Nirmala went on to say that her mentor was behind an "explosion" of mercy in the Missionaries of Charity. Soon, the Divine Mercy Chaplet became an optional prayer for the congregation.
Pope to honor most famous missionary
Pope John Paul II is no stranger to Mother Teresa's focus on mercy. He so admired her work that he invited her congregation to open a soup kitchen inside the Vatican walls.
The Holy Father's closeness to Mother Teresa was illustrated by an incident on Feb. 3, 1986, a day Mother Teresa called the happiest of her life. On the Pope's visit to India, she became perhaps the only woman ever to ride in the popemobile. The vehicle had just arrived outside her home for the dying in Kalighat. Casting aside protocol, the Nobel laureate climbed in and spontaneously hugged the Pope, who kissed her head.
It is no coincidence, then, that this Pope will beatify Mother Teresa, the world's most famous missionary, on World Mission Sunday. As he told the Missionaries of Charity at their General Chapter in February, "Sustained by the silence of contemplation, [Mother Teresa] tirelessly brought the love of Christ to the very people in whom she found Christ. This is what enabled her to be a Missionary of Charity both in name and in fact."
Patrick Novecosky is a former assistant editor of Marian Helper magazine. He is currently the communications coordinator at Ave Maria School of Law in Ann Arbor, MI.