Pilgrims celebrate St. Mother Teresa's feast day in India

Prayers and songs remember the Missionaries of Charity nun who helped the poorest of the poor
Pilgrims celebrate St. Mother Teresa's feast day in India

Sister Mary Prema Pierick addresses the congregation after the St. Teresa of Kolkata feast day Mass on Sept. 5, the 21st anniversary of the death of the saintly nun. (Photo by Anne Nigli/ucanews.com)

A series of programs celebrated the feast day of St. Mother Teresa of Kolkata in the Indian city.

Prayers, singing and joyful greetings filled the mother house of Missionaries of Charity in the eastern city on Sept. 5, the 21st anniversary of the nun's death and her feast day since she was canonized by Pope Francis in September 2016.

The door was open all day as busloads of visitors and pilgrims paid homage at the tomb of the Nobel laureate nun, who was popularly known as Mother Teresa.

Her body is entombed in the headquarters of Missionaries of Charity, which she founded in 1950 to work among the poorest of the poor in Kolkata, the base of her global social service work.

The feast day started with a Mass presided by Archbishop Thomas D'Souza of Kolkata and joined by 31 members of the Corpus Christi movement of diocesan priests co-founded by Mother Teresa. They came from several Asian nations as well as Africa, Europe, the Americas and Australia.

The priests are spending two weeks in Kolkata to imbibe the spirit of the saintly nun by visiting her first house for dying destitute people and other houses she started in the city.

"They try to understand her spirit and will try to walk the path that Mother Teresa walked," said a Missionaries of Charity senior.

Father Gary Walsh, Corpus Christi's London chaplain for the Albanian community, brought two scrolls from the Albanian communities in Britain and Belgium and placed them on the tomb of the Albania-born nun seeking her prayers and intercessions.

While police had to control media numbers at the event in the years following her death, this year only 20 photographers and reporters were present.

Missionaries of Charity has increased its membership by more than 70 percent in the past two decades. In 1997, when Mother Teresa died, it had only 3,026 nuns in 456 houses in 101 countries. But as of December 2017, the congregation had 5,167 nuns in 760 houses across 139 countries. India has 244 houses.

Mother Teresa's second successor to head the congregation, Sister Mary Prema Pierick, said nuns of her order "left families and became homeless to be one with the poorest of the poor … and to form that family of Christ bringing love and compassion to the needy."

An interfaith group of Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims, Jains and Christians gathered around the tomb in the afternoon. With special incantations from different scriptures, they prayed for the victims of a bridge collapse in Kolkata on Sept. 4.

Michelle Wood, an orphan working with the congregation, said it was different now not being able to see and touch Mother Teresa, but she believes the nun is still around in spirit helping her greatly.

Mother Teresa began her congregation with 12 companions in 1950. In 1965, it was raised by Pope Paul VI to a pontifical society, placing it directly under the Holy See.

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