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Remembering Mother Teresa's special homes

The hospice and children's home she founded are still going strong after 60 years

Ritu Sharma and Anne Nigli, Kolkata

Ritu Sharma and Anne Nigli, Kolkata

Updated: September 06, 2016 11:42 AM GMT
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Remembering Mother Teresa's special homes

A banner announces the celebration of Mother Teresa's canonization at the Kali temple in Kalighat, Kolkata, near the first home for the dying and destitute that the saint founded. (ucanews.com photo) 

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With smiles and the clapping of hands, people living with poverty and terminal illness in Kalighat, a neighbourhood in Kolkata where Mother Teresa founded her first home, welcomed the news of her canonization by Pope Francis.

Gathered in front of a big screen, the people living in Nirmal Hriday (which means "pure heart," a home for the dying and destitute) were glued to the screen watching the pontiff announce the Catholic Church's newest saint on Sept. 4. "Beautiful! I am too happy for words," said Abul Islam, who lives there.

Nirmal Hriday was founded in the eastern Indian city of Kolkata, formerly called Calcutta, by Mother Teresa in 1952. It used to serve as an annex to the famous temple of Hindu goddess Kali in Kalighat.

The area surrounding the home is abuzz everyday with the activity of hundreds of pilgrims who come to visit the Hindu temple. Mother Teresa's hospice is no less than a shrine and has even been visited by St. Pope John Paul II and other dignitaries.

Nuns from the Missionaries of Charity congregation that Mother Teresa began as well as volunteers from around the world help to clean, cook, tend the sick and look after their needs. The hospice is home to 110 people — 61 men and 39 women, who were the homeless sick on the roads of Kolkata.

The people in the hospice are comforted according to the rituals of their faith — holy water from the Ganges for Hindus, Quran readings for Muslims and last rites for Christians.

"It was part of the temple and served as place for those who came to die at the feet of goddess Kali to attain salvation at that time," explained Sister Nicole. "So it was a fitting place for Mother Teresa to turn it into a home for the dying and the destitute."

The nun said that Mother Teresa filled the place of suffering with a love and peace that remains. "Destitute people are embraced and cared for; a dignified life awaits them here," Sister Nicole added.

Shishu Bhavan (children's home), a home for children living with poverty and disabilities, also held a celebration for the canonization of their founder. Shishu Bhavan was among the first homes Mother Teresa began. Nuns and volunteers prepared for the special day while also attending to 100 children aged one to 12 years.

Children come there suffering from malnourishment. "They are not abandoned. They have somebody to call their own who visit them once in a while," said Sister Joanafer who is in charge of Shishu Bhavan.

She said Mother Teresa's sainthood was a gift of God. "I remember her impact on my life and how in such a short time God allowed the miracle of sainthood to take place," she said.

The Missionaries of Charity nuns have a world-wide presence. Its 5,150 nuns now serve in 139 countries based out of their 758 homes. At least half of the nuns are in their 248 houses in India, where Mother Teresa lived and died.

Mother Teresa was born in Skopje, now the capital of Macedonia. She came to India in 1929 as a novice with the Loreto nuns. She left the congregation in the late 1940s and started the Missionaries of Charity in 1950 to serve the poorest of the poor, the homeless sick, dying and destitute.

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