This Europe: Glitz and austerity as Rome beatifies Mother Teresa

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The Independent Online

Mother Teresa, the Albanian nun who died in Calcutta six years ago as an Indian citizen and a winner of the Nobel peace prize, returns to Rome in spirit this week when Pope John Paul II prepares to set her on the road to sainthood.

A saccharine musical based on her life and work among the starving beggars of Bengal opened in Rome last night, its week-long run in the capital the culmination of a nationwide tour. Its starry production values are as weirdly out of kilter with the rigid austerity of the nun's life as was her elaborate state funeral in Calcutta in 1997.

So many members of the Missionaries of Charity, the order she founded, have poured into Rome for the beatification ceremony on Sunday that convents are running out of places. Sister Nirmala, the Indian nun who succeeded Mother Teresa as head of the order, has asked Italian civil defence officials to lend tents to accommodate the excess. A bright yellow tent has been designated as a makeshift chapel after the order, which has a convent within the Vatican grounds, realised it would have no room to house the 445 nuns from all over the world who are expected to arrive for the ceremony.

Pope John Paul has canonised more than 470 people, far more than all his predecessors in recent centuries put together. But he had a particularly soft spot for Mother Teresa and her work, and to accelerate her progress to sainthood waived the usual requirement that five years must elapse after the death of a potential saint before the process can begin. The necessary miracle was provided by an Indian woman who claimed to be cured of a stomach tumour thanks to a picture of Mother Teresa. The alleged miracle has been the subject of much controversy in Calcutta, a hotbed of Marxism and rationalism.

Born in Macedonia in 1910 of Albanian parents, Gonxhe Bojaxhiu (as she was baptised) was a nun working as a teacher in Calcutta in 1946 when, as she later explained, she received a "calling from God to serve among the poorest of the poor". She moved into the slums of Calcutta, the "city of dreadful night" as Kipling named it, and set up her first school.

Her work became internationally famous after the British journalist Malcolm Muggeridge made a television film about her. She won the Nobel peace prize in 1979. Her order now runs nearly 600 centres worldwide.