Roman Catholic masses, candle processions, and interfaith prayers were offered on Wednesday to mark the 10th anniversary of the death of Mother Teresa.
People also gathered in large numbers at the tomb of the woman who Pope Benedict XVI called a “real disciple of Christ” and who dedicated her life to serving the poorest of the poor in the eastern Indian city of Calcutta.
When Mother Teresa died on Sept. 5, 1997, at 87, the Missionaries of Charity order she founded in 1950 had nearly 4,000 nuns and ran roughly 600 orphanages, soup kitchens, homeless shelters and clinics around the world.
“Dear friends, the life and witness of this real disciple of Christ ... are an invitation to you and the whole church to always faithfully serve God in the poor and the needy,” said the pope, who greeted the 1,500 Missionaries of Charity members gathered in St. Peter’s Square.
At an inter-faith prayer meeting organized at Mother House - the headquarters of the Missionaries of Charity – Muslim, Hindu and Christian clerics read passages from their respective religious texts and prayed for harmony.
"Mother Teresa preached tolerance and showed us the way for communal harmony," said Muslim cleric Maulana Abdul Rahim.
Despite the “pain and darkness” she felt – as revealed through letters recently made public for the first time – Mother Teresa served tirelessly among the outcasts, the dying and the most abject poor in India. She brought countless sick Indians to her center from slums and gutters to be treated and cared for under the banner of Christ’s love.
“And meaningless is the last word you would think of to describe Mother Teresa,” expressed prominent evangelical leader Chuck Colson in a commentary last month rebutting claims by atheist author Christopher Hitchens.
For a cover story on Mother Teresa, Hitchens had told Time magazine, “She was no more exempt from the realization that religion is a human fabrication than any other person.”
After hearing of Mother Teresa’s half-century-long “crisis of faith” – during which she lamented to her spiritual confidants on the “dryness,” “darkness,” “loneliness,” and “torture” she suffered with her inability to feel God’s presence – Hitchens said: “Her attempted cure was more and more professions of faith [which] could only have deepened the pit that she had dug for herself.”
In response, Colson stated, “To help the poorest of the poor die with dignity was the greatest example of faith, particularly while you are suffering yourself, with doubts and with pain and with depression.
“She continued to do the toughest job anyone could possibly do. And she did it to her dying day,” he added.
Mother Teresa won a Noble Peace Prize in 1979 for her immense service among the poor and dying. Her Missionaries of Charity presently has 4,800 nuns and 757 branches in 145 nations.
The Catholic Church is considering whether or not to make Mother Teresa a saint and the letters recently made public were collected as supporting materials for the process.
Contributor Eric Young contributed to this report.