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Roman Catholic Masses marks 10th anniversary of Mother Teresa's death

Roman Catholic Masses Wednesday marked the 10th anniversary of the death of Mother Teresa. She dedicated her life to serving the poorest of the poor in this eastern Indian city.

Calcutta's Archbishop Lucas Sirkar led an early morning Mass attended by nuns and volunteers at Mother House, the headquarters of the Missionaries of Charity order she founded In 1950.

Carrying strings of rosary beads, her supporters followed the prayers with candlelight processions at clinics and schools that Mother Teresa opened in Calcutta's slums and ramshackle poor neighborhoods during her nearly seven decades in India.

An interfaith prayer session was also organized in the city by Calcutta's All India Minorities Forum.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Mother Teresa came to Calcutta in 1929 as Sister Teresa after she said she heard a call from God to serve "the poorest of the poor." She set up schools for street children and medical clinics for slum-dwellers in this overwhelmingly Hindu country where Christians account for a mere 2.4 percent of 1.1 billion people.

When she died on Sept. 5, 1997 at 87, her Missionaries of Charity had nearly 4,000 nuns and ran roughly 600 orphanages, soup kitchens, homeless shelters and clinics around the world.

But Mother Teresa was not beloved by all.

She was criticized for taking donations from Haitian dictator Jean Claude Duvalier and disgraced American financier Charles Keating. Detractors opposed her stance against birth-control use in Calcutta's slums.

After her death, there were concerns that the Missionaries of Charity would flounder without her charisma and leadership.

But the past decade has seen the Missionaries of Charity expand into new countries and open new clinics. There are now more than 4,800 sisters and more than 750 homes around the world, according to the order.

The group has "continued to function in the same spirit and work with the same sincerity among the poor and unprivileged," said Dr. Ruma Chatterjee of the Society for the Visually Handicapped, a nonprofit group that works with Mother Teresa's organization.

Sister Nirmala, a Hindu-born Indian convert to Roman Catholicism, now oversees the order. She hasn't become a household name like Mother Teresa, but she never expected to be.

"My way of coping with the challenge is simple - just to be myself," she said earlier this week. "I didn't fill Mother's shoes, that is impossible. I followed the footsteps left by the Mother."

Mother Teresa was beatified in 2003 after the Vatican said an Indian woman's prayers to the nun rid her of an incurable tumor, and millions of Catholics have called for her to be elevated to sainthood, a process fast-tracked by the late Pope John Paul II. Under Catholic tradition, an additional miracle attributable to her must be verified for her to become a saint.

While those who worked with her feel confident she will achieve sainthood, they're not worried about when she will be recognized.

"In the heart of people," said Sister Nirmala, "Mother is always a saint."

Inside her community, there has been no public sign of disappointment over Mother Teresa's doubts about her faith, detailed in a new collection of her writings.

"Come Be My Light: The Private Writings of the 'Saint of Calcutta,"' which was released Tuesday, recounts Mother Teresa's anguish over the crisis of faith, and the pain she felt over her separation from God. Some writings indicate that, at times, she may have doubted the existence of God.

But Sister Nirmala sees no contradictions in that spiritual struggle.

"It is part of our Mother's spiritual life," she said at a Sunday ceremony commemorating the 97th anniversary of her birth. "It is the path God chose for her deep interior purification and transformation."

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