Mother Teresa canonized: Why Francis says it'll be hard to call her 'St. Teresa'

Mother Teresa, the nun known for her work helping the poor in India, entered into sainthod on Sunday. 

Alessandra Tarantino/AP
Pope Francis passes in front a portrait of Mother Teresa as he is driven through the crowd at the end of a canonization ceremony in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Sunday, Sept. 4, 2016. Francis declared Mother Teresa a saint on Sunday, praising the tiny nun for having taken in society's most unwanted and for having shamed world leaders for the "crimes of poverty they themselves created."

Mother Teresa became Saint Teresa on Sunday, as the nun famous for her work helping the poor was canonized by Pope Francis. 

In the formula for the canonization, delivered at the Vatican in front of large crowds, Francis praised Mother Teresa, an "emblematic figure of womanhood and of consecrated life," for her life's work, which came to an end much more recently than that of most other saints, when she passed away in 1997.

Speaking on Sunday, Francis admitted that it would be difficult for him and other admirers of the Albanian-born nun to make the switch from "Mother Teresa" to "St. Teresa," as her saintliness is "so close to us." 

"So tender and rich that spontaneously we will continue to say Mother Teresa," he said, as the crowd applauded. 

As Jason Thomson reported in March for The Christian Science Monitor: 

Born in 1910 in what is now the Republic of Macedonia, Mother Teresa was famed for her foundation of the Order of the Missionaries of Charity, a group of Roman Catholic women dedicated to the destitute, particularly in India.

She left home to become a nun at the age of 18, spent 17 years teaching at a high school in Calcutta, and then received permission from her superiors in the convent school to go and work directly with the “poorest of the poor” in the slums.

At the time of her passing in 1997, Mother Teresa’s order consisted of hundreds of centers in more than 90 countries, with 4,000 nuns and hundreds of thousands of lay workers, and in her lifetime she was awarded numerous awards, none more famous than the Nobel Peace Prize, in 1979.

Typically, saints are canonized decades or even centuries after their death. But for Mother Teresa, an exception was made: beatification, the first step toward sainthood, began in 1999, waiving the typical five-year waiting period. 

The decision to canonize Mother Teresa was a controversial one, especially so soon after her death. Some argued that, with the canonization so closely following her passing, the nun's human flaws and weaknesses were too fresh in people's minds. But others, such as Ines Angeli Murzaku, a professor of church history at Seton Hall University in New Jersey, say the fact that St. Teresa may still feel more like a person than a saint in public memory is a good thing. 

St. Teresa, Ms. Murzaku told the Associated Press, "is so real. She's not remote. She's not a perfect, perfect saint." 

The move to officially declare Teresa a saint at all was questioned by some of the nun's critics, who have accused her of being fanatical in her beliefs and alleged that the institutions she founded misused funds, had poor medical care, and practiced religious evangelism. 

Others defend St. Teresa's at-times-controversial methods, saying that her imperfections are what truly make her a role model for others. 

"Critics who regard her as having been inflexible and fanatical don’t realise how human she really was," writes Tim Stanley for The Telegraph. "She was not a relic of the Medieval hospice. She was every bit a 21st century saint: a woman from a poor country, tortured by doubt, whose spirituality was focused on care for the disadvantaged. Nowadays, the trolls would call her a Social Justice Warrior." 

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