Global Icon of Love and Compassion is Proclaimed Saint Teresa


Randeep Suneja receiving his Medical Diploma at the age of 23 from Mother Teresa, on March 24, 1984 in New Delhi.

By Dr. Randeep Suneja

VATICAN CITY, ITALY:  A tall tapestry depicting Mother Teresa in her traditional blue trimmed sari was displayed over the façade of St. Peter’s Basilica in The Vatican.  The portrait was commissioned by the Knights of Columbus and painted by Chas Fagan, an American artist.

As the jubilant crowd of 120,000 people erupted in sustained applause, Pope Francis declared in Latin ”for the honor of the Blessed Trinity we declare and define The Blessed Teresa of Calcutta to be a Saint and we enroll her among the Saints, decreeing that she is to be visualized as such by the whole church.” He added that as people all over the world may struggle to refer to her as Saint Teresa, “with great spontaneity I think we will continue to call her Mother Teresa.”

I was fortunate to witness this historic event at a ceremony held at St. Peter’s square in Vatican City on September 4, 2016, where Pope Francis bestowed the highest honor of the Catholic Church to Mother Teresa, proclaiming her a Saint. Traditionally sainthood is conferred decades, if not centuries after a person’s death but Pope John Paul II granted a special exception in 1999 to speed up the process for Mother Teresa based on her incredible reputation and selfless work.

Enthusiastic pilgrims from all over the world sat patiently under the broiling sun, with temperatures reaching 88 degrees Fahrenheit, for the 1hr 45min ceremony which ended at noon.  Prayers were conducted in various languages including Latin, Italian, English, Mandarin, Albanian and Bengali at the conclusion of the formal ceremony.


Suneja at St. Peter’s Square prior to the Canonization ceremony with the Vatican in the background.

Mother Teresa was born August 26, 1910 as Anjeze Gouxhe Bojaxhiu to Albanian parents in Skopje in the current capital of Macedonia. In 1928, when she was just 18, she left Macedonia to join the Sisters of Loreto, a community of nuns in Ireland. After a few months training in Dublin, she arrived in Calcutta India on January 6, 1929 and took her vows to become a nun on May 24, 1931.  She taught English at The Loreto Convent School for almost 20 years and ultimately became the head-mistress of the school.  In 1950, she founded the Missionaries of Charity with 12 nuns, which has now expanded to 139 countries with 5,800 people

Mother Teresa is one of the most admired figures of modern times and won many accolades during her lifetime.  In December 1975, she was featured on the cover of Time Magazine as “The Living Saint”.  In 1979 she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, earning global recognition for her services to the “poorest of the poor”. During her five decades of work until she passed away on September 5, 1997 at the age of 87, Mother Teresa cared for lepers, orphans, people with HIV, the poor and the handicapped.


Suneja in the predawn-hours on September 4 at the gates of Vatican, proudly displaying the entrance ticket to the event.

My 48 hour stay in Rome to attend the canonization ceremony was a memorable once-in-a-lifetime experience.  My admiration for Mother Teresa dates back to March 24, 1984 when I and our entire graduation class of 180 doctors of Maulana Azad Medical College in New Delhi took the Hippocratic Oath and were blessed by her, witnessed by our family and friends.  When I stepped up on the podium to receive my medical diploma and shook hands with Mother Teresa, I felt her divine presence and aura.

Having planned to attend this event only two weeks earlier, I was fortunate to find a nice hotel just steps away from the Vatican with a beautiful view of St. Peters Basilica.  I was even luckier to have an answer to my email in 18 hours from the Vatican stating that a ticket was available for me to attend this special ceremony.  Immediately upon arrival at Leonardo Da Vinci International airport, after a 17 hour journey, I proceeded to the Office of Missionaries of Charities to pick up my ticket.

Ecstatic with the entrance ticket to the ceremony in my hand. I checked into the hotel to and then paid an 8-hour visit to the Vatican Museum, to view the finest works of famous artists including Michael Angelo in the St Peters Basilica and the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican.

With only 3 hours of sleep, I excitedly awoke at 3 am and went to the gates of the Vatican promptly at 4:40 am to line up among the first 200 people assembled in the predawn hours, eager to witness history in the making. By the time the gates opened at 7 am sharp, the crowd had swelled to hundreds of thousands of people behind me with not an inch of space to spare.  Many in the sea of people from all walks of life were chanting “Madre Teresa, Madre Teresa”, each one of us held on to our most prized possession, the Entrance ticket to the event and stood patiently for 2 hour and 20 minutes.

For fear of using a restroom, which would clearly have been a nightmare in these massive crowds, I had absolutely no food or drop of water since I awoke. The final moment arrived when the gates of the Vatican opened and the police carefully directed the crowd for fear of a stampede. We literally ran to the security checkpoint and were cleared promptly, as we were among the early group of people.  By 7:20 am, I had already rushed to secure a great seat in the general ticket category (there were VVIP and VIP categories tickets also).

It was amazing to see all 100,000 seats filled up quickly within half an hour or so.  Another 20,000 people lined up outside the cordoned seated area.  With the morning breeze quietly blowing with gorgeous clear blue skies, the long wait for the 10:15 am ceremony began.  People were waving flags, quietly and patiently seated waiting anxiously for the Grand Ceremony to begin.  This overflow of Love exhibited by the people, was evidence how Mother Teresa had won the hearts of millions of people and the whole world had come to celebrate her canonization ceremony as a Saint .

I instinctively decided to record the ceremony as it began and transmitted the entire 105 minutes ceremony live on Facebook and my right arm was completely weakened by fatigue as it ended. But I feel truly blessed to have witnessed the historic Canonization of Mother Teresa, “The Saint of the Century”.