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Pope beatifies Mother Teresa

Pope John Paul II with Mother Teresa in Kolkata in 1986.
Pope John Paul II with Mother Teresa in Kolkata in 1986.

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Pope John Paul II elevates Mother Teresa to the step just below sainthood in the Catholic Church. CNN's Jim Bittermann reports (October 19)
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CNN's Satinder Bindra says Indians of all faiths rejoiced at the beatification of Mother Teresa by Pope John Paul II on Sunday (October 19)
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Mother Teresa
John Paul II
Vatican City

VATICAN CITY (CNN) -- Hundreds of thousands crowded St. Peter's Square on Sunday, celebrating Pope John Paul II's beatification of Mother Teresa, known as the "Saint of the Gutters" for her work with the poor.

"Brothers and sisters, even in our days God inspires new models of sainthood," John Paul told the crowd of about 300,000. "Some impose themselves for their radicalness, like that offered by Mother Teresa of Kolkata, whom today we add to the ranks of the blessed."

"In her, we perceive the urgency to put oneself in a state of service, especially for the poorest and most forgotten, the last of the last," the 83-year old pontiff said in a slow and shaky voice.

His sermon was read out by aides in English and Italian to conserve his strength.

A smiling portrait of Mother Teresa was unveiled in the square during the ceremony. The nun will now be known as the Blessed Mother Teresa of Kolkata, one step away from sainthood.

Some 450 nuns from Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity are in Vatican City for the three-hour Mass. Residents of Kolkata, formerly known as Calcutta, are watching the ceremony on giant television screens and celebrate two Masses at the house where she lived, worked, and is buried.

Lines of people waited to view an exposition in Rome highlighting key moments of Mother Teresa's life, and the nuns from her charity have set up sleeping tents, following her example of modesty by refusing more comfortable lodgings. The nuns have brought with them 2,000 poor from all corners of the country.

A morning Mass was celebrated in Kolkata at Mother House, where the late nun lived and worked, and an evening Thanksgiving Beatification Mass is planned. The destitute children who live at the homes Mother Teresa established in the eastern Indian city were able to watch her beatification from Vatican City on large screens.

"There's a fire everywhere, the interest in the Mother, wanting to know her message, wanting to know more about her," said Sister Nirmala, Mother Teresa's successor.

Archbishop Henry D'Souza of Kolkata said he believes many more Christians will want to emulate Mother Teresa after Sunday's ceremony.

"Many will come closer to God," he said. "Many will want to dedicate their lives to the poor and to serve others."

Born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu in 1910, Mother Teresa set up her Missionaries of Charity in the slums of Kolkata in 1950 and made her headquarters in the Indian city for nearly half a century.

Her small figure in a white-and-blue sari and sandals became familiar around the world. She died in Kolkata in 1997 at age 87.

Known as the "Saint of the Gutters" for her unending work and compassion for the poor, Mother Teresa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. The Norwegian Nobel Committee said her spirit and the respect she had for the worth and dignity of human beings inspired constructive efforts to do away with hunger and poverty.

The nuns and priests from the Missionaries of Charity continue her work around the world, including some ex-communist countries where she was banned. Her order has offices in Europe, Africa, the Americas and Australia, as well as Hong Kong and Russia.

Her devotees began pressing the Vatican soon after her death to speed up the nun's sainthood cause, saying her holiness was clear to many around the world. Pope John Paul II granted the special dispensation in 1999, and the procedure began.

A nun of the Missionaries of Charity walks past the pope before the start of the beatification ceremony.
A nun of the Missionaries of Charity walks past the pope before the start of the beatification ceremony.

Last December, the pope approved a miracle attributed to Mother Teresa after her death, paving the way for her beatification. Before she can be canonized and made a saint, however, a second posthumous miracle must be proved to the satisfaction of a Vatican committee and the pope.

The approved miracle involved a 30-year-old Kolkata woman who said praying to the nun cured a stomach tumor. The Vatican committee said in October 2002 that it could find no "scientific explanation" for the woman's recovery, and the pope made it official late last year. (Doubt over miracle)

Throughout his 25 years as pontiff, Pope John Paul II has canonized 477 people. Mother Teresa will be the 1,319th person this pope has beatified.

Most of the Catholic Church's saints or blessed people are honored decades, if not centuries, after their deaths, and there is a mandatory five-year waiting period before formal evaluation of a candidate for beatification can begin.

Shortly after Mother Teresa's death, the pope waived the waiting period in part, some believe, because of her fame and reputation.

Sunday's events will also include the creation of 31 new cardinals.

-- CNN correspondents Jim Bittermann and Alessio Vinci in Rome and Satinder Bindra in Kolkata contributed to this report.

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