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Mother Teresa: Road to Sainthood

Aired October 19, 2003 - 10:30   ET


HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: And now our special presentation on the beatification of one of the world's most revered women. Mother Teresa of Kolkata. And we're taking a closer look at the celebrations marking Pope John Paul II's 25th anniversary as head of the Roman Catholic Church. We also welcome our international viewers at this time.
Up to 300,000 people gathered at the Vatican as the pontiff beatified Mother Teresa for her work with the poorest of the poor. The move comes six years after her death, and she's now just one step away from sainthood.

Many called Mother Teresa "the saint of the gutters" for her tireless work with the poor. Pope John Paul II referred to her as an icon of the good Samaritan. CNN's Jim Bittermann is with us now with more on the beatification ceremony, on the road to sainthood. Hi, Jim.

JIM BITTERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Heidi. In fact, it was one of those days even non-Catholic Italians had to acknowledge the Vatican City state in their midst, because the crowds overflowed far beyond the borders of the pope's earthly realm, down the streets of Rome, almost to the Tiber River.


BITTERMANN (voice-over): With John Paul II reading the beatification rite in Latin, the church was one step closer to confirming what many already recognized, the saintly qualities of Mother Teresa of Kolkata.

Hundreds of her fellow Missionaries of Charity, thousands of the poor and afflicted whom she defended, and hundreds of thousands of those touched by her story were drawn to the Vatican for this moment. The archbishop of Kolkata, who put forward the formal request to recognize Mother Teresa, read her biography, noting that from the day in 1946 when she had the divine inspiration to establish her charitable order, working for the poorest of the poor became the driving force of her life.

And the pope himself in his prepared remarks called her a courageous woman, to whom he felt close, the explanation for why she's moving so quickly through the normally glacial saint-making process. But John Paul, as much as he personally wanted this moment, did not deliver the sermon at the mass. In yet another sign of his physical decline, his speech was read by others. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We remember today Mother Teresa. Her life is a testimony to the dignity and the privilege of humble service. She had chosen not to be just the least, but to be the servant of the least.

BITTERMANN: With Mother Teresa now well on her way to becoming a saint, representatives of her order brought forward a relic of a few drops of her blood to be blessed by the pope.

(on camera): To be beatified, church officials had to prove at least one miracle attributable to Mother Teresa. Now, they must credibly establish one more before she can become a saint.

(voice-over): With the interest the pope has shown in Mother Teresa's cause, that is not expected to take very long. But increasingly, there are questions among his top churchmen whether he will live to see the day.


BITTERMANN: And Heidi, just one further note, this was the first time in anyone's memory here that the pope was not able to even deliver a single word of his homily, his sermon, during a mass -- Heidi.

COLLINS: Jim, also wanted to ask you a little bit about the relationship between Mother Teresa and the pope. We know that that was a pretty close relationship, right?

BITTERMANN: Well, it was indeed. Mother Teresa came to the Vatican a number of times, hoping to get help for her charities all over the world, as well the pope visited her in 1986, went through the streets of Kolkata, and And at that moment, Mother Teresa became, I think, the only person to ever ride in the popemobile. She jumped into the popemobile and rode a few meters with the pope over to one of her charities, which the pope visited.

Normally, that's an exclusive men's club in the popemobile there. It's usually the archbishop and the pope's secretary that ride with the pope when he's on various missions abroad. So this was quite unusual.

They also, I should say, had a kind of kinship of ideas of spirit, because she was very much on the pope's wavelength in terms of theology. She believed exactly what the pope was saying, various pronouncements on abortion, for instance. She preached exactly the same thing as the pope did -- Heidi.

COLLINS: Very interesting, great to see her getting into the popemobile like that. Jim Bittermann, live for us today from Vatican City. Thanks so much, Jim.

Blessed Mother Teresa spent most of her career helping the poor in Kolkata. That's where she established her charity. On Sunday throughout India, rallies, prayer services and feasts were held in recognition of her beatification. CNN's Satinder Bindra joins us now via videophone to talk about the festivities taking place. Satinder, so much going on there today. We can see the people walking behind you. How big of a deal is this for India and the people of India?

SATINDER BINDRA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's a very, very big deal. You talk to people here and they say it's a big honor for the entire nation.

Now, Heidi, festivities here started 15 hours ago. And as you can see, people are still coming to the spot where Mother Teresa was buried. They're still coming to pay their respects. And of course, what I'm noticing here is people across all religious faiths have been coming. There have been Christians, there have been Hindus, there have been Muslims. And of course, some very special visitors, the poor and the homeless who were so dear and close to Mother Teresa's heart.


BINDRA (voice-over): A day of joy, of prayer and remembrance. In a city where Mother Teresa lived, worked and died, this is a momentous occasion. Thousands thronged to her grave, including Sukamar Hadar (ph) and his daughters. Like others, they too come to pay their respect. Forty-nine years ago, Mother Teresa picked up Hadar (ph) from the streets. He was 4 years old, full of sores, ill and barely able to speak. Now he's full of life and love.

"I'm giving thanks to Mother Teresa not just for what she did for me," he says, "but what she did for the whole world."

The whole world has been captivated by Mother Teresa for decades. In 1979, she won the Nobel Peace Prize for helping the homeless. Her order, the Missionaries of Charity, easily identifiable by their trademark white and blue border dresses, has now spread to over 100 countries. But the headquarters of this empire of goodness remains Kolkata.

SISTER LUMEN, AMERICAN MISSIONARY: To see Mother receive so much attention, so much love, so much honor is something very, very joyful.

BINDRA: The joy quickly spreads to the streets, where kids rejoice and this vendor sells posters of Mother Teresa for 30 cents each. Elsewhere, in homes set up by Mother Teresa for the poor, they watch live pictures from Rome of their heroine being honored.

(on camera): Following her beatification, Mother Teresa will now be called Blessed Teresa of Kolkata. Not just for Catholics, but for Indians across all faiths, this is a great honor.

(voice-over): Sukamar Hadar (ph) says this is the biggest day of his life. "She gave me a new life," he says. "If she hadn't picked me up, I would have died."

There are thousands of others like Hadar (ph), cast away by society, but picked up by the strong hands of a tiny nun who gave them and the world so much goodness and love.


BINDRA: And, Heidi, the very latest here, the Missionaries of Charity have just concluded a special thanksgiving mass. They have been praying for strength so that they can continue Mother Teresa's mission. Back to you.

COLLINS: Satinder Bindra, live on videophone for us from Kolkata, India. Thanks so much, Satinder.

The beatification ceremony caps an important week for the Roman Catholic Church. A few days ago John Paul celebrated his 25th year as pontiff. Ahead, his legacy on the world.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): Pope John Paul II was ordained a priest November 1, 1946. He was appointed archbishop of Krakow, Poland in 1964. Three years later, he became the youngest cardinal. On October 16, 1978, he became Pope John Paul II.


COLLINS: In his quarter century as pontiff, John Paul II has been a witness to some historic events. From Rome, CNN's Alessio Vinci gives us a closer look at some of the highlights.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cardinale Wojtyla.

ALESSIO VINCI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When Karol Wojtyla was elected pope in 1978, Saddam Hussein was a friend of the West, preparing to fight a war against Islamic fundamentalists in Iran. Osama bin Laden and African rebels, with some help from America, would soon begin battling Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, and Mikhail Gorbachev a decade away from becoming president of the Soviet Union.

Yet throughout the years that followed, from the Vatican or traveling around the world, John Paul II did more than just witness events. He helped shape them.

ARCHBISHOP JOHN FOLEY, VATICAN OFFICIAL: The fact that a man had been chosen from a country dominated by the communists was just a marvelous thing. You could see that this was going to have tremendous impact. And since I had been along on that first trip of the pope to his native land in '79, I could see, I thought, this is the end for communism.

VINCI: During his 102 international trips, this pope delivered more speeches, met with more world leaders and kissed more children than any of his 263 predecessors, becoming the most seen, watched and photographed leader in the world.

"These trips are part of his pastoral strategy," says the Vatican official in charge of organizing papal trips. "At the beginning of his pontificate, it was difficult to interpret them. Each of them seemed like a chapter of their own. Now," he says, "we are able to understand that these visits are not just single events but part of a project."

The project of bringing the church to the people. John Paul II has always considered himself first and foremost a pastor. And by the millions, people seem to understand that.

Amazingly, it is with the youngest generations this pope has the biggest impact. It is with them he appears most as ease.

A paradox, perhaps, considering that while promoting traditional Catholic values...


VINCI: ... the pope has often been in contrast with the reality of modern western society.

JOHN ALLEN, VATICAN ANALYST: There are lots of issues, particularly the sort of issues of sexual morality that tend to be very important in the developed West, whether it's abortion or birth control or gay rights or the role of women, where the pope's vision has not won a broad popular following.

VINCI: Even in his native Eastern Europe, the pope's message may have been heard by millions, but followed by few.

WILTON WYNN, JOURNALIST: He believed in the East, the spirituality of the Eastern European countries -- and Russia, especially. And he thought once the -- once the yolk was removed of communism that there would be a great spiritual revival, which would spill over into the West. That was his dream. But that certainly has not worked.

VINCI: Perhaps the lowest point of his papacy so far, a sex abuse crisis that rocked the U.S. Catholic Church. The pope was widely criticized for not intervening soon enough to prevent it. A criticism Vatican officials reject.

EDMUND SZOKA, VATICAN GOVERNOR: The holy father did not take -- did not remove himself from that. He made a number of statements. If you recall, some very strong statements, where he said, there is no place in the priesthood for anyone who would abuse children.

VINCI: By most accounts, though, John Paul II's achievements by far outnumber his shortcomings.

He has promoted interreligious dialogue by breaking new ground, becoming the first pope to visit a Jewish synagogue, to pray at the Western Wall and to visit a mosque. He has tirelessly addressed issues such as social justice, focusing on the greater imbalance between rich and poor nations, always putting the emphasis on human dignity.

SZOKA: If you read, through his whole life, all his talks, and his constant theme has been the dignity of every individual human being. And that the rights of every human being must be protected, particularly the right of freedom to choose their religious belief, their right to sufficient nourishment, to housing, et cetera.

VINCI: But as the pope aged, his frail health began to be part of his image. Today he suffers from a series of ailments. Doctors say these range from the aftermath of a gunshot wound to Parkinson's disease, arthritis and the complications of hip replacement surgery.

The pope no longer walks or stands on his own. And Vatican officials have to come up with new ways to move him around. The latest, a throne with wheels nobody at the Vatican, out of respect, likes to call a wheelchair.

In recent weeks, though, perhaps as never before, the pope's health concerned many outside and inside the Vatican, to the extent that even some cardinals who usually avoid addressing the issue of papal succession have began talking about the proximity of his death. Yet most Vatican officials say the pope is not giving up.

RENATO MARTINO, VATICAN OFFICIAL: The pope has always declared that he will be there until the good Lord keeps him there. And this is the only answer that we have, because we all see that when he performs these duties is with some suffering.


VINCI: And again, this last Thursday, celebrating his 25th anniversary mass, we saw a weak and emotional John Paul II, telling the pilgrims, the bishops, the cardinals, the flocks in Peter's Square that he would stay on, because, he said, it was God that asked him to -- Heidi.

COLLINS: Yes, Alessio, we have heard that, some very powerful words of course coming from the pope. But what are the options for the Catholic Church, for the laity if the pope should become incapacitated?

VINCI: Well, according to church law, there are no options, because the canon law doesn't really address the issue should the pope become incapacitated. And popes are elected for life. So there is really no one else other than the pope himself who could resign. And in modern history, there aren't really any recent examples. The only pope -- the first -- the last pope who resigned willingly was Celestine V in the 13th century. So a lot of questions and very few answers, and perhaps the cardinals this week in Rome may address that as well -- Heidi.

COLLINS: Alessio Vinci, reporting live from Vatican City. Alessio, wonderful piece. Thanks so very much.

Pope John Paul II has achieved great successes in a quarter century, but has fallen short in some crucial areas. The unmet goals of his papacy. You're watching CNN, the most trusted name in news.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): On May 13, 1981, an assassination attempt by a Turkish gunman in St. Peter's Square would keep John Paul in (UNINTELLIGIBLE) hospital for 77 days. Pope John Paul said he strongly believes the Virgin Mary intervened on this occasion, saving his life. Two years later, the pope would visit his attacker in prison, publicly forgiving him.


COLLINS: It has been three days since Pope John Paul II celebrated his 25th anniversary as the leader of the world's Roman Catholics. He held mass this morning at St. Peter's Square. His sermon was read by aides to save his strength. The pontiff asked cardinals to pray for him so he can continue to fulfill his mission. But as CNN's Jim Bittermann reports, the pope still has many unmet goals.


BITTERMANN (voice-over): For all the things Pope John Paul II might consider his successes, bringing down communism, evangelizing to the corners of the Earth, recentering papal authority in the Vatican, there are some goals he has not achieved.

He reached out to the Orthodox Church, hoping to heal Christianity's 1,000-year-old great Schism. Some Eastern churches responded, but the leader of the biggest one, the Russian church, so far has not.

He wanted to travel to China to normalize relations with the government. So far, no invites from the Chinese. He prayed in a mosque for better relations between Christians and Muslims, but the Vatican still worries there could be a clash of civilizations.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The whole process of secularization is -- has wreaked havoc on the church.

BITTERMANN: Those who have worked to realize some of Pope John Paul's larger ambitions say his papacy's real frustrations have been on internal issues -- dwindling congregations, declining the number of new priests, and a failure to address modern culture.

FATHER ROBERT TAFT, PONTIFICAL INSTITUTE OF THE ORIENT: The problem of full equality of women, the problems of the divorced and remarried, and the question of giving them adequate pastoral care. Furthermore, there are new problems arising all of the time. The problems of biological and medical morality as a result of the progress that is going on scientifically. It's almost overwhelming.

BITTERMANN: A cardinal who helped John Paul in his efforts to improve relations with Jews agreed there are intractable internal issues, but says there are some problems even a pope cannot solve, such as finding peace on Earth.

CARDINAL EDWARD CASSIDY, RETIRED: I think he would have hoped that once the communism fell and that a new Europe really was created, we would have been able to say full stop to many of these wars. Instead, we have plenty of them.

BITTERMANN (on camera): True, the pope did not achieve peace in his time. At least not so far. But then it was perhaps too large an objective. Few, though, fault John Paul for setting big goals.

CASSIDY: If you don't set them, you don't achieve even the smaller ones, do you?

BITTERMANN (voice-over): Jim Bittermann, CNN, Vatican City.


COLLINS: The ceremony and mass commemorating John Paul's tenure included tens of thousands of onlookers. We leave you with the reprise of Thursday's emotional celebration, for a man who has influenced the world for a quarter of a century.


JOHN PAUL II (through translator): Today, brothers and sisters, I have the pleasure of sharing with you an experience that has lasted a quarter of a century.

Let us pray. Dear brothers and sisters, the almighty God, full of mercy, so that -- he who called me to be the vicar of Christ, his son and shepherd of the universal church may continue to bring on to me the holy spirit. Spirit of wisdom, sanctity and strength.



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