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Photo: Indranil Bhoumik/Mint
Photo: Indranil Bhoumik/Mint

Saint Teresa: Kolkata remembers and rejoices Mother’s healing touch

A motley group of Kolkatans treasure moments of coming in contact with Saint Teresa

Kolkata: Much before Mother Teresa’s canonisation in Vatican City on Sunday, Susan Gomes had in the altar of her home in Kolkata’s Bow Barracks made a small space to place a figurine of the saint who touched the lives of many she grew up with.

Sitting in her cubbyhole of a home in what used to be a garrison for US soldiers in World War I, Susan, 50, recalled how the Mother had blessed her cousin Sandra, touching her tummy when she was pregnant, allaying apprehensions of an 18-year-old about-to-be-mother who wasn’t prepared to raise a child.

“The year was 1984, and I was going through one of the most difficult phases of my life," said Sandra Gomes, while Susan rued not having been blessed by the Mother herself. All her cousins have come in contact with the Mother at some point, but sadly, it didn’t happen to her, said Susan.

On a visit to a nearby church with her parents, Sandra met her. “It seemed she knew at once what I was going through," she says. In a few days, Sandra gave birth to a baby girl. Life has only got better since, she recounted.

Not much though it appears, if one looks at it from outside. Sandra is still stuck in Bow Barracks, a bunch of crumbling red-brick buildings in central Kolkata, which is now home to the city’s thinning Anglo-Indian community.

Her daughter has flown the nest: she, like many from her extended family, now lives in Australia along with her husband and daughter, while Sandra lives with her ailing husband in this moribund ghetto of a dwindling community.

“Even when six years ago Kimberley’s visa was stuck," Sandra said, referring to her daughter, “I took her and her husband to pray at the Mother’s tomb (at Mother House in Kolkata). Call it a miracle if you like, my blessed child and her husband were off to Australia within days."

In many homes of Bow Barracks, framed pictures of Mother Teresa—or St. Teresa from Sunday—hang on the walls alongside those of Jesus Christ.

Also Read: Mother Teresa declared a saint by Pope Francis

Because, by far, she was closest to Kolkata’s Anglo-Indian community, though in her own crusade against poverty, she was completely secular.

Sandra’s younger brother Felix Gomes, who, too, lives in Bow Barracks, remembered the Mother from her visits to the Sunday masses at a nearby church. “She used to give us biscuits, which we used to call dog biscuits," said Felix, who describes himself as a “freelancer"—a Bow Barracks euphemism for doing odd jobs.

“One day I asked her why she wanted us to eat dog biscuits," Felix said, smiling. Without taking offence, the Mother explained to us that they contained all kinds of vitamins and that US soldiers took them to war where food was scarce. “Mother seemed to have unending supply of these biscuits," recalled Felix.

For some, the ration of biscuits and nutrition supplements from the Missionaries of Charity—which the Mother used to receive charity from foreign donors—was large enough to support families, recalled Raju King, a chef from Dubai who had turned up at the Mother’s House on Sunday to celebrate her canonisation.

King’s mother Mridula, now 65, was a volunteer at the Missionaries of Charity. “Her ration included milk powder, wheat and sugar, a part of which she sold on the market to raise me," said King.

The Gomes from Bow Barracks and King were among the few hundred who gathered at the Mother’s House in Kolkata on Sunday—a tiny crowd compared with the one at St. Peter’s Square in Rome.

But within this motley crowd were people who were living a dream—people who treasured moments of coming in contact with the saint.

As pictures from Vatican City were beamed on giant screens at the Mother’s house on Sunday, they seemed to marvel at how their lives were transformed by the saint.

For the Gomes of Bow Barracks, the Mother is far more than just another of Christianity’s 810 saints. Clutching an old picture of the Mother—a prized possession of the Gomes siblings—Sandra said, “See, how beautiful she looks."

It is that beautiful “saint from our childhood, our saint from Calcutta" who has risen in the Christian order to bless the whole world, Sandra said proudly as rains threaten to tear down the cracking walls of her home.

Also Read: Balkan countries contest Mother Teresa’s heritage

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