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Pope Holds Beatification Mass for Mother Teresa - 2003-10-19

Pope John Paul II held a beatification mass Sunday for Mother Teresa. Before a crowd of more than 300,000, the pope called her "a great servant of the poor, of the Church and of the whole world."

Tears streamed down the faces of some of Mother Teresa's followers, as the pope declared her blessed, one step away from sainthood. A huge tapestry showing the smiling nun was unveiled on the facade of Saint Peter's Basilica. It was an emotional moment for the thousands taking part in the ceremony.

So many pilgrims turned out that Saint Peter's Square was overflowing. The crowd included hundreds of nuns from Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity order, wearing their blue and white saris. One section was reserved for the poor and homeless.

At the start of the ceremony, a tired and ailing Pope John Paul proclaimed Mother Teresa blessed in a shaky voice. He said, in Mother Teresa, mankind recognizes the urgency of rendering a state of service, especially for the poorest and most forgotten.

The 83-year-old pontiff's health has deteriorated in recent months. He allowed aides to read his homily for Mother Teresa's beatification. In the homily, he said he was personally grateful to a brave woman, who he has always felt was by his side.

"She was an icon of the Good Samaritan," were the Pope's words. "She traveled everywhere to serve Christ for the poorest of the poor. Neither conflicts nor war managed to stop her." The pope also called Mother Teresa a "great servant of the poor." He said "she had chosen to be not just the least, but the servant of the least." He said "greatness lies in her ability to give, without counting the cost, to give until it hurts."

During the more than two hour ceremony, a procession of Indian women and girls led a couple carrying a piece of cloth soaked in Mother Teresa's blood.

Sunday's mass was especially significant for the pope, who considered Mother Teresa a friend. For her, he decided to waive a five-year period required before a beatification process can begin, and put her on a fast track to sainthood. Mother Teresa died in 1997 at the age of 87.

She was born in the Balkans, but spent most of her life tending the sick and dying in the slums of Calcutta in India. The order that she founded in 1950 today caters to poor people in 500 centers all over the world. Mother Teresa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979.