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Kolkatans fume at Albania's proposal to take Teresa's remains

kolkata Updated: Oct 13, 2009 22:26 IST
Mother Teresa

Mother Teresa was a Kolkatan, part of the city's heritage and one could not give history away - be it intellectuals, Christian organisations or the common person, Kolkatans reacted as one to Albania's proposal that the remains of the Nobel laureate be returned to her country of origin.

Mother Teresa - born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu in Skopje, Macedonia, on Aug 26, 1910, to an ethnic Albanian family - made Kolkata her home for 68 years caring for the poor and the infirm. After her death on Sep 5, 1997, she was buried in Mother House, the global headquarters of the Missionaries of Charity (MoC) founded by her, in central Kolkata.

Now, Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha has asked New Delhi for her remains to be returned to Albania by the 100th anniversary of her birth in August 2010.

The request has sparked outrage and consternation in the city she made her home.

"She may have been an Albanian. But she became Mother Teresa because of her work in Kolkata. She came to India, and then selected Kolkata as her home and workplace.

"She lived here by choice. She also died here. So I think in respect to her memory her remains should be allowed to remain here," Magsaysay award winning litterateur Mahasweta Devi told IANS.

Added eminent filmmaker Mrinal Sen: "I do understand the Albanian government's sentiments. But she started her work in Kolkata. And this city remained the epicentre of all her activities. So, I don't see any reason why her remains should be taken out of the city."

Mother Teresa's grave - a simple rectangular cement tomb three feet high in what was earlier a dining room - is a big draw for foreigners as also Indians visiting the city. A biblical verse is carved on a white marble marker: "Love one another as I have loved you".

The long, narrow room faces the street, and has received dignitaries ranging from heads of state, world famous sportspersons and top cultural celebrities from across the globe.

Bangiya Christiya Pariseba (BCP), the apex body of Christians in West Bengal, also strongly opposed the Albanian prime minister's move.

"What he has said is baseless. The Mother took Indian citizenship. So she was an Indian by choice. Nobody can support the Albanian government's stand," BCP general secretary Herod Mullick told IANS.

Tulsi Prasad Dutta, a banker, was visibly angry too. "Mother is an inspiration for us. For us, she is a part of Kolkata's heritage and history. How can we give away a piece of our history to foreigners?"

A top state government official said the decision on the matter rested with the central government, but it seemed unlikely that New Delhi would agree to the request from the former communist nation.

Last Friday, the Albanian prime minister had said his government had been negotiating with India for the Roman Catholic nun's remains to be returned by the 100th anniversary of her birth in August.

The negotiations "will be intensified this year", Berisha said. Macedonia and Albania have been engaged in a dispute over the national identity of the Mother, who got beatified by the Vatican in 2003 as a first step towards canonisation.

Beatification is the recognition given by the Catholic Church of a dead person's accession to heaven and capacity to intercede on behalf of individuals who pray in his or her name.

It is the third of the four steps in the process of canonisation, which accords sainthood on the person by including his name in the canon or list of recognised saints.

The Missionaries of Charity (MoC), however, said it was yet to be 'notified' about the Albanian government's proposal. "So, we are not able to make any comment", said MoC spokesperson Sister Christie.

Asked what would be their stand when the proposal was officially communicated, the sister replied: "That we will see then".

Mother Teresa, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, came to Kolkata in 1929 and founded the Roman Catholic religious order that now has over 4,500 sisters and is active in 133 countries. It runs six centres in the city.

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