Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from around the world gathered in St Peter's Square in Rome yesterday, to attend the beatification of Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Front-row seats were reserved for VIPs, including Queen Fabiola of Belgium, royalty from Liechtenstein and Jordan, the presidents of Albania, Macedonia and Kosovo - in homage to Mother Teresa's roots in the Balkans - and about 2,000 residents from shelters run by Mother Teresa's followers, including one inside the Vatican's walls. There were also Muslim and Orthodox Christian delegations from Albania. Indian sitar music blended with traditional hymns to celebrate the nun who spent more than 60 years caring for the sick and dying. Her Missionaries of Charity order, launched in 1950 with only 12 nuns, has grown to 4,500 sisters in 133 countries where they run homes, schools and hospices. Speaking in a slow but shaky voice, Pope John Paul II said: "Brothers and sisters, even in our days God inspires new models of sainthood.. Some impose themselves for their radicalness, like that offered by Mother Teresa of Calcutta, 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." After struggling through several prayers, he let aides, including Bombay Cardinal Ivan Dias and others, read his homiliy and tribute in which he said he was "personally grateful to this courageous woman whom I have always felt at my side." Many of Mother Teresa's nuns, standing out from the crowd in their blue-trimmed white saris, wiped away tears, as the crowd cheered. The Pope granted a special dispensation so the procedure for establishing Mother Teresa's case for sainthood could start just two years after her death in 1997. In normal circumstances five years must pass between the death of the person proposed for beatification and the start of the procedure, to avoid emotion playing a part. Among those attending the ceremony was Monica Besra, a young Indian woman who claimed in 1998 that her stomach tumour vanished after praying to Mother Teresa. Medical doctors confirmed that the cancer had gone without treatment. Her experience was formally recognised as a miracle by the Vatican last year, paving the way for Mother Teresa's beatification. Before Mother Teresa of Calcutta can be canonised the Vatican will have formally to attribute a second miracle to her. In Calcutta and across India, hundreds of thousands of people watched the beatification ceremony live on television, some of them inmates of leprosy centres or orphanages run by the Missionaries of Charity, while churches offered up prayers of thanks. After the ceremony in Rome, around 2,000 homeless men and women who eat and sleep in soup kitchens and shelters run by the order were invited to a special luncheon inside a Vatican hall. In the Albanian capital Tirana, more than 2,000 people held a "people's marathon" to honour Mother Teresa, who was born to Albanian parents in what is now Macedonia. JS.
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