Pope John Paul II today formally recognized a miracle attributed to Mother Teresa, speeding the world's most famous nun toward sainthood.
With a ceremony at the Vatican's apostolic palace, the pope acknowledged that he believed a young Indian woman's stomach cancer had been cured as a result of her prayers to Mother Teresa, who is now set to be deemed a saint far more quickly than is customary in the Roman Catholic Church.
Today's move cleared the way for the woman who spent her life helping the poorest of the poor to be beatified Oct. 19 in Rome, Vatican officials said. She can become a saint only if a second miracle is attributed to her after the beatification.
Mother Teresa died on Sept. 5, 1997 at age 87. Under normal circumstances the beatification process would not begin until five years after the death of a candidate. However, the pope signaled his great affection for the missionary by allowing work on her possible canonization to begin in 1999.
"Her slender figure was a world emblem of Christian charity last century," the Vatican said today in a statement. "Through her example she inspired a vast movement of charitable and social work on behalf of the most marginalized."
The first miracle formally attributed to Mother Teresa concerned Monica Bersa. A year after Mother Teresa's death, Bersa, then 30, held an aluminum medal blessed by the Albanian-born nun to her stomach and prayed to her. "The next day, my tumor was gone," Bersa told the Reuters news agency in October in Danogram, about 220 miles north of Calcutta. "Mother Teresa's blessings cured me."
A commission of doctors examined the case and stated they had no ready explanation for the cure.
The news buoyed the Order of the Missionaries of Charity, which Mother Teresa founded. "We are all extremely grateful, and have just spent an hour of prayer and thanksgiving," said Sister Christie, a senior nun of the order. "Today's announcement will help in encouraging everybody to strive for holiness -- in doing His will and loving and serving the people around us."