Mother Teresa, the Catholic Church's imperfect saint

When Pope Francis canonizes Mother Teresa on Sunday, he'll be honouring a nun who won a Nobel Peace Prize and gained admirers around the world. But he'll also be recognizing holiness in a woman who was criticized for some of her stances and was convinced she was experiencing the "tortures of hell."

Canonization ceremony set for Sunday, a day before the 19th anniversary of her death

Nineteen years after her death, Mother Teresa is set to be canonized by Pope Francis this weekend. Here's a look in pictures at the life of the Catholic Church's newest (but by no means perfect) saint.

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She was born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu.

Mother Teresa was born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu on Aug. 26, 1910, to parents of Albanian descent in present-day Skopje, Macedonia.

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A calling to help the poor.

In 1928 Mother Teresa joined the Loreto order of nuns. In 1950, she established the Missionaries of Charity order, which now has more than 130 houses worldwide. The order was set up to provide comfort and care for the needy, dying, sick and "poorest of the poor."

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A contemporary saint.

While she won admirers around the world for her joy-filled dedication to the poor, Mother Teresa also made it known that at times she felt so abandoned by God that she was unable to pray and was convinced, despite her ever-present smile, that she was experiencing the "tortures of hell."

(Dibyangshu Sarkar/AFP/Getty Images)

'Dark night of the soul.'

For nearly 50 years, Mother Teresa experienced what the church calls a "dark night of the soul" — a period of doubt, despair and loneliness which lasted most of her adult life. "Heaven means nothing, to me it looks like an empty place," she wrote in a 1957 letter to the archbishop of Calcutta. "The thought of it means nothing to me and yet this torturing longing for God. Pray for me please that I keep smiling at him in spite of everything."


Presented with Nobel Peace Prize in 1979.

Mother Teresa won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 for her work with Calcutta's destitute and ill — work which continued even after she herself became sick. 

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Fast-tracked for sainthood.

Mother Teresa was fast-tracked for sainthood just a year after she died in 1997. 

(L'Osservatore Romano/Associated Press)

Pope John Paul II, who has since been made a saint himself, was one of Mother Teresa's greatest champions and beatified her before a crowd of 300,000 in St. Peter's Square in 2003.

(Tony Gentile/Reuters) (Reuters)

An inspiration to other influential women.

In June 1997, Mother Teresa travelled to Washington to receive the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest honour awarded by the United States Congress. Following the award ceremony, Mother Teresa went on to tour residencies of the Missionaries of Charity in the U.S., receiving a visit from Diana, the former Princess of Wales.

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Here, Mother Teresa is seen with Hillary Clinton, who was first lady at the time, at the opening of a home for infants in Washington, D.C., in 1995.

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Controversy and criticism. 

While Mother Teresa is known and beloved by many around the world, she was not beloved by all. She was criticized for taking donations from Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier and disgraced American financier Charles Keating. Detractors opposed her stance against birth control use in Calcutta's slums, which was nevertheless in keeping with church teaching opposing artificial birth control.

(Gary Cameron/Reuters)

Her death and her legacy.

Mother Teresa died on Sept. 5, 1997, at the age of 87. At the time, her Missionaries of Charity order had nearly 4,000 nuns and ran roughly 600 orphanages, soup kitchens, homeless shelters and clinics around the world.

(Kamal Kishore/Reuters)

Tens of thousands expected for canonization ceremony.

With Sunday's canonization ceremony at St. Peter's Square, Pope Francis is also sending a more subtle message to the faithful that saints can be imperfect, says Ines Angeli Murzaku, a professor of church history at Seton Hall University. Mother Teresa "is so real. She's not remote. She's not a perfect, perfect saint," said Murzaku.

(Stefano Rellandini/Reuters)

With files from The Associated Press, Reuters and CBC News


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