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Full house for Mother Teresa ceremony

Mother Teresa's eyes
Mother Teresa's eyes "were not of a person of this Earth, she belonged to heaven," one nun said.

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ROME, Italy (AP) -- Running out of convent space, members of Mother Teresa's order have set up tents for hundreds of their fellow nuns pouring into Rome this week to join Pope John Paul II in a ceremony to move the woman who cared for the destitute closer to sainthood.

About 445 nuns from all corners of the world are expected join hundreds of thousands of Mother Teresa's admirers at a beautification ceremony Sunday in St. Peter's Square, Sister Nirmala, who succeeded Mother Teresa before her death in 1997 as the head of the Missionaries of Charity, said in an interview with Associated Press Television News.

The nuns asked Civil Defense officials to lend them tents usually used to shelter those made homeless by such disasters as floods and earthquakes.

One bright yellow tent has been turned into a makeshift chapel because all the visiting nuns can't fit into the small, simple chapel on convent grounds.

Beatification is the last formal stage before possible sainthood, and John Paul speeded up things for Mother Teresa by waiving the mandatory five-year waiting period before formal evaluation of a candidate for beatification can begin.

The nuns will have a special audience with the pontiff the day after the beatification ceremony.

"We'd like to thank him and congratulate him for his 25 years of his wonderful pontificate," Sister Nirmala said, referring to the silver anniversary celebrations this week.

By speeding up the process, the pope was also responding to popular demand, Sister Nirmala said.

Pope John Paul II with Mother Teresa outside the Home of the Dying in Kolkata, India, in 1986.
Pope John Paul II with Mother Teresa outside the Home of the Dying in Kolkata, India, in 1986.

"People from all over the world asked the pope when she was going to be raised to sainthood," she said.

By the time of her death, Mother Teresa, with seemingly boundless energy and unlimited attention for the poor, had established 594 centers to nurse and comfort the sick and dying around the world.

Her mission is still growing. Since her death, the number of centers has risen to 710.

"We have entered 10 new countries," Sister Nirmala, speaking softly and beaming a warm smile. Pulling some folded pieces of paper out of her pocket, she read out the places, including Kazakhstan, Israel, Finland and New Zealand.

Sister Nirmala, 69, said she was "struck by her eyes" when she first met Mother Teresa about a half-century ago.

Mother Teresa's eyes "were not of a person of this Earth, she belonged to heaven," said the nun, who earlier this year was elected to a second six-year-term as superior general.

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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