VATICAN CITY Vatican-issued stamps, a display of her blood, even a musical and cartoon celebrating her life: These are some of the ways Mother Teresa's fans are honoring the nun who will take a step toward sainthood when she is beatified this month.
Factories are churning out Mother Teresa rosaries, crucifixes and key chains ahead of the Oct. 19 beatification, and recently a line snaked around the Vatican post office for a new set of postcard stamps bearing her image.
The preparations are steaming ahead at a breathtaking pace, which seems only natural, since Mother Teresa is on the fast track for sainthood.
Born Agnes Gonxhe Bojaxhiu in Skopje, Macedonia, Mother Teresa died Sept. 5, 1997, in India, where she spent most of her life caring for the poorest in Calcutta's slums.
A year after she died, Pope John Paul II waived the normal five-year waiting period for the beatification process to begin, convinced of her saintliness and apparently intent on at least beatifying her in his lifetime.
Last year, the pope approved a miracle credited to her intercession; a second miracle is needed for her to be made a saint. He scheduled her beatification ceremony for the weeklong festivities surrounding his 25th anniversary as pope an honor clearly reserved for someone close to his heart. The Rev. Brian Kolodiej-chuk, the Canadian postulator pushing through Mother Teresa's cause, said the speed of the investigation was intentional.
''I think it's no secret that he wanted to have the joy of doing that beatification,'' Kolodiejchuk said of the pope. ''That was one reason why the exemption was made, besides just all the requests.''
Kolodiejchuk stressed that he and colleagues from Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity and the Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of Saints completed a full beatification dossier, interviewing 113 people when the norm is 50, and gathering 35,000 pages of documentation attesting to the virtuous life of the Nobel Peace Prize winner.
They even got testimony from Mother Teresa's detractors, including author Christopher Hitchens, who criticized the nun for taking donations from Haitian dictator Jean Claude Duvalier and disgraced American financier Charles Keat-ing. Kolodiejchuk said the allegations were investigated and ''in the end, Mother Teresa was not found to be without virtue in these cases.''
There have been reports that John Paul wanted to skip the beatification process and proceed directly to naming Mother Teresa a saint in October an unprecedented move.
The small Italian daily L'Eco di Bergamo reported that the Vatican secretary of state sent a letter to top cardinals in June on behalf of the pope asking whether they backed making Mother Teresa a saint immediately. The majority replied that they preferred her cause follow the normal path. The Vatican has never confirmed nor denied the report, and Kolodiejchuk says he only read media accounts of it.
''But it seems to be true, that there was a letter, and the opinion back was the majority of these (cardinals) were saying 'keep the normal procedure,''' he said.
The Missionaries of Charity are planning for the beatification and have arranged for relics of Mother Teresa samples of her blood framed in an Indian-made reliquary to be put on display at Rome's St. John Lateran basilica.
Technically, beatification is the Roman Catholic Church's permission to hold public veneration for holy people. Only after Mother Teresa is beatified can the relics go on display.
Other official events surrounding the beatification include an exhibit of Mother Teresa's life, a Vatican-approved documentary and the new set of stamps.
The stamps feature a portrait of the nun praying, and are bordered with the same blue trim of the saris worn by Missionaries of Charity nuns. Next to each of the five stamps are sayings of Mother Teresa.
''The stamp is really an homage, a small homage, to this splendid woman ... who gave of herself to everyone, to the poorest and sick,'' said Pier Paolo Francini, head of the Vatican's Philatelic and Numismatic Office.
Mother Teresa was born to an ethnic Albanian family, and Albania has declared 2004 to be ''Mother Teresa Year'' and set aside Oct. 19 as a national holiday. India will hold its celebrations Nov. 8-9.
Unofficial events also are planned: A Spanish company, Pasoalto Original Media Films, made a 26-minute cartoon for children about Mother Teresa's life.
Souvenir vendor Sandro Inglese says his factory is working fulltime to make 10,000 Mother Teresa rosaries, key chains and other trinkets. And some 120,000 people already have asked for tickets to the beatification ceremony.
An ''inspirational'' musical on the nun is scheduled for a Rome theater next month.
Creator Michele Paulicelli said he came up with the show two years ago, but had to speed up production to coincide with the beatification.
''We knew it would be fast, but not that fast,'' he said.
On the Net:
Official site for Mother Teresa's beatification at www.motherteresacause.info
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