Nobel Laureate to Retire as Head of Religious Order
CALCUTTA, India (AP) _ Mother Teresa, the frail Roman Catholic nun who won a Nobel Peace Prize for her work among the sick and dying, said Wednesday she was stepping down as head of the religious order she founded in 1950.
″I have been leading the Missionaries of Charity for 40 years,″ Mother Teresa said with a smile as she bustled about her home and office near the Calcutta slum where she started her work.
But the 79-year-old nun would not comment further on her decision to step down as the order’s superior general.
In Italy, a Vatican spokesman said Pope John Paul II had accepted Mother Teresa’s resignation. Deputy Vatican spokesman Monsignor Piero Pennacchini said Mother Teresa was retiring for health reasons.
In September, Mother Teresa suffered a heart attack and serious infection and surgeons implanted a permanent pacemaker on Dec. 1.
Since then, Mother Teresa has been unable to leave Calcutta to visit missions in other parts of the world. She seldom leaves the second floor of her home, which doubles as the order’s headquarters.
Since its founding, the Missionaries of Charity has spread to 87 countries and is staffed by 3,000 nuns.
Asked who would head the organization, Mother Teresa raised her hand toward the heavens.
″We will act the way He leads us,″ she said. A superior general will be elected by the order in September, Pennacchini said.
The next superior general of the order is likely to come from the order’s council of six nuns.
Sister Agnes Das, a 60-year-old native of Calcutta and Mother Teresa’s first disciple, is next in command. But news reports say Sister Agnes also is in ill-health.
On Wednesday, a crowd of well-wishers came to Mother Teresa’s home, carrying flowers and donations of food for the nuns’ charities. Mother Teresa appeared healthy, her face graced with its usual smile.
Mother Teresa won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 for her work caring for people much of the world wanted to forget. Lepers, cholera victims dying in their own excrement, abandoned children - all found shelter in her clinics.
She did her greatest work in Calcutta, the squalid metropolis on India’s eastern coast.
″She’s just a living saint, that’s all that anybody’s ever referred to her, she’s a living saint of the gutters,″ Vi Collins, member of the International Board for Co-Workers of Mother Theresa, said in an interview Wednesday from Washington, D.C. Ms. Collins has known Mother Teresa for 35 years and first met her in Calcutta.