REUTERS - Mother Teresa of Calcutta, the Nobel peace laureate who dedicated her life to helping the poorest, is to be made a saint of the Roman Catholic Church, the Vatican said on Friday.
Pope Francis has cleared the way for sainthood by approving a decree recognising a second miracle attributed to her intercession with God, a requirement of sainthood.
The nun, who died in 1997 at the age of 87, became an international icon but has also been criticised for trying to convert people to Christianity.
The late Pope John Paul II bent Vatican rules to allow the procedure to establish her case for sainthood to be launched two years after her death instead of the usual five. She was beatified in 2003, a mere six years after her death.
Beatification requires one miracle and is the last step before sainthood, which requires a second.
The church defines saints as those believed to have been holy enough during their lives to now be in Heaven with God.
Francis, who has made concern for the poor a major plank of his papacy, was keen to make Mother Teresa a saint during the church's current Holy Year.
Church officials say Mother Teresa's second miracle involved the healing of a Brazilian man suffering from a viral brain infection that resulted in multiple abscesses with hydrocephalus.
Relatives prayed to Mother Teresa and he recovered, leaving his doctors mystified, they said. A Vatican medical commission deemed the sudden recovery "inexplicable in the light of present-day medical knowledge," according to Father Brian Kolodiejchuk, the chief promoter of the sainthood cause.
In Kolkata, as Calcutta is now called, Sunita Kumar, spokeswoman for the Missionaries of Charity religious order which Mother Teresa founded, said the nuns were "over the moon" at the news.
"We thought her whole life was a miracle. Her whole life was dedicated to the poor and there was nothing else in her mind than service. Everyone was accepted and there was no obstruction in her work," she told Reuters.
Archbishop Thomas D'Souza of Kolkata told Reuters the news from Rome was "the best Christmas gift", adding: "Her entire life and work was for the poor. Now it is in a way officially recognised. We are grateful to God."
In the years since her death, some have accused Mother Teresa and the order of having ulterior motives in helping the destitute, saying their aim was to convert them to Christianity.
The order rejects that, saying, for example, that most of those helped in the Kalighat Home for Dying Destitutes in Kolkata were non-Christians with just a few days left to live and noting that conversion is a lengthy process.
The order has also denied allegations of financial mismanagement of the huge sums it received from donors.
Known as the "saint of the gutters", the diminutive nun is expected to be canonised - formally made a saint - in early September. It is not clear if the ceremony will take place in Rome or if the pope will travel to India to preside.
It would be the first trip by a pope to India since 1999.
Mother Teresa was born Anjez Gonxhe Bojaxhiu of Albanian parents in Macedonia in 1910 in what was then part of the Ottoman Empire.
She founded the Missionaries of Charity with about a dozen nuns in the 1950s to help the poor on the streets of Kolkata and the religious order spread throughout the world. She won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979.