The process of deciding whether to declare Mother Teresa a saint has moved a step forward with the conclusion in India of the crucial first stage.
A solemn ceremony held on 15 August at St Mary's Church in Calcutta marked the end of a two-year diocesan inquiry into the "life, virtues and reputation of sanctity" of Mother Teresa, the founder of the Missionaries of Charity (MC), who died 4 years ago.
During the service, led by Archbishop Henry D'Souza of Calcutta, more than 35,000 pages of documents from the 12-member diocesan inquiry team were sealed in boxes to be sent to the Vatican.
"We are happy that the inquiry is complete. Now, we are praying for the day when the Mother will be declared a saint," said Sister Nirmala, the MC's superior general, who was chosen by Mother Teresa to succeed her.
Sister Nirmala told ENI that "ordinary people have no doubts about her sainthood. Many people come to her tomb to pray."
"Even Hindus have already canonized her in their hearts," she added.
Archbishop D'Souza launched the inquiry in July 1999, less than two years after Mother Teresa's death in September 1997. The customary five-year waiting period before a canonization procedure can begin had been waived by Pope John Paul II.
The next step will be a decision by the Vatican on whether or not to beatify Mother Teresa. Beatification - which confers the title "blessed" - is a major step on the path to canonization or sainthood within the Roman Catholic Church.
Archbishop D'Souza told ENI that the evidence and documents gathered by the inquiry commission would be "studied and scrutinized" by the Vatican's Congregation for the Cause of Saints before the Vatican decided whether or not Mother Teresa was "fit to be declared a saint".
Asked how long the process would take, Archbishop D'Souza said that "fast track" canonization was "unlikely" if the latest Vatican news reports were to be believed.
"In normal course, it will take [a] minimum [of] another three years," the archbishop said.
He said that more and more people were praying to Mother Teresa and "getting favors on her intercession".
"I have received several letters even from abroad from devotees saying their prayers have been heard through the intercession of Mother Teresa."
"Thanksgiving" advertisements, with a photo of Mother Teresa inserted "for favours received", have recently started appearing in Catholic magazines in India. Bishop P. S. P. Raju of the Calcutta diocese of the Church of North India told ENI that it did "not matter whether she is canonized or not" by the Vatican.
"Sainthood is not the question. She was a great person," Bishop Raju said.
"Though she was a conservative Catholic, people [non-Catholics] have great respect and admiration for her. She was a real mother who had a great heart to care for the lonely."
Born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu in 1910 in the town of Skopje in what is now the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Mother Teresa came to India in the 1920s and joined the Loreto Sisters. In 1950 she founded the Missionaries of Charity to work with the poorest of the poor.
The congregation she started in a rented house in Calcutta had spread to more than 500 charity homes in more than 120 countries served by nearly 4000 nuns by the time of her death at the age of 87. Since her death, the number of MC nuns has increased to 4,300.