Mother Teresa of Calcutta, known as the "saint of the gutters" during her life, was declared a saint of the Roman Catholic Church by Pope Francis on Sunday, fast-tracked to canonization just 19 years after her death.
Tens of thousands of pilgrims packed St. Peter's Square at the Vatican for a service to honor the tiny nun, who worked among the world's neediest in the slums of the Indian city now called Kolkata and become one of the most recognizable faces of the 20th century.
A Nobel peace laureate, her legacy complements Pope Francis's vision of a humble church that strives to serve the poor, and the festivities in her honor are a highlight of his Holy Year of Mercy, which runs until Nov. 8.
November 1960: Mother Teresa (1910 - 1997), the Albanian nun who dedicated her life to the poor, the destitute and the sick of Calcutta, earning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. (Photo by Keystone Features/Getty Images)
Mother Teresa, seen March 30, 1966, the superior-general of the Roman Catholic Missionaries of Charity, runs the Home for the Dying Destitutes in Calcutta, India. Since the home opened in 1952, some 18,000 ill persons have entered, with 8,500 dying. The rest amazingly gained strength and walked out. (AP Photo)
Mother Teresa, head of the Missionaries of Charity order, cradles an armless baby girl at her order's orphanage in Calcutta, India in 1978. A champion among the poor in India, Mother Teresa received the Nobel Peace Prize Oct. 17, 1979. An Albanian, she went to India in 1928 to teach at a convent school, taking her final vows as a Roman Catholic nun in 1937, and opened her House for the Dying in 1952. Mother Teresa's devotion to the destitute children of Calcutta, lepers and other unfortunates of theworld set a new standard of compassion for humanity. She died Sept. 5, 1997, at the age of 87. (AP Photo/Eddie Adams)
This is a 1979 portrait of Mother Teresa. She won the 1979 Nobel Peace Prize. (AP Photo)
Mother Teresa receives the Nobel Peace Prize during ceremony at Oslo University in this Dec. 10. 1979 at right is Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, professor John Sanness. (AP Photos)
Mother Teresa talks to one of the 37 children she evacuated from West Beirut at the Missionaries of Charity school in East Beirut Sunday, Aug. 15, 1982. Mother Teresa had evacuated the children from a psychiatric hospital that was damaged by Israeli shelling. (AP Photo/Alexis Duclos)
Mother Teresa of Calcutta, receives the Insignia of the Honorary Order of Merit from Queen Elizabeth II at the Rashtrapati Shavar in New Delhi, Nov. 24, 1983. (AP Photo)
Mother Teresa shaking hands with victims still suffering from the after-effects of the poison-gas disaster in Bhopal on Dec. 11, 1984 which killed more than 2,000 people. Thousands are still suffering from injuries sustained when the gas leaked from a Union Carbide manufacturing facility in Bhopal. (AP Photo)
Pope John Paul II holds his arm around Mother Teresa as they ride in the Popemobile outside the Home of the Dying in Calcutta, India, February 1986. (AP Photo)
FILE - Mother Teresa is handed the 1979 Nobel Peace Prize diploma and gold medal from the Chairman of tne Norwegian Nobel Peace Prize Committee, John Sanness, in Oslo University Aula, in Oslo, Noway, December 10, 1979. (AP Photo/Henrik Laurvik)
Head of the Missionaries of Charity order Mother Teresa speaks at a breakfast sponsored by Miami "Right to Life," an anti-abortion group, June 28, 1986. The 75 year old nun who is a Nobel Prize winner for her work with India's poor people, said, "If you don't want the child, give it to me. I want it." (AP PHOTO/KATHY WILLENS)
Mother Teresa reaches out to bless a young baby during a stop at Casa San Martin, a feeding place for the homeless in Gallup, New Mexico, May 27, 1988. The Nobel Peace Prize winner is spending one day in New Mexico to view several missions here before heading to San Francisco. (AP PHOPTO/JEFF ROBBINS)
Nobel Peace Prize winners Mother Teresa and Archbishop Desmond Tutu meet for the first time at a formal lunch given by the mayor of Cape Town, Thursday, November 10, 1988. Mother Teresa is in Cape Town to open a new mission in the black township of Khayalitsha. (AP Photo/ADIL BRADLOW)
Mother Teresa holds her rosary during her 25-minute address at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix, Ariz., Feb. 2, 1989. The Nobel Prize-winning head of the Missions of Charity emphasized her "Joy of Loving" theme before a crowd of 18,000. (AP Photo/Rob Schumacher)
Mother Teresa stands on the balcony of her residence and listens as the nuns from her Missionaries of Charity order sing "Happy Birthday" to her in Calcutta, India, Monday, Aug. 27, 1990. Mother Teresa was born in 1910 in Skopje, Yugoslavia. (AP Photo/Biks Das)
A New York City police officer towers over Mother Teresa of Calcutta as she walks outside St. Rita of Cascia Roman Catholic Church in the South Bronx, August 5, 1992, after attending mass. The unidentified police officer was part of a security detail for the 82 year old Nobel laureate.(AP Photo/NATASHA LANE)
Nobel Laureate and leader of the Missionaries of Charity, Mother Teresa prays in front of a picture of Mahatma Gandhi at the Mahatma Gandhi memorial in New Delhi, December 20, 1992. Prominent members of all religions gathered there to express their anguish about the destruction of a mosque in Avodhya and the resulting Hindu Muslim riots. (AP Photo)
Mother Teresa, foreground, prays during a visit to St. Mary's Cathedral in Trenton, N.J., June 18, 1995. Mother Teresa, the Roman Catholic nun whose name became synonymous with charity for her work with "the poorest of the poor" died Friday, September 5, 1997, at the Sister of Charity's headquarters in Calcutta, India. She was 87. (AP Photo/Allen Oliver, File)
First lady Hillary Rodham Clinton meets with Mother Teresa at the opening of the Mother Teresa Home for Infant Children June 19, 1995, in Washington. Mrs. Clinton will lead the U.S. delegation to the state funeral of Mother Teresa, the White House announced Monday, Sept. 8, 1997. (AP Photo/White House)
Mother Teresa receives a bouquet of flowers and congratulations from schoolgirls on her 85th birthday celebrated at the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta Saturday Aug. 26, 1995. (AP Photo / Bikas Das)
Mother Teresa waves at wellwishers, as she is released from the Woodlands nursing home in Calcutta, Wednesday, September 25, 1996, after a scan showed that the blood clot in her brain has dissolved. Mother had developed a clot after she fell down from a chair on September 16, 1996. She was released from the hospital earlier this month after two weeks of treatment for malaria, chest pain and cardiac problems. (AP Photo/Bikash Das)
Mother Teresa in a wheelchair, prays at the Missionaries of Charity chapel on Tuesday, in this Sept.10, 1996, photo as she celebrated the 50th anniversary of the order she founded in Calcutta. The Sisters of Charity in Rome said Friday Sept. 5, 1997 that Mother Teresa has died, she was 87. (AP Photo)
Mother Teresa holds the resolutions of honorary American citizenship after they were presented to her by American ambassador to India Frank G. Wisner at the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta Saturday, Nov. 16, 1996. (AP Photo/str)
Mother Teresa folds her hands in a traditional Indian form of greeting while leaving the B.M. Birla hospital in Calcutta Thursday, Dec. 19, 1996. The 86-year old Nobel Peace Prize laureate spent three weeks in the hospital, much of it in critical condition with heart problems and complications. At her left is one of her doctors, Patricia Aubanel.(AP Photo/Bikas Das)
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Standing under a canvas hung from St. Peter's Basilica showing the late nun in her blue-hemmed white robes, Francis said she was a "dispenser of divine mercy" and held world powers to account "for the crimes of poverty they created".
"For Mother Teresa, mercy was the salt which gave flavor to her work, it was the light which shone in the darkness of the many who no longer had tears to shed for their poverty and suffering."
Around 120,000 people attended the ceremony, according to Vatican estimates, celebrating the life of a woman who Francis said it might be difficult to call "Saint" as people felt so close to her they spontaneously used "Mother".
"Everything she did gave an example to the entire world," said 17-year-old student Massimiliano D'Aniello, from Grosseto, Italy, adding he had made a musical about her with his friends.
"She showed we can't all do everything, but little gestures made with so much love are what's important."
Critics say she did little to alleviate the pain of the terminally ill and nothing to tackle the root causes of poverty. Atheist writer Christopher Hitchens made a documentary about her called "Hell's Angel".
She was also accused of trying to convert the destitute in predominantly-Hindu India to Christianity, a charge her mission repeatedly denied.
But Pope John Paul II, who met her often, had no doubt about her eligibility for sainthood, and put her on the route to canonization two years after her death instead of the usual five.
As pilgrims from across the world gathered at the Vatican along with delegations from more than a dozen governments, the canonization was also celebrated in Skopje, the capital of modern Macedonia where Mother Teresa was born of Albanian parents in 1910 and became a nun aged 16.
No major ceremony was scheduled in Kolkata, where the first MoC mission was set up in 1952, but prayers, talks and cultural events were planned, in an atmosphere of quiet pride.
Pramod Sharma, a Kolkata resident who grew up near a convent school and childcare center where Mother Teresa worked, said he and his country were proud she had chosen India as her home.
"(She) belonged to our India and stayed with the Indians and will forever stay in our hearts," Sharma said.
The Church defines as saints those believed to have led such holy lives they are now in Heaven and can intercede with God to perform miracles - two of which are needed to confer sainthood.
She is credited with healing an Indian woman from stomach cancer in 1998 and a Brazilian man from a brain infection in 2008. The Brazilian, Marcilio Andrino, and his wife attended the ceremony and were blessed by the pope.
Sister Leandra Stupnicka, from Wroclaw in Poland, said she got up at 4:00 a.m. to be at the Vatican early on Sunday and pay her respects to the new saint.
"This mother was simple, very poor and devout and for us she is a testament to serving others," Sister Leandra said. "We pray to be like her."
After the canonization service, the pope treated 1,500 homeless people from across Italy to Neapolitan pizza served by members of Mother Teresa's order.
(Reporting by Isla Binnie; Additional reporting by Sunil Kataria in Kolkata, Editing by John Stonestreet)