VATICAN CITY — She was known throughout the world as Mother Teresa, considered a saint by many for her charitable work among the poorest of the world's poor. On Sunday, Pope Francis officially bestowed that title at her canonization ceremony in St. Peter's Square.
"I think, perhaps, we may have some difficulty in calling her St. Teresa: Her holiness is so near to us, so tender and so fruitful, that we continue to spontaneously call her Mother Teresa," the pope said in off-the-cuff remarks during his homily.
It was a festive atmosphere at the Vatican, under a broiling summer sun, and several flags fluttered in the light breeze: from Albania, representing the Roman Catholic nun's ethnic origins; from Macedonia, to note her birthplace, Skopje; from India, where she spent most of her life, working in the slums of Kolkata; and from the other countries where she touched countless lives.
When Francis proclaimed her St. Teresa at the end of the formal ceremony, in Latin, the crowd erupted in sustained applause.
"We are proud of her, all of India is proud," said Marina Borneo Sam, who traveled from Kolkata with her mother to be at the ceremony. "She may no longer be there, but we still feel her spirit around us."
For some, Mother Teresa's saintliness was so evident from the start that her canonization was just a formality.
"For me nothing has changed," said Giovanna Tommasi, a lay member of the Missionaries of Charity, the religious order founded by Mother Teresa in 1950. "When you were fortunate enough to know her, as I did, then today's celebration doesn't change much."
The canonization marked a highlight of the Jubilee year, which the pope had proclaimed to celebrate the theme of mercy, and on Sunday he called Mother Teresa a "tireless worker of mercy."
Mother Teresa earned fame and accolades over a lifetime spent working with the poor and the sick, and with orphans, lepers and AIDS patients.
She made the cover of Time magazine in December 1975 for an article that acknowledged her as one of the world's "living saints." When told that she had won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, she said: "I am unworthy."
A portrait of Mother Teresa, once described by Pope John Paul II as an "icon of the good Samaritan," was displayed on the facade of St. Peter's Basilica and showing her in her distinctive blue-trimmed white sari. The portrait was commissioned by the Knights of Columbus and painted by Chas Fagan, an American artist.
Because of her celebrity, she stepped where many religious figures do not. "She made her voice heard before the powers of this world, so that they might recognize their guilt for the crime of poverty they created," the pope said on Sunday.
Mother Teresa's supporters praise her selflessness and humility, noting that although she associated with royalty, government leaders and popes, she continued to live simply until her death, at age 87, in 1997.
"She was one with us," Sister Mary Prema Pierick, the superior general of the Missionaries of Charity, said at a Vatican news conference on Friday. "She never wanted or accepted anything not common with all the sisters."
The order that Mother Teresa started with 12 nuns now numbers more than 5,800 people in 139 countries, including two orders of brothers and one of priests. The congregation continues her work of ministering to those she called "the poorest of the poor."
Mother Teresa was canonized 19 years after her death, remarkably fast for modern times.
John Paul II, who is now also a saint, went against protocol when he allowed the canonization process to begin two years after her death, not the customary five. He beatified her in 2003 after a miracle, the healing of a tumor-stricken woman, was attributed to her intercession.
A second miracle, recognized by Francis last year, opened the way to sanctity.
"I am very grateful for this miracle," said Marcilio Haddad Andrino, a Brazilian who recovered from a life-threatening brain infection in 2008 after his family prayed to Mother Teresa. Andrino came to Rome for the ceremony and was present at the Vatican news conference.
"The merciful Lord looks at us all without any distinction," Andrino said. "Maybe it was me this time, but maybe tomorrow it will be someone else."
Mother Teresa, for all her acclaim, was not without critics. Some have questioned the hygiene and medical standards adopted by the sisters in some of the shelters and clinics run by the Missionaries of Charity. Others, like Dr. Aroup Chatterjee, have criticized what they call a "cult of suffering" that was prevalent in some of the homes run by the order.
Her most famous critic, the late writer Christopher Hitchens, accused her of taking donations from dictators — charges church authorities deny.
Her campaigns against birth control and abortion, which she once called "the greatest destroyer of peace today," angered feminists and raised concerns with aid organizations.
Some doctors and officials in India have also challenged the narrative of Monica Besra, the woman said to have benefited from Mother Teresa's first miraculous intervention, saying that Besra had been suffering from a cyst, not a tumor.
Mother Teresa was born Agnes Gonxhe Bojaxhiu in 1910 to Albanian parents in Skopje, then part of the Ottoman Empire and now the capital of Macedonia. Today, she is regarded as the city's most important native, and celebrations for her canonization will be held there for a week.
The canonization was broadcast live on the Vatican's TV station and streamed online through a Vatican website. It was presented on Vatican Radio in seven languages, including Albanian.
Tens of thousands gathered Sunday at St. Peter's Square, along with 15 government delegations, including representatives of India and the United States. Chief Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said all 100,000 tickets that the Holy See made available had been distributed.