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13 years on, Mother Teresa still draws foreign tourists to Kolkata

Friday, September 03, 2010 02:20:20 PM, Aparajita Gupta, IANS

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Kolkata: Be it soccer legend Diego Maradona, tennis star Martina Hingis or football World Cup hero Diego Forlan - they have all visited the plain two-storey Missionaries of Charity headquarters here that houses Mother Teresa's grave. It's a must-see for foreign tourists visiting eastern India even 13 years after her death.

Sep 5, 1997, was the day she died. The selfless nun who migrated from Albania to India and devoted her life to the old, the abandoned and the ailing continues to draw foreigners by the hundreds.

Tourists from Asia, Europe and North America spend quality time at Mother House - the global headquarters of the Catholic Order Missionaries of Charity founded by the Nobel laureate.

Apart from paying obeisance before Mother Teresa's three-foot-high cement grave on the ground floor of the whitewashed building in central Kolkata, the visitors pray with the sisters and are awestruck by the details of her vast work and service to the needy.

"Mother House contributes majorly to the tourism sector. We get a good chunk of tourists from foreign locations who come to this part of the country only for Mother Teresa. That brings a lot of foreign exchange to the country," Anil Punjabi , Travel Agent Federation of India chairman (eastern India), told IANS.

Irish woman Gobrait, in her late 20s, finds peace in Mother House. Whenever she comes to the city, she pays a visit to the Lower Circular Road dwelling.

"This is my third visit to the city, and the third visit to the Mother House...it is a peaceful place...Sitting in front of Mother's tomb stone gives a lot of peace," Gobrait said minutes after praying at the grave.

The tomb bears St. John's Biblical saying: "Love One Another As I Have Loved You".

Argentine soccer great Maradona, during his trip to the city in December 2008, made it clear that visiting the Missionaries of Charity headquarters was one of the major reasons why he agreed to come to faraway Kolkata.

"I wanted to see what Mother Teresa has done in this city. So I want to utilise this trip to visit Mother House," Maradona had said.

Mother Teresa - born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu in Skopje, Macedonia, Aug 26, 1910, to an ethnic Albanian family - made Kolkata her home and workplace for 68 years since 1929. She was given the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979.

"Most of the enquiries come from France and Spain. Of late people from other European countries have started coming to visit Mother House. Some queries have started coming from Canada and the US also," Punjabi said.

Most of those who visit this place are Roman Catholics. Around 800-1,000 foreigners visit every month.

"We help them with all necessary information," he said.

Fadi Najim and Tony Lattouf, both from Lebanon, are students of theology who came to pay a visit to Mother House.

"We are here for her 100th birthday celebrations," Najim said. Her birth centenary celebrations started Aug 26 - the day of her birth.

West Bengal Tourism Minister Manabendra Mukherjee said Mother Teresa occupies a central place in the state government's plans to draw potential tourists.

"When we pitch for Kolkata tourism, we mention Mother Teresa as one of the Nobel laureates from the state along with others," Mukherjee told IANS.

Missionaries of Charity has 765 houses across the world now, with 245 centres in India and 520 abroad. It is present in 137 countries. The number of serving sisters is around 5,029.

Geeta Rodrigues, a disciple of Mother Teresa, said: She and Mother House have become a pilgrimage for many tourists. People across the world know about her great works. And so they make it a point to see the epicentre of her work when they visit this part of India."



(Aparajita Gupta can be contacted at aparajita.g@ians.in)

 


 

 

 

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