They came to Ashland and Collington avenues from the trash-strewn streets and alleys nearby, from the giant Johns Hopkins medical complex hovering a couple of blocks away, from downtown offices and from greener Roland Park and Ruxton and Catonsville and Timonium -- even from as far as Hawaii.
They walked, took the bus or came in cars, including a well-groomed woman in a white BMW convertible searching for a parking space. More than 1,000 people flocked yesterday afternoon to St. Wenceslaus Roman Catholic Church in a blighted East Baltimore neighborhood to catch a glimpse of a tiny, stooped, wrinkled woman in a white and blue sari with a captivating smile and a simple message of love and peace.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta is one of the world's most admired religious figures. The 81-year-old founder of the Missionaries of Charity, was in town to dedicate her newly-opened Gift of Hope Convent at 818 N. Collington Ave. It is a formerly vacant, three-story church building where four members of her international order of nuns have taken up residence.
From there, the sisters visit the sick at Hopkins and other hospitals, counsel and assist the poor and troubled who are all around them, and comfort the dying -- including a small group of AIDS patients now living with them.
Following yesterday's standing-room-only Mass in towering, ornate St. Wenceslaus Church, the reopened convent next door was formally blessed by three bishops. Afterward, Mother Teresa greeted a clapping, cheering, whistling outdoor audience, crowding toward her from the blocked-off street.
She spoke from the top of a flight of steps, near where a 2-year-old boy was wounded in the wrist in a 30-bullet shootout exactly a month ago.
As a dozen nuns of her order peered admiringly from the convent's windows, Mother Teresa said, "This house is open to all who will share the joy of loving."
She prayed that "joy and peace will be in every family."
She told her rapt listeners, straining to hear her slightly accented English, that God "wants us to love one another as He loves us."
Then, smiling almost mischievously, Mother Teresa grabbed a large plastic bag of religious medals -- surprising Baltimore Archbishop William H. Keeler and other robed clerics who were standing with her -- and began distributing the contents to eager, outstretched hands.
One of the first people to reach her was an excited Helen Bridges, 60, who lives on Patterson Park Avenue and attends Israel Baptist Church at Chester and Preston streets.
Ms. Bridges said she had waited in the street for four hours to give Mother Teresa the flowers she bought for her. When Ms. Bridges exchanged the bouquet for one of the little medals bearing the image of the Virgin Mary, Mother Teresa whispered, "I pray for you." Ms. Bridges beamed.
Police officers, without much success, tried to organize the surging crowd into an orderly line.
"Let her get to the people," said one of the officers. "Now, folks, be reasonable, one by one. Take your time."
Soon, priests and nuns took over the job of handing out the medals, and Mother Teresa returned to the convent, where Archbishop Keeler said she had a string of appointments with supporters, including one who had traveled all the way from Hawaii.
Having been driven to Baltimore yesterday afternoon in a van, the frail visitor was due back at the American headquarters of the Missionaries of Charity in the Bronx, N.Y., last night.
On July 6, after 2-year-old Michael Gordon was caught in a drug dealers' shootout near St. Wenceslaus Church, police went door to door with their Stop-The-Tears anti-crime posters.
Some of these signs in rowhouse windows and a large, hand-painted poster expressing Mother Teresa's strong anti-abortion sentiments were part of the backdrop for her second Baltimore appearance -- her first since being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. In 1975, she spoke at the College of Notre Dame of Maryland.
About half of yesterday's crowd had managed to squeeze inside the church for the 3 p.m. Mass celebrated by Archbishop Keeler, Baltimore Auxiliary Bishop John H. Ricard, Washington Auxiliary Bishop William G. Curlin and about 40 priests.
Mother Teresa received her first standing ovation when she entered with a group of her sari-clad sisters, who were ushered to the front pews.
"Oh, there she is!" someone cried out, leading men, women and children to scramble on top of their seats for a better look.
She was vigorously applauded again after her remarks from the pulpit at the conclusion of the Mass.
In various ways, she repeated her theme that joy comes from helping others, especially those who feel unloved.
"We need tremendous joy and love in our hearts," she said. "We must help each other to be holy."
In his homily, Archbishop Keeler said that yesterday was the feast of the dedication of St. Mary Major Basilica in Rome, a particularly appropriate day for the dedication of Mother Teresa's Gift of Hope Convent. St. Mary Major is "Our Lady's special church in Rome," the archbishop said, noting the devotion of the Missionaries of Charity to the Virgin Mary.
"We know that what we bless today is not a hospice in the technical sense, but it is the sisters' home, the home which you Missionaries of Charity are sharing with the sick poor, no matter what their religious faith or racial background or economic status," Archbishop Keeler said.