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Mother Teresa offers blessings, comfort to city Nobel peace laureate hears renewal of vows, visits AIDS hospice

Mother Teresa, the 4-foot-10 champion of the poor, visited Baltimore yesterday, offering blessings to the faithful and comfort to the sick.

Surrounded by dozens of nuns and about 1,000 admirers, the 85-year-old missionary participated in a Mass at the Basilica of the Assumption, the nation's oldest Roman Catholic cathedral. Looking frail and walking gingerly, she climbed a platform that was placed on the altar especially for her and urged the congregation to strive for compassion and family unity.

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"Bring prayers into your families," she said. "And if you stay together, you will love each other the way God loves each one of you."

Since founding the Missionaries of Charity in 1950 in Calcutta, India, Mother Teresa has opened hospices and clinics in 120 countries and has become for many a symbol of service to the suffering and the abandoned.

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"I'm a big admirer of Mother Teresa," Margo Smith, a Harford County resident, said after the Mass. "She sets a wonderful example for the world."

Earlier, Mother Teresa visited a hospice for people with AIDS run by the Missionaries of Charity in a poor, crime-ridden neighborhood in Southeast Baltimore.

One of the men who lives there, Herbert Barnett, met her in tears. Tall and broad, he has scars all over his cheeks and nose, and described himself as a "reformed hoodlum." He said he served 11 years in jail for robbery. Then he became sick with AIDS. Perhaps the one lucky day in his life, he said, was the day he was taken in a year ago by the sisters at the Gift of Hope Hospice.

They brought him a new sense of dignity and respect, he said. Yesterday, Mother Teresa inspired him.

"She blessed me," he said. "I feel so good, I can't stop crying. I'm 54 and I never met God until today. I feel like when she touched me, God touched me."

His voice cracking, he continued: "For the first time I know he put me on this earth for a reason. I have to go out to the neighborhood and tell all the kids to stay away from drugs and crime. There is a reason I'm here."

During the Mass, 35 members of the Missionaries of Charity renewed their vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. With her hands clasped together, Mother Teresa praised her nuns for their dedication to serving the poorest of the poor.

She told them, "When we die and we go home to God, he will say to us, 'Come because I was hungry and you gave me food to eat. I was naked and you clothed me. I was homeless and you took me in."

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Looking pale and wearing sandals and her order's white-and-blue habit, Mother Teresa walked carefully through the crowds. Her visit to Baltimore was her first public appearance since she fell and broke her collarbone two months ago. (Her last visit to Maryland was in December at Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg.)

But for those who attended the Mass yesterday at the Basilica, Mother Teresa was as powerful as ever. They showered her with praise and smiled giddily as she passed, giving out medals imprinted with the image of the Virgin Mary.

"It was so uplifting for me," said Lucy Eberhart, who drove to Baltimore from the Washington suburbs. "Mother Teresa is so close to God. I know that when I get home today I'm going to have many blessings."

Mother Teresa, born Agnes Gonxa Bojahiu in Albania, received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 for her work around the world. In the past couple of years, however, her order has been criticized in the British news media for providing poor medical care to the dying and for mishandling donations.

She has not responded to the criticism except to say that she is doing God's work. And hers continues to be the fastest growing religious order for women in the Catholic Church. Currently there are more than 3,500 Missionaries of Charity worldwide.

Cardinal William H. Keeler, the archbishop of Baltimore, called Mother Teresa an "excellent example of obedience" and "an example of how rich and spiritually challenging religious life can be."

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Of the Missionaries of Charities, he said, "They have a marvelous sense of unity. When they are going about their work, they are never silent. They are laughing. There is a giddiness in the Lord. They have joy in their dependency on God."

Still, despite the enormous success of her ministry, Mother Teresa used part of her time at the altar yesterday for a brief sales pitch.

"I would be so happy if you would give us some of your daughters to consecrate to Jesus. It is an honor to give your daughters in marriage to Jesus," she said.

Charlotte Brown, a 19-year-old student visiting from Massachusetts, was impressed by Mother Teresa and the sacrifices made by the Missionaries of Charity. But she wasn't sold on the idea of joining the order.

Shaking her head, she said, "It's not really for me."

Pub Date: 5/30/96



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