Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims witnessed the beatification of Mother Teresa in St. Peter's Square, Rome

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Pope John Paul II, unable to pronounce a homily for the first time due to age and illness, presided over the rite which brings the world-famous nun close to sainthood, just six years after her death.

Indian sitar music blended with traditional hymns to celebrate the nun who spent more than 60 years attending to the sick and dying of Calcutta.

Guests included regulars from a soup kitchen in Rome run by Mother Teresa's order and the celebrations extended abroad, to Calcutta itself and Albania in recognition of Mother Teresa's Balkan roots.

The 83-year-old Pope so admired Mother Teresa that he waived the standard waiting period for beatification to bring forward the honour.

Beatification means that she may now be publicly venerated. For actual sainthood, proof of at least two miracles is required.

"Brothers and sisters, even in our days God inspires new models of sainthood," Pope John Paul told the crowd before his voice failed and aides read out his homily.

"Some impose themselves for their radicalness, like that offered by Mother Teresa of Calcutta, whom today we add to the ranks of the blessed."

Many of Mother Teresa's nuns, standing out from the crowd in their blue-trimmed white saris, wiped away tears, as the crowd cheered.

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