Mother Teresa, saying she was bowing to God's will, accepted re-election Saturday as head of her worldwide mission for the poor after nuns ignored her wish to retire and voted for her to remain.
The vote was intended to choose a successor to Mother Teresa, but after the results were announced the 80-year-old Nobel laureate withdrew her decision to step down as superior general of the Missionaries of Charity.``She hasn't changed her mind, but she was elected,' said Monsignor Francis Gomes, who presided over the secret balloting. ``She hoped that someone else would be elected.'
Gomes said Mother Teresa had little choice but to accept the unanimous vote.
``In religious life, there is no personal desire. You have to accept God's will,' said Gomes, the vicar general of the Calcutta diocese.
The Vatican said that it approves and gave its blessing to the decision. Mother Teresa declined to meet reporters, pleading fatigue.
After the vote she told the nuns, ``If this is God's will, I will serve in the capacity in the best possible way,' Gomes said.
Last March, Pope John Paul II bowed to Mother Teresa's desire to retire and accepted her resignation as head of the order she founded. He had rejected her earlier requests to step down.
The Roman Catholic nun, known as the ``saint of the gutters' for her work with the destitute and dying, suffered a nearly fatal heart attack a year ago. She returned to work but asked for retirement within a few months.
Mother Teresa was re-elected to a six-year term. The constitution of her order calls for a maximum two terms, but the pope has waived this clause in the past so that Mother Teresa could remain in the post.
Ballots were cast by 103 delegates summoned from missions around the globe. The election was held a year ahead of schedule because Mother Teresa wanted to step down.
Gomes indicated that the sisters were swayed by the new democratization of Eastern Europe and the opportunities to open new missions.
``The feeling was that with so much opening up in the Western world and in Eastern Europe, they need someone who can face the challenge,' he said. He spoke to reporters in the garden of an institution for retarded women and children where the assembly was held.
Mother Teresa's decision to retire had raised questions about the future of the Missionaries of Charity. Church officials have said nuns on her six-member administrative council were capable but did not have her worldwide recognition, determination and charisma, which opened many of the financial and political doors needed to accomplish the mission's work.
Mother Teresa's ministry to the poor and helpless began in earnest 43 years ago in the gutters of Calcutta. She gave up a comfortable teaching job at a Roman Catholic school to care for those whom no one else would touch.
Literally plucking dying people from the streets of the teeming metropolis, Mother Teresa went on to found a series of homes in Calcutta, and eventually throughout the world, for society's castaways.
Today, the Missionaries of Charity operate 430 homes in 95 countries for lepers, cripples, destitute consumptives, abandoned babies and others with no place to turn. Mother Teresa, who was born in Yugoslavia, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979.