She’s now ‘St. Teresa of Kolkata’

Pope can­on­izes nun who de­voted her life to the poor

Baltimore Sun - - WORLD - By Ni­cole Win­field

VAT­I­CAN CITY — El­e­vat­ing the “saint of the gut­ters” to one of the Catholic Church’s high­est hon­ors, Pope Fran­cis on Sun­day praised Mother Teresa for her rad­i­cal ded­i­ca­tion to so­ci­ety’s out­casts and her courage in sham­ing world lead­ers for the “crimes of poverty they them­selves cre­ated.”

An es­ti­mated 120,000 peo­ple filled St. Peter’s Square for the can­on­iza­tion cer­e­mony, less than half the num­ber who turned out for her 2003 be­at­i­fi­ca­tion. It was nev­er­the­less the high­light of Fran­cis’ Holy Year of Mercy and pos­si­bly one of the defin­ing mo­ments of his mercy-fo­cused pa­pacy.

Fran­cis has been ded­i­cated to min­is­ter­ing to so­ci­ety’s most marginal, from pros­ti­tutes to pris­on­ers, refugees to the home­less. In that way, while the can­on­iza­tion of “St. Teresa of Kolkata” was a cel­e­bra­tion of her life and work, it was also some­thing of an af­fir­ma­tion of Fran­cis’ own pa­pal pri­or­i­ties, which have earned him praise and crit­i­cism alike.

“Let us carry her smile in our hearts and give it to those whom we meet along our jour­ney, es­pe­cially those who suf­fer,” Fran­cis said in his homily.

Born Agnes Gonxhe Bo­jax­hiu on Aug. 26, 1910, Teresa went to In­dia in 1929 as a sis­ter of the Loreto or­der. In 1946, she re­ceived what she de­scribed as a “call within a call” to found a new or­der ded­i­cated to car­ing for the most unloved and un­wanted, the “poor­est of the poor” in the slums of her adopted city, Kolkata.

The Mis­sion­ar­ies of Char­ity or­der went on to A ta­pes­try de­pict­ing Mother Teresa hangs from the bal­cony of St. Peter’s Basil­ica as Pope Fran­cis, stand­ing at bot­tom, cel­e­brates a a Can­on­iza­tion Mass be­come one of the most well-known in the world, with more than 4,000 sis­ters in their trade­mark bluetrimmed white saris do­ing as Teresa in­structed: “small things with great love.”

At the or­der’s Mother House in Kolkata, hun­dreds of peo­ple watched the Mass on TV and clapped with joy when Fran­cis de­clared her a saint.

They gath­ered around Teresa’s tomb, which was dec­o­rated with flow­ers, a sin­gle can­dle and a photo of the saint.

“I am so proud to be from Kolkata,” said San­jay Sarkar, a high school stu­dent on hand for the cel­e­bra­tion. “Mother Teresa be­longed to Kolkata, and she has been de­clared a saint.”

For Fran­cis, Teresa put into ac­tion his ideal of the church as a “field hos­pi­tal” for those suf­fer­ing both ma­te­rial and spir­i­tual poverty, liv­ing on the phys­i­cal and ex­is­ten­tial pe­riph­eries of so­ci­ety.

In his homily, Fran­cis praised her as the mer­ci­ful saint who de­fended the lives of the un­born, sick and aban­doned, re­call­ing her strong op­po­si­tion to abor­tion, which of­ten put her at odds with pro­gres­sives around the world.

“She bowed down be­fore those whowere spent, left to die on the side of the road, see­ing in them their God­given dig­nity,” he said.

Teresa’s most fa­mous critic, Christo­pher Hitchens, has ac­cused her of tak­ing do­na­tions from dic­ta­tors — charges church au­thor­i­ties deny. Fran­cis chose to em­pha­size her other deal­ings with the pow­er­ful. “She made her voice heard be­fore the pow­ers of the world, so that they might rec­og­nize their guilt for the crimes of poverty they them­selves cre­ated,” he said, re­peat­ing for em­pha­sis “the crimes of poverty.”

Hun­dreds of Mis­sion­ar­ies of Char­ity sis­ters had front-row seats at the Mass, along­side 1,500 home­less peo­ple and 13 heads of state or gov­ern­ment and even roy­alty: Queen Sofia of Spain. For the home­less, Fran­cis of­fered a lun­cheon af­ter­ward in the Vat­i­can au­di­to­rium, catered by a Neapoli­tan pizza maker who brought his own ovens for the event.

The low turnout sug­gested that fi­nan­cial belt­tight­en­ing and se­cu­rity fears in the wake of Is­lamic ex­trem­ist at­tacks in Europe may have kept pil­grims away.

Those fears prompted a huge, 3,000-strong law en­force­ment pres­ence to se­cure the area around the Vat­i­can and close the airspace above. Many of those se­cu­rity mea­sures have been in place for the du­ra­tion of the Ju­bilee year, which of­fi­cially ends in No­vem­ber.

While Fran­cis is clearly keen to hold Teresa up as a model for her joy­ful ded­i­ca­tion to the poor, he was also rec­og­niz­ing ho­li­ness in a nun who lived most of her adult life in spir­i­tual agony, sens­ing that God had aban­doned her.

Ac­cord­ing to cor­re­spon­dence that came to light af­ter she died in 1997, Teresa ex­pe­ri­enced what the church calls a “dark night of the soul” — a pe­riod of spir­i­tual doubt, de­spair and lone­li­ness that many of the great mys­tics ex­pe­ri­enced. In Teresa’s case, it lasted for nearly 50 years — an al­most un­heard of trial.

She was awarded the No­bel Peace Prize in 1979 and died in 1997. Soon there­after, Pope John Paul II placed her on the fast-track for saint­hood.

Fran­cis has con­fessed that he was some­what in­tim­i­dated by Teresa, know­ing well she was as tough as she was ten­der. He quipped dur­ing a 2014 visit to Al­ba­nia that he would never have wanted her as his su­pe­rior be­cause she was so firm with her sis­ters.

But on Sun­day, he ad­mit­ted that even he would find it hard to call her “St. Teresa,” since her ten­der­ness was so ma­ter­nal.

“Spon­ta­neously, we will con­tinue to say ‘Mother Teresa,’ ” he said to ap­plause.

ALESSAN­DRA TARANTINO/AP

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