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Mother Teresa now officially ‘St. Teresa’

A tapestry depicting Mother Teresa of Calcutta is seen in the facade of Saint Peter's Basilica during a Mass, celebrated by Pope Francis, for her canonization in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican on September 4, 2016. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Stefano Rellandini
A tapestry depicting Mother Teresa of Calcutta is seen in the facade of Saint Peter's Basilica during a Mass, celebrated by Pope Francis, for her canonization in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican September 4, 2016. Photo via Reuters/Stefano Rellandini

A tapestry depicting Mother Teresa is seen in the facade of St. Peter’s Basilica during a Mass, celebrated by Pope Francis, for her canonization in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on Sept. 4, 2016. Photo via Reuters/Stefano Rellandini

VATICAN CITY (RNS) Mother Teresa, the tiny nun who devoted her life to the poor, was declared a saint by Pope Francis at the Vatican as he celebrated her “daring and courage” and described her as a role model for all in his year of mercy.

At least 120,000 people crowded a sun-drenched St. Peter’s Square for the canonization of the acclaimed nun who may have worked in the slums of Kolkata but was a force to be reckoned with by political and religious leaders around the world.

“Mother Teresa, in all aspects of her life, was a generous dispenser of divine mercy, making herself available for everyone through her welcome and defense of human life, those unborn, and those abandoned and discarded,” the pope said in his homily at the Mass on Sunday morning (Sept. 4).

“She bowed down before those who were spent, left to die on the side of the road,” Francis continued, saying her life was example for other Christians and an indictment of those with influence who could ease the problems of poverty but did not.

“She made her voice heard before the powers of this world so that they might recognize their guilt for the crime of poverty they created.”

The pope then repeated that final line for emphasis: “The crimes of poverty they themselves created.”

The pope gave VIP seats to 1,500 poor people who are supported by the saint’s Missionaries of Charity order across Italy and invited them to a pizza lunch at the Vatican, sending another message about her work – and his own commitment to the poor and vulnerable.

The pope described the new saint as an “eloquent” model for her humble devotion to the poorest of the poor and an “emblematic figure of womanhood.”

Mother Teresa, whose feast day will now be Sept. 5, the date she died in 1997 at age 87, will now be known as St. Teresa of Kolkata – though in an unscripted aside, Francis recognized that many people “may struggle” to remember the new appellation.

“With great spontaneity, I think we will continue to call her Mother Teresa,” the pontiff said.

Considered one of the most influential women in the history of the Roman Catholic Church, St. Teresa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 and was regarded by many Catholics as a “living saint” for her work in the slums of Kolkata, formerly known as Calcutta.

Thirteen official delegations and heads of state, including the prime minister of India, Narendra Modi, attended the canonization Mass amid the tightest security seen at the Vatican since recent terrorist attacks in France and Germany.

President Obama sent a delegation that included the U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, Kenneth Hackett, and two other administration officials as well as Sister Donna Markham, head of Catholic Charities USA, and Carolyn Woo, head of Catholic Relief Services — respectively the domestic and international relief arms of the Catholic Church in the U.S.

The faithful began lining up overnight but crowd numbers appeared to be far lower than the 300,000 who turned out for the nun’s beatification in 2003, possibly due to security fears.

The Rev. Vincent Druding, a priest from Church of the Assumption in Peekskill, N.Y, traveled to the Vatican for the canonization after making a personal pilgrimage to Kolkata to meet the nuns from the Missionaries of Charity, the order she founded.

“Mother Teresa is my hero,” said Druding. “I had the chance to be in her presence when I was a boy when she came to the U.S. She has been inspiring me ever since, so I am so happy to be here for the canonization.”

The saint was born Agnese Gonxha Bojaxhiu of Albanian parents in Skopje in 1910 in what is now Macedonia. She became a nun as a teenager and moved to India in 1929, creating her own order of nuns in 1950.

Under her guidance, her order set up hundreds of shelters for the poor and needy around the world, and there are now more than 4,500 nuns as well as priests and brothers from her order working in more than 130 countries, including Yemen, Australia, Venezuela, Guatemala and the U.S.

“When she came to the United States she was struck by the spiritual poverty,” said Druding. “While we are materially rich, there is a great desire to fill this feeling of being unloved. So she has much to teach us. ”

Greg Burke, an American who is the new head of the Vatican press office, said Mother Teresa was widely loved in the U.S. because she made many trips there.

He recalled seeing her working with the poor in Washington, D.C., and in a soup kitchen in one of the worst neighborhoods in the South Bronx many years ago when he was in college. He said her sainthood meant a great deal to American Catholics.

Sally Vance-Trembath, a theology professor at Santa Clara University in California, said Mother Teresa’s sainthood was particularly timely because her personal approach reflected the pope’s commitment to the poor and underprivileged.

“Her work is significant because she called attention to human suffering,” Vance-Trembath told RNS. “She was not interested in the institutional forms as much as the work … so she fits Francis.”

The Catholic Church has more than 10,000 saints, many of whom had to wait centuries before their elevation.

But her worldwide reputation for service and sanctity so impressed St. John Paul II, a friend of Mother Teresa’s and pope when she died, that he waived the usual five-year waiting period and opened her cause for sainthood just two years after her death. John Paul then beatified her — the second step toward formal recognition as a saint — in 2003.

On Friday, Sister Mary Prema Pierick, superior general of the Missionaries of Charity order, reminisced about how the legendary nun had influenced the nuns’ lives.

“I was impressed by the energy and leadership she demonstrated,” she told the media. “We all wanted to be close to her.”

Mother Teresa was credited with two miracles related to healing the ill. One of them, Marcilio Andrino of Brazil, unexpectedly recovered from a severe brain infection in 2008.

He and his wife, Fernanda, were in Rome to attend the canonization, which is considered a highlight of Pope Francis’ Holy Year of Mercy.

(Josephine McKenna covers the Vatican for RNS)

About the author

Josephine McKenna

Josephine McKenna has more than 30 years' experience in print, broadcast and interactive media. Based in Rome since 2007, she covered the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and election of Pope Francis and canonizations of their predecessors. Now she covers all things Vatican for RNS.


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  • The saints are the elect of God, those who have had the gospel applied to their hearts. The saved in other words.

  • I have rarely heard Mother Teresa criticized, though I’ve read allegations that she lived quite well despite her reputation of service to the poor. Can you provide the rationale for your severe remarks regarding her, I’m genuinely curious?

  • She’s no saint. She consistently refused pain killers to the sick and dying, saying that their suffering was beautiful and that it bought them closer to the suffering of Jesus. She took millions of dollars in donations and used the money to set up more Missionaries of Charity in order to convert people to Catholicism rather than channel it into palliative care. She was close friends with dictators and overall seems quite an unpleasant person. I’m not wanting to offend any hard-line Catholics, but this is all in the public domain and should be still talked about. Even the ‘miracle’ supposedly attributed to her has been refuted by the claimant’s husband.

    Here’s one of many articles on her.

  • Really? Because our God and savior will say on the last day to those who sit pews or preside as elders in churches and never had the gospel applied, never were converted, never were born again by the spirit, “depart from me, I never knew you.”

  • God is just, and those men, if they do not repent, will receive their proper reward in due course. God is not mocked. He knows His own and will separate the sheep from the goats at the Great White Throne judgment. You can take some comfort from that if it pleases you.

  • Just use the google with “Mother Theresa evil” or read the book “The Missionary Position” by Christopher Hitchens or go here for short article by same author -thoroughly researched.

    Making Theresa a “saint” doesn’t reflect well on the head mafiosi of the Catholic church, in that they are saying she, a very cruel and evil person, was a human who should be looked up to.

  • Minuscule Eddie, no, the god as described in your sicko holy book is a a vengeant, excessively violent jerk who threatens us with eternal torture and worse. Your sicko, crazy Christian sky fairy myths about your abusive “god” are an embarrassment to humanity.

  • Seeing as you still can respond with nothing of substance despite the old age you claim of the “stuff”, you accept what I’ve said as true.

    Thank you again, Everett, for supporting the case that I have presented.

  • Mother Teresa approached St. Peter with a question.

    “I’m not jealous, just curious — why is Princess Diana’s halo bigger than mine?”

    “That’s not a halo — that’s a STEERING WHEEL.”

  • Orphans, widows, lepers, homeless, aged and unwanted – in different parts of the world keep praising God for the gift of Mother Teresa in their lives. Able-bodied young men and women from across the Planet have been flocking to the City of Joy joining Mother Teresa and her band of sisters in offering love and tenderness to the unwanted, rejected, dejected and ejected citizens. Mother Teresa gave hope to the hopeless both able-bodied and the disabled. Long live her inspiring spirit.

  • I do not agree with you, in fact it is the total opposite of what you attempt to assign to me. I understand your unbelief, it is in line with the great majority of people in the world. It is not so much that you don’t want to believe that there is a creator who will one day judge all, you very much willfully reject that belief and knowledge of God. It is also, however and in accordance to what I believe, that you do not posses any ability within your being to savingly believe in God because he has not given you that ability. You’re lost and all I can do for you is to tell you that I was once lost too, but God found me and called me. He may call you too. Call on the Lord while you have the time.

  • “She made her voice heard before the powers of this world so that they might recognize their guilt for the crime of poverty they created.” – POPE FRANCIS

    Teresa saw no crime in poverty! She called it a blessing.
    Meanwhile she stole hundreds of millions of dollars from the poor people of Haiti – which only incurred more poverty. She was no friend to the impoverished.

    Teresa was a creator of – and LOVER OF – Poverty.
    religion is sickening.

  • Everett, go google “Pascal’s Wager” and do some learning “while you have the time.”

    As for “saving”, we’ll delve into that and explain to you why the Christian salvation story is utter nonsense, if you dare go further with that silliness from your god myth.

    Your arguments for your god are old, tired, and plainly false, and you’ve even employed a well known fallacy to try to make your “case”.

  • I’m not trying to “make a case”. I simply mentioned what the Bible says about who the saints are in contrast to the above news article.

  • Everett, stop trying to wriggle out of what you said, co​ward. You made claims about your sky fairy that were then refuted. If you cannot respond to the rebuttal, then grow some courage and retract those claims.

  • Refuted Puleeze! you did no such thing. All you did was to jump on my thread and give your razzie about something you have no ability to understand in the first place. Your only response has been ad hominem, which I guess is the standard for your ilk who lurk on these pages eating your own gall. If that is atheism I thank God for God.

  • No, Everett, my response was accurate, and you could clearly could not rebut it. In return, it is actually you who has obviously using an ad hominem argument, in claiming that I “lack the ability to understand”; that is rather plainly an ad hominem argument.

    Please find some courage for a change and retract your ad hominem argument. Further, do some research and try to show that you actually understand what Pascal’s Wager is. That will be a step forward for you, in leaving your foolish Christian myths behind.

  • Your posts generally demonstrate three characteristics 1. Lack of substance, 2. Personal attacks, 3. Juvenile language.

  • In perusing some of the comments in this thread and the sources cited, I will acknowledge that Mother Theresa may have been misguided in the application of her efforts in a number of areas, but I think you do little for your argument by referencing Christopher Hitchens who was hardly an objective reporter; in essence he was refuted on many issues by his own brother, Peter Hitchens.

  • Minuscule Eddie, again, you have yet to respond to any of my posts with any substance or any supportable argument.

    I hereby demote you to Puny Eddie.