Thousands of pilgrims yesterday thronged to St Peter’s Square in the Vatican for the canonization of Mother Teresa, the nun who cared for the world’s most unwanted and became the icon of a Catholic Church that goes to the peripheries to tend to lost, wounded souls.
Pope Francis declared Mother Teresa a saint at a morning Mass, making her the model of his Jubilee Year of Mercy.
“For the honor of the Blessed Trinity ... we declare and define Blessed Teresa of Kolkata to be a saint and we enroll her among the saints, decreeing that she is to be venerated as such by the whole church,” the pontiff said in Latin.
Throughout the night, pilgrims prayed at vigils in area churches and flocked before dawn to the Vatican to try to get a good spot for the Mass being celebrated under a searing hot sun and blue skies.
“Her heart, she gave it to the world,” said Charlotte Samba, a 52-year-old mother of three who traveled with a church group from Gabon for the Mass. “Mercy, forgiveness, good works: It is the heart of a mother for the poor.”
While big, the crowds were not expected to reach the 300,000 who turned out for Mother Teresa’s 2003 beatification, thanks in part to security fears in the wake of extremist attacks in Europe. The fears prompted a 3,000-strong law enforcement presence to secure the area around the Vatican and close the airspace above.
Nevertheless, those on hand were jubilant to have made the journey — nuns, priests, volunteers, pilgrims and tourists clutching the coveted 100,000 tickets issued for the Mass.
One group of 40 Indian nationals traveled from Macerata, Italy to honor a woman given India’s highest civilian and humanitarian awards for her work in the slums of Kolkata. Another group of 100 drove from Kosovo toting a banner that read: “Mother Teresa: Pray for Us.”
In addition, 1,500 homeless people invited by Francis had VIP seats and were going to be treated by the pope to a Neapolitan pizza lunch in the Vatican auditorium afterward.
While Francis is clearly keen to hold Mother Teresa up as a model for her joyful dedication to society’s outcasts, he is 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, Mother 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 Mother Teresa’s case, it lasted for about 50 years — an almost unheard of trial.
For the Reverend Brian Kolodiejchuk, the Canadian priest who spearheaded Mother Teresa’s saint-making campaign, the revelations were further confirmation of Mother Teresa’s heroic saintliness.
He said that by canonizing her, Francis is recognizing that Mother Teresa not only shared the material poverty of the poor, but the spiritual poverty of those who feel “unloved, unwanted, uncared for.”
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