Mother Teresa: 2016’s Saint of Mercy
Postulator for Her Canonization Cause Discusses a Life That Was ‘A Total Gift to the Poor’
It’s official: Blessed Mother Teresa will be canonized in 2016. On Dec. 17, Pope Francis approved the second miracle attributed to her intercession. The exact canonization date will be formally announced at the next consistory of cardinals. However, the date looks like Sept. 4, according, unofficially, to Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization.
Fittingly, Mother Teresa’s canonization will fall during the Jubilee of Mercy, after being on the canonization “fast track.” Less than two years after her death on Sept. 5, 1997, Pope John Paul II, now a canonized saint himself, waived the waiting period for her cause to commence.
“In January 1999, the Holy Father was going to make an exception in the five-year rule. Her cause was the first not to wait for the five-year rule,” said Father Brian Kolodiejchuk of the Missionaries of Charity Fathers, postulator of Mother Teresa’s cause of canonization.
“We actually started in June 1999, with the first steps,” beginning with two years in Kolkata (earlier called Calcutta) for the diocesan phase, he explained. Through every step, everything went well so that, on Oct. 19, 2003, Mother Teresa was beatified in Rome — during the same weekend Rome was celebrating the anniversary of St. John Paul II’s pontificate.
Noted Father Kolodiejchuk, “John Paul II himself wanted it for the anniversary.”
During the beatification homily, John Paul II affirmed: “I am personally grateful to this courageous woman, whom I have always felt beside me.”
Speaking with the Register on Dec. 28, Father Kolodiejchuk recalled the miracle that led to Mother Teresa’s beatification: A woman named Monica Besra in West Bengal had a huge abdominal tumor. Her family brought her to the Missionaries of Charity, the congregation founded by Mother Teresa in 1950. The sisters first took her to their doctors, who did not have a medical solution.
Then, on Sept. 5, 1998, the first anniversary of Mother Teresa’s death, the superior took a Miraculous Medal that had been touched to Mother Teresa’s body during her funeral and prayed a simple prayer. Father Kolodiejchuk recalled it as: “‘Mother, today is your day. You love the poor. Please do something for Monica.’ It was simple and direct.”
At 1 o’clock in the morning on Sept. 6, Monica got up and found that her stomach was normal. She could not stand upright before, but that Sunday morning, Monica was standing up straight. People in church were asking, “What happened? Monica’s normal.”
The 2008 miracle just approved for Mother Teresa’s canonization was also indisputably dramatic. Father Kolodiejchuk detailed how, in Santos, Brazil, the man who was cured, now 42 years old, had a bacterial infection that led to multiple abscesses of the brain.
“By the 9th of December 2008, he was dying,” Father Kolodiejchuk said. Doctors had tried different medicines and treatments. By 2am, the man was in extreme pain and went into a coma, near death. At 6:10pm, he was being taken to the operating room. His main doctor, a neurosurgeon, wanted to try a last-ditch surgery, but it was not doable, as the anesthesiologist couldn’t perform a necessary procedure on him first.
However, since that March, the patient’s wife continuously asked for Mother Teresa’s intercession for her husband. Her relatives, friends and the parish priest were also praying for a miraculous cure through the blessed nun’s intercession.
Meanwhile, that December day, the wife went to their parish precisely from 6:10 to 6:40pm for very intense prayer, along with the pastor, Father Elmiram Ferreira, seeking the intercession of Mother Teresa for the cure of her dying husband.
The surgeon came back to the operating room at 6:40pm. The man was inexplicably awake, in no pain, and asked, “What am I doing here?”
“Not one of the doctors could explain that medically,” said Father Kolodiejchuk, who traveled to Santos with a priest from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints to investigate the miracle.
Parenthetically, he pointed out that this was the same diocese where the canonization miracle for St. Josephine Bakhita, who was canonized in 2000, occurred.
“Santos is making santos [the Portuguese word for saints],” Father Kolodiejchuk told the bishop there, repeating the play on words to the Register with joy.
In Rome in September 2015, the medical commission studying the case for the canonization unanimously found a perfect cause and effect: “a direct causal connection between this inexplicable cure and the intercession of Mother Teresa,” said the priest-postulator.
Now, the once-afflicted man is back at work, with no physical limitations.
On Oct. 8, the theological commission voted unanimously for approval, and on Dec. 15, the final approval of the miracle went to the Holy Father from the cardinals and bishops of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints meeting in ordinary session. Two days later, Pope Francis approved.
With such a quick approval, why was there a delay from 2008 until 2015? Father Kolodiejchuk explained the unusual timing: “The miracle happened in 2008, but we didn’t hear about it till 2013. The doctor [neurosurgeon] was not Catholic. Somehow, after the Pope’s [Pope Francis] visit there, it triggered him to say something to one of the priests of Santos, and that news eventually made its way to myself and the postulation office. That started the chain of events.”
There is even another miracle connected to the Brazilian man’s inexplicable cure that was not part of the cause’s official presentation. Father Kolodiejchuk explained that all the doctors said that because of the treatment the man received, he would not be able to father a child, so he and his wife would never have children.
“But they have two healthy children — one born in 2010 and one in 2012,” Father Kolodiejchuk said.
This, too, should not surprise those with devotion to the saint of Kolkata.
“During her lifetime, young couples would come to ask Mother to pray for them,” said Father Kolodiejchuk, referring to the saint simply as “Mother,” as the Missionaries of Charity often do. “She would take a Miraculous Medal, kiss it — always her practice — and give it and say, ‘Mary, Mother of Jesus, give us a child.’”
And a year later, the husband and wife would come back to show her their baby. And at times, noted Father Kolodiejchuk, she could be even more direct: “Mother would say, ‘You will have a child.’”
“She had a very simple, direct expression,” he affirmed. “She chose to be that way.”
A Mercy Saint for the Jubilee
The Year of Mercy seems like the perfect time for canonizing Blessed Mother Teresa because of her major works of mercy. According to the calendar for this Jubilee of Mercy, Sept. 4, 2016, is the “Jubilee for Workers and Volunteers of Mercy,” which would fall one day before her feast day.
Father Kolodiejchuk sees the timing as a work of divine Providence. If someone had told him about the 2008 miracle years earlier, Mother Teresa might have already been canonized, “but divine Providence wants that canonization for the Year of Mercy because the actual apostolate [of Mother Teresa] was the works of mercy from Matthew 25,” he observed. “If the canonization is indeed on Sept. 4, it’s like saying Pope Francis wants the Jubilee of Mercy and wants works of mercy showing. He insists we receive mercy and we must show mercy, and the spiritual and corporal works of mercy are the exact apostolate we do.”
Considering both the Year of Mercy and the date she might be canonized, “Mother would be a good patron saint for the workers of mercy and the example of exactly what Pope Francis is talking about,” said Father Kolodiejchuk. “It’s something very concrete.”
“When Mother would speak publicly, she would refer to Matthew 25,” he noted. And she would give a lesson with her famous five-finger exercise or “catechism.” She would take one hand and with the other point to each finger saying, “You-Did-It-To-Me.” Sometimes she would say, “You don’t have to go to Calcutta to find the poor. You find the poor right around you, in your own family. Those acts of mercy are little things: a smile, a word of consolation, reading the newspaper for someone, doing the shopping, spending a little time speaking to them.”
“So the actual works of the Missionaries of Charity are small things done with great love; ordinary things done with great love,” her postulator said.
“Anyone can imitate and do the same kind of actions in your own home, your own parish. Maybe help a soup kitchen. Some saints are to admire; some saints are to also imitate. Mother Teresa is one of those who are imitable. We could do those things — small things, humble works.”
Mother Teresa was also obviously devoted to our Blessed Mother, especially the Miraculous Medal, the Rosary and the Memorare. With her canonization, renewed knowledge of her Marian devotion can inspire others to increase Marian devotion in their own lives.
Said Father Kolodiejchuk, “Some people felt Mother was like Our Lady. She had that Marian aspect — that ‘feminine genius’ John Paul II spoke of. That thoughtfulness of Mother is an example of that feminine love, tenderness, kindliness and thoughtfulness. And that smile: People would say, ‘Mother reminds me of Mary. I see Mother, and I think of Our Lady.’”
Mother had a “simple, childlike love and devotion to Our Lady,” he said, remembering a time she was traveling by plane. She pulled down the tray at her seat to do some paperwork, but first “pulled out a little statue of Our Lady from her bag, put it on the corner of the tray and started working.”
He related how she would put awards she received on a statue of Our Lady, giving them to Our Lady. When she saw a building she needed, she “would put the Miraculous Medals around the house, and, sure enough, she would get it, usually,” Father Kolodiejchuk recalled. “She had a very simple, concrete devotion to Our Lady — the Rosary, devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary — those things are very much Mother Teresa. If her hands weren’t doing something, she would have the Rosary in her hand and pray silently. In the car, we would pray the Rosary.”
St. John Paul II said in her beatification homily that she “proclaimed the Gospel living her life as a total gift to the poor but, at the same time, steeped in prayer.”
Seeing Jesus Everywhere
Mother Teresa saw Jesus in all people. “That was the No. 1 aim, right from the very beginning,” said Father Kolodiejchuk. In the Missionaries’ constitution “is the aim to satiate that thirst of Jesus on the cross for love and souls by working at the sanctification and salvation of the poorest of the poor.”
Mother Teresa met Jesus in her personal attention to everyone. The priest-postulator said that people meeting her would later say, “I was the only person in the world at that time.”
She showed the faithful how to never forget Jesus. Father Kolodiejchuk remembers a time in Rome when Mother Teresa was there to receive an award.
For the procession out of church, she turned around to make a genuflection to the Blessed Sacrament in a side chapel.
“She was the only one who turned and made a genuflection to Jesus on the side altar,” he recalled.
“She thought it important to make that little gesture of love, that genuflection. She knew even with all that hubbub and commotion around her where the Blessed Sacrament was.”
Joseph Pronechen is a Register staff writer.