Mother Teresa to Be Canonized on Sept. 4

Postulator of Her Cause Calls Timing ‘Providential’

VATICAN CITY — “We’re all very happy and excited, especially in the postulator’s office,” said Missionaries of Charity Father Brian Kolodiejchuk, postulator of Mother Teresa’s cause for canonization. “I’ve been working on it for 17 years, since 1999, so there’s a sense of coming to a happy conclusion.”

Father Kolodiejchuk spoke to the Register on March 16, a day after the Vatican made the long-awaited announcement that Pope Francis had signed a decree confirming the canonization of the founder of the Missionaries of Charity.

Mother Teresa will officially become St. Teresa of Kolkata at a ceremony in St. Peter’s Square on Sept. 4. The Mass will coincide with the jubilee Mass for workers and volunteers of mercy. “We’re now preparing for it,” Father Kolodiejchuk said. “We’re coming to a very happy ending.”

The news comes after theologians and medical specialists ruled late last year that the healing in 2008 of a Brazilian man with a brain tumor was inexplicable and owed to Blessed Teresa’s intercession. A miracle is usually required to have taken place since a candidate’s beatification for him or her to be declared a saint.

Father Kolodiejchuk said the timing of the canonization was providential. Although the approved miracle took place in 2008, it wasn’t brought to the attention of the postulation committee until late 2013 and received approval in December 2015. The delay meant it could coincide with the Jubilee of Mercy and become a major event within the holy year.

When people point this out, Father Kolodiejchuk said he responds by saying, “When there’s a very important moment that is a gift for the Church, then it will happen — and, sure enough, it has providentially happened.” He recalled that when the first miracle came to light, enabling Mother Teresa’s beatification, it coincided with the 25th anniversary of John Paul II’s pontificate in 2003.

Pope John Paul II beatified her on Oct. 19, 2003.

Speaking to Asia News on hearing the announcement was imminent, Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay said he was “delighted and overjoyed for this great gift, which is the epitome of the highest mercy.” Mother Teresa, he said, “is India’s gift to the world, to the secular world as well as the Christian world.” Her appeal, he added, is “her voice of compassion and passionate love for the poor and the marginalized,” and her example would “concretely highlight the call to mercy in the 21st century.”

In a March 15 statement, Father Kolodiejchuk said that, with her canonization, Mother Teresa will inspire “many to give their hearts to love and their hands to serve, starting with those closest to them.”

“May we all continue to live and deepen our awareness of being in need of mercy and our willingness to extend mercy in our communities, in our families and in our service of the poor,” he wrote.

Events currently being planned around the canonization date include a possible prayer vigil and a Mass of thanksgiving on Sept. 5, which coincides with Mother Teresa’s feast day — the date of her passing in 1997 at the age of 87.

Born Anjeze Gonxhe Bojaxhiu in Skopje (now part of Macedonia), Mother Teresa founded the Missionaries of Charity in 1950 to offer free service to the poorest of the poor. The congregation, with an estimated 4,500 religious sisters, runs hospices and homes for the sick, soup kitchens, dispensaries and mobile clinics, children’s and family counseling programs, orphanages and schools. Missionaries of Charity take vows of chastity, poverty and obedience, as well as a fourth vow, to give “wholehearted free service to the poorest of the poor.”

Although a relatively young religious order, it already has martyrs. The canonization announcement came in the same month that four Missionaries of Charity sisters were killed by Islamic terrorists in Yemen. Three sisters were killed in 1998, also in Yemen, just a year after Mother Teresa’s death.

Pope Francis called Sisters Anselm, Reginette, Marguerite and Judith “today’s martyrs” who won’t draw headlines on the front pages of newspapers.

“Mother said she wanted to give martyrs to the Church, and so she did,” said Father Kolodiejchuk. “The last prayer at the end of every day in the Missionaries of Charity [convents] is to pray with a crucifix for the grace of martyrdom.”

 

Encounters Recounted

Many who knew Mother Teresa have been sharing stories of their time with her. In a March 14 interview in La Stampa newspaper, Navin Chawla, the author of the 1992 best-selling and authorized biography Mother Teresa, said the greatly admired “angel of the slums” made him a “different person.”

Chawla, a Hindu, whose acclaimed biography has been translated for readers in 14 countries, said Mother Teresa helped create a bridge for him between himself and poverty.

“She pushed me to be in contact with the poor around me,” said Chawla, who, as a civil servant, helped deal with 18,000 leprosy cases. “She was able to touch something in me and has done [so] with hundreds of thousands of people [by] setting a good example,” he said.

Chawla, who served as India’s chief election commissioner until 2009, said Blessed Teresa’s soul was “too large to be contained in a single country,” and her legacy continues to expand, especially in India. “The missions in India are growing,” he said. “Volunteers are not decreasing; neither is funding.”

Some have leveled often-unfair criticism at her over the years, and one common accusation has been that Mother Teresa would take money from unscrupulous donors. But this was firmly denied by Father Kolodiejchuk.

“She was very careful about that,” he said. “Criticism was thrown around, [but] I know cases when she had a sense funds were ill gotten, and she would refuse the donation. She wasn’t naïve, in that sense. If she had a sense that it wasn’t right, she’d simply say: ‘No thank you.’”

One of her most famous critics was the late Christopher Hitchens. Father Kolodiejchuk said he asked the outspoken atheist to be an official witness in the cause, and he agreed. But he said when Hitchens testified, “his criticism was relatively tame.”

Father Kolodiejchuk, a group of Missionaries of Charity sisters and others once sat down to watch Hitchens’ 1994 documentary on Mother Teresa called Hell’s Angel to know what the criticisms were. Father Kolodiejchuk said they matched what they saw with the facts they knew and said: “Wait a minute, this is partial — it’s a twisting of things around.”

 

With Mother in London

The well-known Catholic pro-life campaigner Lord David Alton once accompanied Mother Teresa on a visit to London and introduced her to then-British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

“After visiting ‘Cardboard City’ in London, where she had met some of the homeless, Mother Teresa said that we in London were poorer than Kolkata because we had the resources to do something about the destitution and simply turned a blind eye,” he recalled.

He then took her to Downing Street to meet Thatcher, who told her that Britain had a welfare system, state benefits and social services, to which Mother Teresa asked: “But do you have love?”

Lord Alton said that, earlier, she prayed the Rosary in the ancient crypt of the Houses of Parliament, which had been desecrated and turned into stables during the Reformation. She then prayed on the spot in the adjacent Westminster Hall, where Sts. Thomas More and Edmund Campion had defended the faith, and “movingly” kissed the ground where they both stood as they were condemned.

Mother Teresa also met political journalists who asked her whether she would criticize the prime minister in public for permitting homelessness in Britain.

“Brilliantly side-stepping an invitation to become trapped in a political row, and turning the question back on the questioners,” Alton said, “she pointed to Westminster Hall and told them, ‘It would make a magnificent night shelter.’”

“She was then asked what she would do with ‘all the unwanted babies if they couldn’t be aborted.’ She simply replied: ‘Give them to me,’” Alton said. “The journalists, to a man and woman, lined up to shake her hand as she left, while, to the politicians, she said: ‘Always remember: Your job is not to be successful; it is to be faithful.’”

 

 

Soon-to-Be Saints

Mother Teresa

— 1910: Born on Aug. 26 in Skopje, then part of the Ottoman Empire.

— 1928: Joined the Sisters of Loreto.

— 1950: Founded the Missionaries of Charity.

— 1979: Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

— 1997: Died on Sept. 5 in Kolkata, India.

—  2003: Beatified by Pope John Paul II on Oct. 19.

— 2016: Will be canonized on Sept. 4 at the Vatican.

Jose Sanchez del Rio

— 1913: Born on March 28 in Sahuayo, Mexico.

— 1928: Died on Feb. 10, after being tortured by the Mexican government for refusing to renounce his faith.

— 2004: Declared to be a martyr by Pope John Paul II on June 22.

— 2005: Beatified by Pope Benedict XVI on Nov. 20.

— 2016: Will be canonized on Oct. 16.

Maria Elisabetta Hesselblad

— 1870: Born on June 4 in Faglavik, Sweden.

— 1902: Received conditional baptism; converted to Catholicism from Lutheranism.

— 1906: Joined the Carmelites; received permission from Pope Pius X to wear the habit of the Order of the Most Holy Savior of St. Bridget, known as the Brigittines.

— 1911: Founded the Swedish branch of the Brigittines.

— 1957: Died on April 24.

— 2000: Beatified by Pope John Paul II on April 9.

— 2016: Will be canonized on June 5.

Stanislaus of Jesus and Mary

— 1631: Born on May 18 in Podegrodzie, Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

— 1654: Joined the Order of Poor Clerics Regular of the Mother of God of the Pious Schools, known as the Piarists.

— 1661: Ordained to the priesthood.

— 1670: Left the Piarists.

— 1673: Founded the Congregation of Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, known as the Marians of the Immaculate Conception.

— 1701: Died on Sept. 17.

— 2007: Beatified by Pope Benedict XVI on Sept. 16.

— 2016: Will be canonized on June 5.

Jose Gabriel del Rosario Brochero

— 1840: Born on March 16 in Santa Rosa de Río Primero, Argentina.

— 1866: Became a Third Order Dominican; ordained to the priesthood.

— 1914: Died on Jan. 26.

— 2013: Beatified by Pope Francis on Sept. 14.

— 2016: Will be canonized Argentina’s first saint on Oct. 16.

 

 

Images of Mother Teresa and the Sacred Heart of Jesus at the first European House of the Missionaries of Charity, founded by Mother Teresa in 1968, at Vicolo di Torre del Fiscale in Rome, upon the request of Pope Paul VI in 1966. Alexey Gotovskyi/CNA