Pope Francis on Sunday declared revered nun Mother Teresa a saint in a canonization mass at St Peter’s square.
“For the honour of the Blessed Trinity… we declare and define Blessed Teresa of Calcutta (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.
For Francis, Mother Teresa put into action his ideal of the church as a merciful “field hospital” for the poorest of the poor, those suffering both material and spiritual poverty.
The elevation of one of the icons of 20th Century Christianity came a day before the 19th anniversary of her death in Kolkata, where she spent nearly four decades working with the dying and the destitute.
Tens of thousands of pilgrims — rich and poor, powerful and homeless — filled St. Peter’s Square on Sunday for the canonization of Mother Teresa, the tiny nun who cared for the world’s most destitute and became an icon of a Catholic Church that goes to the peripheries to find lost souls.
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 travelled with a church group from Gabon for the Mass. “Mercy, forgiveness, good works: It is the heart of a mother for the poor.”
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, 13 heads of state and government led official delegations while 1,500 homeless people invited by Pope 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 nearly 50 years — an almost unheard of trial.
For the Rev. 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.”
“What she described as the greatest poverty in the world today (of feeling unloved) she herself was living in relationship with Jesus,” he said in an interview on the eve of the canonization.