Vatican City | Tens of thousands of pilgrims – rich and poor, powerful and homeless – filled St. Peter’s Square today for the canonisation 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.
Pope Francis is declaring Mother Teresa a saint at a morning Mass, making her the model of his Jubilee Year of Mercy and in some ways his entire papacy. 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.
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.” 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 Islamic extremist attacks in Europe. Those fears prompted a huge, 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 honour 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.
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