Mother Teresa was a woman who was larger than life during her lifetime. She was widely admired for her work with the poor and dying in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta). She received many honours during her lifetime, incuding the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. Wherever she gave a talk, people listened in rapt attention.
If she had been an Olympic athlete, she would have received a gold medal. As a Christian, she received the equivalent. She was canonized a saint on Sept. 4 at the Vatican. That’s the highest award any Christian can aspire to. It’s gold for life.
I never got to meet Mother Teresa while she lived, but several of my friends did. Celine Wolsfeld was one of them. She visited India in the 1980s and received a card signed by Mother Teresa. In 1990 she received a note from the future saint. The fact that it was signed on March 21 was extra special. That’s the date Benedictines around the world celebrate the death of St. Benedict, their founder. How did Mother Teresa know that Celine was a Benedictine Oblate of St. Peter’s Abbey for many decades? What a special coincidence.
Mother Teresa visited Canada a number of times. She set up houses in Montreal, Québec, Toronto, Winnipeg, Vancouver and St. Paul, Alta. She was canonized in Rome on Sept. 4. I was there to witness her canonization. What a wonderful coincidence that the Benedictine abbots around the world gathered in Rome Sept. 5 for their congress, held every four years. It meant I didn’t have to make a special trip to Rome for the celebration.
Sister Mary Prema Pierick, present superior general of the Missionaries of Charity, the order Mother Teresa founded, called her predecessor “an icon of mercy.”
“Even people who would have no faith would see the compassion and the mercy which Mother spread around her,” she said. “She would not leave a suffering person without giving attention to them. On the contrary, she would go out to search for them and try to bring them to the realization that they are loved and they are appreciated.”
Perhaps it is another coincidence that St. Teresa was canonized in the Year of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis. He said that if there was one who showed courage and creativity in bringing God’s mercy to the world, it was the diminutive founder of the Missionaries of Charity.
Saints are often invoked for their intercessory powers. Among the tales told of Mother Teresa’s intercessory power while she was alive is this story by Sean Callahan, when he was vice-president of Caritas Internationalis.
Callahan says he spoke regularly with Mother Teresa while he was stationed in India in the 1990s. He recalls a call from her when flooding was happening in Bangladesh, India’s neighbour.
“She asked if I could bring supplies in trucks because the sisters there were asking for them,” he recalls. “I explained that to do that would require special permissions from the governor of the state to take the food and emergency supplies across the border. She asked, ‘What do I need to do?’ and I told her she needed to get the permissions. ‘OK,’ she said, ‘You get the trucks, I’ll get the permissions and we’ll meet in two hours.’
“So that’s what happened. She didn’t just send people out — she did the work herself. So, sure enough, we crossed the border with our supplies and sisters from the Missionaries of Charity as passengers.”
If that’s the influence she had on earth, imagine what influence she might have in heaven.