VATICAN CITY (CNS) – With a large tapestry bearing the portrait of the woman known as the “Saint of the Gutters” suspended above him, Pope Francis proclaimed the sainthood of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, hailing her courage and love for the poor.
Despite the formality of the occasion though, “her sanctity is so close to us, so tender and fruitful, that spontaneously we will continue to call her ‘Mother Teresa,’” Pope Francis said to applause at the canonization Mass Sept. 4.
“Mother Teresa, in all aspects of her life, was a generous dispenser of divine mercy, making herself available for everyone through her welcome and defense of human life, those unborn and those abandoned and discarded,” the pope said in his homily during the Mass in St. Peter’s Square.
An estimated 120,000 people packed the square, many holding umbrellas or waving fans to keep cool under the sweltering heat of the Roman sun. However, upon hearing Pope Francis “declare and define Blessed Teresa of Kolkata to be a saint,” the crowds could not contain their joy, breaking out in cheers and thunderous applause before he finished speaking.
The moment was especially sweet for more than 300 Albanians who live in Switzerland, but came to Rome for the canonization. “We are very proud,” said Violet Barisha, a member of the Albanian Catholic Mission in St. Gallen.
Daughter of Divine Charity Sister Valdete, a Kosovar and one of the Albanian group’s chaplains, said, “We are so happy and honored. We are a small people, but have had so many martyrs.”
Born in 1910 to an ethnic Albanian family in Skopje, in what is now part of Macedonia, Mother Teresa went to India in 1929 as a Sister of Loreto and became an Indian citizen in 1947. She founded the Missionaries of Charity in 1950.
Mother Teresa, Sister Valdete said, is a shining example of how “Albanian women are strong and our people are hardworking.”
In his homily, Pope Francis said God’s will is explained in the words of the prophets: “I want mercy, not sacrifice.”
“God is pleased by every act of mercy because in the brother or sister that we assist, we recognize the face of God which no one can see,” he said. “Each time we bend down to the needs of our brothers and sisters, we give Jesus something to eat and drink; we clothe, we help and we visit the Son of God.”
Like Mother Teresa, he said, Christians are called not simply to perform acts of charity, but to live charity as a vocation and “to grow each day in love.”