This morning Pope Francis signed the declaration permitting the canonization of Mother Teresa of Calcutta as a saint in the Catholic Church. The long awaited papal approbation marks the culmination of the canonical investigation that examined the details of Mother Teresa’s life and ministry to the poor and impoverished throughout the world. Pope Francis’ permission to canonize the champion of the poor, whose ministry began in Calcutta, India is a final recognition of Mother Teresa’s lifelong sanctity and dedication to Christ and His Church.
What is most significant in the proclamation of Blessed Mother Teresa as a saint is the fact that her cause for sainthood progressed in an expedient manner through the Church’s complex process of determining an individual’s personal sanctity in life. For anyone that has followed the life and the ministry of the Nobel laureate, it would seemingly be inconceivable that the Church would not finally declare Theresa of Calcutta a saint. The real question should ask, what has taken so long? The cause for the canonization of the missionary began shortly after her death in 1997. In comparison to the cause for Pope John Paul II’s sainthood, Mother Teresa’s cause was relatively long. Pope John Paul II died in 2005, he was declared a saint in 2014 by Pope Francis. Despite the long interval since Mother Teresa’s death and final determination as a saint, millions of people throughout the world continued to pray for her sainthood. Today, that cause has come to fruition with Pope Francis’ signature.
Perhaps it is an unusual coincidence that Pope Francis has given his approval for both John Paul II and Teresa of Calcutta. Both of these saints are quintessential examples of the emerging consciousness regarding the current global crisis’ which includes growing global poverty and increased political tensions throughout the world. Both of these severe problems were of great concern to Mother Teresa of Calcutta and Pope John Paul II. Additionally, the pastoral ministry of Pope Francis is devoted towards a greater concern for the marginalized peoples of the world, and the ever widening polarities that exist between nations as the result of international tensions that jeopardize global peace and prosperity. Both Saint Pope John Paul II, and now Saint Teresa of Calcutta are unique keystones for the message that Pope Francis proclaims to the world. Both of these saints are indeed reflective of the increasingly critical social and political issues that jeopardize the world’s economic and social stability.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta was a staunch advocate for not only the needs of the poor and the impoverished, she was a relentless advocate for the lives of the unborn. Her strong admonitions supported the rights and dignity of infants in the womb and abhorred abortion under all circumstances. With the canonization of Mother Teresa, the Church once again recognizes the inalienable dignity of all human life, as Mother Teresa advocated in her teachings and ministry as the foundress of the Missionaries of Charity.
The pastoral activities of Mother Teresa’s Missionary Servants of Charity throughout the world exemplify the great concern she had for the poor and impoverished peoples of the world. Hunger conjoined with the lack of financial resources mark those considered as poor are those most in need of the temporal and spiritual resources of the Catholic Church. Pope Francis’ pastoral message to the world’s leaders and faithful Catholics reminds us on a daily basis that the message of Christianity mandates we fulfill the needs of this marginalized sector of the world’s population and make their inclusion into the mainstream Church, the Body of Christ as a primary goal of our humanitarian efforts. Mother Teresa of Calcutta clearly through her life and ministry raised global awareness of the plight of spiritual and temporal poverty. Final recognition of her sanctity is a recognition and fulfillment of her vision for the Church and the entire world.
The tandem vision of both Saint Pope John Paul II and the newly approved Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta is reflective of the ever unfolding role that the Church in the 21st century is exhibiting as the collective moral conscience for all of humanity. One of the encyclicals of Blessed Pope Paul VI that should be revisited and appreciated for its content is Populorem Progressio. In this encyclical Paul VI outlines and defines the social obligations of the Church accompanies the global community on its development in the 20th century. A striking and very prophetic phrase in the introduction of the document defines the sensitivities that both Pope John Paul II and Teresa of Calcutta exhibited throughout both their lives:
The hungry nations of the world cry out to the peoples blessed with abundance. And the Church, cut to the quick by this cry, asks each and every man to hear his brother’s plea and answer it lovingly.
Without a doubt both of these great individuals designated as holy incorporated this phrase into their vision of bringing Christ to the world through the ministry of the Church and their own actions. Uniquely, it seems that Pope Francis’ inspiration and attention to the hungry nations of the world, as envisioned by Blessed Pope Paul VI is rooted in the message of Populorem Progressio.
Pope John Paul II trans versed the globe with his message that proclaimed the dignity of all human life as the seminal foundation for all moral and social activities that result from a proper understanding of the Church’s teachings.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta, a pilgrim of the poor travelled the world as well, proclaiming the same essential message as Pope John Paul II, with a particular attention to the needs of the poor and hungry peoples of society. Together both of these individuals influenced the Church and apparently the determination of Pope Francis to bring the Church into a cognitive understanding of the acute needs of the marginalized peoples of the world that suffer from all forms of poverty which disengages them from equality in society. Mother Teresa throughout her life embraced the message of the Gospel with a real and lived experience among the most poverty ridden peoples of India. Her community, has populated the planet with her followers that dispense food, clothing and a sacred appreciation of human dignity to the truly needy on a daily basis. Their vocation to the suffering and hungry is indicative of the needs of contemporary society that is often void of any concern or appreciation towards the plight of those in need, regardless of race or creed. The announcement this morning that Blessed Teresa of Calcutta will be inscribed into the canon of saints on September 4th, 2016 is a recognition that attests to her sanctity and calls to the world’s attention her accomplishments and legacy.
More important than the legacy initiated by Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta is the continued commitment to the poor envisioned by Pope Francis during his papacy. Since his election as pope, Francis has relentlessly championed the cause for unilateral recognition of all human rights from the moment of conception until the natural end of human life. In progressing his teachings on human life and its inherent dignities, Pope Francis heralds concern for the poor and impoverished as the focal point of his pastoral attention. The remarkable lives of Saint Pope John Paul II & Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta surely have proved inspirational examples of Christ’s concern for the world’s poor for the pastoral activities of Pope Francis. It is indeed a blessing and fortitudinous that Pope Francis will have the responsibility and great pleasure to have elevated both of these personifications of the message of the Gospel to the communion of the Church’s saints.
The Universal Church has been magnanimously blessed by the lives of both Saint Pope John Paul II and the anticipated Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta because of their great contributions towards alleviating the world’s great deficiencies of human hunger and spiritual depletion. The Church continues to celebrate their lives and continued effects on the world because of their prophetic manifestations of the teachings of Christ in their lives and most importantly their putting of Christ’s teachings into temporal reality with their actions. As the modern Catholic Church continues to minister to the poor and marginalized peoples of the world through its Sacraments and daily pastoral ministries the teachings of Pope Francis are beginning to develop clarity because of the great influence Teresa of Calcutta and John Paul II contributed to the comprehensive vision of Pope Francis.
We celebrate the great accomplishments of Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta and Pope Saint John Paul II today because they are superlative examples of how the Church should engage with the needs of human society. Their accomplishments and love of the poor and those whose lives were endangered by poverty and exclusion are sacred examples of how all Christians should strive to live their lives in dedication to alleviating and eliminating the world’s maladies of inequality and poverty in all of the many ways it might manifest itself. They provide for all of us, inspirational examples of our faith in action as Christ Himself indeed intended it. We pray that Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta and Saint Pope John Paul II continue to influence the world by their lives and actions.