When Pope Francis proclaimed Mother Teresa of Calcutta a saint in September, he said she had defended the unborn, sick and abandoned, and had shamed world leaders for the “crimes of poverty they themselves created”.
It was a powerful message that I was honoured to witness at the ceremony in the Vatican.
This was an extraordinary event, attracting tens of thousands of pilgrims to St Peter’s Square. Hundreds of sisters from the Missionaries of Charity – the order St Teresa founded – attended the event, along with 13 heads of state or government.
And 1,500 homeless people across Italy were also brought to Rome in buses to be given seats of honour at the celebration, and then a pizza lunch served by 250 nuns and priests of the Sisters of Charity order.
After the pope had canonised St Teresa, the community prayed and I took a moment to meditate on this remarkable woman and her work.
Born in 1910 to ethnic Albanian parents, Agnese Gonxha Bojaxhiu had grown up in what is now the Macedonian capital, Skopje, but was then part of the Ottoman Empire. Aged 19, she joined the Irish order of Loreto and in 1929 was sent to India, where she taught at a school in Darjeeling under the name of Therese.
In 1946, she moved to the Calcutta slums where she established the community of nuns, whom she worked alongside until she died in 1997 aged 87. She dedicated herself to helping the destitute, including many abandoned children.
The Pope described her as having spent her life “bowing down before those who were spent, left to die on the side of the road, seeing in them their God-given dignity”. And she rightly won the Nobel Peace Prize for her work.
But when asked why she helped the poor, St Teresa once said: “There is always the danger that we may just do the work for the sake of the work. This is where the respect and the love and the devotion come in – that we do it to God, to Christ, and that’s why we try to do it as beautifully as possible.”
In my meditation, I focused on this quality of devotion. And as I did, I saw her kneeling before God, basked in light, in complete quietness. I started to pray for the things that I wanted in my life, but that prayer was taken from me.
Instead, I found myself praying for strength to have the resource and capacity to do good for more people. As I focused on this, I felt a sensation of support and of St Teresa’s intervention. I felt uplifted by this new saint and I remain deeply touched by my experience in Rome.