Francis has proclaimed Mother Teresa of Calcutta a saint just 19 years after her death. Teresa's canonization was a high point in this Holy Year of Mercy - and not just for Catholics, Christoph Strack reports from Rome.
Mother Teresa would have approved, and the idea was typical of Pope Francis: pizza napoletana for 1,500 poor and homeless people in Rome. The head of the Catholic Church had invited them all first to St. Peter's Square for the canonization of the founder of the order of the Missionaries of Charity, and then afterward to dinner in the Vatican's audience hall. Twenty pizza makers had brought three ovens north from Naples. Francis always concludes his Sunday midday prayers in Rome with "buon pranzo" (bon appetit), and this was particularly appropriate on this Sunday. The pizzas illustrate why, the canonization is perhaps the high point of 2016 for Francis, who had declared a Jubilee of Mercy.
In 2003, Pope John Paul II beatified Mother Teresa in record time: She had only been dead for six years. Francis followed this by declaring her a saint one day before the 19th anniversary of her death. Before an audience of 100,000 believers, he spoke of her mission as an "eloquent witness to God's closeness to the poorest of the poor.
"May this tireless worker of mercy help us to increasingly understand that our only criterion for action is gratuitous love, free from every ideology and all obligations, offered freely to everyone without distinction of language, culture, race or religion," Francis said. " She bowed down before those who were spent." To applause, he also mentioned the political aspect of her work: "She made her voice heard before the powers of this world so that they might recognize their guilt for the crime of poverty they created." The pope was speaking of Mother Teresa, but he might also have been referring to his frequently angry admonishments of world powers.
'For the poor'
Teresa went to India as a young nun to teach children from reasonably well-off families, but encountered people dying in the street and radically changed her life, took people in, set up "homes for the dying." She was also criticized because she spoke out so vehemently against abortion and because, although her help was direct, it was not ongoing. She wasn't an aid worker, but in 1979 she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and celebrated around the world.
According to the teachings of the Catholic Church, Teresa can now be venerated around the world, as well - though she already is. "It's her whole life, her love for the people, for the poor," said Joseph Kimbukwe, a priest from Kampala who had never met Teresa but wanted to be present when she was declared a saint. He traveled to Rome along with 50 other Ugandans. Nuns from Teresa's Missionaries of Charity are active in the Ugandan capital.
Suneitra David, from India, has been living in Rome for eight years. She isn't Catholic, but she said it was an honor to be on St. Peter's Square. "She helped everyone, and she's a spiritual leader - a good woman," she said. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi sat beside the altar on Sunday.
Death in Yemen
On Saturday, Sister Sally stepped up to the microphone. She had been living in Yemen for years, where five of Mother Teresa's nuns, with the help of other volunteers, took care of around 80 sick and disabled people. On March 4 Sisters Judith, Anselm, Marguerite, Reginette and 16 local helpers were murdered by two terrorists. Sally, the leader of the community, survived the bloodbath by sheer chance. The murderers kidnapped an Indian priest. From time to time, they hear that he is still alive, but no one knows where he is.
One year before the attack, Sally said, the order's religious superior had told the five nuns that they were free to leave Yemen, a dangerous country ravaged by war and civil war. "We decided to stay," she said. "To live or die with the poor."
The crowd was silent. And afterwards, when Pope Francis spoke about mercy, his words had acquired a new seriousness. These were nuns who had set out to follow Teresa, he said. He certainly would not forget this. And, he told the crowd on Sunday, "following Jesus ... takes a certain daring and courage."