September 4, 2016 — Today, Pope Francis canonized Mother Teresa, who traveled the world to deliver a single message: that love and caring are the most important things in the world. The canonization Mass at the Vatican drew 120,000 people, coinciding with the conclusion of the Year of Mercy pilgrimage for workers and ministers engaged in works of mercy.
Known as the “saint of the gutters,” Mother Teresa was revered for ministering to the sick and dying in some of the world's poorest neighborhoods.
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.
"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.
Pope Francis kisses a prayer card presented by a Missionaries of Charity nun at the conclusion of the canonization Mass of St. Teresa of Kolkata. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
Upon hearing Pope Francis "declare and define Blessed Teresa of Kolkata to be a saint," the crowds broke out in cheers and thunderous applause before he finished speaking.
Mother Teresa, he said, lived out this vocation to charity through her commitment to defending the unborn and bowing down "before those who were spent, left to die on the side of the road."
She also "made her voice heard before the powers of this world so that they might recognize their guilt for the crime of poverty they created," Pope Francis said. "For Mother Teresa, mercy was the 'salt' which gave flavor to her work, it was the 'light' which shone in the darkness of the many who no longer had tears to shed for their poverty and suffering."
Pope Francis celebrates the canonization Mass of St. Teresa of Kolkata in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Sept. 4. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
"Today, I pass on this emblematic figure of holiness!" Pope Francis said. "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."
Mother Teresa was born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu in 1910 to an ethnic Albanian family in Skopje, in what is now part of Macedonia. She attended a youth group called Sodality, run by a Jesuit priest at her parish, and her involvement opened her to the call of service as a missionary nun.
She joined the Sisters of Loretto at age 17 and was sent to India in 1929. After professing first vows in 1931, she went to Kolkata where she taught at a high school for girls for 15 years.
A tapestry of Mother Teresa was hung from the facade of St. Peter's Basilica in preparation for her canonization. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
In 1946, she received what she described as a “call within a call” and began her missionary work with the poor, laying the foundation for what would become the Missionaries of Charity.
During the next two years, Mother Teresa pursued every avenue to follow what she “never doubted” was the direction God was pointing her. She was “to give up even Loreto where I was very happy and to go out in the streets. I heard the call to give up all and follow Christ into the slums to serve him among the poorest of the poor.”
Mother Teresa first went to Patna for a few months to prepare for her future work by taking a nursing course. In 1948 she received permission from Pope Pius XII to leave her community and live as an independent nun. She went back to Kolkata and started working in the slums, teaching poor children and treating the sick in their homes.
Mother Teresa holding a child during a visit to Warsaw, Poland. (CNS photo/Tomasz Gzell, EPA)
The congregation grew from a single house for the dying and unwanted to nearly 500 around the world. Mother Teresa set up orphanages for children and homes for AIDS sufferers, prostitutes and battered women.
Until her death in 1997, Mother Teresa continued her work among the poorest of the poor. Despite years of strenuous physical, emotional and spiritual work, Mother Teresa seemed unstoppable. Though frail and bent, with numerous ailments, she always returned to her work, to those who received her compassionate care for more than 50 years. Only months before her death, when she became too weak to manage the administrative work, she relinquished the position of head of her Missionaries of Charity.
Mother Teresa smiles during the opening of a Missionaries of Charity convent in Detroit in 1979. (CNS photo/Dwight Cendrowski)
Like Pope Francis, Mother Teresa drew energy from personal, one-on-one contact with people and consciously chose to live as simply as the poor she befriended and tended, said Ken Hackett, U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, who worked closely with Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity in his previous positions at Catholic Relief Services.
On September 5, 1997, after finishing her dinner and
prayers, Mother Teresa passed away at age 87.
Following her death, St. John Paul II waived the usual five-year waiting period and allowed the opening of the process to declare her sainthood. She was beatified in 2003.