Mother Teresa died nearly two decades ago, but the passage of time hasn’t diminished the love and respect her admirers feel for the nun known for her devotion to the poor of India.
It was evident in the tens of thousands of people who descended on Vatican City for her canonization Mass on Sunday morning. And it was visible thousands of miles away, inside St. Leo the Great Roman Catholic Church on Sweet Home Road in Amherst, which screened a movie about her life later in the day.
Pope Francis generated applause and tears from onlookers when he declared her Saint Teresa of Calcutta. Cheryl Calire and her husband, David, of Buffalo felt blessed to witness the moment from seats right next to the altar. Any discomfort they had felt from waiting in the 90-degree heat fell by the wayside.
“It was just absolutely wonderful,” Calire said. “People from all around the world, people of all faiths, of no faiths, gathering to celebrate this great day.”
It was especially poignant for Calire, executive director of the new Mother Teresa Home in Buffalo. To her, the nun was the ideal choice to name the new home for young single mothers after, as Calire strives to create a welcoming place. She cited the pope’s own words about Mother Teresa as a model of holiness for volunteerism and selfless service. “We have many people in our Western New York area that do similar things day after day, volunteer their time and talent,” Calire said. “She certainly was a model of that.”
In Western New York, St. Leo the Great Roman Catholic Church celebrated Mother Teresa’s canonization by inviting the public to watch a nearly three-hour movie about her. After kneeling to pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy on their rosaries, the audience members sat back in their pews to take in the film on a retractable screen. About 70 people were there as the movie began.
Rev. Msgr. Robert E. Zapfel, pastor of St. Leo the Great, counted himself privileged to meet Mother Teresa, about 25 years ago in Rome.
“You could sense the holiness in this person,” he said. “You could just sense that she had dedicated her life so fully, so completely to the God who loved her, who loved her first before she was able to love so many others selflessly.”
Dawn Iacono, a church staff member who organized Sunday’s gathering, said Zapfel has supported holding events to mark the Jubilee Year of Mercy declared by Pope Francis.
“This is a mercy movie, and we couldn’t think of a better way to honor the canonization of Mother Teresa than by watching the heroic moments of her life,” she said.
Meanwhile, her son, Nicholas, got to see the canonization Mass firsthand. He is in Rome on a study-abroad program with Duquesne University.
Iacono was impossible to miss at the St. Leo the Great event. She was dressed in a white sari with blue stripes that looked just like the one Mother Teresa was so closely identified with. It was made for her by a girl named Teresa, whose own mother had worked with the nun.
What was it about the woman known as the “saint of the gutters” that has earned her such admiration through the years?
“Her simplicity,” Iacono said. “Her simplicity appeals to people of all faiths because it’s a message of love. And love is the language of God of all faiths. And I really truly believe that is because her love transformed the world.”
Zapfel thinks Mother Teresa’s appeal has endured “because people today are looking for examples of integrity. She spoke words of mercy and love and peace, and she put those into action in heroic ways in her own life. She inspires us in our daily lives to be a little bit more heroic, in bringing God’s love, mercy and peace to others.”
And the new saint went about her work in “simple ways,” Zapfel said. “Her hands were dirty every day. Her feet were dirty every day. Every day she prayed, but every day she put those prayers into action by getting dirty with the poor.”