Tens of thousands of pilgrims — rich and poor, powerful and homeless — have filled St. Peter’s Square for the canonization of Mother Teresa, the tiny nun who cared for the world’s most destitute and became an icon of a Catholic Church that goes to the peripheries to find lost souls. Pope Francis is declaring Mother Teresa a saint at a morning Mass, making her the model of his Jubilee Year of Mercy and in some ways his entire papacy. For Francis, Mother Teresa put into action his ideal of the church as a merciful “field hospital” for the poorest of the poor, those suffering both material and spiritual poverty. Throughout the night, pilgrims prayed at vigils in area churches and flocked before dawn to the Vatican to try to get a good spot for the Mass being celebrated under a searing hot sun and blue skies.
Let the example of Mother Teresa inspire all of us to dedicate ourselves to the welfare of mankind.
Indian President Pranab Mukherjee
While big, the crowds were not expected to reach the 300,000 who turned out for Mother Teresa’s 2003 beatification, thanks in part to security fears in the wake of Islamic extremist attacks in Europe. Those fears prompted a huge, 3,000-strong law enforcement presence to secure the area around the Vatican and close the airspace above. Nevertheless, those on hand were jubilant to have made the journey — nuns, priests, volunteers, pilgrims and tourists clutching the coveted 100,000 tickets issued for the Mass. One group of 40 Indian nationals traveled from Macerata, Italy to honor a woman given India’s highest civilian and humanitarian awards for her work in the slums of Kolkata. Another group of 100 drove from Kosovo toting a banner that read: “Mother Teresa: Pray for Us.” In addition, 13 heads of state and government led official delegations while 1,500 homeless people invited by Pope Francis had VIP seats and were going to be treated by the pope to a Neapolitan pizza lunch in the Vatican auditorium afterward.