The sky was an immaculate blue, and a strong September sun warmed the pilgrims squeezing into St Peter’s Square, burnishing the droplets from its two fountains into a liquid gold. Pope Francis could not have chosen a more beautiful day for the canonisation of Mother Teresa.
Around the Vatican the sense of occasion had been building up for days, with the streets packed with the faithful, from groups of excited Sisters in their distinctive white and blue from the Missionaries of Charity, beaming from ear to ear, to monks talking busily on their mobile phones.
Most were there for the canonisation, though some had come for long-planned conferences or training, with the canonisation Mass a welcome bonus. Nobody I spoke to there was in any doubt that Mother Teresa was a saint, even before the Congregation for the Causes of Saints had formally agreed.
Fr Brian Kolodiejchuk, a tall, smiling, white-haired Canadian, had perhaps the most encyclopaedic knowledge of her life. With the imposing title of Postulator of the Cause of Beatification and Canonisation of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, he spent almost two decades assembling and putting forward her case for sainthood.
Fr Brian told me that they did not duck the difficult questions about her life, or the criticisms raised by atheists such as the late Christopher Hitchens or Dr Aroup Chatterjee, author of Mother Teresa: the Untold Story – both highly critical of her work in Calcutta. Dr Chatterjee firmly believes that Mother Teresa inflicted damage on the city’s reputation while burnishing her own. He is one of several medics who have criticised her for the standards of hygiene in her hospice for the dying in its earlier years. Fr Brian said that Christopher Hitchens had been called to give his testimony, but that ultimately St Teresa’s life and work had spoken for themselves.
Nor did the canonisation process shy away from looking deep into Mother Teresa’s own spiritual struggles, as shown in her letters, and the darkness and doubt she sometimes wrote about – the sense that God was sometimes far from her. And yet she continued her work.
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