The mercy-filled life: Mother Teresa embodied what Pope Francis teaches

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — If there is one person who immersed
herself in the “peripheries” Pope Francis is drawn to, it was Blessed
Teresa of Kolkata.

If there was one who showed courage and creativity in
bringing God’s mercy to the world, like Pope Francis urges, it was the
diminutive founder of the Missionaries of Charity.

For many people, the Catholic Church’s Year of Mercy will
reach its culmination when Pope Francis canonizes Mother Teresa Sept. 4,
recognizing the holiness of charity, mercy and courage found in a package just 5-feet

Ken Hackett, U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, worked closely
with Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity in his previous positions at
the U.S. bishops’ Catholic Relief Services. He was at her funeral in 1997, her
beatification in 2003 and will attend the Mass where she will be declared a

“Where Mother pushed the Missionaries of Charity was to
the edge, to the most difficult places,” said the ambassador, who said he
visited her houses “all the time, everywhere.”

“They were always way out there, both geographically
and with the people who absolutely fell through the cracks,” he said. Mother
Teresa opened homes in Ethiopia during the communist military dictatorship, in
the most destitute neighborhoods of Haiti’s capital, in Rwanda after the
genocide and in Yemen, where four Missionaries of Charity were murdered in

“When there was war, when there was fighting, there
they were,” Hackett said. “They stayed.”

Mother Teresa demonstrated that living a life committed to
mercy took “selflessness and courage,” he said.

Her courage also was demonstrated in her ability to “speak
truth to power,” he said. Mother Teresa visited the United States
regularly, speaking to Catholic groups, opening homes and meeting with
presidents, including Ronald Reagan, George Bush and Bill Clinton. “She
was straight out against abortion,” the ambassador said. “From
conception to death — she was the whole thing and didn’t pull any

Like Pope Francis, he said, 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.

In life and after her death, Mother Teresa faced criticism
for not using her fame and contacts to advocate more directly for social and
political change to improve the lives of the poor she served.

“You can find all the things she wasn’t,” the
ambassador said, “but what she was was much more important than what she
wasn’t. She was a model and now she will be a saint.”

Valeria Martano, Asia coordinator for the Community of
Sant’Egidio, said, “We are talking about a woman who broke out of the
existing framework of what was expected of a Catholic woman in the 1940s. And,
like Pope Francis, she chose to make her life a denunciation” of
injustice. “Her witness was testimony that things can change. She did not
speak of justice so much as do justice.”

“Mother Teresa chose to understand the world through
the eyes of the least of the least, what Pope Francis would call the periphery,”
said Martano, who also leads Sant’Egidio programs in the poorest neighborhoods on
the southern edge of Rome.

But it is not just about “going out,” Martano
said. For both Pope Francis and Mother Teresa, she said, everything starts with

The founder of the Missionaries of Charity insisted that she
and her sisters were “contemplatives in the midst of the world,” she
said. “It was not just about doing.” Mother Teresa’s prayer took her
to the periphery and the peripheries were key to her prayer.

“What Mother Teresa lived, Pope Francis teaches
constantly: compassion in the face of pain and never accepting indifference in
the face of suffering,” said Archbishop Matteo Zuppi of Bologna, Italy.

For the archbishop, Mother Teresa modeled “a church
close to the poor, a church that is mother to the poor and that lives the joy
of serving the poor.”

Revelations after her death that she suffered a “dark
night of the soul,” decades of feeling abandoned by God, are for
Archbishop Zuppi a further sign of her deep immersion in the lives of the poor
and forgotten.

“Her spiritual director would say that thirst is
knowing there is water and longing for it,” he said. “She was a woman
who made the thirst of Christ on the cross her own. She lived that

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Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden

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