At every canonization ceremony in the Catholic Church, people connected to the new saint carry to the altar a relic in a reliquary which is often an ornate work of art in gold or silver.
A relic is a keepsake, a tangible reminder that the new saint was human yet heroically lived a life of holiness.
The relic may be the purported or actual physical remains of saints, such as bones, pieces of clothing, or some object associated with saints or other religious figures. The authenticity of any given relic is often a matter of debate; for that reason, some churches require documentation of the relic’s provenance.
In the Catholic Church, a reliquary, also known as a shrine or by the French term châsse is used as a container for relics.
The relic presented at the Mass for St. Teresa of Calcutta was a few drops of her blood contained in a phial embedded within the centre of a wooden reliquary in the form of a simple cross reflecting her life and values.
The back of the cross-shaped reliquary is made from Lebanon cedar (Cedrus libani), a species of cedar native to the mountains of the Mediterranean region, known as a symbol of nobility and spiritual greatness.
The front of the large cross is made of wood taken from places associated with Mother Teresa’s works of mercy: The first home for the dying she established in Calcutta, a home for those with Hansen’s disease, an immigrants’ boat, a Gypsy shack, and wood from the kneeler of a confessional because Mother Teresa believed the “Sacrament of Penance” also known as “Confession” or “Reconciliation” was the greatest expression of God’s mercy.
In the centre of the cross, the phial of Mother Teresa’s blood is sealed in a glass orb in the shape of a water drop as a symbol of her vow to quench the thirst of those literally without water and those dying in the aridness of being unloved.
A roughly sculpted wrinkled hand supports the glass to symbolize that it carries this drop of water, full of love, in response to the cry of Jesus “I thirst” on the cross echoed by millions of people around the world.
The religious dress of the Missionaries of Charity bears special significance. The white colour of their sari stands for truth and purity and the three blue borders each signify the vows that the nuns of the Order take: the first thin band represents “Poverty”, the second thin band represents “Obedience”, and the third broad band represents the vows of “Chastity” and of “wholehearted free service to the poorest of the poor”.
The water drop on the reliquary is framed by a heart of three sweeping bands of blue on the left and a white band on the right to symbolize the sari St. Teresa adopted as a habit for her sisters of Missionaries of Charity as well as to express devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The three sweeping bands of blue on the left side of the heart are curved and bent to represent St. Teresa’s own curved form bent in prayer. The white band on the right side of the heart displays the words, “I thirst“ in gold, reproduced in St. Teresa’s handwriting.
The base of the reliquary is made of battered iron to represent how society always sees the poor people whom Mother Teresa loved with her whole heart.
At the end oflife, we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have done. We will be judged by “I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was naked and you clothed me. I was homeless, and you took me in.” – Saint Teresa of Calcutta
Mother Teresa of Calcutta, the “nun of the gutters”, a champion for the poor, the dying and the unborn died on September 5, 1997.
Scarcely two years after her death Monsignor Henry D’Souza, the then Archbishop of Calcutta, requested Pope John Paul II to dispense with the five-year waiting period required before beginning the process of beatifying and canonizing Mother Teresa.
As a fitting climax to a process that stretched on for almost 19 years, Pope Francis on Sunday, September 4, 2016, a day before Mother Teresa’s 19th death anniversary, formally declared Mother Teresa, as the newest saint of the Catholic Church at a ceremony that drew 100,000 pilgrims from around the world to St Peter’s Square in Vatican City.
“For the honour of the Blessed Trinity, the exaltation of the Catholic faith and the increase of the Christian life, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, and of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, and our own, after due deliberation and frequent prayer for divine assistance, and having sought the counsel of many of our brother bishops, we declare and define Blessed Teresa of Calcutta be saint and we enroll her among the saints, decreeing that she is to be venerated as such by the whole Church. In the name of the Holy Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.“
Pope Francis, however, acknowledged that despite the fact she now has a formal title as “Saint Teresa of Calcutta“, she will always remain “Mother Teresa” to the world. The pontiff said:
“We may have some difficulty in calling her ‘Saint’ Teresa, her holiness is so near to us, so tender and so fruitful that we continue to spontaneously call her “Mother”. She made her voice heard before the powers of this world so that they might recognize their guilt for the crime – the crimes of poverty they created.”
“If I ever become a Saint—I will surely be one of ‘darkness’. I will continually be absent from Heaven —to (light) the light of those in darkness on earth.”
– Prophetic words of Mother Teresa
Born Agnes Bojaxhiu to an Albanian family in the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia, Mother Teresa became world-famous for her devotion to the destitute and dying. The religious congregation, the Missionaries of Charity, she established in 1950, has more than 4,500 religious sisters around the world.
In 1979, Mother Teresa received the Nobel Peace Prize for her lifetime of service to humanity.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta died on September 5, 1997.
Scarcely two years after her death Monsignor Henry D’Souza, the then Archbishop of Calcutta, requested Pope John Paul II to dispense with the five-year waiting period required before beginning the process of beatifying and canonizing her.
Father Brian Kolodiejchuk, M.C., one of the Missionaries of Charity Fathers, was appointed on March 9, 1999, as postulator (a person who presents a case for the canonization or beatification) of Mother Teresa’s cause.
The first session of the process of beatification leading to canonization took place at St. Mary Parish, in Rippon Lane, Calcutta, close to the Missionaries of Charity’s motherhouse.
As soon as the first stage of the process concluded on August 15, 2001, the second stage began in Rome.
Thirty-five thousand pages of documentation called the “Position” were collected in 2001 and 2002.
In the Catholic Church, humanitarian work alone is not sufficient enough for canonization as a saint. It is mandatory that a candidate for sainthood must be associated with at least two miracles to demonstrate that he or she, worthy of sainthood, must be in heaven, interceding with God on behalf of those in need of healing.
Robert Emmet Barron is an American prelate of the Catholic Church, author, theologian and evangelist, known for his Word on Fire ministry. As a frequent commentator on Catholicism and spirituality, he says:
“A saint is someone who has lived a life of great virtue, whom we look to and admire. But if that’s all we emphasize, we flatten out sanctity. The saint is also someone who’s now in heaven, living in this fullness of life with God. And the miracle, to put it bluntly, is the proof of it.”
In 2002, the Vatican officially recognised a miracle Mother Teresa was said to have carried out after her death in 1998. This miracle became the first milestone to sainthood of Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
Born and raised in Calcutta and a resident of the city during the period of Mother Teresa’s activity there, Aroup Chatterjee, a physician working in England authored the book Mother Teresa: The Final Verdict.
In the book Chatterjee challenges the widespread regard of Mother Teresa as a symbol of philanthropy and selflessness, accuses her of unfairly damaging the city’s reputation, that she exaggerated the work she did among the poor, that she failed to use the very large amount of money donated to her on helping the poor, and claims that the medical care given to people in homes run by Missionaries of Charity was grossly inadequate.
Channel 4, a British television channel aired a documentary named “Hell’s Angel” inspired by Chatterjee’s criticism. Christopher Hitchens, an Anglo-American author, social critic, journalist, and a well-known critic of Mother Teresa wrote and co-produced it with Tariq Ali.
In 2003, Aroup Chatterjee and Christopher Hitchens testified as two official hostile witnesses against the late nun as a so-called devil’s advocate to Church procedures for the beatification of Mother Teresa.
The miracle of curing the Bengali tribal woman was the first milestone to sainthood of Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
The First Miracle
Monica Besra hails from a tribal community in Nakor village, in Dakshin Dinajpur district, 280 miles north of Kolkata in eastern India. Now she is 50 years old and a mother of five children.
About 15 to 17 years back she developed an abdominal tumour. She was taken to the nearby government hospital. The treatment for her ailment was expensive and her family had to mortgage their land. Even after undergoing a lengthy medication process she was so sick she could barely walk.
In 1998, when everything else failed, Monica’s sister took her to the then-recently-opened Missionaries of Charity centre near their village.
She was so ill she couldn’t eat anything. If she ate, she would immediately throw up.
The Sisters of Missionaries of Charity took her to a doctor in Siliguri who said that she might not regain consciousness if operated upon.
On September 4, 1998, a day before Mother Teresa’s first death anniversary, the Sisters of Missionaries of Charity took Monica to a small church in the premises to pray. As Monica was too ill to move, two Sisters supported her. There was a photograph of Mother Teresa there.
When she entered the Church a blinding light that emanated from Mother’s photo enveloped her. She did not know what was happening. The sisters prayed. Manica was too ill to sit for long and was soon brought back to her bed.
That night one of the Sisters after saying a prayer to Mother Teresa to help Monica get well soon tied a medallion of Mother Teresa on Monica’s abdomen.
After that, Monica who had trouble sleeping due to pain, fell asleep immediately. At about 1 AM she woke up to go to the bathroom. She was surprised to see her stomach was flat and the tumour was gone. She did not feel any pain. She went to the bathroom without help from anyone. When she returned from the bathroom, she woke up the woman sleeping in the adjacent bed and told her what had happened to her tumour.
In the morning MonicaI told the Sisters. and they took her to a doctor for a checkup. The doctor confirmed that she was cured of the tumour.
Back in 1998, Monica Besra’s claim of the miraculous cure by the intercession of the late Mother Teresa was, however, not without its detractors. The ‘miracle’ was hotly contested by doctors and rationalists alike. The doctors who had attended to her at the district hospital claimed that Monica was in fact cured because her tumour was detected at an early stage and by the medicines they gave her
Kolkata-based Prabir Ghosh, president of the Science and Rationalist Association of India, also challenged the miracle claims and the Canonization. He said:
“If people want to revere Mother Teresa for her social work, I have no problem. But these miracles are unreasonable. I challenge the Pope to cure every poor person in India who cannot afford medical care, by praying to Mother.”
Nonetheless, Monica Besra, her family members, and many others in her community firmly believe in the miracle and attend the local church regularly.
A board of medical specialists worked with the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to study the alleged miracle. After combing the records and interviewing the medical staff involved, the committee determined that the healing was medically inexplicable.
As a first step towards sainthood, Mother Teresa was beatified by Pope John Paul II approved the miraculous cancer cure that occurred on the first anniversary of Mother Teresa’s death, in a fast-tracked process on December 20, 2002, barely five years after Teresa’s death. About 300,000 pilgrims attended the beatification ceremony at St. Peter Square on October 19, 2003 (World Missions Day).
The Second Miracle
The second miracle that took place in December 2008 involves Marcilio Haddad Andrino, a now-42-year-old mechanical engineer from Santos, Brazil.
In 2008, the recently married 35-year-old Andrino was affected by a bacterial infection in the brain which caused severe brain abscesses and agonizing head pain.
A priest, a friend of his told Andrino and his wife, Fernanda Nascimento Rocha, to pray to Mother Teresa for help cure his ailment.
Andrino underwent medical treatment. When the treatments failed, he slipped into a coma. While Rocha prayed to Blessed Teresa, he was taken in for a last-ditch surgery.
When the surgeon entered the operating room, he found Andrino fully awake asking him what was going on.
Andrino made a full recovery. Now, the couple has two children. Even though it was deemed a near medical impossibility by doctors, Father Brian Kolodiejchuk, M.C., the postulator of Mother Teresa’s cause, referred to their children as a second miracle.
In December 2015, in an interview with the press, Father Kolodiejchuk explained why there was a delay between 2008 and 2015 in reporting the second miracle.
According to Father Kolodiejchuk, the miracle happened in 2008, but he became aware of it only in 2013.
The neurosurgeon who attended on Andrino was not a Catholic. Somehow, after the visit of Pope Francis to Brazil, something prompted him to tell one of the priests of Santos. This news eventually made its way to Father Kolodiejchuk and the postulation office and started the chain of events.
A board of medical specialists worked with the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to study the alleged miracle in Brazil. In September 2015, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints accepted the findings of the medical commission and presented the report to Pope Francis for his final approval. On December 17, 2015, the Holy Father officially recognized the second miracle that was needed for Mother Teresa to be canonized.
The Vatican scheduled September 4, 2016, the day before her 19th death anniversary, as the canonization date for Blessed Mother Teresa, who thereafter will be known as Saint Teresa of Calcutta.