Indian cardinal says Mother Teresa was 'Pope Francis before Francis'

Indian cardinal says Mother Teresa was ‘Pope Francis before Francis’

Indian cardinal says Mother Teresa was ‘Pope Francis before Francis’

An Indian woman holds a portrait of Mother Teresa as she joins a 'Mother Walk' in commemoration of her beatification in Calcutta, India, Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016. Mother Teresa, the founder of the order Missionaries of Charity, was declared a Saint by Pope Francis on Sept. 4. (Credit: AP Photo/Bikas Das.)

Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai, India, a member of Pope Francis's "C9" council of cardinal advisers from around the world, said during a thanksgiving Mass for her sainthood on Sunday, "Her life is a testimony of truth and humble service. She chose not to be the last, but the servant of the last."

MUMBAI, India – Although Mother Teresa, now St. Teresa of Calcutta, was an Albanian born in modern-day Macedonia, India was her adopted country and she became a national hero. On Sunday, the Archdiocese of Mumbai in India celebrated her canonization with a special evening Mass on the grounds of St. Francis Xavier Church.

Sister Medard of the Missionaries of Charity, the religious order founded by the legendary “saint of the gutters,” welcomed Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai and concelebrants and faithful to the liturgy, to celebrate the Sept. 4 canonization ceremony in Rome in which Pope Francis formally declared Mother Teresa a saint of the Catholic Church.

Sister Medard asked all “to raise our hearts to God in grateful thanks and praise for the gift of St. Teresa of Calcutta — a life filled with love, a life that has fulfilled its purpose and that has been a radiance of Christ’s Light in the world.”

Mother Teresa’s life, she said, quoting the Church’s newest saint, “was truly ‘something beautiful for God’.”

Gracias presided over the Mass in honor of St. Teresa of Calcutta, with four bishops concelebrating together with over 30 priests.

More than 5,000 people, including many non-Christians, assembled together with Sisters of the Missionaries of Charity from not just Mumbai but around the country, together with residents from their homes for the poor, sick and suffering.

Also present were several Brothers and Fathers of the Missionaries of Charity.

In his homily, Oswald referenced the gospel reading of the day, which focused on what’s been called the parable of “Dives and Lazarus,” about a rich man and a poor man, saying it was appropriate for a thanksgiving Mass for the canonization of Mother Teresa.

“The rich man dressed in ‘purple and fine linen’ signified opulence and wealth,” Gracias said, “a person who lived in luxury. In contrast there is a poor man, named Lazarus who was living in abject misery, filled with sores which dogs would lick.”

Both died, and while Dives went down to hell, Lazarus was taken up into the bosom of Abraham.

Dives was not “positively unkind to Lazarus, [and] the fact that he is at the gate of the rich man’s house signifies that, though the rich man could see Lazarus, he did not object to his presence,” Gracias said.

“But Dives was not aware of his existence,” he said. “He was so caught up in his world of material things, he was so caught up in his luxuries and personal enjoyment, they had blinded him from the reality around him.  They had made him immune to the suffering of those whom he could see, [and so] Dives allowed Lazaus to be part of the landscape.”

Gracias, a member of Pope Francis’s “C9” council of cardinal advisers from around the world, said this situation made Lazarus a victim of the “globalization of indifference” which Francis so often has denounced.

“Dives did not notice the suffering and misery of the poor man,” he said.

Gracias linked the gospel parable to the contemporary situation of migrants and refugees.

“I was in Rome for a meeting having coffee with the Holy Father, who was very disturbed, and looked angry with the tragic news of the drowning of around 300 people when their boat ferrying them to Lampedusa capsized,” he said.

He quoted the pontiff as saying, “The world is indifferent!”

A few months later, Pope Francis flew to the island and asked “pardon for those who are complacent and closed, amid comforts which have deadened their hearts.”

“It is an appropriate occasion” to recall all that, Gracias said, because if there was one person who was not indifferent and to whom God gave eyes to see, a heart to feel, and hands to lift up and help, it was Mother Teresa.

“Today as we are celebrating the thanksgiving Eucharist, we are inspired and challenged not to be indifferent,” he said.

“We pass by poor people outside our churches and homes, our streets and workplaces, [and] we are challenged to be like Mother Teresa, with eyes to see, a heart to feel, and hands to help,” he said.

Being poor, Gracias said, “is not only [about] material poverty, [but about] so many isolations, [so much] loneliness and suffering, to which we are indifferent.”

Poverty is also found, he said, “in our own homes, in difficult families, [among] people who are lonely, the aged, the sick in hospitals, those in prisons, [and] people who are neglected and lonely in hospitals. People in difficulty who need assistance.”

He specifically pointed to the situation of prisoners, another category that’s been an object of special outreach by Pope Francis.

“People in prison, do we reject them?” he asked. “In India we have the prison ministry, where we work for the release, renewal and rehabilitation of prisoners, respecting the inherent human dignity of every person.”

The 71-year-old cardinal then told a personal story about Mother Teresa, with whom he had an intense friendship, among other things based on regular interaction with her as secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India and later as Archbishop of Agra in India.

“People who traveled with her on planes told me that she often put aside her tray, and asked passengers to do the same,” he said. “Wherever she landed, she went to distribute these meals outside the airport. She could not eat without giving it to others first.”

“And,” Gracias added, “she infected others with this love.”

“Pope Francis has declared this the Year of Mercy, [and] I believe Mother Teresa was a Pope Francis before Pope Francis,” he said. “Mother Teresa was imbued with the Spirit of mercy and compassion.”

“Her life is a testimony of truth and humble service. She chose not to be the last, but the servant of the last. She bent to the suffering of the last. Her capacity was to give ‘until it hurts’,” Gracias said.

“Mother Teresa’s canonization in the Year of Mercy is the center of the Jubilee,” the Indian cardinal said. “She is a person we saw, knew and would like to imitate, [in order] to live this Year of Mercy in practice, for each of us to be an instrument of Mercy.”

“St. Teresa of Calcutta, icon of mercy,” he said, “make our hearts merciful like yours.”

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