MUMBAI, India – Even in overwhelmingly Muslim Pakistan, the Sept. 4 canonization of Mother Teresa, who spent most of her life in Pakistan’s traditional rival India, was a source of national celebration.
The National Commission for Justice and Peace, an organization of the Pakistani Catholic Bishops’ Conference, greatly appreciated the declaration of Mother Teresa as a saint by Pope Francis at the Vatican.
Cecil S. Chaudhry, Executive Director of the commission, sent Crux a press release issued in both English and Urdu, the dominant language of Pakistan. In it, Bishop Joseph Arshad of Faisalabad, the commission’s chair, said that Saint Teresa of Calcutta is “a role model for all of us.”
“The path that she showed us and the very morals and beliefs she lived by is a testament for all humanity,” Arshad said. “For her, human beings should live in love and peace and share their love among others.”
Arshad said that people should understand love is most important among the teachings of Christ, and that “love thy neighbor” should be our sole Christian motto. He emphasized that, today mankind is facing terrible problems of selfishness and shallowness.
“As Saint Teresa believed that serving others before your own self will stop the present evils, therefore, we also must follow her example,” he said. “She spent hours in prayer as she believed that work could not be done without God’s love and grace.”
Arshad further expressed gratitude to God for the gift of such a great saint and stressed that St. Teresa of Calcutta is a symbol of courage, love and endurance who devoted her life for the most marginalized and vulnerable people.
“She in fact, defended the rights of people by her humble and modest service to humankind. She is a saint of the poor and needy.” Her Missionaries of Charity congregation of sisters, about six thousand in number, are now carrying out her mission working in 758 homes across five continents of the world.
“There is a great jubilation in Pakistan on this occasion. Muslims and Christians are equally happy and grateful at her canonization,” said Dominican Father James Channan, who directs a Peace Center in Lahore, Pakistan.
Channan met Mother Teresa personally, and told Crux that she was, and is, very well known and loved in Pakistan.
Mother Teresa first visited Pakistan in 1999, at the invitation of President Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq.
“The government of Pakistan received her with great honors, and President Zia invited her to open homes for the sick, poor and orphans,” Channan recalls.
Zia personally purchased a facility for her to establish the “Mother Teresa House” in Rawalpindi and visited her there, Channan said. She also visited different places and cities across the country.
She went to Lahore, where she met priests, sisters, seminarians and lay people. She was also wholeheartedly welcomed by the Muslim community, Channan said, and several government officials and people from different fields of life met her.
Channan met Mother Teresa at the Jesus and Mary Convent School in Lahore, where she was scheduled to speak at a function, and the “hall was filled to capacity.”
“It was really very remarkable to meet a living saint and hear her speaking to the audience,” he said. “From all of her words flowed the love and compassion of Christ.”
“The audience were both Muslims and Christians mesmerized by her speech. Her message of love, care and peace for all with discrimination towards none,” Channan fondly recalled.
Channan served as a consultor for the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue under St. Pope John Paul II from 1985 until 1995, and as a consultor to the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with Muslims from 1999 to 2004.
He said he has deep memories of hearing Mother Teresa speaking at an international retreat in Rome during the 1980s, in which 6,000 priests from all over the world participated. He was on hand when Mother Teresa entered the Pope Paul VI Hall with John Paul II, and said the hall was spiritually illuminated by those grace-filled moments.
“I can still hear the sound of her beautiful words in my ears,” Channan said. “She looked so dignified, a grace-filled and down-to-earth lady. One could feel even that time that she was a ‘living saint,’ and one day she will be certainly canonized, and that is what happened.”
“It is so wonderful that both Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa are saints,” he said. “They intercede for us and both of them were great promoters of peace, harmony, respect, human dignity, religious freedom, love for all and especially for the poor, neglected and downtrodden.”
Mother Teresa enjoys immense respect both by Christians and Muslims in Pakistan, he said. The houses which are established by the Sisters of Charity in Pakistan are seen with great admiration by Muslims and Christians, and members of both communities donate financially for these houses.
“For Pakistanis, Mother Teresa is a model par excellence of selfless service,” Channan said.
“Take for example a very renowned icon of humanity, Abdul Sattar Edhi, who was known for his service for the poor, orphans, homeless and those who met accidents. He established homes for the poor and orphans around the countries. Usually Edhi Trust ambulances are the first ones to reach the sites of accidents and take the injured and dead bodies to the hospitals.”
Edhi, who was born in 1928, died in July at the age of 88.
“For his services to suffering humanity, Edhi is nicknamed the ‘Mother Teresa of Pakistan’,” Channan said.