By Merita B. McCormack*
The weekend of September 10th was dedicated to our beloved sister in blood and saint of the world, Mother Teresa here in Washington DC.
It was named as her “Anniversary Weekend”, commemorating the 25th Anniversary of Mother’s Entrance into Eternal Life and her 76th anniversary of her call to serve the poorest of the poor.
On these occasions there was a daylong symposium and a movie screening the next day. All scholarly and artistic events were preceded and closed by prayers, namely Mass at the start of the day, vespers in the evening and Holy Hour and benediction as well.
The Opening Mass on Saturday morning was held at the Crypt Church in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception the largest US Catholic Church and one of the fifth ‘s largest Basilicas of the World.
Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore was the Principal Celebrant and Homilist. Some concelebrants had travelled from afar. Among them were Most Reverend Robert Harris, Bishop Emeritus of St.John, New Brunswick, NJ, Fr. Brian Kolodiejchuk, Director of Mother Teresa Centre and the postulator for Mother Teresa’s canonization, Fr. Pasquale M.C, Fr. Mark Morozowich,S.E.O.D dean of CUA’s TRS Department etc. In his homily Archbishop Lori spoke very fondly and kindly of Mother Teresa and especially of her holiness. He mentioned that her upbringing in a faithful family prepared her for her missionary work as he recalled meeting her and giving her a glass of water, which, he jokingly said “that would probably bring him to Heaven”. He also commented on Mother Teresa’s call to serve the poorest of the poor and commented on her “dogged determination” to live out her vocation, found the Missionaries of Charity order, which these days has about 5000 sisters and religious around the world, responding to God’s call to her exactly 76 years ago, on September 10th 1946.
Archbishop Lori said “Like Mary, (mother of Jesus), Mother Teresa embraced God’s will with loving trust and surrender, with “dogged” determination and courage. …Whether here, in DC or China…. she was small in stature but powerful…it was God’s power in her and through her”
Elaborating on fulfilling God’s work through corporeal works of mercy, Archbishop commented on the Gospel of Matthew 25 and mentioned the famous expression that Mother Teresa has said “ seeing the poor as Jesus in his distressing disguise”.
He added that she was not a social worker, but a woman who through Faith, Hope, and Love served others for God’s glory. He said that “mother spoke lovely, lovingly and directly and he mentioned how she touched the many hearts of politicians at the prayer breakfast in Washington DC. She taught us Archbishop said to “abandon all complications of our lives and say yes to Jesus”. He urged us all to ask Mother Teresa to smile on us (as in intercessory prayer), to deepen our prayer life and to practice charity. He concluded with “St.Teresa of Calcutta pray for us.”
One of the key events of Saturday was Mother Teresa Institute Inaugural Conference
It was held at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
According to the brochure distributed to the participants during that day,
“The Institute is an outgrowth of the work and activities of the Mother Teresa centre, a non for profit organization established and directed by the religious family founded by Mother Teresa, the MoC. The aim of the MTI is to preserve, protect, promote and develop the authentic legacy of Saint Teresa to the Church and to the world. The MTI will provide resources to the students, scholars and researchers who are interested in Mother Teresa, her life, charism and message, giving them the opportunity to study in depth one of her greatest saints of modern times and a humanitarian figure who made and enormous difference to the welfare of the poorest of the poor and had broad influence in the Church and the world. The Institute will also endeavour to promote greater knowledge of the holiness, teaching and legacy of St. Teresa of Calcutta”
The keynote speaker was George Weigel, a theologian, leading public intellectual in USA, and a Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Centre. He spoke on the tangencies of St. John Paul the Great (Pope John Paul II known as Karol Voytila) and saint Teresa of Calcutta, noting that both were great leaders of the 20th and 21st century were greatly admired and loved by peoples and nations around the world, because of their witness to the truth. This witness manifested itself in different ways amongst the two great leaders, with Mother Teresa bearing full witness to her calling by unwavering self- giving and self-sacrifice for her fellow man dedicated to a life of service. St John Paul the Great bore witness in a different manner, both garnished a worldwide following and respect due to their witness and both were instrumental in bringing about a changed world in the case of St. John Paul the Great in his pivotal role in awakening the pitfalls and evils of communism and promoting the dignity of the human being and life over a culture of death.
Weigel emphasised the prayerful and Eucharistic centred nature of the two saints and he shared how JPII wrote all his important documents in front of the Blessed Sacrament. While Mother Teresa started the day with prayer and made sure her order has daily prayers and meditation and frequent Holy Hours besides daily Mass
He spoke of both Saints Dark Nights of the soul and also shared that the two saints loved sweet treats!
Fr. Brian Kolodiejchuk spoke in details about Mother Teresa’s spiritual life. He is the postulator of her case for canonization and has access to a myriad of documents and letters. He has authored books and papers on mother and he spoke fondly of his memories.
Mother Teresa: Icon of the New Evangelization was the panel discussion of the afternoon with participants being:
Rev. Darren Dentino, MC; James Towey; Dr. Janice Breidenbach; Fr. Steven Payne, OCD.Father Dentino participated remotely from Nairobi, Kenya
Mr. James Towey also spoke with Voice Of America, Albanian section and he recalled meeting the saint and having a friendship for the last 12 years of her life. He recalled how she looked as a young schoolgirl with such a small stature but so strong and determined. He recalled memories of Mother Teresa’s family stories and he attributed her Albanian origin and upbringing to her outstanding missionary work.
During the symposium there were many questions for the speakers and panellists. In an exchange with one, the author of this article asked about a story about Mother Teresa and St.John Paul II, which relates to her very first private visit in Albania in the late 90s. The story is that mother Teresa could not be without the Eucharist and apparently the pope (John Paul II) had permitted her to carry the Consecrated Host with her for her short trip to Albania. She could then be receiving our Lord daily while they’re without a priest to say mass. While the speakers/panellists had no knowledge of this particular encounter, they agreed that this could very well have been the case. This encounter sparked a longer discussion then about Albania, the culture and its role (as a cross cultural country as quoted by Weigel) in preparing mother Teresa to be the “powerful but non threatening Christian witness”(as stated by Weigel) in India.
Following up in those comments there was Fr.Pasquale of Spain who recalled how Mother Teresa had called him and he arrived within 24 hours in Albania from new York, to serve her missionaries upon the permission of opening the homes in Albania. He spoke fondly of Albanian and Albania and even blessed us in Albanian by saying “ Zoti ju bekofte”(God bless you)
The day concluded with vespers and the next day the activities continued. The movie “ No greater Love” premiered at the St.John Paul II Shrine and will be shown in the AMC theaters in the USA on October 3-4 2022.
The movie is sponsored by Knights of Columbus.
The activities were attended by many Albanian Americans in the Diocese of Arlington and in greater DC Metro area as part of the Mother Teresa’s Month, an annual tradition that involves spiritual and corporeal works of Mercy. Voice of America, Albanian section covered the Saturday’s events and Artan Harraqija, a VOA journalist prepared an in depth chronicle broadcast on Sunday Sept 11.
Reflecting on the weekend, one cannot help but think that while, even today, the world faces considerable challenges, it should not be lost on the world that such great leaders as these two individuals saw their rise from backgrounds of suppression and sacrifice. Both at community and national level in their respective countries and this rise to worldwide leadership, surely is no accident when placed in the light of the battle between good and evil, at all levels, notably at national and international levels, where leaders are brought to the forefront. They are leaders who understand this battle and the forces involved at critical times in history.
In a similar light one might ask the question with the recent passing of British Queen Elizabeth the 2nd, why she too, garnered so much worldwide respect? The common theme seems to be that of service, service to something greater and bigger than self, service to fellow man, service to God, service to long standing traditions and constant values even at the expense of personal sacrifice. Clearly these leaders have demonstrated such service and it is this service at different levels that attracts and brings out the best in human nature and can explain the worldwide popularity of such leaders.
It was no surprise that during the Q&A sessions on the weekend, several people asked the question as we witness the ongoing war in Ukraine with Russia, as to what might the two saints might think and do regarding the politicians or clergy there.
Is this a coincidence or is indeed part of the wider battle between dignity of the human being and those who would see humans only as utilitarian entities?
And as expected the answer and the theme, remains personal holiness, self-giving, prayer and sacrifice.
In such times of great difficulty and challenge we will continue to see leaders and saints rise to the fore, who may one day go down in history as leaders who stood up for the dignity of the human being, for life over a culture of death, for freedom over oppression and suppression, for good over evil.
Mother Teresa, pray for us!
* The author lives and works in the Washington DC Greater area and is a member of VATRA. She works for a private University and is an active member of the Albanian American Diaspora.