Pope Francis declared Mother Teresa a saint this morning urging Catholics to emulate her life of service to the world’s destitute while after the ceremony put his words into action by giving 1,500 of Italy’s poverty stricken lunch in the Vatican.
During his canonisation homily at St Peter’s, Francis said the Albanian nun had demonstrated a life of humility through her care for the dying in the Indian city of Calcutta while he praised her high profile opposition to abortion describing her as an “emblematic figure of womanhood."
The Pope also used his homily to hit back at critics of Mother Teresa’s interventions into politics which was prominently criticised by the late writer Christopher Hitchens for being too close to unsavoury regimes.
“She made her voice heard before the powers of this world,” Francis explained. “So that they might recognise their guilt for the crime - the crimes! - of poverty they created.”
Taking place on a sweltering hot morning, the canonisation in St Peter’s Square was attended by tens of thousands including official delegations from India, Albania and Macedonia and members of the Missionaries of Charity, the religious order Mother Teresa founded.
The Pope performed the simple rite of canonisation at the beginning of the liturgy after which a relic containing a vial of the new saint’s blood was placed on the altar where Francis later celebrated Mass. Facing the square on the basilica was a portrait of Mother Teresa painted by an American artist and specially commissioned by the United State’s based Knights of Columbus, a wealthy Catholic charitable organisation.
The canonisation takes place during the Pope’s jubilee year of mercy with Francis stressing today that Christians are called to demonstrate their faith with concrete actions.
Following the ceremony Francis arranged for pizza makers from Naples to prepare lunch in the Vatican’s Paul VI hall for 1,500 of Italy’s poor which would be served by 250 Missionaries of Charity.
During the homily the Pope said Mother Teresa was a “generous dispenser of divine mercy” who made herself available to everyone and who “bowed down before those who were spent, left to die on the side of the road."
He urged Catholics to follow her example by “bending low” to refugees and immigrants, those who have “lost faith”, young people “without values or ideals” and families in crisis.
His reference to those without faith is a hint at the struggle with belief that Mother Teresa underwent for 40 years of her life, a fact that was only revealed in letters published after her death.
While praising her charitable works, the Pope also stressed that Christianity is not simply “extending a hand in times of need” but requires followers to give their entire lives in service of charity without counting the cost.
“Volunteers, who out of love of Jesus serve the poor and the needy, do not expect any thanks or recompense,” he said. “Rather they renounce all this because they have discovered true love. Just as the Lord has come to meet me and has stooped down to my level in my hour of need, so too do I go to meet him.”
During the Angelus, after Mass had finished, Francis remembered women religious serving across the world, citing 51-year-old Sister Isabel Sola Macas who on Friday was murdered in Haiti.