(Photo by Debra Greenblatt/Catholic San Francisco)
A Missionary of Charity and a young worshipper share a pew at the Mass of Thanksgiving for St. Teresa of Kolkata, Sept. 4 at St. Mary’s Cathedral.
Cathedral pilgrims reflect saint’s devotion to poor
September 12th, 2016
By Christina Gray
In the hour leading up to the 11 a.m. Mass of Thanksgiving for the Sept. 4 canonization of St. Teresa of Kolkata, visitors filed into the pews of St. Mary’s Cathedral leaving open a bank of front rows marked “reserved.”
Homeless men and women, migrant families, the disabled or dying, the elderly and other urban poor filled the section, each person or group led down the aisle with visible tenderness by local sisters of the Missionaries of Charity, the order founded by St. Teresa of Kolkata in 1950. Many wore T-shirts bearing the new saint’s image and words: “Remember, works of love are works of peace.”
Paul Frazier, who lives in a low-income hotel in San Francisco’s Mission District, said it “felt good” to be invited to the Mass by the sisters who serve meals to the homeless and other local poor under the freeway near him.
George Newell, a disabled man from San Francisco pulled a card of St. Teresa from his pocket and kissed it. The Missionaries are very special, said Newell. “They give me groceries to take home to my wife,” he said.
The Mass was celebrated by Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone who was joined by Cardinal William J. Levada, Archbishop Emeritus George Niederauer and Auxiliary Bishop William P. Justice and more than a dozen priests and deacons.
A man who said his name was John Hansen, towered over the diminutive nun who took him by the hand to his seat where he watched the altar with a look of combined bewilderment and awe.
Earlier in the day in Rome, Missionaries of Charity wearing the blue-trimmed sari of the order led 1,500 homeless people through the gates of the Vatican where Pope Francis declared Blessed Teresa of Kolkata a saint.
Archbishop Cordileone thanked the order for its “loving presence” in the archdiocese which began in 1982 when St. Teresa established a novitiate for the Americas here. The convent in Pacifica is headquarters for the order’s Western Province and operates a hospice for AIDS patients and a shelter for pregnant women.
The 13 sisters who live there invited those they serve to come to the Mass and rode with them to the cathedral in a fleet of yellow school buses.
Looking out at the full cathedral the archbishop said he thought St. Teresa would be pleased “seeing those whom she loved so much and loved so well in so many ways gathered here together worshipping Jesus Christ whom she loved above all things.”
St. Teresa, he said, “taught us that we must look for Jesus in the many disguises he wears, the disguises of the poor and the many different forms that poverty takes, both material and spiritual.”
In the later part of her life, St. Teresa herself suffered from “a deep loneliness and a sense of abandonment by God,” the archbishop said, a cross that bound her closer to Jesus and to those she served.
“Her darkness was the price she paid to be a light for this world,” he said, noting that each of us carry ‘custom-made crosses” we must carry with Christ to our salvation.
Standing on the steps of the cathedral as congregants left for an after-Mass reception, a bubbly Charlene Stanley talked about carrying on St. Teresa’s legacy.
“A living saint walked these streets,” said Stanley, a Notre Dame de Namur graduate “wholeheartedly” discerning a vocation after spending this summer as a live-in “house mother” at the order’s Queen of Peace shelter for expectant mothers in San Francisco.
“The Lord is asking us to do more,” she said. “We can never say, oh I am too tired, for in heaven we shall rest.”
“St. Teresa reminds us that no matter what our fears are, even of heaven itself, that our souls are thirsting for Christ,” Mary Hudson of San Francisco said.
Ogbagebriel Ogb, who recently moved to Berkeley from Eritrea in East Africa, said that his family is “very grateful” for the Missionaries who have assisted with uniforms and school supplies for his three sons who go to St. Jerome School in El Cerrito.
From September 15, 2016 issue of Catholic San Francisco.