By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
ROME — Clutching collapsible chairs and breakfast in bags, Catholic Messenger pilgrims made their way slowly to St. Peter’s Square at dawn Sept. 4 for the canonization of St. Teresa of Kolkata.
A few of the of the 52 pilgrims stayed behind, but the rest looked forward to witnessing Pope Francis enroll St. Teresa in the canon of the church’s saints. They made their way through what seemed like a wall of humanity: people of different nationalities, skin color and traditions, all admirers of the tiny, tenacious woman who devoted her life to serving the poorest of the poor in Kolkata’s slums.
In the midst of security checks and restricted access, the pilgrims got separated, but managed to stick together in small groups by holding on to one another.
Pope Francis celebrated the Mass in Italian, but the pocketbook-sized worship aid contained the Scriptures, prayers and songs in English and Italian. His homily, however, did not appear in the worship aid and he gave it in Italian.
Father Marty Goetz, the pilgrimage group’s spiritual leader, said he was especially moved by the Holy Father invoking the power of the saints in enrolling St. Teresa in the canon of the church’s saints. “It still gives me goosebumps.”
Another highlight of the Mass for Fr. Goetz: “I got to distribute holy Communion to pilgrims from all over the world. I think I heard five, six or seven different languages. People were saying, ‘We need Communion.’ I’ve given Communion thousands of times and it’s something I won’t take for granted again. I was distributing Communion down the street on the road heading into the Vatican and then as I came back I ran into seven of our pilgrims and gave them Communion. It was just special.”
A highlight for Jennifer Bell of Keota was “the experience of being with all of these thousands and thousands of people who had the same yearning as we did to witness a canonization of a saint today.” She also was thrilled to see all of the nuns and the young seminarians attending the Mass. For her husband Curtis, “the music, the ceremonial part, is what struck me.”
Wayne Marek of Ankeny, Iowa, appreciated seeing all of the different ethnicities represented at the Mass. “It was great to be there with family members to share,” he added. His mother, Mary Marek of Washington, Iowa, invited all of her children to make the pilgrimage with her. Four of the six joined her, along with Mary’s brother and sister-in-law, Leo and Shirley Ruth of Solon. Mary Marek said she was most grateful for “the fact that I could bring my kids and we could all be together for a once in a lifetime experience.” All of the pilgrims, she said, make up a “marvelous group of people… Jesus is made up of ‘Jes’ and ‘us.’ We’re part of Jesus.”
Daughter Fran McVeigh of Centerville said the canonization Mass underscored “the whole notion that the community of our faith is so much bigger than the world.” She thought about “the lives that have gone before us and those who are still here among us.”
Mary’s other daughter, Sherry Marek of Florida, said she was interviewed by a German journalist for her thoughts. She said she was most impressed with how Pope Francis is leading the church, helping to educate the faithful about the care of creation and the importance of serving others.
Her brother, Gerard Marek of Vernon Hills, Ill., said, “I was mostly touched by the humanity of Pope Francis. He sets an example for all of us to strive for. He embodies what Mother Teresa was about all of her life.”
Ken Tisinger of Blue Grass said the canonization Mass “was a culmination of what I’ve known to be for a long time…. to have the church canonize Mother Teresa confirmed what I’ve felt all along — that she was a saint. It’s so wonderful to have a saint who lived among us.”
Ken’s wife, Chae, said that the crowds pushing their way into St. Peter’s Square for the Mass gave her something to think about at the Sign of Peace. Being merciful is something to be aware of at all times. St. Teresa shows us the way, Chae believes.