BRIDGEPORT—On the 22nd anniversary of the death of St. Teresa of Calcutta, Bishop Frank J. Caggiano said that at a time when the world and Church face grave challenges, the saint of Calcutta’s “radical intimacy with Christ and radical intimacy with the poorest of the poor show us the way to new life.”
Celebrating the Mass of her solemnity Thursday at St. Peter Church, where there is a convent for the Missionaries of Charity, he described her as “perhaps the greatest of modern saints.”
“She was a very simple woman whose holiness and power of witness tower above all others and who has given us the recipe for the renewal of the entire Church,” Bishop Caggiano said.
Throughout history, when the Church has been faced with great challenges, division and crisis, he said that “God in his great love has sent us those who are saints, who by their holiness and witness and mission showed the world and the Church a way to renewal and new life.”
“In our own age, we are facing many challenges and deep divisions in a world that refuses to recognize the face of God and refuses to acknowledge the power of his life, who is love in our midst,” he said. “It is a world that is growing colder and darker and a Church that has seen betrayal and much sin. And so once again, our gracious and merciful Father has sent us new saints to lead us to renewal and new life.”
He said that on the anniversary of Mother Teresa’s death, “we come to honor her and ask for her prayers, intercession and protection.” He described her “odyssey of faith” from the time she entered a religious order and later founded the Missionaries of Charity in 1950 and was given a mystical moment when she “understood the heart and spirit and thirst of Christ on the cross, the thirst for him to love the world and have that love returned.”
Her life was defined by deep prayer and Eucharistic adoration, which prepared her to go out into the world each day, embracing and serving Christians and non-Christians in the gutters of Calcutta in search of the poor, the suffering and the dying, “never mindful of the cost, of the sacrifice or of the danger she would be putting herself in.” Her work spread worldwide and she was honored with the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. Today, there are more than 5,000 sisters in some 135 countries, running homes for the sick and dying, soup kitchens and orphanages.
The bishop praised the sisters for carrying on the work of their founder and said, “She would go where no one else would dare to go because she knew that the love of Christ impelled her to find that love in every human heart…and to this day, you dear sisters, continue her charism and continue to go to places where no one else dares to go.”
Bishop Caggiano said Mother Teresa’s intercession and protection is needed now more than ever.
“Let us pray through the intercession of St. Teresa of Calcutta that we may have an outpouring of the Holy Spirit in your life and mine so that we can grow ever more deeply in love with the Lord and that we will have the courage to go one more step into the shadows, that we will have the courage to love one more person we have not loved up to this point, and that we will go among the poor at least one more step,” Bishop Caggiano said.
“Let us ask for that courage and grace that with her prayers and intercession, we will see with our own eyes the flowering of Christian life, the renewal of our beloved Church,” he said. “And we will see the world do what it did once 22 years ago when millions of people gathered to honor Teresa, who was called the ‘Mother of all India’—the vast majority of whom were not even Christian—because they saw in her a glimpse of God. And let us pray that others may say the same thing about you and me.”
The Missionaries of Charity first opened their mission in Bridgeport in 2001, when four sisters moved into a home across from St. Peter Church on Colorado Avenue. Today they have two homes, one of which is a house of prayer for the sisters.
As part of their ministry in Bridgeport, they visit the elderly, nursing homes, hospitals, and families in the neighborhood to see what their spiritual and material needs are. They have an after-school tutorial program to help children with homework, and they also teach CCD in the parish and offer a catechetical program for children 3 to 5 years old, along with a youth group during the school year and a four-week summer day camp.
Sister Anawim, whose name is Hebrew for “the poorest of the poor of God,” previously served in Harlem and has been in Bridgeport since 2011. A native of Pittsburgh, she has been a Missionary of Charity for 43 years and knew Mother Teresa personally.
“Mother would often start her talks with the scripture passage, ‘God is love.’ She would say God loves you and me just as we are. God longs and thirsts to love us and to be loved in return. Her message was always a message of love,” Sister said. “It was love for God, love for Jesus, love for each other, love for family, love for our neighbors—whoever they may be wherever they may be, whoever they are, no matter what race, no matter what culture, no matter what nationality, no matter what religion, no matter whether they treat you nicely or they don’t treat you nicely. Her message was love.”
She added that when we do loving things for anyone, we live Jesus’ words in St. Matthew’s Gospel, “Whatever you do to the least of my brethren, you did it to me.” St. Theresa of Calcutta spoke of these words on five fingers; she would show her hand and say, “You did it to me.”
Clarissa Cincotta of Trumbull has volunteered with the missionaries since they arrived in 2001, driving them to their doctors’ appointments and collecting food for them to distribute.
“They immediately captivated me by the way they lived…so humbly, so quietly and yet so intensely for Christ,” she said Thursday. “They put a great deal of love into everything they do. They live for Jesus and through their every encounter, each one of them lifts you up with their intense love of the Lord. Their work with the poor is untiring, helping to feed those less fortunate and also checking to see what their other needs may be. They visit the sick, help children with religious studies, have several holy hours every day and always have laughter coming from their houses. They are filled with joy. The day I met them was a gift from God.”
Father Lawrence Carew, who was among the priests at the Mass and is a spiritual adviser to the sisters at the house of prayer, said, “It is such a privilege to meet with the sisters regularly and pray with them when they need to be away from ministry for a while so they come into the healing that Christ has for them and be refreshed.”
After the Mass, people gathered in two long lines in the church and came forward to venerate relics of St. Teresa of Calcutta.
Father Jhon Gomez, pastor of St. Peter Church, thanked the bishop, his fellow priests and the Missionaries of Charity for their great warmth and service to the poor. “Keep working and doing this great job, this great service that you do for the needy,” he said.
Sister Seton, who is in charge of the house of prayer, thanked all those who helped make the Mass and reception possible and said, “Today we celebrate the love of God that our dearest mother, St. Teresa of Calcutta, received and shared so generously, especially with Jesus in the poorest of the poor.”