The new Saint Teresa and her Liverpool legacy

By Simon Hart

"In the homeless shelter, they have 20 men in off the streets every night. They are in dormitories. They can have a shower. They are looked after and fed."

These are the words of a volunteer worker at the Missionaries of Charity's base in Liverpool city centre who sees, day in and day out, how the legacy of a woman who began life as Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu in Skopje – now the capital of Macedonia, then an outpost of the Ottoman Empire – continues to this day in our Archdiocese.

That woman, the newly canonised Saint Teresa of Calcutta, established the Order of the Missionaries of Charity in 1950 and became revered worldwide for her work for the poor in India.

Today, 19 years after her death, her sisterhood has 4,500 members worldwide, and six of them reside at their Liverpool convent on Seel Street. To mark Saint Teresa's canonisation, they held a Mass of Thanksgiving at Saint Patrick's parish church in Park Place on Monday 5 September. A day earlier, Pope Francis, speaking to more than 120,000 people in Saint Peter's Square, had proclaimed the words confirming her sainthood: "Beatam Teresiam de Calcutta Sanctam esse decernimus et definimus ac Sanctorum Catalogo adscribimus."

In Liverpool it was Archbishop Malcolm McMahon who led the celebration. Father John Southworth, parish priest of St Patrick's, along with Father Peter Morgan and Father Tom Lee were among the concelebrants of a mid-afternoon Mass in a packed church which was followed by a reception in the church hall, where an exhibition of St Teresa's life and works was on display.

It was significant, on such a day, to note another small but fitting detail. Along with the parishioners and priests and other religious enjoying the buffet in the parish hall were members of the local homeless community. Something similar had taken place in Rome where 1,500 homeless people were given seats of honour at the canonisation Mass – and treated to a pizza lunch afterwards. These little acts of mercy illustrate why St Teresa's canonisation was made one of the focal moments of this Year of Mercy. The words of Pope Francis in his homily on 4 September pointed to the need for us all to follow the example of the Church's newest saint.

The Pope said: "God is pleased by every act of mercy, because in the brother or sister that we assist, we recognise the face of God which no one can see. Each time we bend down to the needs of our brothers and sisters, we give Jesus something to eat and drink. We clothe, we help, and we visit the Son of God. In a word, we touch the flesh of Christ.

"We are thus called to translate into concrete acts that which we invoke in prayer and profess in faith. There is no alternative to charity – those who put themselves at the service of others, even when they don't know it, are those who love God."

Pope Francis was speaking to a crowd which included hundreds of Missionaries of Charity sisters along with 13 heads of state or government, 70 cardinals, 400 bishops and more than 1,700 priests. Many in the vast crowd were from Albania, reflecting St Teresa's ethnic origin, and from India, where she spent most of her life.

The Pope added: "Her mission to the urban and existential peripheries remains for us today an eloquent witness to God's closeness to the poorest of the poor. Today I pass on this emblematic figure of womanhood and of consecrated life to the whole world of volunteers: may she be your model of holiness.

"I think, perhaps, we may have some difficulty in calling her 'St Teresa'. Her holiness is so near to us, so tender and so fruitful that we continue to spontaneously call her 'Mother Teresa'. May this tireless worker of mercy help us increasingly to understand that our only criterion for action is gratuitous love, free from every ideology and all obligations, offered freely to everyone without distinction of language, culture, race or religion.

"Mother Teresa loved to say, 'Perhaps I don't speak their language, but I can smile.' Let us carry her smile in our hearts and give it to those whom we meet along our journey. In this way we will open up opportunities of joy and hope for our many brothers and sisters who are discouraged and who stand in need of understanding and tenderness."

This is a message that will resonate with the sisters from Poland, India and Bangladesh currently following St Teresa's path in Liverpool. And it is a point underlined by Stefan, a volunteer with the Missionaries of Charity, who sheds a light on the work done today by the small community in Seel Street. "The house is right in the middle of the city's club land," he says. "They are surrounded in the evening by people drinking and enjoying themselves and they are looking after homeless men.

"They are a safety net for social services, they feed quite a number of people and look after families who are disadvantaged. In the summertime they run a camp for children in the area where they educate and feed the children. The work they do in Liverpool is fantastic and it's all inspired by Mother Teresa."
 
Mother Teresa in Liverpool
It was the Beatles, Liverpool's most famous sons, who told the world All You Need Is Love, and St Teresa proffered a similar message on her first trip to the city in 1979. "Liverpool is full of those who hunger for love," she said when visiting the Seel Street convent. "They may not be poor for the material things of this life, but for love and things of the Spirit there's a great hunger."

That was the first of several visits made by St Teresa, who came to Liverpool again in 1982, 1983 and, for the last time, in June 1996, by when she was a frail 86-year-old. She flew into the city from Ireland just days after the IRA's bombing of Manchester and offered a prayer for peace. "The family that prays together stays together, and we must love each other as God loves us," she said. "Where there is love, there is peace, joy and happiness."

She was in a wheelchair having sprained an ankle during her Irish trip yet spoke at a public service at St Peter's Church in Seel Street – now the site of Alma De Cuba.
 
The life of a saint
"By blood, I am Albanian. By citizenship, an Indian. By faith, I am a Catholic nun. As to my calling, I belong to the world. As to my heart, I belong entirely to the Heart of Jesus" – St Teresa
1910 –
Born in Skopje in family of ethnic Albanians and devout Catholics
1928 – Joined Sisters of Loreto and departed for India, arriving in January 1929
1950 – Founded Missionaries of Charity, four years after moving to Calcutta
1979 – Awarded Nobel Peace Prize
1997 – Died in Calcutta and was given state funeral
2003 – Beatified by John Paul II after acceptance of first miracle attributed to her
2015 – Second miracle recognised by Pope Francis