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Sept. 26, 2016

Mumbai, September 25, 2016

St. Francis Xavier Church, Vile Parle


In a time when indifference to another’s suffering seems so widespread, there was one person, in our time, who was not indifferent: Mother Teresa had eyes that saw, a heart that felt and hands that reached out to help. 

These words by His Eminence, Oswald Cardinal Gracias, Archbishop of Bombay, at the celebration Eucharist, set the tone for the evening that unfolded before a packed venue comprising priests, religious, parishioners of the Archdiocese and visitors from Kolkata.  His Eminence was joined in the concelebration by His Lordship, Bishop Alwyn Barreto, Bishop of Sindhudurg, Bishops Dominic Savio Fernandes  and John Rodrigues, Auxiliary Bishops of the Archdiocese of Bombay, Emeritus Bishop Agnelo Gracias and priests of the Archdiocese. The celebration was accompanied by the uplifting voices of the children’s choir which rendered the music of the Mass with inspired harmony.

At the conclusion of the Offertory, there was a special moment when His Eminence, Cardinal Gracias, blessed the new chalice and paten which would be used in the Eucharistic Celebration – the gift from the Archdiocese to St. Francis Xavier Church to mark this occasion.

It was perhaps fitting and no coincidence that the Gospel recounted the parable of Dives and Lazarus, the rich man who enjoyed his wealth and Lazarus who languished in dire poverty at the rich man’s doorstep.  In his homily, His Eminence, Cardinal Gracias made it clear that the point of the parable was not the disparity between wealth and poverty, nor that poverty in itself was a virtue.  The lesson that we take away is that among the sins of omission that we beg forgiveness for in the Confiteor, we must number the sin of indifference.  His Eminence pointed out that Pope Francis has urged us again and again in this Jubilee Year of Mercy to remember and reach out to those on the peripheries, the neglected, the lost and the least.  The tragedy of the deaths of hundreds and thousands of migrants, who took unimaginable risks to escape oppression, had moved the Holy Father to reach out to the world to solve this great and heartbreaking problem.  The example has been set before us by Mother Teresa who did not turn away from suffering; rather, she saw and felt the sufferings of others most keenly and set out to change their plight, living the words of the Gospel, ‘whatsoever you do to the least of my people, you do it unto me.”

His Eminence urged all those present to also contribute their little bit, not just by way of monetary contribution but in acts that bring joy into the lives of others: attention to children who are differently abled, reaching out to divorcees who may be victims of loneliness, prisoners who are facing rejection in society, patients in hospitals who do not have visitors. 

Cardinal Gracias illustrated his exhortation with an incident from Saint Mother Teresa’s life: on one of her journeys by air, she received her meal in its carton and leaving it untouched, she asked her fellow passengers if anyone else would like to share their meal with someone less fortunate.  Mother left the aircraft with a bag full of airplane meals which she promptly distributed to the beggars that sat outside the airport! Hers was a heart that was truly sensitive to those in need. 

The celebration of the Eucharist was followed by a cultural program ably emceed by Fr. K T Emmanuel. After a brief and heartfelt welcome by His Lordship, Bishop John Rodrigues, in which he noted that Mother Teresa had visited Mumbai on several occasions, the congregation, now an audience, were filled with expectation of what was to follow.  His Lordship mentioned that there were more celebrations scheduled at Mother’s home city of Calcutta and at a function being organised by the CBCI at the national level in New Delhi. This event, to celebrate her canonization, though much anticipated had faced several challenges not least the weather! Bishop John commended the enthusiasm and hard work of the Parish of St. Francis Xavier and the faith of the Missionaries of Charity which ensured that the evening’s function did, in fact, take place. 

Next, Dawn Cordo conducted the Cadenza Kantori choir in a beautiful rendition of that evocative hymn, ‘Whatsoever you do…’, to which Dominique Cerejo also lent her voice. This was followed by the testimony from Sr. Suma, Superior of the Missionaries of Charity in Mumbai, who showed us through her narrative of Saint Teresa’s life how ‘Mother’ had lived her desire to love Jesus as he had never been loved before. The significance of the date of the evening’s celebration was brought home when Sr. Suma told the audience that this was also the date when a very young Gonxha (Agnes) Bojaxhiu left her home to become Sister Teresa with the Loreto nuns in faraway Ireland! She was accompanied by her own mother’s advice to let Jesus lead her by the hand, moving forward and never looking back.  Mother Teresa was never to meet her family again. The comprehensive and embracing testimony ended with Mother’s last spoken words as she faced the picture of Jesus, in her room, ‘I never refused you anything’!

A heartwarming wheelchair Bharat Natyam by the children of Ashadaan, was followed by a ‘life-like’ skit by the children of the parish of St. Francis Xavier, Vile Parle, which demonstrated key moments in Saint Teresa’s life and ended with the testimonies from the two miracles which confirmed her sainthood.  Both groups of children received a tremendous round of applause for their performances. A heart stopping song by three blind girls from Ashadaan held the audience in thrall with their beautiful voices and harmonization – their musical eulogy to Mother Teresa brought tears to everyone’s eyes. 

Also in the evening’s program was the testimony from Mr. Thomas who had the privilege of assisting Mother Teresa in the building of her homes in Kolkata and Mumbai. A short film on Mother Teresa directed and produced by the Catholic Communication Centre of the Archdiocese was screened, and proved a fitting summation to the evening.

His Eminence, Oswald Cardinal Gracias, then shared his thoughts on the event, commenting on how the presence of Mother Teresa could actually be felt! He shared further vignettes from Mother’s life and urged everyone, once again, to follow this wonderful model in our time – her mission and even more, her deep faith.  He congratulated the Missionaries of Charity for ‘their Saint’ and commended the other religious institutes for their inspiring work among the more distressed in society, urging them to follow the path of sainthood, as well. 

Fr. Savio D’Souza, Parish Priest, was fervent in his gratitude to everyone who helped with the evening’s program as he gave the ‘Vote of Thanks’.

Saint Teresa of Calcutta’s relic was then brought in procession by the Missionaries of Charity and, after the prayer of blessing by His Lordship, Bishop Alwyn Barreto, the people came forward to venerate the relic and be touched by a saint. 

May we follow your example, Mother Teresa, to discern God’s call and, like you, be what we’re called to be: Christ’s loving heart and hands and feet, healing those who hurt, the lost and least.  Pray for us, O Mother, lead us to our God.

Link to Photographs:

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