A return home for the canonization of Teresa
A Welland priest who says he met Mother Teresa on three occasions will be at her canonization Sunday in St. Peter’s Square in Rome.
She was “inspirational and moving” says Rev. Paul Vellakunnathu, who lived in India’s Kerala state and became a priest there 36 years ago.
In his mind’s eye he has a clear, indelible picture of the diminutive woman, especially her face: “She had a great, welcoming smile, one that transmitted great joy. It was very telling.”
Tiny though she was, he sees her as a “pillar” of strength and of rich personal example for followers.
The encounters he had with her were in the early 1980s. The first was when Mother Teresa was invited to visit the seminary he was at, the two others when he visited the mother house of the Missionaries of Charity, the religious community of sisters she founded, in Calcutta (also now known as Kolkata).
Vellakunnathu, 62, says he came away from those encounters with deeper feeling for her life’s work, a ministry of charity, compassion and mercy.
He has been a priest here in the Roman Catholic Diocese of St. Catharines since 2001.
He is pastor at St. Andrew the Apostle Church at East Main Street and St. Andrew Avenue in Welland. Previous assignments were at Our Lady of the Holy Rosary in Thorold and St. Elizabeth in Wainfleet.
Some clergy and laypeople from the diocese are already on pilgrimage in Italy for the canonization, with still others arriving in the next day or two. Vellakunnathu will be leaving later Thursday.
He says one of the reasons for deciding to attend the canonization is obvious: Mother Teresa’s connection to India, his homeland.
“I think of her as one of us.”
Another is because of the admiration he had for her when she was alive.
“When I was in India I was involved in many parish activities and she was an inspiration to me.”
Mother Teresa’s road to sainthood hasn’t been without detractors.
According to news reports, critics have emerged. They charge that some of the Missionaries of Charity lacked proper training to care for the sick and dying and some of their facilities such as treatment centres and hospitals did not meet health standards. But Vellakunnathu counters with: “There will always be critics, people who find fault.” He says the good that has been done over the years for so many people speaks for itself.
Personally, he tries to live his life on Mother Teresa’s example.
He says Mother Teresa found inspiration in Christ’s Sermon on the Mount: Blessed are the poor in spirit, the humble of heart, the peacemakers, the merciful …
It was her blueprint for living, he says. He tries to make it his as well.
And her unwavering example caring for the unwanted and unloved gives him deep-seated appreciation for the meaning of mercy: “Mercy is not some theory or idea. It has to be lived. People have to experience it, from one to the other.”
What will be his cherished takeaway from the joyous mass of canonization? Will it be a commemorative rosary or two, or prayer cards for friends and parishioners, or medals? Or will it be something more?
“I think I will be invigorated to continue in my life of service. I think I will be strengthened to stay on my personal journey following the Lord. I think I will be humbled knowing that a great thing has happened and it happened in my lifetime to someone I met. All this is what I will take away.”
Lifelong Welland resident Joe Barkovich has spent much of that time watching people. He continues to be amazed seeing the best and not so best in us, but that’s life. Get a glimpse of how Joe sees our part of the world in his weekly column. He can be reached at: email@example.com.