Vigneron urges: Find your ‘Calcutta’ like Mother Teresa

James David Dickson, and Mark Hicks
DetroitNews

Detroit — Pope Francis granting sainthood to Mother Teresa was cause for celebration on Sunday at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament, where the Detroit Archbishop urged parishioners to find their own ‘Calcutta’

The 90-minute service was led by Archbishop Allen Vigneron, who started by admitting a mistake — church leaders had grossly underestimated the size of the crowd, and printed up only about 300 programs.

“We did not plan accordingly,” Vigneron said.

Vigneron’s sermon focused on what he sees as the lessons of Saint Teresa’s life, and the centrality of Jesus in her missionary charity work in Calcutta, India (renamed to Kolkata in 2001). He set Saint Teresa’s work as a bar everyone could meet, in their own way — provided they make the necessary commitment.

“If you’re not all in with Jesus, you’re not in at all,” Vigneron said. “There is no negotiating with Jesus. Because he gives us everything, how could we be content with anything less than our whole self?”

In Calcutta, Vigneron said: “(Saint Teresa) saw Jesus in the most needy and most broken people in the street.” He urged the hundreds of faithful in attendance to maintain a similar high regard for “the last and lost and least among us.”

On a day celebrating a woman known for her modesty, Vigneron assured the faithful that Saint Teresa wouldn’t have been embarrassed by the attention, because she would’ve said that the glory was not for her, but for Jesus.

“St. Peter’s (Square) was filled today because of Jesus,” Vigneron said. “Her face was in the paper today because of Jesus.”

Vigneron shared two lessons to take from Saint Teresa’s life.

The first was a turn of phrase that became famous as Teresa’s work in then-called Calcutta. Her work became globally known — eventually earning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 — and others sought to join her there in India. Then-Mother Teresa would turn them away, urging them to “Stay away. Find your own Calcutta.”

Sister Mary Johnice, a New York nun, recalls being told exactly that in the mid-80s. In an interview with WRAL.com, Johnice said she had traveled to Calcutta at the end of her time in seminary school, hoping to meet Teresa and join in the good work. She was surprised by what came next.

“She said to me, ‘No, I want you to go back to your neighborhood, find the poor, find your own Calcutta,’” Johnice recalls. “I said, ‘Mother, how do you do that?’ She said, ‘You look at the people, look into their eyes and find Jesus. Those will be the poor.’”

“Ask where are you sending me to be a missionary of love?” Vigneron urged. “We must do that, each of us.”

The second lesson: Join her in praising God for His accomplishments.

“What the power of the Holy Spirit did for her, it will do in us, if we surrender ourselves to Jesus,” Vigneron said. Jesus, he continued, “can’t be a kind of hobby. He can’t be a lifestyle resource, something we use to decorate our existence. He is life itself.”

Afterward, several churchgoers shared their thoughts on Teresa’s life and how they’ve tried to learn from her example.

Phyllis Davis Williams, 69, started her morning watching Teresa’s canonization and ended it in celebration of the same.

Davis Williams, a West Bloomfield resident who calls St. Moses the Black on Oakman Boulevard her church home, said Teresa’s example would be a positive one for children to follow, especially in an election year heavy on divisive politics.

“We need her reflection in the spirit of our kids,” Davis Williams said. “She is an example of what the heart of the church is really about.”

Daniel Carlin, 19, treasurer of the Students for Life group at Oakland University who has been involved in the pro-life movement since childhood, said that seeing after the unborn and the women who carry babies is his “Calcutta.”

“About time,” Carlin said was his reaction to Teresa’s canonization.

“If anyone has ever deserved to be a saint, it is her,” said Carlin, whose home parish is the National Shrine of the Little Flower Basilica in Royal Oak. He also attended the Shrine High School.

Patty Breen of Farmington, 30, and her friend Emily Foust of Northville, 39, call the Church of the Holy Family in Novi home, but came to Blessed Sacrament for the celebration.

Breen said her “Calcutta” is working with young people, helping teenagers find their way.

Foust’s Calcutta: Extending to the downtrodden the love she receives from God.

“She lived in our lifespan — what she did is attainable,” Breen said.

“She brings sainthood to reality,” Foust said. “I remember seeing her, hearing about her good works.”

Those works, Vigneron reminds, required total dedication, which he urged churchgoers to show in their daily lives.

Majlinda Preka Thom, a parishioner at St. Paul on the Lake Catholic Church in Grosse Pointe Farms, attended the ceremony at the Vatican with more than 200 others who traveled from Michigan "to celebrate a once in a lifetime event." Thom, a travel agent who was born in Lezhe, Albania, and raised in Italy, coordinated the trip to Rome.

"Blessed Mother Teresa means so much to me because of nationalistic pride, of course," she said. "But even more so because of her example to Catholic virtue, charity and spirituality.  Her love of Jesus was the source of her love of humanity, making her not just a saint for just Catholics but for all Christians and, indeed, all humanity."

Tringa Gojcaj, who attends St. Paul Albanian Catholic Church in Rochester Hills, also was in Rome.

"I am so proud of who Mother Teresa is for our faith and our culture as an Albanian," Gojcaj said. "More importantly, Mother Teresa is the mother of peace to the entire world because she brings all religions together in her messages and shows compassion, love and hope on a global level. We live in a changing world, and the world needs so much more faith, love, hope and compassion."

jdickson@detroitnews.com