Keeler eulogizes Mother Teresa as example of 'prayer and faith' Baltimore farewell given at basilica Mass

September 08, 1997|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

Baltimoreans said farewell yesterday to Mother Teresa as they gathered for a Mass at the Basilica of the Assumption, the same place where the nun from Calcutta, India, last year brought her message of prayer, simplicity and commitment to the poor.

With four nuns of the Missionaries of Charity, the order founded by Mother Teresa, looking on from a front pew, Cardinal William H. Keeler eulogized her as someone "who by her example of prayer and faith could encourage us to see and believe God's spiritual presence at work in our world."

Keeler noted that Mother Teresa, who died Friday of a heart attack in Calcutta, had a deep commitment to spirituality and spent long periods each day in prayer. But that was not what made her unique, he said.

"Other holy people have had a commitment to prayer," Keeler said. "And [what made her unique] was not simply a commitment to serve the poorest of the poor. Others have had a commitment to serve the poorest of the poor.

"But what Mother did was lead a life with the poor. She led her sisters and others who embraced her way to walk with the poor. Not above them, but with them, sharing their poverty, their simplicity and their kindness."

Mother Teresa visited Baltimore in 1992 for the dedication of the Gift of Hope Convent and returned in May 1996 for the renewal of vows of 35 Missionaries of Charity at the basilica. During that last visit, she also stopped by the Gift of Hope Convent in East Baltimore, where the Missionaries of Charity care for men dying of AIDS.

It was at that last stop at the convent that Charlene Williams of Westport asked Mother Teresa to bless her 8-year-old grandson, Anthony Chase, who was suffering from acquired immune deficiency syndrome and was in failing health.

"He had full-blown AIDS. It got to the point he was sleeping 15, 16 hours a day. He had no energy. He was out of school, getting home teaching," Williams said. "He could hardly talk to you. You could hardly understand what he was saying."

Williams asked Mother Teresa to give Anthony a blessing, which she did. "She just said a prayer and said that she wished us the best. Told us to keep praying and that's what we've all done," Williams said.

A couple of months later, Anthony's health is so much better that even his doctors are amazed, she said.

"They said it was just fantastic, his recovery," she said yesterday after the Mass, as Anthony stood by her, clutching a card with Mother Teresa's picture on it. "Look at him now, he's talking up a storm. We've truly been blessed."

She and Anthony attended the Mass yesterday to honor the memory of the woman she believes brought her grandson a miracle.

"I think if she's not a saint, she should be," Williams said.

During the Mass, Keeler noted that Mother Teresa had a sense of humor and love of life that she passed on to her sisters. Based on his visits to the Gift of Hope Convent, Keeler said Mother Teresa's nuns are not a grim lot.

"I think of all the homes in Baltimore, the Gift of Hope is a place that with all the prayer and singing, there is the most laughter," he said.

Keeler pointed out that it was somewhat late in Mother Teresa's life that she experienced a "call within a call" that caused her to leave her religious order and start a new life working for the poor.

"It was then in her 38th year that she found God calling her to serve in some way the poorest of the poor," Keeler said.

"And that began a new phase in the history of the life of our church" with the founding in 1950 of her order, the Missionaries of Charity.

The memorial Mass drew Catholics and other people of faith, and some out-of-town visitors. Mark and Janie Gayhart of Evansville, Ind., were visiting Baltimore when they heard news of the Mass for the woman who inspired their family.

"We have a little book of her sayings -- I love her sayings -- and we read them everyday," Janie Gayhart said. "We feel that we've got a saint in heaven now."

Pub Date: 9/09/97

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