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National Shrine Grotto creates local Mother Teresa pilgrimage site

By Erik Anderson

National Shrine Grotto creates local Mother Teresa pilgrimage siteThe National Shrine Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes at Mount St. Mary’s University on Sunday held a special Mass and blessing to mark the canonization of St. Teresa of Calcutta and to dedicate a new prayer garden and statue in her name.

At the outdoor grotto Mass, which attracted about 1,500 attendees, Mount St. Mary’s professor the Rev. John Deitrick told the story of how the Albanian-born nun, who would come to be known to the world as Mother Teresa, was led on the path to sainthood.

After serving for about 20 years in India as a Sister of Loreto, he said, she was riding on a train in September 1946 when she “received this interior illumination as to what God willed for her, that is to serve the poorest of the poor.”

She felt that she had no choice but to follow what she felt was the will of God, Deitrick said, and would forever consider that moment on the train as the founding of the Missionaries of Charity, an order of Roman Catholic nuns, and later affiliated priests and laymen, dedicated to caring for the world’s poorest populations in 120 countries, especially in India.

Deitrick said that those who knew her personally described Mother Teresa as “delicate,” a trait that was difficult for the outside world to see given the hardships that she overcame in her 69 years of missionary work.

“In 1982 … she was in Beirut, Lebanon, and … she’s trying to convince the government official and the bishop to let her sisters cross the boundary line to go where the children were to bring them out,” Deitrick said of Mother Teresa’s involvement in the rescue of disabled children who were caught in a conflict between Israel Defense Forces and the Palestine Liberation Front. “[The official] said, ‘Mother, I need a cease-fire.’ She says, ‘Don’t worry; I have prayed.’ … Well, tomorrow came and there was a cease-fire, and she went. … This was delicate Mother Teresa.”

Dietrick said that while not every person is called to do her kind of work, Mother Teresa is an example of how all must strive to follow God’s plans for their lives, and that doing so starts with acts as simple as being kind to family members.

“It will cost us, though … because to be faithful to the conscience means to be faithful to God, and that means to turn away from the world because the world will entice you to do everything but that,” he said. “The world is passing, just as Mother Teresa has now passed, and we celebrate her life, but she’s alive now. She’s a saint in the kingdom of Heaven and … we’re all supposed to be there with her … so listen to the voice within, just as Mother Teresa did.”

Following the Mass, the faithful gathered for a dedication prayer in the recently completed prayer garden that surrounds a statue of Mother Teresa holding an infant. Director of the National Shrine Grotto Lori Stewart said that the landscaping work surrounding the statue is the culmination of three years of fundraising efforts to finish the project just in time for Mother Teresa’s canonization.

Mother Teresa visited the Grotto twice during her lifetime. The Mount St. Mary’s community felt it was appropriate to honor her with a prayer garden because she is “the saint of our times,” Stewart said.

The Rev. Michael Messaro said in the dedication prayer that it is appropriate for St. Teresa to be honored at the Grotto, a site of miraculous healing, and he prayed that “this garden dedicated to Mother Teresa of Calcutta be a place of prayer and meditation.”

Former Maryland state Sen. Frank Shore, in attendance at the dedication, said he contributed to the completion of the prayer garden because he wanted to “save people the airfare to Rome” by opening a local site of pilgrimage for Mother Teresa on her canonization day.

“I’ve been on a lot of campaigns over my life. This was the campaign of my life, to finish this,” he said. “But I didn’t want to complete it just any day; I wanted it for the canonization day.”

Peggy Vahid, 92, of Westminster, also in attendance, worked as a lay missionary with Mother Teresa in the 1980s and 1990s, and brought a photo album full of photographs that she took during her time with the saint.

“I think [Mother Teresa] would be uncomfortable with all this attention, but she couldn’t avoid it,” Vahid said. “She didn’t like her picture taken, but I took her picture so often, and she said to me, ‘Peggy, every time you take a picture of me, a soul gets out of Purgatory."

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