Mahony's dramatic public exhortation came just hours after he faxed a letter to the Vatican calling for her canonization. While other leading bishops have said that Mother Teresa should be made a saint, none have gone as far as Mahony in calling for her elevation within three years.
"While for many of us in the church there is a process that must be gone through, yet for the poorest people of the world they've already finished the process. She is their saint!" Mahony declared. "And she is our saint, regardless of what it says in the book."
Canonizing Mother Teresa in three years would be unprecedented. It can take decades, even centuries, for an individual to be pronounced a saint.
Mahony's announcement surprised and delighted an audience of more than 1,000 of the faithful who gathered Wednesday night at St. Vincent Church in downtown Los Angeles for Southern California's largest tribute to the Calcutta nun who became known as the "saint of the gutters."
Mahony, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Los Angeles, said that Mother Teresa, who died Friday in Calcutta at 87, is already a saint for millions around the world, particularly the poor.
Mahony's remarks, which drew prolonged applause, were made against the dramatic backdrop of a great baroque reredos behind the high altar depicting historic saints of the church.
"What a great way to bring in the new century, the new millennium," Mahony continued, "by declaring Mother Teresa of Calcutta [as] St. Teresa of Calcutta!"
In pleading Mother Teresa's cause, Mahony placed himself squarely within what appear to be growing ranks of bishops as well as parishioners moved by someone they see as a saintly woman who served the poorest of the poor and who became a exemplar of selfless devotion and personal piety.
Earlier this week, Cardinal John J. O'Connor of New York said, "I personally would canonize her tomorrow. I think she is a saint in heaven."
Meanwhile in Rome on Tuesday, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the church's doctrinal congregation, cautioned that the canonization of Mother Teresa would have to follow the rules. Even so, Ratzinger allowed that in her case the process could be accelerated.
Mother Teresa, he said, had a "life so resplendent before the eyes of all, that I don't think it will be too long a process."
Pope John Paul in 1983 revised and simplified the procedures for declaring someone a saint. But the road to sainthood can be formidable, even with the revisions. A preliminary step is the introduction of the cause by a petitioner who writes to a bishop. The bishop then assigns a postulator who investigates the life and writings of the person.
The results of this investigation, a biography, and all published writings are presented to a bishop. Reports of miracles are investigated.
Finally, the documents are sent to Rome and reviewed by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. The process involves first beatification and finally canonization.
But for more than a thousand gathered in Los Angeles on a humid Wednesday night in the nave of St. Vincent Church, the works of Mother Teresa spoke for themselves.
"She was a great woman. She should have been made a saint before this," said Carmen Minjarez of Los Angeles as she walked into the church. "She is, whether they make her one or not," Minjarez added.
In reverent prayer and solemn liturgy, members of Mother Teresa's order in their trademark white-and-blue saris, 42 priests and deacons in white albs, as well as those in pews and wheelchairs, businessmen and old women, children and young mothers, prayed the rosary and joined in Holy Communion.
"We are called to match her ideal, the ideal in our own lives," Mahony said, " . . . and find in each one the face of our loving Lord Jesus."
Turning to problems in Los Angeles, he said, "We have more than enough work to keep us busy after the example of Mother Teresa for decades to come."
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