Mother Teresa now has a place among Joan of Arc, John the Baptist, Francis of Assisi and the apostle Peter since being named a saint in the Roman Catholic Church on Sept. 4.
The process of canonization may be common knowledge to Catholics, but to Mormons, the concept of sainthood may be unclear.
Mother Teresa has been quoted in General Conference and mentioned at other LDS Church events as an example of Christlike love and service. Her influence on the LDS church suggests there is something Mormons can learn about her and the Catholic Church’s canonization process.
“It’s a long process, actually,” said Mauro Properzi, an assistant professor who teaches world religion at BYU. “It requires passage through four different stages. The first one gives you the title of ‘servant of God,’ the second one ‘venerable,’ the third one ‘blessed,’ and finally, the fourth one ‘saint.’ For each stage there is a process of evaluation and study, and there are specific requirements at each stage.”
Mother Teresa went through this same process to become a saint when Pope John Paul submitted her name for beatification soon after her death in 1997.
Properzi further explained that for a person to be considered “blessed,” there needs to be one miracle demonstrated in a person’s name that cannot be scientifically explained, or they need to have one facilitated through them.
To be canonized, however, there needs to be evidence of two such miracles. Only when people are canonized are they considered universally as saints. Then they can be venerated, which means they can be prayed to in order to intercede on a person’s behalf in communication with God.
According to Catholic doctrine, praying to a saint does not mean worshiping the saint, but rather venerating them.
“One of the key differences between veneration and worship is that in worship, the object of your worship is the final destination of your act of devotion and that can only be God,” Properzi said. “So you’re worshiping God in and of himself as God. Whereas if you’re venerating, you are venerating someone as an instrument to lead you to God. If that person becomes the final destination, then you go into what would be considered idolatry because they are not to be worshiped.”
The purpose of saints for Catholics is to gain access to God and, therefore, help people with things they need. Angelina Newmeyer converted to the LDS Church in her native country of Chile after growing up Catholic and had many positive experiences praying to saints.
“They were really important. I always loved them,” Newmeyer said. “When you are Catholic you ask them for favors, and if they do it you give something back.”
She also said there are certain sanctuaries or shrines devoted to saints to which people can walk and light candles as a form of thanks.
“When you ask something, most of the time what you give them is that in a specific day you walk for a few kilometers and you light a candle and you give them some money. Not a lot, just a couple of dollars,” Newmeyer said. “But the most important part is when you walk and you make that sacrifice. You find a place that would take one or two hours to walk. And you say, (for example) if my father gets better, I’m going to walk from point B to the sanctuary.”
Historically, saints have been martyrs or have shown great devotion to God in various ways. Mother Teresa is no exception. Though she was not of the LDS faith, she emulated many of the same principles members of the LDS church strive to live by. She was well known for helping the poor and destitute and for loving unconditionally.
“Mother Teresa taught us that sacrificing something as simple as new clothing or a meal or a cultural rite of passage could change a life,” said Elder Robert C. Gay in a 2013 commencement address at BYU-Idaho.
“She is a beautiful model of compassion and mercy, brought even more in focus this year as we celebrate the Jubilee Year of Mercy as declared by Pope Francis,” said Susan Dennin, Director of Communications at the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City. “Her canonization recognizes the holiness of her life. From her own writings we know she often struggled to persevere. Yet, her faith in God was unwavering and shows us an example we can try to emulate.”