St. Teresa of Kolkata

Wait a minute, NPR: Catholics are the only Christians who seek the help of the saints?

Wait a minute, NPR: Catholics are the only Christians who seek the help of the saints?

The other day I received a note from a GetReligion reader who clearly knows some theology.

The email concerned a passage in a National Public Radio story about St. Teresa of Kolkata that our reader knew, since I am an Eastern Orthodox layman, would punch my buttons. The reader was right. There is a good chance that NPR producers know little or nothing about Orthodox Christianity. Hold that thought.

The key to this case study is a very, very fine point of theology that is going to be hard to explain. It's possible that the story may have just barely missed the mark. However, it's more likely that it contains a spew-your-caffeinated beverage error that needs to be corrected.

Let's carefully tip-toe into this minefield. The passage in question focuses on the miracles, documented by church officials, that led to the canonization of the famous Albanian nun known as Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

A key quote comes from Bishop Robert Barron, the auxiliary bishop of the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Read carefully and, well, pay attention to details about theology and church history:

Humanitarian work alone, however, is not sufficient for canonization in the Catholic Church. Normally, a candidate must be associated with at least two miracles. The idea is that a person worthy of sainthood must demonstrably be in heaven, actually interceding with God on behalf of those in need of healing.

Let me pause and note the presence of the word "interceding."

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After all the debates, the 'saint of the gutters' was officially proclaimed St. Teresa of Kolkata

After all the debates, the 'saint of the gutters' was officially proclaimed St. Teresa of Kolkata

So Mother Teresa of Calcutta is now officially St. Teresa of Kolkata.

Most of the coverage of the canonization rites played the story straight, with the joy -- and tensions -- of the day included in hard-news reports. We can let the Associated Press report that will be read by the majority of American news consumers sum up the coverage.

Oh, and tensions during the rites?

My only real criticism of the solid AP report is found right up top, when a key fact about the event was separated from its cause. Read carefully:

VATICAN CITY (AP) -- Elevating the "saint of the gutters" to one of the Catholic Church's highest honors, Pope Francis on Sunday praised Mother Teresa for her radical dedication to society's outcasts and her courage in shaming world leaders for the "crimes of poverty they themselves created."
An estimated 120,000 people filled St. Peter's Square for the canonization ceremony, less than half the number who turned out for her 2003 beatification. It was nevertheless the highlight of Francis' Holy Year of Mercy and quite possibly one of the defining moments of his mercy-focused papacy.

Look at that second sentence. Why the smaller crowd for this ceremony? Has enthusiasm for the cause of the tiny Albanian nun declined in the past decade?

Actually, no. Much, much later in the report there is this crucial reference.

While big, the crowd attending the canonization wasn't even half of the 300,000 who turned out for Mother Teresa's 2003 beatification celebrated by an ailing St. John Paul II. The low turnout suggested that financial belt-tightening and security fears in the wake of Islamic extremist attacks in Europe may have kept pilgrims away.

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