Editor’s note: As we celebrate the feast day of St. Teresa of Calcutta, we’d like to share with you this archived article of people’s reactions to her historic visit to Phoenix Feb. 1-2, 1989. It was originally published as “Packed arena hears a message of love” and written by then associate editor P.J. Zapor.
More than 15,000 people at the Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum Feb. 2 got to share the wisdom and message of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning nun whose work has inspired the world.
In the event planned just 96 hours before to cap off her trip to Phoenix, Mother Teresa of Calcutta was the key element of a joyously moving prayer service. The audience of both Catholics and non-Catholics included people who had arrived as much as two hours before in the hope of getting seats close enough to see the world-renowned missionary who came to Phoenix to open a foundation house to serve the poor.
Following Scripture readings and songs led by a group of musicians assembled from across the Valley, the founder of the Missionaries of Charity spoke for nearly a half hour. Surprising many participants with her frequent humorous anecdotes, Mother Teresa repeated themes common to her public appearances: urging Eucharistic Adoration and praying of the Rosary, especially by entire families; and frequently stressing simple acts of love can make the difference in solving the problems of the poor and unwanted.
SHE ALSO TOOK advantage of the participation of Gov. Rose Mofford in the prayer service, teasingly prodding the Catholic governor into agreeing to make sure the Missionaries of Charity have a house to shelter the homeless. Mofford offered to start a fund to pay for the needed house, kicking in a $5,000 donation of her own.
“I don’t want you to do something extraordinary,” Mother Teresa said to the participants. “I want you to do something simple, something loving. I don’t ask you to give to me from your abundance. I want you to share from your loving.”
Because Mother Teresa’s schedule is so spontaneous, the 90-minute prayer service was planned just a few days before, limiting the opportunities to organize group participation. Nevertheless, newspapers, television and radio stations spread the word and so many people came from across the state that an estimated 2,000 would-be participants were turned away from the filled Coliseum.
SHORTLY BEFORE MOTHER Teresa was scheduled to come onstage to begin the prayer service, the gathering crowd was led in the recitation of the Rosary in English and Spanish by retired Bishop William Gomes of Poona, India, and Fr . Marcel Salinas, CMF.
And while people indoors prayed the Rosary alongside others who were grabbing a quick hot dog, 120 teens from the confirmation classes at St. Timothy Parish in Mesa were fanning out across the Coliseum parking lot, collecting donated canned goods. In all, about 20 tons of food was donated. It was then distributed to the St. Mary’s, St. Vincent de Paul, United, Westside, Paz de Cristo and Feed My People food banks.
Two women who arrived two hours before the doors opened to secure prime seats said even though they’re Episcopalian, they were inspired to come because they didn’t participate in any activities related to Pope John Paul II‘s visit to Phoenix in 1987. “I felt bad about that, I didn’t want to miss this, too,” said Lynn Hart. Her companion, Judy Schrock said, “I figure this is the only chance I’ll get to see a saint in my lifetime.”
AS MOTHER TERESA, completed her remarks and was ushered away to the chorus of a standing ovation, some of the people waiting for traffic to subside before they left commented on what effect her words had on them.
Stan and Patty Tax, members of Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral, said they were especially touched by Mother Teresa’s stories of her own work and by the sorrow about abortion she expressed. Stan Tax said the message he would most take to heart was “you don’t have to go out and do something miraculous. Just something small can make the difference.”
Two women who already work with the homeless said Mother Teresa’s words would inspire them to keep up their efforts. Diane Hough said she was struck “by her deep love for the poor. That’s how she sees God.”
“I was impressed that the Catholic community rallied like this,” said Rosalie Rosati. “Since I work in this field, she really inspires me.
— By P.J. Zapor, The Catholic Sun.