About a thousand people turned out in Battery Park Sunday to celebrate the canonization of Saint Teresa of Calcutta as a statue of the iconic and famously selfless missionary was blessed by Bishop Gerald Walsh, vicar general of the Archdiocese of New York.
The woman once known as “Mother Teresa” had her sainthood fast-tracked by the Vatican; her canonization occurred one day short of the 19th anniversary of her death in 1997 at the age of 87. Her life of service and selflessness was an inspiration for people of “all faiths and even for those with no faith,” said Walsh, who also celebrated Mass at the event.
The Albanian community was out in force – and in all its diversity – to honor the legacy of Saint Teresa, who was born Anjeze Gonxhe Bojaxhiu in Skopje before founding the Missionaries of Charity, which required adherents to give “wholehearted free service to the poorest of poor,” and helped suffering, impoverished people around the globe. Assemb. Mark Gjonaj, a Bronx Democrat of Albanian descent – organized the event and
"Dancing with the Stars" hoofer Tony Dovolani (“born and raised in Pristina”) emceed portions of the program, which included Albanian dancing and singing.
“This means a lot for our community: We’re a very small community and underrepresented in terms of international respect,” explained Nick Beqi, 34, a project manager who lives in Yonkers. Saint Teresa, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, is probably the most famous Albanian in the world, he noted.
“It feels like she’s one of us, almost like a relative, because of her heritage. She’s a mother to the world,” said Lisa Junca, a mom from Westtown, New York, who attended the celebration with many members of her church, Hartsdale’s Our Lady of Shkodra.
“She believed all religions should be united – she loved everybody,” said Mehribane Radoniqi, a Muslim refugee who fled Albania for the United States in 1999 during the war in Kosovo. The retired teacher, who lives in Astoria, Queens, said she hoped Saint Teresa’s message of healing the world through acts of radical, non-judgmental love “will inspire everybody” to mimic her example.
Saint Teresa proved that success in life “can only be measured by how much love you share,” Dovolani said. “If you don’t share your love, if you don’t share your passion ... You have not succeeded,” he said.
Walsh preached that the best way to celebrate Saint Teresa’s legacy was to “take responsibility” for keeping it alive and vibrant. He urged admirers to put her ideals into action by visiting the sick, feeding the hungry, helping the elderly, sheltering the homeless and praying for those who are confused or in trouble.