September 9, 2016, Rome – Sister Donna Markham, OP, President and CEO of Catholic Charities USA (CCUSA), attended the September 4, 2016, canonization of Mother Teresa, as an official representative of the President, Barack Obama.
“I’m very humbled to be asked by the President to represent him and the U.S. on this occasion,” Sister Donna said. “Mother Teresa did so much to call attention to the plight of the poorest of the poor, and now it is our responsibility to continue that ministry as we work to change the systems that have resulted in this suffering of the most vulnerable.”
Others in the U.S. presidential delegation were Carolyn Woo, President and CEO of Catholic Relief Services (CRS); Kenneth Hackett, U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican; Hon. Suzanne George, Special Assistant to the President for National Security; and Lisa Monaco, Deputy Secretary for Homeland Security. The group traveled from Andrews Air Force Base on a military jet and were met by police escort at Ciampino Airport in Rome.
The Mass was celebrated by Pope Francis at the Vatican’s St. Peter’s Square, where Sister Donna said the Presidential Delegation was seated in the diplomat section, on the level with the altar and across from cardinals and bishops.
“The liturgy was moving and quite beautiful, including Taize and Gregorian chant, all with the antiphonal singing between the choir and the people,” she said. The group was seated in the hot sun on a 95-degree day for the 90-minute canonization liturgy, she added.
Sister Donna was impressed by the energy of Pope Francis, who took time after the Canonization Liturgy to greet some of the bishops and then rode through the crowd of 120,000 people. “After that, he threw a pizza party for the homeless of Rome,” she noted.
Born in 1910 in what is now Skopje, Macedonia, Mother Teresa joined the Sisters of Loreto and, while teaching and later serving as principal in Calcutta, India, she felt the call to serve the sick, destitute, and dying of Calcutta. She founded the Missionaries of Charity in the Archdiocese of Calcutta and, until her death on September 5, 1997, directed her order and continued her service to those most in need.
Through the canonization process, the Catholic Church declares that Mother Teresa has lived a life of heroic virtue and is worthy of imitation and veneration by members of the universal Church.