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Bishops vote to add Mother Teresa to calendar

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The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) recently voted nearly unanimously to request that Mother Teresa’s feast day be added to the General Roman Calendar as an optional memorial. It is now going to the Vatican for further approval.

The Feast of St. Teresa of Calcutta, better known in life as Mother Teresa, is observed on Sept. 5, the anniversary of her death. 

Mother Teresa died on Sept. 5, 1997, at age 87.

The U.S. bishops voted 227 to 3 on Wednesday, Nov. 15, to approve the request, easily surpassing the required two-thirds majority, during their Fall 2023 Plenary Assembly in Baltimore, Maryland. 

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If approved, this means that September 5 would be designated as an “optional memorial” for the Feast of Saint Teresa of Calcutta. Mother Teresa was canonized and given the name “St. Teresa of Calcutta” in 2016.  

In the Catholic Church, an optional memorial is defined as “all feast days of saints whose memory the Church encourages the faithful to celebrate, without strictly requiring their observance,” says the website Catholic Culture. 

Mother Teresa surrounded by children in Calcutta

The U.S. bishops voted nearly unanimously to request that the Vatican add Mother Teresa’s feast day to the General Roman Calendar of the Church.  (Tim Graham/Getty Images)

A priest who is celebrating Mass or a person who is praying the Liturgy of the Hours can opt to observe this remembrance. 

In an interview, Bishop Robert Barron of the Diocese of Winona-Rochester told Fox News Digital that if approved, Mother Teresa’s feast day would be honored “not as something specific to [the United States] but on the General Roman Calendar.” 

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The General Roman Calendar contains “both the entire cycle of celebrations of the mystery of salvation in the Proper of Time, and that of those Saints who have universal significance and therefore are obligatorily celebrated by everyone, and of other Saints who demonstrate the universality and continuity of sainthood within the People of God,” says the website for the USCCB. 

Ethan Maya Hawke Bishop Robert Barron

Bishop Robert Barron told Fox News Digital that he believed Mother Teresa was “the most obvious example of holiness in the world” during her life.  (Word on Fire)

Observing a saint’s feast day is “a special way to commemorate a saint and to ask for that saint’s intercession,” said Barron. 

“It’s a way to bring that saint’s life very vividly to mind and ask for her spiritual help.” 

Mother Teresa, said Barron, was “the most obvious example of holiness in the world” during her lifetime. 

There was an “amazing quality of her witness,” he said, adding that her work with the poor was “a very profound commitment to prayer.” 

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Mother Teresa also grappled with “spiritual darkness” and depression throughout most of her adult life, something revealed a decade after her death, noted Barron.

“I think what that did is made her more appealing, and more amazing, that this woman with this inner darkness managed to live this life of heroic sanctity,” he said.

Mother Teresa in a November 1960 photo.

Mother Teresa, the founder of the Missionaries of Charity, died in 1997. Her feast day is observed on Sept. 5, the anniversary of her death. (Keystone Features/Getty Images)

Mother Teresa “is of great relevance to our time and great spiritual power,” said Barron.

Previously, the bishops voted in 2021 to add the observance to the calendar, but ran into issues with the Vatican. 

It was highly unusual for a country to add an optional memorial to its calendar for someone who was not generally associated with the country, the USCCB said on Wednesday. 

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In 1996, Congress named Mother Teresa an honorary citizen of the United States, but she was born in Albania and spent the majority of her life in India.

Since 2011, two optional memorials have been added to the U.S. calendar, honoring St. Marianne Cope and Bl. Francis Xavier Seelos, says the USCCB. 

Both Cope and Seelos were in Germany, but they lived, ministered and died in what is now the United States. 

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The Catholic Church in the United States also observes July 14 as the Memorial of St. Kateri Tekakwitha, a Mohawk-Algonquain woman who was born in what is now New York, says the website for the Saint Kateri Tekakwitha National Shrine and Historic Site. 

The U.S. bishops also voted to advance the cause for canonization of Servant of God Isaac Thomas Hecker, a New York priest who founded the Paulist Fathers. Hecker died in 1888. 

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