For Margarita Butler, it was 30 years ago since she was in the presence of a saint. Butler, a member of Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Hot Springs Village, Arkansas, was happy to drive to the Cathedral of St. Andrew in Little Rock July 28 to view relics belonging to Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.
"It's an honor to touch anything that belonged to her," said Butler, who saw Mother Teresa in New Orleans in the 1980s. "I hope she will bless all of us who come and love her."
Butler was among about 1,200 people who passed through the church on that Wednesday night to view two first-class relics of Mother Teresa, a reliquary containing her blood and a reliquary containing her hair. First-class relics are the physical remains of a saint, including hair, bone or blood.
Three second-class relics also were on display. Her crucifix was worn at her waist from the time she made her first vows as a Sister of Loreto when she was 20 years old. The display also included the rosary and sandals she used at the time of her death. Second-class relics are items worn or owned by the saint. She used the crucifix, sandals and rosary until she died at age 87 in 1997.
Little Rock was the last stop on the tour of relics this summer through the East and Midwest. The tour was organized by the Missionaries of Charity to mark Blessed Teresa's birth 100 years ago. The relics were returned the next day to the motherhouse in Calcutta, India.
As the visitors entered the cathedral, local Missionaries of Charity handed everyone prayer cards and a blessed medal of Mother Teresa. Many people like Butler took several extra prayer cards and medals for parishioners back home.
Butler said she will put her three prayer cards in a special place.
"Every time I read my Bible, I will see Mother Teresa," she said.
The visitors then stood in line for 30 minutes or more while they waited to get close to the table with the relics. Many people touched their medals and prayer cards to the reliquaries or took photographs. Several people brought disabled relatives and friends to venerate the relics, and the sisters made special arrangements for those families to take priority during the viewing.
"Mother had a special love for the disabled," said Susan Holmes, a local volunteer for the Missionaries of Charity who organized the event.
Following the viewing of relics, Bishop Anthony B. Taylor and seven priests celebrated Mass for at least 400 parishioners. The bishop said many people are blind to the treasure offered by Jesus, but not this saint-to-be.
"Mother Teresa found this treasure hidden among people living on the streets of Calcutta and dying without loved ones to care for them in their final hours, people who were even poorer spiritually than they were materially," he said.
Following Mass, visitors continued to look at the relics for another 90 minutes.
"I really like Mother Teresa," said Wendy Gerard, a member of Immaculate Conception Church in North Little Rock. "I really like the things she did. I really felt honored that these people came down here to see us. It was so grand. It was just so grand."
Christine Murley, a member of Our Lady of the Holy Souls Church in Little Rock, brought two of her children with disabilities to the Mass. Her 16-year-old daughter, Sabrina, who has cerebral palsy, was particularly interested in seeing the relics.
"She's been one of the most spiritual children I have encountered," she said. "She wanted to come. She loves the Church. She loves Mother Teresa. Even with the heat and her epilepsy, I knew I had to bring her here."
Holmes said, "It was overwhelming. We expected 300 to 400 people to come. It was vastly larger than we contemplated." People started lining up two hours before the viewing started, she said.
A Mass will be celebrated at 5:30 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 26 at the Cathedral of St. Andrew in honor of Blessed Teresa's birthday. A new song, "Mother Teresa, All for Jesus," will be sung for the first time. On Sept. 4, in honor of Blessed Teresa's feast day Sept. 5, a Mass will be celebrated by Bishop Taylor at 9 a.m. at Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Little Rock.
Printed with permission from Arkansas Catholic, newspaper for the Diocese of Little Rock.