Mother Teresa once made an incognito visit to a prison in Rome

MadreTeresaCarcel DanielIbanezACIPrensa 310816 Missionaries of Charity at a prison in Rome. Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Twenty-two years ago, Mother Teresa of Calcutta quietly visited the Regina Coeli prison in Rome, and now, just days before her canonization, she has "returned" for another visit, thanks to the help of technology.

The Regina Coeli prison in Rome, located not far from the Vatican, hosted an emotional encounter of detainees and two Missionaries of Charity – members of the congregation that Mother Teresa founded – who were able to bring the soon-to-be saint to life through a documentary film teaching more about her.

The prison currently houses 900 detainees, but in years prior, it had come to hold some 1,200. Father Vittorio Trani, a Conventual Franciscan and prison chaplain for 38 years, knew them all. He explained to CNA that Mother Teresa visited the prison in May 1994.

"She came somewhat incognito. I gave permission so they would let her in (because of the heavy security measures) but I didn't tell anyone about it. She came in and attended Mass with a few detainees. It was very emotional," he related.

"We had set aside a nice chair for her in the middle, but when she came and saw it, she looked at me and said no and went to another simple chair that was in the back," the priest recalled with a smile.

"Like other great saints, Mother Teresa has a lot of importance here also because the detainees see her as someone close (to them), she had that ability to be close to people," he noted.

The priest explained that "we organized this encounter; it's a very good occasion for the prisoners who don't know her to get to do so" but especially to "bring them the message she came to announce to them."

"This Sunday, the day of the canonization, we will celebrate a Mass, and then afterwards everyone will be able to see the ceremony on the television they have in their cells," he said.

Fr. Trani said that "pastoral ministry in this prison is somewhat different" because "they stay here for a short time, just until the first court proceedings."

"We do a pastoral ministry of encounter, where we sow and then we'll see if it remains and then bears fruit, but we give them a word of hope and try to stand alongside the person." In addition, we have celebrations such as the Eucharist and periods of prayer," he added.

In his opinion, prison "is one of the privileged places where God is most felt" because "the reality of being without freedom or without family leads all of them to reflect on what is the fundamental point of their lives."

Father Brian Kolodiejchuk, the postulator for the cause of Mother Teresa, was also at the event, along with Sister Patrick – a representative of the congregation in Calcutta – and Sister Cyrenne. They carried in procession a reliquary of Mother Teresa's blood from the prison chapel.

Sister Cyrenne explained to the detainees that the future saint "needs to be placed within a specific historical situation."

"God called her and entered into our history, he became present, he called and there was a response of love. Mother Teresa said 'yes.'"

The concluding highlights of the visit were the testimonies read by some of the detainees, visibly moved, in which they especially spoke of the need to have peace and hope.

Once the encounter was over, Sister Patrick and Sister Cyrenne gave out holy cards of Mother Teresa to everyone and placed a medal of the saint of Calcutta around their necks as they spoke with them and encouraged them.

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