This story appeared in the October 1992 issue of Columbia.
The 1992 States Dinner at the Order’s 110th annual meeting was given a special dimension by the presentation of the newly created Knights of Columbus Gaudium et Spes (Joy and Hope) Award to Mother Teresa of Calcutta, foundress and superior general of the Missionaries of Charity. The award was established as a special part of the Order’s Quincentenary celebration and the Church’s observance of 500 years of evangelization in the Americas.
The Gaudium et Spes Award takes its inspiration, as well as its name, from the opening words of the Second Vatican Council’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World. In its opening lines, the council fathers describe the “intimate bond between the Church and mankind” in these words:
“The joys and hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these too are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts. For theirs is a community composed of men. United in Christ, they are led by the Holy Spirit in their journey to the kingdom of their Father and they have welcomed the news of salvation which is meant for every man. That is why this community realizes that it is truly and intimately linked with mankind and its history.”
The award presentation was made prior to the traditionally gala States Dinner to accommodate the simple routines of Mother Teresa and the 14 members of her Missionaries of Charity who were present. They did not stay for the banquet with its customary music and celebration.
Supreme Knight Virgil C. Dechant presented the world-revered nun with a gold medal and a $100,000 award in recognition of her humanitarian service in the name of Jesus. The gold medal depicts on one side the crucifix of Pope John Paul II’s crosier against a background of global longitudinal and latitudinal lines and on the other side, Father Michael J. McGivney, the Order’s founder, comforting a widow and orphans.
Supreme Knight Dechant told the applauding audience that out of sensitivity to Mother Teresa’s apostolate to the needy, the board of directors had voted to donate an amount equal to the cost of the evening’s dinner to the Missionaries of Charity for their work with the poor. The amount of the check was expected to be more than the award stipend.
Cardinal John O’Connor of New York greeted Mother Teresa as the saintly first recipient of the Gaudium et Spes Award. In his anecdotal remarks that gave the crowd a better feel for Mother Teresa’s humanity as well as her holiness, Cardinal O’Connor recounted what happened earlier that day after a meeting between Mother Teresa and members of the hierarchy who were invited to meet her following the opening Mass of the Knights’ 110th annual meeting.
When he went to escort Mother Teresa from his residence to the car that was waiting to take her back to the Missionaries of Charity convent in Brooklyn, a small crowd of people, hearing that Mother Teresa was at the cardinal’s residence, had gathered on the street. As he helped her into the car, he said, he could hear a woman in the crowd sobbing loudly. Making his way to where the woman was standing, he could see that she was with a gentleman with multiple disabilities in a wheelchair. He tried to console her, but it was to no avail. She had hoped and prayed that Mother Teresa would simply touch the man. Hearing her story, Cardinal O’Connor said he made his way back to Mother Teresa’s car and explained the incident to her. Mother Teresa got out of the car and greeted the tearful woman and her companion.
In making the formal citation, Supreme Chaplain Bishop Thomas V. Daily of Brooklyn, N.Y., said that Mother Teresa “has captured the attention of the world by a simple stratagem: preaching and living Christ’s message of love.”
Bishop Daily concluded: “This is one of the finest moments in the Order’s 110-year history. With all humility, the Knights of Columbus is deeply honored to present its first Gaudium et Spes Award – named for the great document of the Second Vatican Council affirming the Church’s commitment to serve humankind in the name of Jesus Christ – to Mother Teresa of Calcutta.”
Following the award ceremony, Mother Teresa, accompanied by several of her sisters, left the Marriott Marquis ballroom. Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston offered the invocation opening the ceremony, and Cardinal James Hickey of Washington led the benediction at its conclusion, joined by the members of the hierarchy on the dais.
The text of Mother Teresa’s remarks follows:
“We give thee thanks Almighty God for these and all the other benefits which from on thy bounty we have received through Christ, our lord. Amen.
“Let us thank God for his great love in giving us this beautiful opportunity to thank the Knights of Columbus for all the good things they have done for the people of God. I accepted to come, and to accept out of sheer gratitude, for they have done so much for our congregation and for our poor. We have no other way of showing our gratitude to them, only by our life of prayer and fidelity to the works of love that we have every chance and opportunity to do for our poor.
“Let us ask Our Lady to give us her heart, so beautiful, so pure, so immaculate, her heart so full of love and humility, that we may be able to receive Jesus in the bread of life, love him as she loved him and serve him in the distress in his disguise of the poorest of the poor. One of the most beautiful gifts of God to our congregation is the beautiful gift to serve and to put our love for Jesus in living action in serving the poorest of the poor. By doing that, the aim of our congregation is to associate with the test of Jesus on the cross for love of souls. And this beautiful gift of God to our congregation, to be able to do that in giving tender love and care to the poor, to the dying, to the crippled, to the mental, to the unwanted, to the unloved, to the lepers, and so bring new life and new joy into their lives, for all this time they feel so unwanted and so unloved.
“Let us thank God together for his great love and also, I want to thank the families that have been so generous in giving their children, for God has blessed our congregation with many beautiful vocations. And as the fruit of these vocations, we have been able to spread the joy of loving all over the world in many places where people feel unwanted, unloved, the poorest of the poor, the sick and the dying. Please let us, each one of you, thank God also for having chosen your children to be his own priests or his own sisters, his own spouses. So let us thank God together for his great love and also for what the Knights of Columbus has done to spread so much love and care throughout the world by their devotion, by their devoted service.
“I want you all in a very special prayer to pray for our people throughout the world who suffer so much, not only hungry for bread but tremendously hungry for love, for being something, somebody. I never forget. I picked up a man from the street eaten up with worms. And when I brought him to our home, the only thing he said was ‘I live like an animal in the street, but I am going to die like an angel ̶ with love and care.’ It took us nearly three hours to take from his body all the worms and when all that was finished, he just looked at the sisters and said, ‘I am going home to God.’ And there was such a beautiful smile on his face because he received love and care, and he went away to God with a great joyful heart, because he was loved to the end. So I think these are small things, and that God gives us the opportunity to do it with him, and for him, and to him.
“The work has been a means for many, many people, especially for the young people that come from all over the world to Calcutta, to work with the sisters and serve the poorest of the poor. It is very beautiful to see them coming for holy Mass in the morning and for adoration in the evening and the whole day, working without going around to Calcutta to see what is happening or anything, but just spending their days in giving tender love and care.
“So we have much to thank God for the gift of this beautiful way of serving him in the poorest of the poor because Jesus really came to give us that good news that God loves us and that he wants us to love one another. To make it easy for us to love one another, he said, ‘Whatever you do to the least, you do it to me. I was hungry, I was naked, I was homeless, you did it to me.’ And when we die and go home to God, again we hear that same sentence. ‘Come, you blessed of my father, and fulfill the kingdom prepared for you. Because I was hungry and you gave me to eat; I was naked and you clothed me; I was homeless and you took me in; I was sick and in prison and you visited me.’ What a beautiful opportunity to be 24 hours with Jesus and the poorest of the poor.
“So let us thank God for every little opportunity that we get. And where does this love begin? In our own family. How does it begin? By praying together. The family that prays together stays together. And if you stay together, you love one another as God loves each one in that family. So let us petition that graceful God to bring prayer, unity and joy into our own family, and only then will we be able to give that joy and that peace wherever and to whomever it may be. I often say, ‘Keep the joy of loving Jesus in your heart and share this joy with all you meet, especially with your own family first. For love begins at home.
“I want to thank you once more for all of the beautiful gifts of God you have given to the congregation, our congregation that we have, those many beautiful vocations. And pray that we continue God’s work with great love and that love determines his work. As you know, we have God’s sisters, brothers and now we have also fathers who are consecrating their life totally to God and in a special way by giving wholehearted free service to the poorest of the poor. This is the gift of God to our congregation; it is a vow made special and we give that joy of loving to our people who have been unwanted, unloved and uncared for so many years. So pray for us that we continue God’s work with great love. And our gratitude, my gratitude to each one of you, is my prayer for you that you may grow in holiness because Jesus very clearly said, ‘Be holy as the father of heaven is holy.’ And holiness is not the luxury of the few. It is a simple duty for you and for me. That is right. We have made one strong resolution: I will, I will with God’s blessing, be holy. This is my prayer for you that you grow in holiness to want that love for one another, and by sharing this love with all you know.
Editor emeritus of the New Haven Register, Robert Leeney serves as a public relations consultant to the Supreme Council.
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