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St. Teresa of Kolkata’s priestly protege celebrates Mass in Novato

08 8.31.17_FatherSebastianOLL2.4priests PAGEFather Sebastian Vazhakala, who co-founded the Missionaries of Charity contemplative religious institute with St. Teresa of Kolkata in 1979, is pictured at Our Lady of Loretto Church in Novato on Aug. 17 with pastor Father Brian Costello at his right. At Father Vashakula’s left are Father Joseph Illo, administrator of Star of the Sea Parish in San Francisco; and Our Lady of Loretto parochial vicar Father Juan Manuel Lopez. (Photo by Christina Gray/Catholic San Francisco)

August 31, 2017
Christina Gray

The priest who co-founded the Missionaries of Charity contemplative religious institute with St. Teresa of Kolkata in 1979 and later created and mobilized a lay order of the Missionaries of Charity reflected on the new saint’s love for Jesus during a Mass at Our Lady of Loretto Parish community Aug. 17.

“St. Teresa of Kolkata became a living, walking tabernacle,” Father Sebastian Vazhakala said in a homily that described how completely the “bread of life” sustained her. “When we receive Jesus, we can all be like that – living, walking tabernacles.”

Father Vazhakala encountered St. Teresa in 1966 ministering to the poor in the slums of his native India and left the prospect of a banking career behind to follow her example. Twenty-nine years after the Missionaries of Charity order was founded by St. Teresa in 1950, the two founded the priestly branch of the congregation known as the Missionaries of Charity-Contemplative. In 1994, the contemplative branch formed the international movement of the Lay Missionaries of Charity.

In 2004 he provided personal insight into Mother Teresa with the book, “Life with Mother Teresa: My 30-Year Friendship with the Mother of the Poor.”

The Mass with Father Vazhakala was an “unexpected blessing” according to Our Lady of Loretto pastor Father Brian Costello, closely coinciding as it did with the first anniversary of the canonization of St. Teresa of Kolkata by Pope Francis on Sept. 4, 2016. Father Vazhakala shared the altar with Father Costello; Father Juan Manuel Lopez, parochial vicar; and Father Joseph Illo, administrator of Star of the Sea Parish in San Francisco.

Congregants included three dozen lay Missionaries of Charity, several Sisters of Charity and Father Vazhakala’s sister, Leelamma Sebastian, who works  as the director of public relations for St. Patrick’s Seminary & University in Menlo Park.

Father Vazhakala told parishioners and visitors in the nearly packed church that just as food fuels our bodies, “to live a holy life we must have the Eucharist.”

The 75-year-old priest lives in Rome at Casa Serena, a homeless shelter for men run by the contemplative society of the Missionaries of Charity. He described a conversation he witnessed between an unnamed cardinal and St. Teresa after an early morning Mass in one of the last years of her life.

The cardinal marveled at St. Teresa’s vigor and asked her where she got her energy. “You made me strong this morning,” she replied. “You celebrated the holy Mass and gave to me the body of Christ.”

“It is in that longing we are going to celebrate this Eucharist together as a family,” Father Vazhakala said. “We are not a natural family but we are a supernatural family united by our faith in God.”

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