Persons, places and things: A writing pencil in the hand of God

Anticipating the Canonization Mass of Mother Teresa in St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City in 2016 are, from left, Mary Margaret Wagner, Barb Arland-Fye, then-seminarian Scott Foley of the Davenport Diocese, and Sheryl and Dean Lackey.

By Barb Arland-Fye

An email from Father Marty Goetz on Sept. 4 stirred memories of attending the canonization Mass for St. Teresa of Kolkata four years ago on that date in St. Peter’s Square. The Catholic Messenger organized the pilgrimage to Rome and Assisi during which Father Marty served as our spiritual leader.

I can still feel the crush of the crowd moving me forward into the Square to celebrate the sainthood of a tiny woman whose ministry to the least among us touched my heart from an early age. The pilgrimage carries special memories for me, including the general audience on Sept. 3 during which I think Pope Francis looked at me as he rode past in his pope mobile and I called out “Papa!” The canonization Mass at which he presided the following hot, sunny September day put a halo on the pilgrimage.

Related reading: Pilgrims reflect on pilgrimage, part I; Pilgrims reflect on pilgrimage, part II


In his email to all the pilgrims, Father Marty encouraged us to celebrate St. Teresa and all that she did, most especially by going out of our way to practice an act or acts of mercy Sept. 4. St. Teresa’s canonization took place, appropriately, during the Year of Mercy.

Earlier that year, Pope Francis commissioned Father Marty and Father David Brownfield, both priests of the Diocese of Davenport, as “missionaries of mercy” with more than 1,100 other priests from around the world. Father Marty serves as pastor of Divine Mercy Parish in Burlington-West Burlington and St. Mary Parish in Dodgeville. Father David serves as pastor of All Saints Parish in Keokuk. Both priests have embraced their mission of mercy, as did St. Teresa when she ministered to the poorest of the poor, the people rejected and left alone to die on the streets.

“St. Teresa’s sainthood is a way for our church to thank her for being a good and faithful servant and to encourage the rest of us to be good and faithful servants in our own way,” I wrote in an editorial dated Sept. 8, 2016. “Yes, her title is now ‘St. Teresa,’ but for those of us who have followed her steadfast dedication to the poorest of the poor, she will always be ‘Mother Teresa.’ The images of her cradling dying men or women or cuddling a baby evoke the essence of a loving mother. She is a mother who took away an outcast’s pain, who conveyed to each person she encountered that they are valued, beloved children of God.”

Her canonization “affirmed St. Teresa’s response to God’s call to the message of the Gospel. The public celebration in St. Peter’s Square captured the world’s attention and served as a reminder that we are a community of believers, called together in prayer, which in turn should lead to action.”

In his email message, Father Marty called us to prayer. “We have so much to pray for: for a swift end to COVID-19 and for those who have been affected financially or health-wise. For all who live in fear or are afraid. We pray for peace and an end to racism and violence. And we remember all those who have been affected by the power of nature in Iowa, on the Gulf Coast and in California,” he wrote.

Father Marty also included several sayings from St. Teresa, one of which moves me deeply:

“I am a little pencil in the hand of a writing God who is sending a love letter to the world.”

I pray for my fellow pilgrims daily; and now I will pray for all of us on this pilgrim journey on earth to be little pencils in the hand of a writing God, sending a love letter to the world.

(Contact Editor Barb Arland-Fye at

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