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Catholic magazine editor: 'Pope and Mother Teresa were very close'

Thomas Reese
Thomas Reese

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(CNN) -- Pope John Paul II presided Sunday over a momentous ceremony, placing Mother Teresa on the final step to sainthood, praising her life and telling a huge crowd at St. Peter's Square that "even in our days God inspires new models of sainthood." The beatification ceremony came days after the Pope celebrated his 25th anniversary as head of the Catholic Church.

CNN anchor Heidi Collins spoke with Father Thomas Reese, editor of the Catholic weekly magazine, "America," about the legacy of the Pope and Mother Teresa, and their special relationship.

COLLINS: This morning we had some reports coming out of our Rome bureau that were telling us there was a crowd of something like 300,000 people, amassed at St. Peter's Square. One of the largest crowds ever. What is this beatification of Mother Teresa all about?

REESE: I think that people around the world, both Catholics and non-Catholics, fell in love with Mother Teresa, really admired her for dedicating her life to the service of the poor, of the dying, of taking them off the streets of Calcutta and of establishing these homes all over the world for sick people, and for dying people.

And I think this is an acknowledgment by the church of her holiness, that she's an example to all of us of what it means to be a Christian, to be loving, and this is a celebration of a wonderful life.

COLLINS: Can you tell us a little bit more about how close the pope and Mother Teresa were?

REESE: The pope and Mother Teresa were very close. He had great admiration for her. He helped her in her ministry, whenever she needed some arm twisting or assistance in getting into a country or getting help from a bishop, the pope was there to help her.

COLLINS: He was her heavy?

REESE: I guess so, in a sense, yes. He admired what she did. She was doing such important work, touching the lives of people when they were really in pain and suffering.

COLLINS: Obviously I'm sure you're fully aware of some of the controversy that has surrounded this "fast track" to sainthood that the pope has put Mother Teresa on, a few years before the legendary time of five years after the death of someone who was up for sainthood. What is that about? And why is Mother Teresa so very different?

REESE: Well, the normal process doesn't begin until five years after a person dies. That was waived with the permission of the pope so that the process moved forward rapidly. Testimony was taken in India and elsewhere about her virtue, her writings were examined. And all of that material was sent forward to Rome.

I think it was basically because the pope recognized that people wanted to see her beatified. They wanted to see her move fast towards sainthood. I think it's really a response to popular demand.

COLLINS: And talking for a moment, if we could, about the pope and the 25th anniversary that he celebrated this past week. What is his legacy been? We've been talking about him so very much. We actually have a quote that says, "he was the right man at the right time." What do you mean by that?

REESE: Oh, absolutely. I think he played an extraordinary role in bringing about the end of communism, the end of the cold war, by his support of solidarity and in encouraging the Polish people to stand up for their rights.

He also is going to go down in history as the pope who improved relations with Jews. This is extremely important. Now Jews and Catholics are beginning to treat one another as brothers and sisters again. This is just extraordinarily important.

And he's reached out to other religious groups. He's begun a dialogue with the Muslim community. He's just had a tremendous role throughout the world speaking for peace, for justice. He's looked upon as a real spokesman for the third world.

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