Creed Mamikunian was already a medical doctor when he volunteered in 1991 to work in Kolkata, India, for three months with the global icon Mother Teresa and her Missionaries of Charity. What he experienced during those months compelled him to honor Mother Teresa by attending her Sept. 4 canonization at the Vatican.
Mamikunian, now 55, and his son Vahe travelled from Anchorage to Rome last month to join Pope Francis and more than 120,000 pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square to officially recognize Mother Teresa as a saint.
Mamikunian’s brush with the saintly nun has left a lasting imprint on him.
The poverty of Kolkata during the 1990s was much worse than now, what left the biggest impression on the young doctor was the life-changing example of the sisters.
“Prior to being there, I went to church every Sunday, but I think I didn’t have a lot of depth,” Mamikunian recalled. He said he went to India with a priest he knew and had “an open mind” to the possibility of a vocation to the priesthood.
Mamikunian stayed in a nearby hostel during his volunteer months, but would journey each morning to the sisters’ motherhouse to attend daily Mass and later adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in the evening. Many visiting priests would celebrate Mass, but Mamikunian found himself in the consistent role of serving at the liturgy. Mother Teresa herself even asked him to help distribute the Eucharist.
“I learned from the sisters’ example,” he recalls. “Their example of constant prayer and belief, their daily living, their small sacrifices. I can’t talk about Mother Teresa without talking about the sisters.”
He was especially impressed by their day-by-day reliance on God’s providence without a lot of planning or structure. Stories abound of the sisters’ faith being consistently rewarded.
Mamikunian, a board certified ear, nose and throat specialist, helped with the medical treatment of the sisters, children in the orphanages and patients in the clinics run by the order.
With these memories still fresh, Mamikunian felt strongly he wanted to attend the Vatican ceremony for Mother Teresa.
He and his wife Janet, who attend St. Benedict Church in Anchorage, are the parents of six children. When he made plans to attend the canonization, they decided it was son Vahe’s turn for a trip. So the 12-year-old seventh grader experienced his first trip to Europe.
At the canonization, the Mamikunians were fortunate to be in the front quarter of the crowd, with good views of Pope Francis and the proceedings.
The ceremony deeply moved Mamikunian as Pope Francis formally acknowledged to the world that the faithful nun was indeed a saint.
“The most powerful moment for me was when they were reading the litany of the saints, and then they ask the pope if he will consider Mother Teresa to be accepted into their ranks,” said Mamikunian, who found the formal declaration of sainthood impressive.
Contrary to popular belief, the church does not “make saints.” Rather, after detailed research about the deceased person’s sanctity, the church recognizes that he or she is truly a saint.
Although Mother Teresa was declared a saint in a relatively short time — the 19th anniversary of her death was the day after her canonization — Mamikunian said that nearly 20 years seemed like a long time.
“Things don’t happen real quickly in our church,” he said. “There’s a stability to this institution. The institution is strong.”
He was also touched by what he called “the universality of the audience.”
Along with hundreds of Missionaries of Charity from around the world, clad in their distinctive blue-trimmed white saris, he said the audience was extremely diverse “with flags from across the globe.”
Mamikunian bristles at criticism of the newest Catholic saint.
“One of the things that really bothers me are the people who question her and the work she did, and suggest she provided inadequate medical care,” he said. “They are completely off base. If the sisters were not doing these things, nothing was being done. They were taking care of the people no one wants to take care of.”
Citing their work with the terminally ill, with end-stage tuberculosis patients, and later in clinics for those dying from AIDS, he said they went where there was no medical care and provided what they could.
“It’s easy to criticize if you’ve never been in the circumstances and actually saw what she was doing,” he said.