The following is from Chapter 3, "How to Order a Saint", of Mother Teresa of Calcutta—A Personal Portrait: 50 Inspiring Stories Never Before Told by Monsignor Leo Maasburg:
The following year —again at a morning Mass in the Pope's private chapel, although this time I was announced—I witnessed the reverence and deep respect that Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II had for each other, those two great leaders of the Church whom we now also regard as important historical figures. Even the way in which they greeted each other reflected their individual styles: Mother Teresa folded her hands on her breast; John Paul II put his arm around her affectionately. It struck me on that occasion—as it did again and again later on—that they exchanged only a few words. They came directly to the point rather than chatting about things that were not directly connected with the business at hand. As with people who are very close with one another, there was no irrelevant small talk and no unnecessary etiquette.
As soon as they had greeted each other warmly, Mother Teresa came to the point: "Holy Father, we need a saint for our lepers!" When the Pope asked whom Mother Teresa had in mind for this "job", she mentioned Father Damian de Veuster, a Belgian missionary born in 1840 who lived on the Hawaiian Islands among the lepers and cared for the sick until finally he himself died of the disease. Jef, as he was called in the world, was the seventh child of a peasant family and worked on his parents' farm until he entered the Order of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary in Louvain at the age of twenty and took the religious name Damian (in French, Damien). In 1874 he had himself taken to the island of Moloka'i so that he could look after the lepers who were forced to live there in complete isolation and without any medical care. In 1885 he himself was diagnosed with leprosy. He died in 1889.
"Do you know him, Holy Father?" asked Mother Teresa.
The Pope nodded, and Mother Teresa thought that she had already achieved her aim: "Well then, why wait? When will you declare him a saint?"
But there was a major problem to resolve before they could schedule a canonization: Father Damian had not yet worked certified miracles, and these are required by canon law for a beatification or a canonization.
However, the Holy Father already knew Mother Teresa far too well to get into a lengthy discussion with her. Instead, he instructed her to discuss the matter personally with Cardinal Pietro Palazzini, the prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. Mother Teresa did not need to be asked twice.
Cardinal Palazzini himself was even quicker; the Holy Father had obviously informed him. The very next day, at a quarter after six in the morning, Cardinal Palazzini knocked on the doors of San Gregorio, the Motherhouse of the Missionaries of Charity, where Mother Teresa lived while she was in Rome. Cardinal Palazzini was very thin and just as short as Mother Teresa. His eyes revealed a sense of humor and a lively intelligence. He was known in the Vatican—and sometimes also feared—for his outstanding theological learning and his special knowledge of canon law. He had been the prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints for years and was certainly a distinguished adviser to the Pope.
"Mother Teresa, the Holy Father has sent me to you. What can I do for you?" was the first thing he said, which I translated for him.
"Your Eminence, we need a saint for our lepers", Mother Teresa repeated her request for a new saint.
"And who might that be?" the Cardinal wanted to know.
"Father Damian de Veuster. Do you know him?"
"Yes, Mother Teresa. But as you know, there is a minor difficulty: He hasn't worked a miracle yet, and we need that for his canonization."
"That may be so," replied Mother Teresa, "but in Holy Scripture it says ...", and then she held a Bible, open at chapter 15, verse 13 of Saint John's Gospel, in front of the eyes of the startled Cardinal and read, " 'Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.' And that's exactly what Father Damian did. Isn't he already canonized by the Bible; what are we waiting for?"
She had led off with her strongest argument and was now waiting to receive her "reward". But her plan did not go quite that smoothly.
Cardinal Palazzini took a deep breath and played his trump card: "You're right of course, Mother Teresa. But you know, for over four hundred years we have had a tradition within the Church that three certified miracles are required for a canonization. And Father Damian hasn't even worked one miracle yet!"
"Yes", she replied with great enthusiasm. "This would be a good opportunity to change that tradition!" Another goal! Success seemed within her grasp. "After all, the Bible takes precedence over canon law", she added, to put an end to the discussion.
But the Cardinal gave a smile that was both kindly and clever and said, "Mother Teresa, you're quite right. But don't you think it would be much simpler for you to ask the Good Lord for these miracles than for us to change our four-hundred-year-old tradition?"
That was the only time that I ever saw Mother Teresa speechless and without an answer.