Anguished wails rose from mourners and church bells pealed today as Mother Teresa’s body was carried in a wooden coffin from a small chapel to a larger church, where her countless admirers will be able to pay final respects.
Saturday, the city of joy wept over Mother Teresa.
The day after the Roman Catholic missionary’s death from heart failure at 87, Hindus, Muslims and Christians, clad in women’s saris and men’s wrap-around lungis, filed into the headquarters of her Missionaries of Charity to view her body in an upstairs room. Some emerged wiping tears from their eyes in grief at the loss of Calcutta’s most famous citizen.
“I used to love her. I used to look at her picture and get strength, so her death has depressed me,” said Karuna Mandal, a Hindu who came from 20 miles away to pay her respects.
India’s government declared a day of national mourning and, breaking custom, said it will accord the Nobel Peace Prize winner a state funeral, which has been rescheduled from Wednesday to Saturday.
Missionary nuns and altar boys carrying candles and a crucifix surrounded the open coffin as pall bearers placed it in an ambulance for the 2-mile trip to St. Thomas Catholic church.
Mother Teresa will lie in state at the church, one of Calcutta’s largest, for the next week. The nuns of her order decided the convent chapel at her headquarters was too small to accommodate crowds.
The site of Mother Teresa’s funeral was not announced. But she will be buried at the convent in central Calcutta that was her home and the headquarters of her Missionaries of Charity order, according to Sister Brunet at the mission.
Sources close to the order said the funeral was delayed to give nuns who work around the world more time to reach Calcutta and also to give both the order’s members and Mother Teresa’s lay devotees more time to adjust to her loss.
Organizers are considering the soccer field of St. Xavier’s College, while government officials are offering an indoor stadium.
Abroad, Calcutta has long been seen narrowly as the home to destitute families who live grimly on narrow sidewalks. That image was reshaped a bit by a book by Dominique Lapierre and the movie based on it, both called “The City of Joy,” a fictionalized account of his experiences with social workers who discovered a resilient spirit in the city’s poorest.
Mother Teresa founded the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta’s slums a half-century ago, and the young nun of Albanian parentage won over residents with her compassion and respect for their culture. She quickly learned Bengali, the regional language, and became a naturalized citizen of India in 1948.
Saturday’s editions of Calcutta’s largest English dailies reflected this city’s reverence for her. “Mother is dead,” the Statesman, India’s oldest newspaper, declared in a front-page headline.
The Telegraph devoted its entire front page to articles about her death and tributes to her work. A long, reflective editorial said: “Although she belonged to the whole world, it is Calcutta which benefited most from her indomitable spirit. … Mother Teresa was in many ways the Indian Bengalis’ own.”
The city’s Catholic schools, which normally hold classes on Saturdays, closed for the day.
Residents of various religions, whether interviewed outside her headquarters or elsewhere on city streets rinsed by monsoon rains, said they admired Mother Teresa.
“She was a poor man’s God. She gave them clothes, food and medicines,” said Mohammad Wasim, a Muslim tailor.
Another Muslim, Mohammad Qasim Ali, said: “When someone is so good, their religion does not matter. She was a foreigner, not even an Indian. But people thought she was one of us.”
Christina Robbi, a Catholic, took a four-hour train ride into the city so she could view Mother Teresa’s body. She complained that mourners were not being allowed to touch it. Asked why she wanted to touch, Robbi replied, “To kiss.”
Even Hindu nationalists who oppose conversion of Hindus to Christianity, and Communist leaders who for two decades have ruled West Bengal state from Calcutta, said they appreciated Mother Teresa.
Sujit Dhar, a local leader of a Hindu nationalist group, said that although he disapproved of her role in conversions, “she in fact embodied some Hindu philosophy, the spirit of service.”
Jyoti Basu, a Communist who is West Bengal’s chief minister, or governor, said he was “deeply grieved at the demise of such a great humanitarian.” Although a Marxist, Basu has continued to be influenced even in his 80s by his education at St. Xavier’s, a Catholic school, according to the Rev. Edward Le Joly, who helped Mother Teresa establish her Missionaries of Charity from its spare start in 1948.