September 8, 1997 in Nation/World

Mourners Gather To View Body Of Mother Teresa Indoor Sports Stadium Chosen As Funeral Site

Ranjan Roy Associated Press
 

Barefoot paupers, movie stars and government leaders wept and prayed beside Mother Teresa’s body Sunday, paying their respects to a woman who embraced both the poor and the powerful.

The Nobel laureate and nun lay in state at one of Calcutta’s oldest and largest Catholic churches, in a fashionable neighborhood that contrasted with the slums where she toiled during life.

“Mother Teresa, we will always love you,” read a handwritten poster hanging from the neck of one grieving child.

Mother Teresa, who died of a heart attack Friday night, lay under a glass case on a platform draped in the white and blue colors of her Missionaries of Charity order, her hands folded across her chest.

Mourners including barefoot paupers, government leaders, a former beauty queen and an Indian musician, filed quickly through the church, stopping for just a few moments before the body.

Mother Teresa’s funeral Saturday will be held in the 10,000-seat stadium where Pope John Paul II addressed the faithful during his 1986 visit to India, a spokesman for Calcutta Archbishop Henry d’Souza, Father Ambrose, said Sunday.

Members of the Missionaries of Charity said Mother Teresa would be buried in the courtyard of the order’s headquarters, on the edge of a Calcutta slum.

Prime Minister I.K. Gujral, who visited St. Thomas’ Church where Mother Teresa lay Sunday, said that just as India had Mohandas Gandhi to lead the fight against poverty, hunger and injustice in the first half of the century, so it had Mother Teresa to carry on that fight in the latter half.

The frail, 4-foot-11-inch nun was born in Albania but had become an Indian citizen. She had suffered heart problems and other ailments for years and gave up leadership of her order in March.

Mother Teresa, who said she saw God in every suffering human being, began her charity work with just a few helpers in this eastern Indian city five decades ago.

Her order now has more than 4,000 nuns and runs 517 orphanages, homes for the poor, AIDS hospices and other charity centers around the world.

One man who broke down in tears after seeing Mother Teresa’s body said the Catholic nun’s compassion transcended religious boundaries.

“She worked for the people and never thought about whether we were Muslim or Hindu,” said Mohinulisam, 38, who uses only one name.

He said he saw Mother Teresa every day when she visited a home for the aged near his leather shop in Calcutta.

Mother Teresa died at the headquarters of her Missionaries of Charity, where she lived in a simple room. Her body lay in the order’s small, dimly lit chapel, surrounded by flowers and praying nuns.

But the chapel was too small to accommodate crowds, so the public viewing was delayed.

Her body was moved early Sunday in a white ambulance, escorted by a police officer on motorcycle, as bells pealed in St. Thomas’ Church and anguished wails rose from mourners.

Mourners began gathering before dawn, and by the time the coffin arrived, the line snaked half a mile along the sidewalk in front of the chapel.

Even there, the importance of caste and privilege in India was inescapable.

Politicians and high-ranking bureaucrats roared to the front of the line in bulky white official cars, and strode into the chapel through a special entrance.

Meanwhile, shop owners and students, clerks and children in starched Sunday best waited uncomplainingly while their line moved in spurts for the chance, however brief, to see Mother Teresa.

“There are so many people here,” said Indrani Dasgupta, a student. “People loved her so much, they want to see her at peace, even if only for a moment.”


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