Mother Teresa, whose message of peace and compassion went beyond the boundaries of creed and nationality, will go to her burial place on a gun carriage, draped in the Indian flag.
The military trappings of Saturday’s state funeral might clash with the image of the Nobel Peace laureate - but church leaders said Monday it was just the government’s way of giving Mother Teresa its most prestigious farewell.
The Rev. Anthony Rodricks, an aide to Calcutta’s Roman Catholic archbishop, Henry D’Souza, acknowledged there had been objections to the gun carriage.
“People might think of war when they see a gun carriage, but this is not the way it should be taken. A state funeral is the highest honor the state government can give Mother, and that is the spirit in which the ceremony should be taken,” he said Monday.
Mother Teresa transformed a few shelters and schools for Calcutta’s poor into a worldwide charity before her death last Friday of a heart attack at age 87. Many of those whose lives she touched will join high-ranking church and state officials as the casket is moved to the funeral site.
“The procession will include those people that Mother has dedicated her life’s work, the sick, handicapped, leprosy afflicted,” Bill Canny, a spokesman for her order, said Monday.
Her Missionaries of Charity order and the Indian government are collaborating on the funeral for a woman who wore a cheap cotton sari to her Nobel ceremony and who often deflected praise with dry wit.
“Mother certainly would be scolding us for all of our behavior in these preparations,” Canny said. “But the sisters believed Mother had a sense of humor, and that she is probably also laughing at us a bit as we go through this out of … our need to show honor, respect and to show our love for Mother.”
As she lay in state Monday at Calcutta’s St. Thomas’ Church, the love this frail woman inspired was evident. Mourners gave ushers roses to be brushed against the glass case enclosing her body, then took them home as keepsakes. Other flowers left at her feet later made into a huge heart-shaped arrangement on the lawn outside the church.
Sister Nirmala, who took over earlier this year as head of the Missionaries of Charity, emerged to respond to the outpouring of emotion.
“We thank people for coming here to see Mother,” she said. “I’m sure Mother is looking over us and she will bless us.”
One fan was selling posters of Mother Teresa for about 30 cents outside the church.
“She cared for poor people like me and was never worried about letting us touch her or go near her,” Upajan Das said.