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Final Farewell To A Saint Mother Teresa’s Journey Of Love Ends

Sun., Sept. 14, 1997, midnight

For all the majestic spectacle, it was the sight of Hiralal Jagdish, a reed-thin man in sandals and drab clothes, that brought home Mother Teresa’s message of love during her four-hour state funeral Saturday.

A leper whose nose is half gone and face is withered, Jagdish trudged to the altar, offered a chalice of wine, and humbly bowed his scarred head.

Jagdish was part of a poignant offertory procession that included every type of outcast that Mother Teresa embraced.

A pretty little orphan girl in a long, white dress carried a basket of flowers. A handicapped boy smiled as he struggled to walk up to the altar with the bread. A woman just released from prison approached with the water.

The body of Mother Teresa, who died at age 87 on Sept. 5 of heart failure, lay on a tilted podium decorated in the blue and white colors of her Missionaries of Charity order.

Four dozen dignitaries, including first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, placed white flower wreaths at the small white coffin after a Mass attended by more than 12,000 people.

The nun who would be saint was remembered for her championing of “the poorest of the poor,” starting in Calcutta’s slums 50 years ago and extending to 126 countries.

“We come to pay our respects to the mortal remains of an extraordinary woman of our century, Mother Teresa of Calcutta,” said Archbishop Henry D’Souza of Calcutta.

“The Lord came in the quiet of the night to the heart that loved him so tenderly through the poor … she became one of the honored and famous personalities of our age.”

Like the “Saint of the Gutters” herself, Mother Teresa’s funeral melded the world’s powerful and notable with the downtrodden, anonymous and undesirable.

The First Lady, dressed in navy blue, sat with the queens of Belgium and Jordan, and the first ladies of France and Canada, as well as Indian President K.R. Narayanan and India’s Prime Minister I.K. Gujral.

Pope John Paul’s personal secretary, Angelo Cardinal Soldano, celebrated the Mass at Netaji Indoor Stadium, with 10 archbishops in attendance and Indian Army officers standing guard.

The priests of Mother Teresa’s order sat in their gray garb and sandals behind the high church officials in red and gold satin robes.

Orphans and handicapped people from the mission’s homes sat on the stadium floor with the dignitaries.

The tribute began with a solemn march from the small church in the center of the city where Mother Teresa lay in state to the stadium. Indian Army generals escorted her coffin, which was carried on the same gun carriage used to bear the bodies of Mahatma Gandhi and slain Indian leader Jawaharlal Nehru.

It made its way slowly for two miles, with 200 soldiers in full regalia walking the death march and a military band with a muffled drum beating a slow cadence.

Thousands of people lined the route, some of them running alongside the cortege, most just watching in silence in the humid, cloudy morning.

The few thousand non-VIPs with passes to the stadium rushed there. One was George John, who went to Mother Teresa’s orphanage school after his mother died when he was 8 years old.

“She helped me so much, and she took care of my three children in the orphanage while I was finding work,” John said. “Of course I had to come to her funeral.”

Just outside the stadium, mudcaked children stood near makeshift shelters and watched the procession.

The Mass began at 12:30 a.m. (EDT), to a nearly full stadium. More than 700 sisters of the Missionaries of Charity sat at one end of the arena, a sea of blue slashes on white.

Many wept when the open coffin was carried in by military pallbearers.

Mother Teresa was draped with the flag of India, her dark hands clasped on top of it. The archbishops and cardinal filed over to the coffin, and Sister Nirmala, the new leader of the Missionaries of Charity, walked directly behind it, past the dignitaries in plush armchairs.

“Mother Teresa said the greatest poverty is to be unwanted and unloved,” D’Souza said in opening remarks. “She used to say poor people are great people.”

Speaking of Sister Nirmala, who has the burden of following in Mother Teresa’s footsteps, D’Souza urged the mourners to pray for her, and for the success of a new chapter in the mission.

Soldano said Mother Teresa had “learned to see the true face of God in the suffering of every human being.”

Sister Nirmala, a tiny figure swathed in her sari, said her predecessor “gave loving attention to each individual, especially the poorest of the poor … till she breathed her last.

“She must be looking at us from heaven and smiling….”

Messages were read from the Archbishop of Canterbury, a Hindu Brahmin, an Islamic imam, and from Sikhs, Buddhist and Parsi representatives.

“When I look at this gathering … from north and south, east and west, far and wide people have come to pay homage, and the common bond of that coming was the poor,” D’Souza said.

“Thank you, Mother Teresa; thank you, the poor who created Mother Teresa; and thank you, the poor of Calcutta, from whom Mother Teresa learned the warmth she shared with us.”

Thunder echoed in the stadium, and by the time the procession started again it was raining.

It followed the same route back, except ending at the order’s motherhouse, the pale yellow building where Mother Teresa lived and died, and where her body was interred in an underground crypt during a private ceremony with the sisters.

Outside the motherhouse, hundreds gathered to greet the cortege. The crowd stood in the rain, with flowers and signs reading “Mother Teresa We Love You” blocking the four-lane avenue.

A three-gun volley signaled her body had been lowered into its grave.

Children in dirty rags mixed in with the mourners who had come from all over the city, and from elsewhere in India.

Mother Teresa was finally home.

Tags: eulogy

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