Go to Main Story
Go to Home Page
Mother Teresa Laid to Rest After Multi-Faith TributeBy Kenneth J. Cooper
Washington Foreign Service
Sunday, September 14, 1997; Page A01
CALCUTTA, Sept. 13—India paid final tribute to Mother Teresa today with a state funeral and laid the Nobel Peace Prize-winning nun to rest inside the international headquarters of the Catholic mission she founded in this city's slums a half-century ago.
Dignitaries from nearly 50 nations, including first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, placed wreaths beside Mother Teresa's open casket during a funeral ceremony that was multilingual and multi-religious, reflecting the diversity of her adopted homeland and the breadth of her Missionaries of Charity order's work to relieve the suffering of the world's poorest people.
"Crossing the frontiers of religious and ethnic differences, she has taught the world this lesson: It is more blessed to give than to receive," Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the personal representative of Pope John Paul II, said in the funeral Mass.
Sodano defended Mother Teresa -- whom he had described before leaving Rome as a candidate for swift beatification, a key step on the road toward sainthood -- against criticism that she and her order made little effort in their charitable work to eliminate the fundamental causes of poverty.
"The beggar, the leper, the victim of AIDS do not need discussions and theories. They need love," Sodano, the Vatican's secretary of state, said. "The hungry cannot wait for the rest of the world to come up with the perfect answer."
In his funeral tribute, Archbishop Henry D'Souza of Calcutta suggested that Mother Teresa's willingness to lay hands on the destitute and diseased whom others shunned was what made her special. "Perhaps the greatest message she has given the world is the value and dignity of human life," he said.
For six hours, thousands on Calcutta's streets and an international television audience of millions watched final rites that began with seven soldiers shouldering her casket from St. Thomas, the city's oldest Catholic church, and ended with Gurkha riflemen firing three volleys, followed by buglers sounding "Last Post," a military bugle call, as her body was interred.
The funeral service, conducted before 13,000 mourners at Netaji Indoor Stadium, lasted three hours. Her order's choir sang hymns in English and Indian languages. Prayers were offered in Hindi, India's national language, and Bengali, the regional language of Calcutta that Mother Teresa spoke fluently.
A military escort of 15 vehicles carried her body on a gun carriage in a procession from St. Thomas to the stadium and then to a private burial in the Missionaries of Charity headquarters, where nuns and priests watched as her body was lowered into a concrete tomb.
The gun carriage that bore her body was the same as that used to carry India's founding father, Mohandas K. Gandhi, and Jawaharlal Nehru, the country's first prime minister, to their cremations. White flowers in the shape of a cross were at the front of the military truck that towed the gun carriage. Flowers also were draped on the barrel of the field artillery piece. In the back of the open truck, nuns in the white-and-blue saris of Mother Teresa's order and white-robed priests faced uniformed soldiers.
Along the procession route, some onlookers tossed flowers at the funeral cortege, while others waved a final goodbye. When her body reached the burial site, some mourners pressed their palms together in front of their chests, a Hindu gesture of respect. Others stood on rooftops for a final glimpse.
After the ceremonies, for which India had declared a day of national mourning, the normally crowded and vibrant streets of this city of 11 million were quiet and almost deserted.
India broke tradition by granting a state funeral to the Albanian-born Mother Teresa, who became a naturalized citizen of India in 1950. The honor of state rites has been reserved normally for prime ministers and presidents, although an exception also was made for Gandhi.
After years of failing health, Mother Teresa died Sept. 5 of heart failure at her order's headquarters, known as Mother House. She was 87.
Some Indians appeared ready to go beyond the civil honor today and bestow her with a kind of popular sainthood. Formal declaration of sainthood by the Roman Catholic Church, however, requires a careful review process that usually may not begin until five years after death.
"She gave up everything for the poor. There is a need for another saint like her," said Amar Sarkar, a janitor at Archbishop D'Souza's residence.
Adi Bapuji Rabadi, who spoke at the funeral as a representative of India's Zoroastrians, called her "saint-like," and asked, "Can there be a better example of such an ideal human being than our beloved Mother?"
The Catholic Church already recognizes a number of Saints Teresa or Therese. Mother Teresa, born to Albanian parents as Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, took her religious name from one of them, St. Therese of Lisieux. The saint was popularly known as the Little Flower, a French nun who prayed for missionaries, and is to be declared a doctor of the church this year, the 100th anniversary of her death. Mother Teresa's work already had made her known informally as "the Saint of the Gutters."
Cardinal Sodano and Sister Nirmala, her successor as superior general of the Missionaries of Charity, referred to her during the funeral as "Mother Teresa of Calcutta," a saintly sounding designation.
Rabadi was among representatives of six religions other than Catholicism who participated in eulogies. They were added to the ceremony because Mother Teresa served poor people of every faith in building an international mission that boasts 4,500 nuns and religious brothers working at almost 600 homes in more than 100 countries. After Sodano said Mass, a Hindu recited a Sanskrit scripture from an ancient text, a Muslim prayed in Arabic and a Buddhist in a saffron robe chanted. Also represented were Protestants and Sikhs.
"Pure she was. Purity she preached," said Bhabjot Singh, a Sikh. "Lovely she was, for love she preached. Humble she was, so humility she preached. Divine she was, so divinity she preached. Apostle of peace and [the] downtrodden she was, incarnation of charity and service of humanity she preached."
Dignitaries including the Duchess of Kent, the president of Ghana and former Philippine president Corazon Aquino, as well as Clinton, placed wreaths beside Mother Teresa's coffin during the funeral. Bernadette Chirac stood in for her husband, French President Jacques Chirac.
The presence of the dignitaries, including a few heads of state, reflected Mother Teresa's reputation as one of the world's most respected individuals. Her stature grew with the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize of 1979; she traveled widely, ministering to victims of famine in Ethiopia, radiation near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, an earthquake in Armenia and the bloody siege of Beirut.
"Thank you, dear Mother Teresa," D'Souza, the archbishop, said in closing the funeral ceremony. "Thank you, the poor who created Mother Teresa. Thank you, the poor of Calcutta from whom Mother Teresa learned the wisdom and the warmth which she shared with us."
News services reported from Calcutta:
Hours after Mother Teresa was buried, Clinton visited one of her orphanages to pay homage to her and comfort her followers.
"We wanted to come to Calcutta to express our deep sadness at the passing of Mother Teresa but also to celebrate her mission, her faith and her life, and to make clear that the work she started and gave her life to will continue," she said.
A group of about two dozen 4- and 5-year-olds greeted Clinton as she arrived at the Shishu Bhavan orphanage, a home to 436 children, founded by Mother Teresa in 1956.
After seeing the orphanage, Clinton went for a private visit with Mother Teresa's successor, Sister Nirmala, at the Missionaries of Charity headquarters.
© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company