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Year in Review: 1997

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Princess Diana's death stuns the world

Weld steps out -
Cellucci steps forward

Mother Teresa is laid
to rest at age 87

Chinese rule returns
to Hong Kong

Supreme Court strikes
down 'Net decency act

UPS strike disrupts thousands of firms

Heaven's Gate cult commits mass suicide

Mars Pathfinder explores Red Planet

Ellen comes out, marking a first in TV

For the first time, a mammal is cloned


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'Mother of poor' laid to rest

Indira A. R. Lakshmanan, Globe Staff, 09/14/97

Mother Teresa, with unidentified child Mother Teresa, with unidentified child. (AP Photo)

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Teresa's loss leaves a void

Highlights in the life
of Mother Teresa


ALCUTTA - Bathed in a gentle cascade of flower petals and an outpouring of tears, Mother Teresa, the Roman Catholic nun who lovingly tended to the poorest of all religions, was laid to rest yesterday. As she was honored in style by representatives of the pope and presidents, and mourned in simplicity by paupers, her loss tore a hole in the heart of the city she made home.

In a solemn ceremony that marked just the second time someone other than a president or prime minister was conferred a state funeral in India, the ''saint of the gutters'' - a Christian of Albanian ancestry in a predominantly Hindu nation - was borne on the gun carriage used for the funeral of Mohandas K. Gandhi. The pacifist independence leader was assassinated half a century ago, when Mother Teresa began her work as a tireless comforter of the destitute.

Mother Teresa's dedication to Calcutta's poor was legendary long before she was awarded the 1979 Nobel Peace Prize, and before her mission spread to 584 sites in more than 100 countries. Her spirit of caring was so admired here that the entire city, not just the invited dignitaries or the poor she helped, seemed disconsolate, cloaked in a coat of mourning. Shops were shuttered and traffic halted as residents of all faiths spoke in hushed tones and with downcast eyes of feeling lost without the woman they called ''Mother.''

Pope John Paul II praised her for caring for the poor while others debated how to do so, in a message delivered by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano. She was ''a light of conscience'' coming ''at the close of a century which has known terrible extremes of darkness,'' he said.

''Holiness, goodness, kindness, love are still recognized'' thanks to Mother Teresa, the pope said. In the statement, he said that ''the homage we are paying'' will be wasted ''if men and women do not take up where she left off. The poor are still with us and ... must be at the center of our actions.''

Mother Teresa is widely expected to be elevated to sainthood, but under Vatican rules, at least five years must pass before the archbishop here can start collecting evidence of her ''heroic virtue'' and miracles performed.

Coming just a week after the funeral of Britain's Princess Diana, Mother Teresa's farewell also seemed to galvanize a city in communal distress, but it was markedly different in its lack of glamour, its focus on the spiritual and its elevating of society's downtrodden.

With Diana's funeral, the public was angry and looking for someone to blame for the tragedy of a young life cut short. With Mother Teresa's passing, the mood yesterday was one of sorrow and finality, without recrimination, since the death of the ailing 87-year-old nun, of a heart attack on Sept. 5, was hardly unexpected.

Still, many Calcuttans were inconsolable, struck with the fear that no one can replace an individual who loved their city and its poorest residents so much.

For several hours, most of Calcutta's 12 million people crowded around television sets and at least 100,000 others flooded the streets, pressing against barriers to catch a glimpse of the nun's open white casket as it traveled a 3-mile procession in 90-degree heat. The whirring of a military helicopter shattered the silence as the crowds gazed at the tiny nun, clad in one of just two white-and-blue cotton saris she owned, rosary beads tucked in her wrinkled hands and her adopted country's tricolor flag draped over her body.

Mother Teresa's casket was escorted with much pomp by armed military guards in full regalia - an irony given the message of peace and simplicity that she spread. But this was the highest honor the state could bestow, and one her successor said she would have accepted with humility ''in the name of the poor.''

At one point along the route, mourners burst through bamboo barricades and jogged slowly alongside the body, waving the Indian flag, tossing flower blossoms at the casket and calling through their tears, ''Mother, you are immortal.''

Many had traveled for days to see her body and were distraught when the church where it was on view closed early Friday and they were turned away. Some of the disappointed pilgrims, almost none of whom were Christian, were given passes to yesterday's funeral.

Inside Netaji Indoor Stadium, Catholic hymns and odes set to the words of Nobel Prize-winning poet Rabindranath Tagore were sung as the nun's body was placed on a dais before an estimated 12,000 people: heads of state, royalty, and religious representatives from around the world, as well as members of the constituencies of the disadvantaged Mother Teresa served.

During the offertory procession an orphaned girl offered flowers to represent abandoned children, a former prisoner gave water to represent the ''thirst for love and freedom,'' a leper proferred wine to represent suffering, a disabled man gave bread, and the nun who succeeded Mother Teresa at the helm of the Missionaries of Charity offered an empty chalice to mark ''our hearts deprived by our beloved mother's physical presence.''

Sister Nirmala, Mother Teresa's successor, told mourners that ''all of us feel ... to be her children. Even the archbishop of Calcutta calls himself Mother's son. ... Please pray for us that we may be faithful to the spirit'' of Mother Teresa's calling.

It was a ceremony that celebrated this vast country's diversity, employing four languages and inviting representatives of each of India's major religions to honor the nun. Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist, and Parsi Zoroastrian leaders praised and honored her in the spirit of their own traditions, chanting and blessing her. It was a remarkable interfaith gathering in a country that was founded as a secular state, but which has seen much religious violence. That Mother Teresa's funeral united people across religions and social classes was a testament to the love that admirers said she radiated wherever she went.

After the service, heads of state and representatives of dozens of countries, including First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, came to the dais to place wreaths at Mother Teresa's casket. Former Philippine President Corazon Aquino touched the nun's hands. The Duchess of Kent, England's only royal to convert to Catholicism, crossed herself.

''In the poor, we have been united in her who was a symbol of the poorest of the poor,'' said the Archbishop Henry D'Souza of Calcutta. ''Thank you, Mother Teresa. ... Thank you, the poor of Calcutta from whom Mother Teresa learned.''

Outside, despite a downpour during the ceremony, admirers waited along the procession route to catch a second glimpse of the nun before she was buried at Mother House, the headquarters of the mission she founded. Some ran along the sidewalks behind barricades to see her body as long as possible.

The cortege passed along the street where Mother Teresa picked up her first dying destitute patient, who was turned away by hospitals almost 50 years ago, and where she started a home to care for society's unwanted.

It finally stopped in front of Mother House, and the tiny, powerful nun who soothed this city's woes even if she did not cure them, was buried in a private ceremony with a military gun salute.

Pradeep Biswas, 45, a secretary who attended the funeral, was proud that leaders from around the world came to pay homage to his city's ''Mother.'' He wept when Sister Nirmala handed over the empty chalice to symbolize Mother Teresa's absence and then touched her sister's body.

''She had an empty chalice and a heart full of sorrow. I felt she was feeling so lonely, and I knew just how she felt,'' he said.

When the orphaned girl offered flowers to Cardinal Sodano, Biswas thought of his own 9-year-old daughter. ''It was so touching. I have never seen anything so graceful or moving in my life. This day will always be with me even when Mother is not.''

This story ran on page A01 of the Boston Globe on 09/14/97.
© Copyright 1997 Globe Newspaper Company.


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