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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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Teresa's loss leaves a void

By Indira A.R. Lakshmanan, Globe Staff, 09/15/97

A boy in India
A boy waits in line outside St. Thomas's church in Calcutta, where the body of Mother Teresa lies. (AP Photo)

ALCUTTA - The strikingly simple image on innumerable billboards in this city says it all: The trademark white and blue-bordered sari of the Missionaries of Charity that Mother Teresa made famous remains, but the face underneath it is gone.

A day after the eulogies were read, the bugles blown and the tears shed, some residents of the city she embraced raised questions about whether her order can comfort the poor in the same way without her.

By all accounts, Mother Teresa's affection for the afflicted and her charm with the rich and influential who made her work possible were deemed irreplaceable. Many worry that her successor, Sister Nirmala, and the other nuns lack the radiance and charisma that made Mother Teresa a sensation with both the poor and the powerful.

Some supporters of the order, which she founded in 1950 and spread to 126 countries, fear that without the Nobel laureate's star quality and inspirational presence, there could be a decline in donations, in the number of novices and volunteers joining, or even in the zeal with which their charitable work is carried out.

''Mother was our mother,'' Ishtiaque Ahmed, a 21-year-old Muslim student, said. ''I don't think her mission can carry on in the same way. She loved like no one else we know has.''

Even some within her order have concerns. ''After Mother's loss, we can cope, but it will take some time, because Sister Nirmala may not be as effective right away as Mother was,'' said Brother Isidor Deka.

With her wit and unchallenged dedication to the poor, Mother Teresa was also gracefully able to defuse allegations that her order accepted funds from questionable sources, campaigned to convert the vulnerable people it helped or merely applied Band-Aids rather than try to solve underlying social problems. But followers worry that such criticisms, whether valid or not, may dog her successors and impede their work.

In her first press conference since Mother Teresa's death, her successor managed to defend herself against an onslaught of such questions, but did so with the matter-of-fact manner of a school headmistress rather than the disarming warmth that Mother Teresa wielded.

Questioned about the order's accepting donations from questionable sources, such as a former Haitian dictator and an American convicted in a savings and loan scandal, Sister Nirmala said, ''When people give us money for the love of God, we accept the money. We don't know where it's coming from.''

Pressed about whether the Missionaries of Charity can raise the funds they did with a Nobel prize winner at their helm, Sister Nirmala shot back, ''Why are you so much worried about money?''

Asked why the mission didn't focus more on solving poverty than on salving it, she said: ''Poor will always be there. We want the poor to use their poverty in the right way.'' That means ''acceptance of poverty and trusting in the Lord that He will provide ... but not to moan and groan.''

For their part, many of this city's poor and social outcasts have trouble believing that any other Missionary of Charity could share Mother Teresa's obvious respect and caring for them. The leper homes and orphanages may continue, they say, but the love they found inside will never be the same.

''There cannot be any person who can fill such a great loss for India as well as the world,'' said Sukumar Bera, a 26-year-old unemployed man whose neighborhood Mother Teresa helped after a flood in 1978. ''She was not only our mother, she was the source of love.''

Monumental praise for any human being, perhaps, but it is difficult to overstate how much Mother Teresa meant to Calcuttans of all religions and walks of life.

At a Missionaries for Charity orphanage here, where 439 smiling children play in clean uniforms, reaching out to visitors as they wait for adoptive homes, Mother Teresa's vision seems concrete.

Sister Charmaine has spent 20 years working in the mission's orphanages, and her dedication to the infants is evident; she proudly points out premature ones who are now fat, touches children when she walks by, ties religious medallions on the wrists of ones who are sick.

''Now that she's gone I have even more faith, because I know she will pray for us from Heaven,'' Sister Charmaine said.

This story ran on page A02 of the Boston Globe on 09/15/97.
© Copyright 1997 Globe Newspaper Company.


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