The Powerful and the Poor Pay Tribute to Mother Teresa
Archbishop Henry D'Sousa of Calcutta had a long list of people to thank at the end of Mother Teresa's funeral, but he started with the most important. "Thank you, the poor of Calcutta, from whom Mother Teresa learned the wisdom and the warmth which she shared with us," he said.
Mother Teresa, the Catholic nun who spent her life helping "the poorest of the poor" in India and around the world, was honored on the morning of September 13 at a Calcutta funeral Mass attended by the rich and the rejected. She died on September 5 of a heart attack at the age of 87.
Many national leaders from around the world attended the funeral or sent representatives, and their flower wreaths steadily filled the area at Netaji Indoor Stadium near Mother Teresa's coffin as the funeral came to a close. Perhaps most moving, however, was an offertory procession that occurred earlier in the ceremony. The gifts on that occasion were much simpler.
An orphan girl gave a bouquet of flowers. A nun from Mother Teresa's order, the Missionaries of Charity, gave a pencil. A woman released from prison gave water. A leper gave wine. And a handicapped man gave bread.
All of these gifts served as symbolic recreations of the Gospel passage read at the service, describing the Son of Man dividing the righteous from the sinners at the end of the world:
Then the king will say to those at his right hand, "Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me." Then the righteous will answer him, "Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? . . ." And the king will answer them, "Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of those who are members of my family, you did it to me."
Standing nearby was a representation of Jesus on the cross, with the words inscribed on it, "You did it to me." These were words often repeated by Mother Teresa.
The Mass was conducted by the Vatican's secretary of state , CardinalAngelo Sodano. "Mother Teresa of Calcutta lit a flame of love, which her spiritual daughters and sons must now carry forward," Cardinal Sodano told the congregation of 12,000. "The world badly needs the light of that flame."
Many at the service were of other faiths, since India had accorded Mother Teresa the unusual honor of a state funeral. The Mass was followed by eulogies delivered by representatives from the Anglican, Hindu, Islamic, Sikh, Buddhist, and Parsi faiths. Several of the eulogists chose to deliver their eulogies in the form of chanted prayers for the nun.
After the funeral, Mother Teresa's body was carried to the Mother House of her order, along streets lined with tens of thousands of mourners. She was buried at the Mother House in a private ceremony.
Millions of people around the world witnessed the funeral through television, radio, and the Internet. American viewers were faced with the challenge of locating television stations whose commentary did not drown out the service. As the funeral proceeded to the most sacred moment of the Mass, the communion prayers, ABC anchor Peter Jennings said, "We're entering now into a fairly lengthy Eucharist portion of the service, so we'll just put this picture up in the corner of the screen for any viewers who are interested." ABC quickly switched its main coverage to an interview.
A few minutes later, as prayers began to be offered for Mother Teresa, viewers of C-SPAN could hear a CBC anchor interrupt a commentator to say, "The funeral is picking up again."
World News: "Saint of the Gutters" Draws Thousands of Mourners in India (September 9, 1997)
Bulletins: Mother Teresa Dies of Heart Attack (September 5, 1997)
Excerpts from Eulogies at Mother Teresa's Funeral (AP and CNN)
©1997 Heather Elizabeth Peterson