"Saint of the Gutters" Draws Thousands of Mourners in India
In a country where Catholics are a tiny minority, the death of a Catholic nun has sorrowed Catholics, Hindus, and people of many other faiths.
In Calcutta, thousands of Indians have waited in line amidst a heavy monsoon downpour in order to visit the body of Mother Teresa, who died of a heart attack on September 5. She was 87, and had been in ill health for many months. Though her death came of no surprise, many Indians have expressed their sorrow, particularly the slum dwellers to whom she ministered.
Next Saturday's funeral for Mother Teresa will include a multi-faith eulogy to allow followers of other religions to show respect for the much-honored nun, a Catholic Church representative has announced. According to The Washington Post, William A. Canny, South Asia director of Catholic Relief Services, said that Mother Teresa's funeral would take place at Calcutta's indoor sports stadium, Netaji Stadium.
The September 13 Mass will be a state funeral, an honor usually given only to top government officials. The funeral will be followed by a private burial at the Mother House, the headquarters of her religious order.
Indian Prime Minister I. K. Gujral was among the visiting mourners on Sunday. According to The Hindu, he said, "In every Indian village we can build a memorial for her if we all pledge to remove poverty, hunger, and human misery and continue the Mother's work."
Meanwhile, many worldwide have called for the canonization of the woman who is already known as the "Saint of the Gutters." Archbishop John Foley, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, told Reuters Television that the Catholic Church would observe the usual five-year waiting period before deciding whether Mother Teresa ought to be beatified and canonized. This period, he said, is designed "to avoid any momentary enthusiasm after the death of a person and to make sure that there is solid, deep-rooted admiration for that person's holiness." In addition, as in all other cases of persons being considered for sainthood, the church must have proof that two miracles have taken place after Mother Teresa's death due to her intercession with God.
Mother Teresa was born in Albania in 1910 as Agnes Gonxha Bohaxhiu. She took the name Teresa after adopting the Carmelite nun St. Therese of Lisieux as her patron saint. In 1946, while working as a nun in India, she realized that Jesus wanted her to go to the slums and serve the poor. She received permission from the Catholic authorities to leave her convent, and by 1950 she had founded the Missionaries of Charity, who vowed "wholehearted and free service to the poorest of the poor."
Her mission gradually spread worldwide, and she often commented that her greatest challenges lay in the West, where the poor were starving, not only for lack of food, but also for lack of love. In 1979, she received the Nobel Peace Prize.
Biographer Eileen Egan, writing for National Catholic Reporter, described how she visited Mother Teresa in 1955 and saw her comforting dying patients. "Sometimes," Mother Teresa told her, "all we can give our people is a human death. We cannot let a child of God die like an animal in the gutter."
Ms. Egan wrote, "I asked Mother Teresa how she could face this agony and serve these suffering people day after day. She answered, ‘To me, each one is Christ – Christ in a distressing disguise.'"
Bulletins: Mother Teresa Dies of Heart Attack (September 5, 1997)
©1997 Heather Elizabeth Peterson