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4:09 AM 9/13/1997

India honors nun with state funeral

CALCUTTA, India (AP) -- India and the world bade farewell to Mother Teresa on Saturday, the pomp of a state funeral honoring the nun who dedicated her life to caring for the weak and impoverished.

The poor and the sick gathered with presidents and royalty to honor Mother Teresa, whose body had been borne on a gun carriage decorated with garlands of jasmine through the streets of Calcutta.

For the funeral Mass at Netaji Indoor Stadium, her open casket was placed on an inclined platform before an altar bearing a banner that declared "Works of love are works of peace."

A Christian in an overwhelmingly Hindu nation, Mother Teresa combined a simple life and an unremitting focus on the world's poorest to build a worldwide network of charities.

Her work freely crossed religious boundaries, caught the attention and admiration of world leaders and won her the 1979 Nobel Peace Prize.

A message at the funeral on behalf of Pope John Paul II praised Mother Teresa for showing love and compassion to the poor, while others debated how to prevent poverty and criticized her for not joining that debate.

The message, delivered by papal representative Cardinal Angelo Sodano, said Mother Teresa responded to those critics by saying, "I will kneel beside the poorest of the poor, ... they don't need discussion, they need love."

She "understood fully the gospel of love -- with every fiber of her indomitable spirit and every ounce of energy in her frail body ... crossing the frontiers of religious and ethnic differences," he said.

Mother Teresa, known here in her adopted city as the "Saint of the Gutters" and considered by many of the poor to be an angel, died Sept. 5 at the age of 87. She now seems an ideal candidate for formal sainthood in the Roman Catholic Church, though that process could take some time.

Henry D'Souza, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Calcutta, said in his eulogy that in Mother Teresa's view, "The greatest poverty is to feel unwanted and unloved."

"To the dying and the suffering she brought her tender compassion, washing their wounds, easing their pain," D'Souza said.

"Her goodness was contagious. It invited others to share."

The service at the 12,000-seat stadium was conducted in English and Latin, as well as the Indian languages of Hindi and Bengali. More than 100 nuns of Mother Teresa's charity sang hymns.

Following the funeral liturgy, prayers and statements were offered by representatives of a variety of faiths, including a Muslim, a Sikh and a Buddhist.

"Mother Teresa's deep and compelling spirituality was combined with the practical application of faith," said V.K. Mohanty, a representative of the Anglican archbishop of Canterbury. "I'm sure that these were the qualities that drew Princess Diana and others to hold her in such affection."

Wreaths were later laid at the side of the funeral bier by dignitaries attending the funeral, including first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. She paused briefly at the foot of the casket and bowed her head before returning to her seat.

Earlier Saturday, soldiers in blue caps draped an Indian flag across her white casket, carried it from the church where it had lain in state since last Sunday and placed it on a gun carriage.

From the church, a green military troop truck carrying soldiers and nuns seated face-to-face towed the carriage along the procession route while mourners tossed flower petals from balconies.

Military police in red-plumed turbans lined the streets along the 3-mile route to the stadium.

Thousands gathered to get their final glimpse of the nun, and small groups slipped past police cordons to run beside the cortege.

With the sun peeking from behind the clouds, one mourner said Mother Teresa inspired him to organize a group to help the poor in his town, Asansol, 130 miles east of Calcutta.

"I have learned a lot from her ways," said Sumit Ganguly, a businessman. "It is unique in the world, the way she preached love."

But despite the overwhelming turnout to see Mother Teresa's body as it lay in state, the crushing crowds expected to show up along the cortege did not materialize.

"Most of the people are at home watching it on TV," said mourner Santu Pal, adding that most people stay at home on Saturday and were less likely to make the trip into the city center.

A cross of white flowers hung from the truck that pulled the carriage, which had been used in the funerals of independence leader Mohandas Gandhi in 1948 and India's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, in 1964.

The route of the funeral procession was lengthened at the last minute to allow more of Calcutta's 12 million people -- a third of them slum-dwellers -- to watch her body pass by. At the end of the roughly three-hour service, soldiers bore her casket out of the church for a private burial at the headquarters of her Missionaries of Charity order.

For many, Friday was the last day to be close to Mother Teresa, to see her face and pray for her blessing. Thousands carrying flowers, posters of the renowned nun or rosaries lined up despite rain and 95-degree temperatures to view her lying in state at Calcutta's St. Thomas' Church.

Sitting outside the room converted into Mother Teresa's final resting place, her successor as head of the order, Sister Nirmala, said Friday that she had no worries about the order's future.

"The Missionaries of Charity is dependent on divine providence. God will provide whatever we need," she said.

In her first news conference, she met criticism Mother Teresa herself often faced -- that the order failed to address the overwhelming underdevelopment that causes poverty. She said the nuns, monks and volunteers inspired by Mother Teresa would continue to work as they always had.

"We are going to serve the poor. Why they are poor is not our concern," she said.

She said the order hoped to fulfill Mother Teresa's last dream, to work in mainland China, one day soon.

Mother Teresa's private burial was to be a simple affair, lasting "just a few minutes," she said, with the body to be entombed after a prayer.

Slabs of white marble and a rectangular concrete box about 3 feet high could be seen in the former dining room that will hold Mother Teresa's remains.

Mother Teresa's funeral came only a week after thousands gathered in London for the funeral of Princess Diana. The princess was buried with a rosary given to her by Mother Teresa.

Mother Teresa was born of Albanian parents in what is now Macedonia, but became an Indian citizen in the 1940s. In 1946, when she was a young nun teaching in church schools in Calcutta, she said she received a call from God to serve the "poorest of the poor."

She went on to found hundreds of orphanages, soup kitchens, homeless shelters and clinics run by her 4,000-member Missionaries of Charity order.