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S P E C I A L : Mother Teresa: Angel of Mercy

India to give Mother Teresa state funeral

Mother Teresa's body September 6, 1997
Web posted at: 12:43 p.m. EDT (1643 GMT)

CALCUTTA, India (CNN) -- India's government Saturday announced that the late Mother Teresa would be given a state funeral on September 13. The announcement came as thousands of people gathered in her adopted home city of Calcutta to pay their last respects to the "Saint of the Gutters."

Mother Teresa died of a heart attack on Friday in her Missionaries of Charity headquarters in Calcutta.

Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral's Cabinet declared a day of national mourning and decided to hold a state funeral when the revered nun is to be buried at her religious order in Calcutta, a spokesman said.

"As a matter of respect and homage, the government decided to break out of protocol and observe state mourning Saturday all over the country and to accord her state funeral status," the spokesman told Reuters.

Mother Teresa will be accorded honors usually reserved for presidents or serving prime ministers.

The decision to hold a state funeral came as a surprise in tradition-bound India, which had already given Mother Teresa its highest award, the Bharat Ratna, in 1980 -- one year after she won the Nobel Peace Prize.

"Though she was a world citizen, she was particularly Indian in the true spirit of our culture and her passing away is an immense loss," Indian President K.R. Narayanan said.

Flags flew at half-staff throughout India as devotees gathered in the rain at the headquarters of her Missionaries of Charity order, to pay their respects to a small woman who had performed big acts of charity throughout her life by attending to the "poorest of the poor."

Mother Teresa delivering a speech
Mother Teresa message on serving others:
icon 243K/23 sec. AIFF or WAV sound

Mourners stood under a sea of umbrellas outside the religious order where Mother Teresa's body, clad in her familiar white sari with blue trim, lay in a coffin.

But only a handful were allowed in, and the rest were told that the body could be viewed from 9 a.m. (0330 GMT) on Sunday in St. Thomas Church in south Calcutta.

Inside a chapel on the order's grounds, the embalmed body of Mother Teresa lay in a coffin. Nuns prayed quietly, watched by a privileged few, touching the exposed feet of their deceased leader.

The funeral was moved back to September 13 from Wednesday to give more people a chance to pay their respects, sister Nirmala, Mother Teresa's successor said. The date will be just three days after the 51st anniversary of the day Mother Teresa received what she described as a calling from Jesus Christ to tend to the poorest and the sick.

Pope John Paul said Mother Teresa had marked the history of the 20th century as an extraordinary person who had made all those "defeated by life, feel the tenderness of God."

World leaders paid their respects to Mother Teresa and praised her selfless service to the poor and disadvantaged.

  • U.S. President Bill Clinton praised her as an "an incredible person," and Queen Elisabeth II, mourning the death of Princess Diana, sent word of her grief.

  • German Chancellor Helmut Kohl said that Mother Teresa was "an example of goodness and humanity for millions of Christians and non-Christians throughout the world. Mother Teresa will remain unforgotten and be an example after hear death."

  • Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad called the revered Roman Catholic nun an "example of selfless devotion to charity. I hope she can be a good example to all charity workers and philanthropists."

  • Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif expressed Pakistan's sadness and said that Mother Teresa had been "a rare and unique individual who lived long for higher purposes. Her life-long devotion to the care of the poor, the sick and the disadvantaged was one of the highest examples of service to humanity."

  • South African President Nelson Mandela's ruling African National Congress called Mother Teresa's death "a loss to the entire humanity." "She will be deeply missed in our efforts to build international peace, and a just, caring and equitable world order."

  • Albania on Saturday declared three days of mourning next week to honor Mother Teresa, who was of Albanian descent. The red flag bearing the black double-headed eagle would fly at half-staff from Saturday through to the end of the national mourning period. Condolence books would be opened in all Albanian embassies.

New Delhi Bureau Chief Anita Pratap and Reuters contributed to this report.

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