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Thousands pay respects to Mother Teresa

September 7, 1997
Web posted at: 10:29 a.m. EDT (1429 GMT)

CALCUTTA, India (CNN) -- India's prime minister was among the thousands of people who paid their last respects to Mother Teresa in person Sunday after her embalmed body was moved from the main building of the religious order she founded to a Calcutta church.

Grief-stricken mourners jostled for a glimpse of the coffin containing Mother Teresa's body as it was escorted to a flower-bedecked ambulance. About 60 nuns of the Missionaries of Charity preceded the coffin. Two rows of altar boys dressed in red Catholic vestments, each preceded by a lantern-bearer, flanked the nuns.

Police surrounded the procession as the ambulance carried Teresa's from Mother House, the headquarters of the Missionaries of Charity, to St. Thomas Catholic Church.

Teresa had planned to lead inter-faith prayers at St. Thomas on Saturday for Britain's Princess Diana, whose funeral was held in London that day.

Her open casket, now ensconced atop a four-foot-high platform in a huge glass case, will lie in state at St. Thomas for a week of public viewing. The nuns of her order decided the convent chapel at her headquarters was too small to accommodate the crowds.

Mother Teresa, who retained her simplicity and humility despite an avalanche of international fame, died Friday night of a heart attack.

A line of mourners that began forming in front of St. Thomas before dawn Sunday was half a mile long by 9 a.m. Admirers of different nationalities and religions, including Hindus, Christians and Muslims, were in the line. They carried wreaths of flowers and handmade posters, tokens of their love and respect for the nun.

Indian Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral was among the mourners Sunday. Gujral, accompanied by Sister Nirmala, who succeeded Mother Teresa at the head of her religious order in March, circled the platform bearing Mother Teresa's body and stood in silence with folded hands for some time.

"We had (Mahatma) Gandhi in the first half of the century to show us the path to fight against poverty, and in the second half we have the Mother to show us the path to work for the poor," Gujral later told reporters.

"She is no more. Millions are feeling that they have become orphaned. I am one of the orphans," he said.

In a message of condolence to Gujral and Indian President K.R. Narayanan, Russian President Boris Yeltsin echoed Gujral's sentiments.

"All the life of this great woman was the bright incarnation of service to the high humanitarian ideals of goodness, compassion, selflessness and faith," he said. "Mother Teresa will always remain in the hearts and minds of Russians as a friend of our country, ready to render help at any moment."

Mother Theresa's body is moved from a small chapel to a larger church to accomodate crowds that want to pay their last respects.
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Mother Teresa's body will be buried Saturday in a state funeral ceremony, an honor usually accorded only to senior politicians and heads of state. The gesture, decided upon by Gujral's Cabinet on Saturday, was a mark of extraordinary respect for a Roman Catholic nun who served the people of the predominantly Hindu nation directly rather than through any official post.

The funeral service will be held in St. Thomas Church in Calcutta, which is part of the Loreto Convent where Mother Teresa began her worldwide missionary effort.

The Vatican was already receiving calls to proclaim Mother Teresa a saint, a process that takes many years.

"A good Catholic"
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Archbishop John P. Foley said she was a woman of "profound faith and prayer."

And Pope John Paul II, a close personal friend of Mother Teresa, lauded her work in an address Sunday, saying her "endless inner energy" was "the energy of Christ's love." He is in the midst of preparations for a trip to Latin America and will be unable to attend her funeral.

Heads of state worldwide were also considering whether to attend. As of Saturday evening, senior U.S. administration officials said President Clinton would not attend Mother Teresa's funeral. The administration will settle on arrangements early next week, the officials said. First lady Hillary Rodham Clinton might attend.

After the service, the humble nun's body will be taken to its final resting place in the convent where she lived and toiled for the poorest of the poor for most of her life.

Correspondents Anita Pratap and Gayle Young and Reuters contributed to this report.

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