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Mother Teresa dead

Nobel laureate Mother Teresa died of cardiac arrest at the Missionaries of Charity headquarters in Calcutta on Friday night. She was 87.

Missionaries of Charity sources said the Mother suffered a severe cardiac arrest and passed away at 2130 hours.

A pall of gloom descended over the Missionaries headquarters as grief-stricken sisters and nuns mourned the death of the revered nun. The government announced early on Saturday morning that Mother Teresa will be given a state funeral.

Baptised in 1929, the Albania-born nun chose to make Calcutta her home where she set up the Missionaries of Charity in 1949 to serve the ailing members of humanity.

The Mother, who was hospitalised twice last year, had a bypass surgery and was also on a permanent pace-maker.

She was due to attend an all-faith prayer meeting in Calcutta on Saturday to pay respects to Princess Diana.

Stepping out of the confines of a convent 50 years ago to ''serve god among the poorest of the poor'', the Mother had been a guardian angel for the sick and dying the world over.

Though bent with age and a host of ailments, her spirit and faith remained unbroken as she brought succour to the sick and dying of Kalighat, the gas victims of Bhopal, the flood-striken in Bangladesh, the starving in Ethiopia and the earthquake victims of Armenia.

After being named for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, the ''living saint'' had said, ''I accept in the name of the poor because I believe that by giving me this Prize, they are recognising the presence of the poor in the world.''

In 1990, when Mother Teresa was hospitalised, the world had prayed for her. Fitted with a pace-maker she resumed her work. The Vatican once again installed her as the head of the Missionaries of Charity, faced by the daunting task of finding a successor who would not be overshadowed by her personality.

Mother Teresa had rarely talked about herself. Her visitors to the Missionaries of Charity headquarters in Calcutta which included presidents and prime ministers, millionaires, kings and king-makers were baffled by her reticence.

Her humility was illustrated in a published interview. Asked if she had taken her name after St Teresa of Avila who also left her convent and founded an order, she laughed, ''Oh no, I have not called myself after the big Teresa but the little one -- Teresa of Lisieux.''

India's highest decoration, the Bharat Ratna, was conferred on her in 1980.

For the care she took of destitutes, physically and mentally handicapped, lepers, slumdwellers and socially exploited women, the world community bestowed on her numerous awards.

The Ramon Magsaysay award came to her in 1962 and the government of India honoured her with a Padma Shri the same year. In 1979, she received the Kennedy International award and the Pope John Peace Prize.

The Jawaharlal Nehru International Peace Prize was given to her in 1972, to be followed by the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 -- the first awarded to an Indian citizen.

The first Rajiv Gandhi National Sadbhavna award was conferred on her in 1993. She was also honoured with Leo Tolstoy International Award in 1992.

Though the award were given to her and were in her name, she received them on behalf of those who worked for the Missionaries of Charity and on behalf of the poor, to whom she had dedicated her life.

Born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhia of Albanian parents in Skopje, Yugoslavia, on August 27, 1910, Mother Teresa became a legend in her own lifetime.

''To meet her is to feel utterly humble, to sense the power of tenderness and the strength of love,'' was how a great leader had once described her.

It was at the age of 12 that she first knew she had a vocation to the poor. One of her teachers had predicted that she would one day became a saint.

Six years later, she joined the Sisters of Loreto, an Irish order which sent her to India in 1928 to teach.

As she arrived in Calcutta, she promptly fell in love with a city bursting at its seams. The prevailing poverty and plight of the slum dwellers in the ''City of Joy'' inspired her to spread god's love. She acquired Indian citizenship in 1948.

It was on a train to the hill retreat of Darjeeling in 1946 that she heard the second call to ''serve god among the poorest of the poor''.

And one day with only five rupees in hand, she quietly walked out of the school and the cloister, into the streets to face the colossal problem of human suffering and to bring to it the soothing touch of a single person.

Clothed in a white saree with blue border and a cross on the shoulder -- the symbol of her new identity with the poor of India -- she started a school in the slums.

She knocked on hovel doors, and put sturdy arms around ragged, barefoot children, washed them. And, under a tree in an open field, taught them.

Her first helpers were local teachers who found time from their duties. But soon she realised that a dedicated religious order was necessary to carry on her work.

Out of this realisation was born the congregation of the Missionary Sisters of Charity in 1950. A brotherhood of the same nature was added in 1963 and the International Co-workers of Mother Teresa in 1969.

The Missionaries of Charity, formally recognised by the Vatican in 1965, today has 3,000 nuns working in 87 countries.

The work of the Missionaries of Charity includes running of schools in slums, dispensaries, child welfare schemes, homes for lepers and the mentally retarded.

Hundreds of beggars, lepers, the blind, the crippled, the dying and the unwanted gather daily outside her mission in Calcutta for a free meal. She gave the poor of the slums medical care, schooling, a free meal, a slice of bread or just a clean place to die.

But these boundless acts of love were not without struggles and difficulties. The very first of her institutions, Nirmal Hriday which opened in an abandoned dharamshala near the famous Kali temple, evoked strong protests from Brahmin priests.

The resistance, however, faded when she took a sick and dying Brahmin priest and restored him to health.

On the very first day of the home which opened in 1952, Mother Teresa literally picked up a woman half eaten by rats and ants and carried her to the dharamshala.

As she began to cleanse her, the woman's skin came off her flesh to the gentlest of touches. The warmth of human care and affection could not save her.

Millions of destitutes have been sheltered and cared for in the home and most of them have actually survived.

Slightly built and dimunitive, Mother Teresa eschewed public notice, working in the obscurity of the slums. But her humble approach could not hide the greatness of her work.

She was conferred with more than a hundred awards and citations as her name became a legend in far corners of the world.

''The biggest disease today is not leprosy or tuberculosis, but rather the feeling of being unwanted, uncared for and deserted by everybody,'' she used to say as she shuttled between world cities spreading the message of love for humanity.

''The greatest happiness I get from my work is when I see the smile, the joy that creates love.

''The poor and the suffering do not need your pity. They need your love, your care, your sharing. I want everybody to give to the poor till it hurts,'' she would say.

How the suffering of the poor touched her heart is well brought out in the jottings of her daily diary.

In the early days of her attempt to do something for the poor she noted these thoughts, ''Today I learnt a good lesson. The poverty of the poor must be so hard for them while looking for a home. I walked and walked till my arms and less ached. I thought how much they must ache in body and soul, looking for home, food and health.''

Whenever she spoke, her appeal was to the heart: ''The unwanted are hungry not for food but for love, they are thirsty not for water but for peace, they are naked not for clothes but for dignity, they are homeless not for shelter but for understanding.''

Like a devout Roman Catholic, she opposed abortion and condemned it as the greatest destroyer of man in the world.

''There is no difference between a mother killing her own child and people killing each other,'' she said.

Mother Teresa resisted, even at the risk of being considered ineffectual in producing permanent tangible results, converting the dispossessors into possessors.

In all her work both in India and abroad, she adopted the Indian tradition in service.

She seemed to have assiduously cultivated the Indian outlook and through her it was for the first time that the Catholic order adopted an Indian dress.

For the first time too they lived and worked in the Indian style, squatting on the floor, washing clothes in buckets at the public taps and eating in the India style.

Mother Teresa spoke in fluent Hindi and Bengali to her suffering children.

And though her approach was Christian, she explained her work by using a Bengali phrase bhovaban accham (there is god).


George Iype adds:

Navin Chawla, chairman, Delhi Vidyut Boad and the Mother's biographer, told Rediff On The NeT, "The century has lost its true leader. Mother had adopted India as her home and India had adopted her as the leader of the poor. Her compassion, love and charity is uncomparable in the world."

To Archbishop Joseph Powathil, president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India, "Mother's death is a great loss to the world. She changed the world with her love and compassion for the poor, the sick and the underprivileged. People across the world will remember Mother as the champion of charity. India will miss its mother and its people feel orphaned."

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