Sister Nirmala’s body, placed in a glass casket with candles and wreaths at her feet, was kept at the Missionaries of Charity’s global headquarters Mother House where the funeral mass was attended by political and religious leaders, as also the poorest of the poor.
Sister Nirmala, Mother Teresa’s successor as superior general of the Missionaries of Charity, died on Tuesday following renal failure and heart complications.
The mass was led by Archbishop of Kolkata Father Thomas D’Souza who spoke in glowing terms about the nun’s life and achievements, her deep spirituality and her love for the poor and the needy.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee recounted her affable personality and service to the poor.
“Sister Nirmala always had a smile on her face. Physically we may have lost her but she will be alive through her ideology and philosophy,” Banerjee said as the nuns sang songs, including Rabindra Sangeet.
Banerjee was accompanied by city mayor Sovan Chatterjee, Trinamool Congress MP Derek O’Brien and Kolkata Police Commissioner S.K. Purkayastha.
Sister Prema, head of the MoC, described her as the embodiment of courage and compassion that Mother Teresa stood for.
“She spread the message of love and compassion to all she met. There were no manipulations, no pretenses. She gave each one time and space to unfold their concerns. She welcomed all,” said Sister Prema, who succeeded Sister Nirmala as the superior general of the catholic congregation in 2009.
Cutting across class and religious barriers, a steady stream of visitors trickled in since 10 a.m. in south Kolkata’s Mother House where the body was kept for public viewing beside Mother Teresa’s marble tomb.
As rain pelted down on the narrow entrance to the building, close to 250 citizens, including the nuns, gathered around in the airy room to “celebrate her legacy”.
Several clicked photos and joined in singing hymns, amid tight security.
Prominent among the visitors were the elderly who were helped by the nuns of the charitable organisation to approach the glass casket and offer flowers.
Frail and wispy, but smiling, 83-year-old B. Collins walked in gingerly, aided by a nun.
“She was ever-smiling and always helpful. How can I weep? She lived a full life and did her part for humanity,” Collins, who is cared for by the organisation, told IANS.
In the backdrop of hymns of ‘Maria Tujhe Pranam’ softly echoing across the room, Mohammed Parwez hobbled in clutching a garland.
The physically-challenged man kissed the glass casket and bowed before Mother’s tomb.
“Sister Nirmala is gone but I hope the sisters will carry on the good work they have been doing for poor people like me,” he told IANS.
Describing her as “holy” and “simple”, an MoC nun from Argentina who has been living in the city for nearly a decade, said Sister Nirmala was “active” in managing the work of organisation even in failing health.
Archimede Ruggiero, a doctor from Italy, who practices Ayurveda and helps train nurses in Kerala, happened to be in the city to offer tribute to Mother Teresa, but stayed back to learn about Sister Nirmala’s work.
“I met Mother Teresa and I have been inspired by her and I have been working with people in Kerala to do my part as a human being. But I am also praying for Sister Nirmala here today (Wednesday),” Ruggiero said in broken English.
As the numbers of visitors swelled, one could spot army officers, office-goers and Muslim clerics in queue. Infants of the MoC’S Sishu Bhavan were also brought in by volunteers and made to touch Sister Nirmala’s glass casket and Mother’s tomb.
Ringed by backpackers and volunteers from countries like Spain and the US, well-known citizens like singer Usha Uthup silently offered their last respects before her funeral at St.John’s Church in the evening.
Sister Nirmala became the second head of the order after its founder Mother Teresa stepped down from the post in March 1997.
During her 12-year stewardship of the Kolkata-headquartered order founded in 1950, Sister Nirmala visited a large number of countries, opening new houses and drawing more people to the Missionaries of Charity, which now has under its fold over 4,500 religious sisters and activities spread across 133 countries.
She was honoured with India’s second highest civilian order ‘Padma Vibhushan’ in 2009 for her services to the nation.