Braving rain, hundreds pay homage to Sister Nirmala

Kolkata, June 24 (IANS) Braving the rain, hundreds of people from India and abroad paid their last respects to Mother Teresa’s successor Sister Nirmala on Wednesday.

Her body has been kept at the Missionaries of Charity’s global headquarters Mother House here for the public to pay their respects.

Sister Nirmala, Mother Teresa’s successor as superior general of the Missionaries of Charity, died here on Tuesday following renal failure and heart complications.

Cutting across class and religious barriers, a steady stream of visitors trickled in since 10 a.m. in south Kolkata’s Mother House as rain pelted down on the narrow entrance to the building.

Placed in a glass casket with candles and wreaths near her feet, Sister Nirmala’s body was kept beside Mother Teresa’s marble tomb. 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 organization 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.A

“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.

“She was so inspired by Mother Teresa, that she considered her suffering due to poor health insignificant in comparison to the sufferings of the destitute and homeless,” the nun told IANS on condition of anonymity.

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 USA, well-known citizens like singer Usha Uthup silently offered their last respects before her funeral at St.John’s Church in the evening.

R. Sen came all the way from Pune to get a last glimpse.

“I used to meet her often when I was in Kolkata. She worked selflessly all her life and inspired the common man to do good,” Sen said.

Sister Nirmala became the second head of the order after its founder Mother Teresa stepped down from the post in March 1997. The Nobel laureate, who died on September 5 the same year, was in 2003 beatified as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.

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.

Born Nirmala Joshi in Ranchi to a Brahmin family from Nepal in 1934, Sister Nirmala joined the order after converting to Christianity in 1958.

She was elected for a second term in 2003.

Sister Nirmala was re-elected for a third term on March 13, 2009, but the MoC held a second election days later after she wanted to be relieved of the responsibility owing to ill-health and also expressed a desire to return to the contemplative life she led before heading the order.

She was honoured with India’s second highest civilian order Padma Vibhushan in 2009 for her services to the nation.

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