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Mother's metro ready for her funeral

Routemap The railings along Calcutta's Park street have got a fresh coat of paint, the sidewalks have been repaired. And bamboo barricades have come up all along the route.

Saturday morning, this is the route for the Funeral of the Decade, the road which Mother Teresa will traverse on her final journey.

At 0920 hours, the procession will start from the St Thomas church. The guncarriage transporting Mother's body will move along Park street, turn left onto Jawaharlal Nehru road, Cathedral road, Queen's Way, Casuarina Avenue, Kidderpore road, Red road, Rani Rashmoni Avenue and Auckland road on its way to the Netaji stadium. The services will start at 1000 hours.

Already, a tight security blanket has been thrown over the city as a large number of dignitaries, both from home and abroad, have started arriving.

Sources said that over 20,000 policemen have been deployed to ensure the smooth conduct of the function. Local police personnel will be aided by the National Security Guard and the Special Protection Group to provide security for visiting dignitaries from 23 countries.

The police have imposed severe restrictions on traffic movement in the city for Saturday. No heavy vehicles will be allowed in. Some arterial roads would be completely closed to traffic for several hours.

Unprecedented security arrangements have been made in all hotels where the high-profile guests have been booked in. Hotels, guest-houses and lodges are overflowing.

United States First Lady Hillary Clinton is expected to arrive on Friday night, leading a 30-member delegation. She will be accompanied by several politicians, religious leaders and non- resident Indians, and is expected to meet President K R Narayanan and Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral at Raj Bhavan on Saturday afternoon.

She is also expected to visit Mother Teresa's Shishu Bhavan and meet the US consul-general in Calcutta, Cherryl Sim, before her departure at about 1900 hours.

Narayanan flew into the metro by a special flight from Delhi on Friday evening. Defence Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav also arrived on the same flight.

Italian President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro was the first foreign dignitary to arrive in the city at midnight on Thursday. He was followed by Jordan's Queen Noor who landed on Friday morning.

The other dignitaries who have arrived include British Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott and Bernadette Chirac, the French president's wife.

US Senator Sam Brownback and a six-member Congressional delegation are expected early on Saturday morning.

Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien's wife Aline is also expected to fly in on Saturday. She will be accompanied by Canada's High Commissioner to India H E S E Gooch and wife Nancy, Anglican Archbishop Barry Curtis, Canadian Council of Churches president Therese Gaudry, Leger Foundation Director General Archbishop Francis J Spence, Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops president Cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte, the Archbishop of Montreal, Sisters Michele-Marie, Anne Bernadette Harley, Maryse, Lucie Gilbert, United Church Observer associate editor David Wilson, and Toronto Catholic Register Joe Sinasac.

Altogether, seven countries -- Australia, Germany, France, Macedonia, Nepal, New Zealand and South Korea -- will bring delegations to attend the funeral mass.

Earlier, Missionaries of Charity Superior General Sister Nirmala vowed to continue the work of the organisation the way Mother would have wanted it.

Sister Nirmala said the organisation would not go in for any fund-raising programmes. "We will continue to depend on donations and accept money for God's work," she said.

To a question, she said the organisation was not concerned from where the money was coming or who it was from.

Asked what she would like to become, Sister Nirmala said, "I would like to become a saint. The mission of all sisters is to become one."

She said the organisation would miss the Mother physically. ''But her spirit is alive in our heart, " she said, "Mother will bless us in our job. There are many brothers and sisters in the organisation to share the load."

Speaking about conversions, she said, "the Mother always wanted a Hindu to be a better Hindu, a Muslim to be a better Muslim and a Christian to be a better Christian."

Asked about the government's move to declare Mother House a heritage building, she said: ''We do not want it so.''

Meanwhile, arrangements at the Netaji indoor stadium are almost complete for the funeral. A foolproof security system is being worked out in and around the venue. Senior army officers, including Major General Jitender Singh, general officer commanding, Bengal area, are present at the stadium.

The stadium has been laid out with carpets to ensure comfortable seating and prevent noise. One hundred and thirtyfive nuns from the Missionaries of Charity, supervised by Sisters Tesmes and Sabian, could be seen rehearsing hymns and devotional songs.

Meanwhile, in Washington, a legislation to honour the Mother is sparking controversy in the Congress, where Republicans are pushing for a measure that takes note of the nun's implacable opposition to abortion.

Congressional sources said Democrats objected when Republican leaders sought an immediate vote on a measure noting that Mother Teresa acknowledged the sanctity of life and admonished abortion as the 'greatest destroyer of peace in the world today'.

Republican officials said they intended to bring a version of the same legislation to the floor next week, and insisted it would include a reference to Mother's views on abortion.

Meanwhile, gospel singer Marlene Elias will fly in to pay a final pilgrimage to her friend Mother Teresa. Elias, 64, was invited by Archbishop Henry D'Souza of Calcutta to sing at Mother's funeral.

"I feel like I've lost my mother,'' Elias said, before she left her Californian residence.

One of the songs Elias will sing is Am I My Brother's Keeper? which she wrote and sang two years ago at the dedication of the Mother Teresa Home for Infants in Washington.


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