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O.C. Pays Last Respects to Selfless Nun in Memorial Service, Vigils

September 14, 1997|MIMI KO CRUZ and SHELBY GRAD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Orange County paid its last respects Saturday to the woman who inspired the world by serving the most downtrodden and destitute--the poorest of the poor.

Whether it be by attending special memorial services and prayer vigils or by watching Mother Teresa's funeral on television, hundreds of residents mourned the loss of the beloved nun from Calcutta, who died on Sept. 5. She was 87.

"She's such an inspiration," said Nemy Reyes, 62, of Orange. "Her words that most touched me were that she sees Christ in everybody, even the ones that are so unlovable, the smelly, the dirty. That is what will live with me. She was living the gospel, such a shining example to the whole world."

Reyes said she was glued to her television for four hours watching Mother Teresa's funeral and commentaries about her life. A few hours after the funeral concluded, Reyes attended a memorial Mass at Holy Family Cathedral in Orange and then a prayer vigil at another Orange parish, St. Norbert's Catholic Church.

"She's a saint to me and I'm already praying to her," Reyes said, her eyes glistening.

More than 150 people gathered at St. Norbert's, where they prayed the rosary in a procession that circled the parking lot several times before entering the church to take part in the Eucharist and watch a video. The film featured Mother Teresa spreading her message of love and service while expressing her gratitude to the doctors and nurses of Scripps Clinic in San Diego, where she was treated for a heart ailment and pneumonia in 1992.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner's words prompted tears from many of the parishioners, who paid tribute to her in English and Spanish.

In the video, she told of a young Hindu couple who gave her the money they intended to use on a grand wedding. Instead, the couple told her, " 'Mother, we love each other so much that we wanted to share the joy of loving with the people you serve,' " Mother Teresa said, adding: "You can share the joy of loving every time you take care of the sick."

She also told of a man who was covered with worms on the streets of Calcutta. The Catholic missionary, who became known as "the saint of the gutters," took the man to one of her clinics, where she removed his worms and he died with dignity. She said he told her, "I lived on the streets like an animal but, I'm going to die like an angel."

Mother Teresa also urged help for the poverty-stricken people of Tijuana, where she opened three clinics for the sick, homeless, abandoned and crippled.

At St. Norbert's, one of the recipients of Mother Teresa's charity sat in the front pew, his eyes fixed on the screen and his hands clutching his rosary. Tyler Fortney, 9, was born prematurely in one of Mother Teresa's clinics in India. "She takes care of me," he said. "I love her."

The boy was adopted by a couple from Corona when he was a few months old. Sister Carolyn Monahan, of St. Catherine's Military School in Anaheim, who accompanied Tyler, said Mother Teresa held him in her arms when he was a newborn and gave him his Indian name--Swapin.

"The gift she brought was her love for individual people, one by one," Monahan said. "She didn't see poor people, she saw a poor person and she loved that poor person. . . . She kept on loving the people, one at a time."

Father John-Paul Hopping, pastor of St. Norbert's, told the parishioners that Mother Teresa knew what was important.

"The trick is to give love," he said. "In our society, there's this fantastic struggle for power. You have to have power. . . . The only power worth having is to give a smile to those people that Mother Teresa served. That's the only thing that really matters, that will last, because it comes from God, because it's love."

In attendance were families and people of all ages and faiths. Members of the Father J.J. Juba Council 4922 of Orange participated in the rosary procession and memorial led by Hopping.

Earlier in the day, Bishop Norman F. McFarland conducted a Mass at Holy Family Cathedral, attended by about 400 people.

"Today the world bids a fond farewell to Mother Teresa, a woman who taught us the true meaning of love: love of God, love of neighbor," he said. "She reached out to one tormented body at a time and she made her point. . . . Direct and simple, courageous and telling. When she spoke, all India listened and the world took notes."

Indeed, said Ed Lynch, 57, of Santa Ana. "She'll be truly missed all over the world by everybody, especially the poor. She was a living saint, exemplifying what the Lord asks all of us to do with our lives--truly love each other, be kind to each other."

Local dignitaries also paid homage to Mother Teresa.

Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Newport Beach) led the congressional delegation to her funeral, while the Rev. Robert H. Schuller attended as a guest of President Clinton.

"It was a very dignified event. Although it was held in an indoor stadium, it felt like a church," said Cox, who was seated about 30 feet from Mother Teresa's open casket.

"When we took Communion, I passed by the casket and waited for a long moment. It was very moving," Cox added in a phone interview from Calcutta. "This was a 3 1/2-hour funeral. But after Mother Teresa's body was taken away at the end, the entire stadium remained for a good quarter of an hour. There was silence."

Cox said the most emotional moment of the ceremony came during a stirring performance by a female choir made up of members of the Missionaries of Charity.

"Their voices were beautiful but haunting," Cox said. "They loaned a moving quality to the whole experience."

Cox presented India's Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujra with an official resolution passed by Congress last week honoring Mother Teresa.

"Mother Teresa was striking in every way," Cox added. "It seems everyone was struck by the force of her death."

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