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NEWBURY PARK | VENTURA COUNTY FOCUS

Mother Teresa's Friend Tells of Trip

September 17, 1997|COLL METCALFE

Marlene Elias said she knows her life is blessed.

Otherwise, how would she, a 64-year-old housewife and gospel singer from Newbury Park, have ever befriended India's "Saint of the Gutters," Mother Teresa, and gotten the chance to sing at the revered nun's state funeral Saturday?

"It was a truly wonderful experience," she said of her brief visit to Calcutta. "Getting to see her for one last time, well, it was just my heart's dream."

Before a crowd of more than 12,000 people, including heads of state and dozens of other foreign dignitaries, Elias sang two songs inspired by past meetings with Mother Teresa.

"At first I had butterflies, but then the stadium got very quiet," she said. "I just thanked God for that because the people really wanted to hear the words."

Mother Teresa's funeral was of the scope normally reserved for the death of a king or president. That didn't surprise Elias, considering the impression Mother Teresa had made on the world.

"I told the other nuns that Mother would have been a little embarrassed by all this, because she was so humble," Elias said. "But she really deserved it."

Although the mourners at the funeral included many world figures, Elias said it was the ordinary people, such as a disabled child and some people with leprosy who placed gifts on the altar, who made the greatest impression.

"Those were certainly the most touching moments for me," Elias said. "Those were the people who Mother really loved."

Elias said that she will continue to put Mother Teresa's message of compassion and love to work in her own life.

The singer, who works as a receptionist at the Pierce Brothers Mortuary in the Conejo Valley, said that she taped hours of conversations she had with Mother Teresa over the years and hopes to write a book detailing the nun's words of wisdom. She will also continue traveling the country, visiting groups to present a slide show and talk about Mother Teresa.

"Mother always said that she wanted to be the pencil in God's hand," she said. "She has a message for the world and I'm going to try and bring it to the people."

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