| Pope John Paul II on his Popemobile against the backdrop of a giant tapestry of Mother Teresa after she was beatified in Vatican City. (AFP)
Rome, Oct. 19: India was everywhere in St Peter’s Square — in the blue and white saris of the nuns and the flutter of the Tricolour in the sea of flags of several countries — but the presence of the Indian government in a junior minister left some unhappy faces.
The relatively low-profile P.C. Thomas, the minister of state for law and justice, was among the dignitaries presented to the Pope and bent down and kissed the Pontiff’s hand, as did the minister’s wife.
There was a feeling among some of the Indians in the square that Mother Teresa and the Church of Rome had been snubbed by the Indian government, deliberately or otherwise.
“They could have sent someone else as well,” was the cautious reaction from Father Hippoletus Toppo from Tejpur.
In fact, Yashwant Sinha, the external affairs minister, is due in Milan today for a meeting of Indian heads of missions from European Union countries. It would have been easy for him to have postponed the conference by a day so as to represent India in St Peter’s Square.
Thomas himself was at pains to point out: “The Prime Minister, Mr Vajpayee, holds Mother Teresa in great esteem and hence he asked me to represent the government.”
Others who appeared to agree that the Indian government had behaved badly was the Calcutta-based singer Usha Uthup, who said she had been “invited by the Vatican” in recognition of her charity work for Mother Teresa.
She was incensed, she disclosed, by the proposal (of Calcutta’s mayor Subrata Mukherjee) to rename Park Street as Mother Teresa Sarani. “Ish! Faltu! (What rubbish!),” she declared. “This shows great disrespect to Mother Teresa.”
She had wanted to sing today but could not be accommodated within the strict programme decreed by the Catholic Church. “I am not Christian,” said Uthup, “but in many ways I am more Christian than many Christians.”
The Indian ambassador in Rome, Himachal Som, made amends for the alleged shortcomings of the government he represents by commenting: “This is a great day for India and the world.”
However, it is not Som but his colleague in Berne, B.L. Goyal, who is accredited to the Vatican.
Most ordinary Indians in Rome have their own Mother Teresa story to tell. Even the Indian embassy driver, Prakash, could not resist disclosing: “I have met and driven Mother Teresa in Rome 27 times. I used to suffer from very bad headaches. She put her hand on my head, blessed me and I have not had any headaches since.”
One thing was obvious in St Peter’s Square — Mother Teresa’s eye for colour. Among the westerners and especially the Italians, who consider themselves with the French to be world leaders in fashion, the simple blue and white saris of the Missionaries of Charity stood out and looked exceptionally elegant against the backdrop of probably the most magnificent setting that could be conjured up for such an occasion.
One of the sisters, Sister Blandina, from Kerala, which has sent the biggest contingent by far, said: “I am so happy to be here.”
The square, which is oval in shape, is dominated by ramparts where stand the statues of past Popes and other great figures from the Roman Church. In front of the Pope was a colourful display of tulips — yellow, red, orange and pink.
Flanking the Pope were the archbishops in white (Henry D’Souza and Lukas Sarkar had come from Calcutta), bishops in red and cardinals in purple. The 136 cardinals, it is understood, have been meeting informally to discuss the succession to the Pope, a Pole who was the first non-Italian to be chosen in over 500 years. Now, there is talk that a black African may be picked, though this is at the moment mere speculation.