Canonisation urged as India grieves for Mother Teresa

As thousands of people flocked to pay their last respects to Mother Teresa in Calcutta, the Vatican was inundated this weekend with demands from bishops, priests and ambassadors to declare her a saint as soon as possible.

"Your Holiness, proclaim Mother Teresa a saint, immediately," read a telegram from an Italian priest called Brother Renato. "She was a saint in life and she will be a saint after her death," pronounced the United States Ambassador to the Holy See, Raymond Flynn. The Peruvian bishop Ricardo Flores announced he would write to the Pope urging him to begin the beatification process straight away.

According to Vatican rules, a person may not be considered for the long and tortuous process of sainthood until at least five years after his or her death. It is highly unusual for anyone to become a saint while those with personal memories of the figure in question are still alive.

But Mother Teresa was described so often as a "living saint" that the outpouring of emotion, even from clerics who know the rules, was unstoppable. Yesterday, the Pope paid personal homage to her for the second time in two days, describing her as his "very dear sister" whose memory was very much alive.

In Calcutta, church bells pealed and anguished wails rose from mourners as the wooden coffin holding her body was carried from a small chapel to a larger church, where her admirers will be able to pay their final respects.

Missionary nuns and altar boys carrying candles and a crucifix surrounded the open coffin as pallbearers placed it in an ambulance for the trip to the church where Mother Teresa, who died on Friday, aged 87, will lie in state for the next week..

The coffin lid, with a silver plaque that read: "Our dearest Mother Teresa, RIP," was also placed in the ambulance before it sped three miles on roads cleared of traffic to St Thomas's, one of the oldest and largest Catholic churches in Calcutta.

People filed through the church, stopping for a few moments before the Nobel laureate's body, which lay under glass on a 4ft platform draped in white and blue cloth - the colours of her Missionaries of Charity order. Air conditioners will help preserve the body until her funeral on Saturday.

Among yesterday's mourners was IK Gujral, the Indian Prime Minister, who placed a large wreath of white flowers on the platform, and said his country was "fortunate that Mother Teresa started her mission of compassion in India". He said: "In the first half of the 20th century, we had Mahatma Gandhi to lead us against poverty, hunger and injustice," and added that in the second half, Mother Teresa "showed us that the path of service was work for the poor".

A day before, Mr Gujral ordered a state funeral for Mother Teresa, an honour normally conferred only on serving presidents and prime ministers. Flags flew at half-mast across the nation.

The site of Mother Teresa's funeral has not yet been decided, said the Rev Valerian Nazareth, a priest at St Thomas's. He said the government had offered a large indoor sports stadium in Calcutta, and officials were also considering the lawn of the city's premier Catholic college, St Xavier's.

Mother Teresa will be buried at the convent in central Calcutta that was her home and the headquarters of her Missionaries of Charity order, said Sister Brunet at the mission.