When she won the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1979, many were surprised. When she delivered her acceptance speech in Oslo Norway on December 11, she surprised her skeptics even more. She was audacious enough to say things that are not usually expected on such occasions, though they were exactly the kind of things she was wont to say always and anywhere. With no regard for the protocol of political correctness, she calmly said to the distinguished gathering, and fully within the perspective of “world peace”: “But I feel the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a direct war, a direct killing, direct murder by the mother herself. And we read in the scripture, for God says very clearly: Even if a mother could forget her child, I will not forget you. I have carved you in the palm of my hand. We are carved in the palm of his hand; so close to him, that unborn child has been carved in the hand of God.”
On February 3, 1994, at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C., she surprised, if she did not shock, the President of the United States and his wife by saying that “the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a war against the child, a direct killing of the innocent child, murder by the mother herself. And if we accept that a mother can kill even her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another?” President Clinton had said that abortions should be “safe, legal, and rare.” This represented his supposedly liberal, enlightened, and moderate stance on abortion. His invited guest was saying that abortion is never safe for the unborn, should be made illegal, and must never take place. And it was this eloquent adversary who won the Nobel Peace Prize!
When she concluded, everyone present (except one significant couple) rose and applauded her. President Clinton and the First Lady remained solemnly and stoically seated. They were not pleased with what they had just heard.
And then, on January 20, 2001, in that same nation’s capitol, she reappeared, most unexpectedly. Clinton’s successor, George W. Bush, was delivering his inaugural address. He acknowledged the spirited election, the country’s need for “civility, courage, compassion, and character,” and the duty to honour everyone. He underscored the enormity of the task ahead and asked his fellow citizens to “seek a common good beyond your comfort.” “Sometimes in life we are called to do great things,” he said. “But as a saint of our times has said, everyday we are called to do small things with great love. The most important tasks of a democracy are done by everyone.”
President Bush did not mention her by name, but he was confident that his audience would recognize and welcome the presence of Mother Teresa.
The outgoing president and his pro-abortion ally, Al Gore, listened to the address while seated in oversized comfortable chairs. What they heard no doubt caused them to writhe in ideological discomfort. President Clinton was out, and the poor nun who lived amongst the poorest of the poor in the streets of Calcutta, was in. The irony was as surprising as it was sweet. As one New York Times editor commented, “jubilant Republican dignitaries” were counterpoised against “somber Democratic leaders.”
Two days later, President Bush enacted his first major policy. He reversed the Clinton administration’s position on family planning aid to international groups by preventing U.S. money from going to support abortion. “It is my conviction,” he stated in his executive memorandum to the United States Agency for International Development, “that taxpayer funds should not be used to pay for abortions or advocate or actively promote abortion either here or abroad.” “This means,” explained Douglas Johnson, legislative director for National Right to Life, “that the U.S. government will no longer be using taxpayer dollars to try to legalize abortion in countries in Latin America, Africa and Muslim countries in which the people are strongly opposed to abortion and believe in the protection of unborn children.”
On that very same day, January 22, 2001, the 28th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, President Bush provided a written statement that Representative Chris Smith (R-NJ) read to an enthusiastic throng at the annual March for Life. “The promises of our Declaration of Independence are not just for the strong, the independent or the healthy. They are for everyone, including unborn children. We share a great goal, to work toward a day when every child is welcomed in life and protected in law … to build a culture of life, affirming that every person at every stage and season of life, is created equal in God’s image.”
The conspicuous reference to “a culture of life,” virtually identifiable with Pope John Paul II, offers great hope for America and President Bush’s term of office. By promising to honour the life of everyone, born and unborn, he is being truly inclusive, liberal, and democratic. He was promising to provide in substance what his adversaries were willing to provide only in empty rhetoric.
“We know the race is not to the swift nor the battle to the strong,” Bush said toward the close of his inaugural address, quoting a Virginia statesman by the name of John Page. “Do you not think an angel rides in the whirlwind and directs the storm?” Perhaps we should not discount the role Mother Teresa may continue to play in directing America through her stormy times ahead.Donald DeMarco is a professor of philosophy at
St. Jerome’s University in Waterloo, Ont.