MOTHER TERESA knew poverty inside and out. Having devoted her life to those living on the streets in Calcutta, India – and around the world – she daily ministered to those most would consider the poorest people on earth.
The poor were her passion and her life’s work. No one was more identified with the destitute than she was. So when she spoke to the Harvard graduates of 1982, they were well within their rights to expect her to speak of the poor – of a poverty most of them could not even imagine.
She did speak that day of poverty, but it was not the poverty of a faraway place.
Mother Teresa explained that the poorest of the poor weren’t in the slums of India; they were our neighbors right here in America. Calling abortion “one of the greatest poverties,” the humble saint added: “A nation, people, family that allows that, that accepts that, they are the poorest of the poor.”
Those who knew her were not surprised.
The previous year, I had the privilege of spending an entire day with Mother Teresa in Washington, D.C. There, she had spoken movingly about her work in Calcutta and especially about helping the unborn. She related “a very bad case,” when one of her sisters found eight babies that had survived abortion in a bucket outside a clinic. She said she was able to save six and find loving homes for them.
She then said, “God has given your country so much. Do not be afraid of the child now. Do not turn your back to the little unborn child. Stand by that innocent one. My prayer for you and for your whole country is that we may realize the greatness of God’s love for us and, with that love, protect the unborn child, the greatest gift of God for each of us and for the world.”
Such language conveyed a consistent theme of hers. In 1979, upon receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, Mother Teresa said, “To me, the nations who have legalized abortion, they are the poorest nations. They are afraid of the little one, they are afraid of the unborn child, and the child must die because they don’t want to feed one more child, to educate one more child.”
Concern for unborn life was part of – indeed central to – her concern for the poor and the marginalized.
In 1994, at the National Prayer Breakfast, attended by congressional leaders of both parties and by President and Mrs. Clinton, Mother Teresa made a direct plea to the American people: “I feel 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?”
She added, “Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching its people to love, but to use any violence to get what they want.”
By the time this issue of Columbia reaches homes, Mother Teresa will have been honored with the title we knew she deserved even while she was alive: the title of saint. Many consider her the patron of the poor, for such she always was. Many also point to the obvious similarities between her love for the abandoned and that of Pope Francis.
But it would be an incomplete analysis of either Mother Teresa or the pope who canonized her if we overlooked how fundamental the plight of the unborn is to their broader discussion of poverty, marginalization and human dignity.
Indeed, Pope Francis has said things that easily could have been said by the woman he has raised to the honor of the altars. For instance, in a 2014 address he said, “It is therefore necessary to express the strongest possible opposition to every direct attack on life, especially against the innocent and defenseless, and the unborn in the mother’s womb is the example of innocence par excellence.”
And while some argue that societal ills, such as poverty, cause abortion, Mother Teresa saw abortion as the greatest poverty and as the cause of other social problems, including violence.
I have called for withholding our votes from pro-abortion candidates of any party. In prioritizing the many issues in the United States this election season, I suggest we follow Mother Teresa and place abortion above every other consideration. It merits such priority – both as the unparalleled killing of 50 million innocents in this country, and as what Mother Teresa called the “greatest poverty” and the “greatest destroyer of peace.”
Consistent with Catholic thought on the issue, during my annual report to last month’s Supreme Convention I said that I felt called as a matter of conscience to repeat what I had stated to delegates eight years ago when the Supreme Convention met in Québec City.
Once again we meet during a presidential election campaign in the United States and once again we face the question: “How should Catholics exercise their responsibilities as citizens?”
Catholics often confront a dilemma in deciding how to vote: Can we support a candidate who may be attractive for many reasons but who supports abortion? Some partisan advocates have sought to excuse support for pro-abortion candidates through a complex balancing act.
They claim other issues are important enough to offset a candidate’s support for abortion. But the right to abortion is not just another political issue; it is in reality a legal regime that has resulted in more than 40 million deaths.
Imagine for a moment the largest 25 cities in the United States and Canada suddenly empty of people. This is what the loss of 40 million human beings would look like.
In fact, 40 million is greater than the entire population of Canada. What political issue could possibly outweigh this human devastation?
The answer, of course, is that there is none.
Abortion is different. Abortion is the killing of the innocent on a massive scale. We need to end the political manipulation of Catholic voters by abortion advocates.
It is time to end the entanglement of Catholic people with abortion killing. It is time to stop creating excuses for voting for pro-abortion politicians.
We will never succeed in building a culture of life if we continue to vote for politicians who support a culture of death. Catholic voters have the power to transform our politics.
We could start by heeding the words that St. Mother Teresa spoke while receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979:
“And so today, let us here make a strong resolution: We are going to save every little child, every unborn child, give them a chance to be born. … Let us all pray that we have the courage to stand by the unborn child, and give the child an opportunity to love and to be loved, and I think with God’s grace we will be able to bring peace in the world.”