Washington.--At a National Prayer Breakfast here Thursday, Mother Teresa of Calcutta delivered the most startling and bold proclamation of truth to power I have heard in my more than 30 professional years in Washington.
Before an audience of 3,000 that included, among others, the president and vice president, their wives and congressional leaders, the 83-year-old nun, who is physically frail but spiritually and rhetorically powerful, delivered an address that cut to the heart of the social ills afflicting America.
She said that America, once known for generosity to the world, has become selfish. And she said that the greatest proof of that selfishness is abortion.
Tying abortion to growing violence and murder in the streets, she said, "If we accept that a mother can kill even her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill each other? . . . Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching its people to love, but to use any violence to get what they want."
At that line, most of those in attendance erupted in a standing ovation, something that rarely occurs at these sedate events. President Clinton quickly reached for his water glass, and Mrs. Clinton and Vice President and Mrs. Gore stared without expression at Mother Teresa. They did not applaud. It was clearly an uncomfortable moment on the dais.
She then delivered the knockout punch: "Many people are very, very concerned with children in India, with the children of Africa where quite a few die of hunger, and so on. Many people are also concerned about all the violence in this great country of the United States. These concerns are very good. But often these same people are not concerned with the millions who are being killed by the deliberate decision of their own mothers. And this is what is the greatest destroyer of peace today -- abortion, which brings people to such blindness."
What? Abortion destroys peace and causes blindness toward the sick, the hungry and the naked? Abortion leads to wars between nations?
Of course it does, if life is regarded so lightly and its disposal becomes so trivial, so clinical and so easy. Why should people or nations regard human life as noble or dignified if abortion flourishes? Why agonize about indiscriminate death in Bosnia when babies are being killed far more efficiently and out of the sight of television cameras?
Mother Teresa delivered her address without rhetorical flourishes. She never raised her voice or pounded the lectern. Her power was in her words and the selfless life she has led.
Even President Clinton, in his remarks that followed, acknowledged she was beyond criticism because of the life she has lived in service to others.
At the end, she pleaded for pregnant women who don't want their children to give them to her: "I am willing to accept any child who would be aborted and to give that child to a married couple who will love the child and be loved by the child." She said she has placed over 3,000 children in adoptive homes from her Calcutta headquarters alone.
She has answered the question, "Who will care for all of these babies if abortion is again outlawed?" Now the question is whether a woman contemplating abortion wishes to be selfish or selfless, to take life or to give life.
Cal Thomas is a syndicated columnist.