Mother Teresa knew poverty inside and out. Having devoted her life to the destitute on the streets of Calcutta – 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 on earth was more identified with the destitute. So when she addressed 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 spoke 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.
Mother Teresa was able to save six and find loving homes for them.
After telling that story, she 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 was a consistent theme of hers.
In 1979, when Mother Teresa received the Nobel Peace Prize, she noted: “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, saying: “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?”
Mother Teresa continued: “Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching its people to love, but to use any violence to get what they want.”
In a few days, Mother Teresa will be honored with the title we knew she deserved even while she was alive, the title of saint. Many will consider her the patron of the poor, for such she always was. Many will point to the abundant similarities between her love for – and ministry to – those with no one else with that of Pope Francis.
But it would be an incomplete analysis of either Mother Teresa, or the pope who will canonize her, if we overlooked how fundamental the plight of the unborn is to their broader discussion of poverty, marginalization, and human dignity.
Today, some argue that societal ills, such as poverty, cause abortion. Mother Teresa saw it differently. She saw abortion not only as the greatest poverty, but also as the cause of other social problems, especially violence.
I have called for withholding our votes from pro-abortion candidates of either party.
In prioritizing our nation’s many issues 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.”
We can start by heeding the words she 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. …[L]et 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.”
Carl Anderson is Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus and a New York Times bestselling author. The Knights of Columbus are the primary partner of Crux.