There is a famous photo from the Vietnam era of a teenage girl holding a flower up to a phalanx of National Guardsmen with their bayonets drawn during the 1967 anti-war protest in Washington D.C. The photo came to define the cause for peace.
I think of that photo when I see the tireless marchers who go to Washington every year to march for life. They, too, are a few, protesting a system that promotes death.
I think of that photo and I’m reminded of St. Mother Teresa, who delivered her acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize 40 years ago.
Watch the video. A diminutive sister who lived among the poor, the sick and the dying is surrounded by the world’s culturally elite. It’s obvious that her plea to end abortion made the assembled dignities very uncomfortable. She wasn’t a professional speaker but she was an impassioned one, inspired by the Holy Spirit. She, too, was protesting a war. She was protesting what St. John Paul II called the “war of the powerful against the weak” in his encyclical The Gospel of Life.
His vision was prophetic: “It is a problem which exists at the cultural, social and political level, where it reveals its more sinister and disturbing aspect in the tendency … to interpret crimes against life as legitimate expressions of individual freedom to be acknowledged and protected as actual rights.”
In a Commonweal interview, Pope Francis said: “In the world of finance, it has seemed normal to sacrifice [people], to practice a politics of the throwaway culture, from the beginning to the end of life. I’m thinking of prenatal selection. It’s very unusual these days to meet down syndrome people on the street because when the tomograph [scan] detects them, they are binned.”
In America, abortion is a multi-billion dollar business that takes the lives of more than 800,000 children every year. We subsidize it, we export it, and we permit it even up to birth.
But our political leaders are out of touch with the average person. A Marist Poll sponsored by the Knights of Columbus found “a strong majority of Americans wants to elect candidates who support substantial abortion restrictions and that most Americans still reject the Supreme Court’s reasoning in the 1973 Roe v. Wade case.”
According to the poll, “a notable proportion (41 percent) of those who identity as pro-choice are more likely to vote for candidates who support restrictions, as are more than nine in 10 who identify as pro-life (96 percent).”
In her acceptance speech, St. Mother Teresa said that many people are concerned about children in India and Africa who die of malnutrition, “yet millions are dying deliberately by abortion, and this is the greatest destroyer of peace today.” She said a culture that encourages abortion inevitably becomes a culture of violence.
“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,” she said. “And if we accept that a mother can kill her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another? Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching people to love, but to use violence to get what they want.”
Her words have come true.
In a speech at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington D.C. in 1994, she expressed hope that America would become an example for the rest of the world, a place where all life is sacred.
“If we remember that God loves us and that we can love others as He loves us, then America can become a sign of peace for the world,” she said. “From this country, a sign of care for the weakest of the weak—the unborn child—must go out to the world. If you become a burning light of justice and peace in the world, then really you will be true to what the founders of this country stood for.” That was her vision. Is it the vision of our political leaders?