Mother Teresa: Pro-Life Heroine of Pro-Life Millennials

Mother Teresa teaches young people to fight for life and defend the teaching of the Church.

Mass and veneration of the relics of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta in the Basilica of Saint Andrea della Valle on Sept. 3, 2016.
Mass and veneration of the relics of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta in the Basilica of Saint Andrea della Valle on Sept. 3, 2016. (photo: Photographer: Daniel Ibañez/CNA)

In the first week after the break I saw much excitement among my students as they were preparing for the 45th Annual March for Life in Washington, D.C. 

More than 100 Seton Hall University students, 1,000 students from Notre Dame University, 200 students from the University of Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota, 500 students from Catholic University of America and many others took part in the March for Life in Washington. These numbers do not surprise me, although the Pew Research Center  identifies millennials as much less likely than their elders to be religious, adding that only about 4 in 10 millennials say religion is very important in their lives. Nonetheless, these “spiritual” millennials are eager to march for life.

In addition to the Pew Research numbers, the Knights of Columbus and Marist released their annual poll on Americans’ abortion views, which found that more than 3 out of 4 Americans support placing significant restrictions on abortion. Fifty-one percent of the 2,617 respondents surveyed identified as pro-choice, compared with 44 percent who identified as pro-life. Numbers apart, from my more than 20 year-experience of teaching college-age-millennials — the generations of John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis, as they identify themselves — I have noticed how pro-life they are. And it's not only Catholic students but also millennials from other religions and atheists or students who are pro-life-Democrats or pro-life-seculars. Of the last category, defending the rights of the unborn is a human rights issue to be raised and addressed.

These millennials have their pro-life heroes, and St. Teresa of Calcutta is at the helm. Although Mother never participated in the Washington marches, her entire life was indeed a march for life. The millennials’ heroine cleverly used her celebrity status to promote the pro-life cause like no one else before her.

Why does Mother Teresa speak to millennials?

In February 1994, Mother Teresa was invited to deliver a speech at the National Prayer Breakfast, an annual, ecumenical and interfaith event which happens every February in Washington. The title of the speech was “Whatever You Did Unto One of the Least, You Did Unto Me.” The then-President Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Al Gore, Tipper Gore and other dignitaries were among more than 3,000 attendees. President Clinton had invited Mother Teresa, and according to her biographer Kathryn Spink, she went somewhat reluctantly.

The four-foot-tall Albanian-tough nun, who was coming from what Pope Francis calls the existential and geographical peripheries of India, was not afraid to speak the truth to the world’s powerful. She was never afraid to bring social issues — including poverty, neglect, and spiritual poverty — to the center of the world’s attention. Mother proceeded with her usual docile humility to the topic that was dear to her heart: love and the protection of the unborn child. Mother Teresa’s strong and straightforward pro-life message made national headlines and was not music to the ears of everyone attending. The periphery was speaking to the center, the powerless to the powerful, the voiceless to those who had a voice. Mother Teresa made many in the audience feel uncomfortable, but the diminutive woman was not afraid.

“The greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a war against the child, a direct killing of the innocent child … Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching its people to love, but to use any violence to get what they want. This is why the greatest destroyer of love and peace is abortion,” said Mother Teresa. She had just pointed the finger and showed the powerful what the Catholic Church teaches to be a grave sin and moral evil — human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person — among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life (Catechism of the Catholic Church2270).

Mother Teresa was appealing to the members of the U.S. Congress, the U.S. Cabinet, the diplomatic corps and international heads of state, making the case in favor of the unborn. However, identifying a problem was not enough for a bright woman like Mother Teresa. She  pointed out a way and provided the way. The small woman from coming from the ends of the world was not shy to offer the well-conceived and well-applied solution that she and the Missionaries of Charity were successfully practicing in the slums of India: “I will tell you something beautiful. We are fighting abortion by adoption — by care of the mother and adoption for her baby. We have saved thousands of lives.” Indeed, it was a “beautiful” solution coming from the life in the periphery, from the society’s edges, from a community of Catholic nuns who were living the mission of the Church as Jesus did before them.

Mother Teresa’s speech at the 1994 National Prayer Breakfast received a standing ovation from part of the room including the Clintons and the Gores. However, Mother was not done yet. As the then-First Lady Hillary Clinton would recall later, Mother Teresa had asked to see her: “And I thought, Oh, dear. And after the breakfast, we went behind that curtain and we sat on folding chairs.” This was the first time for Hillary Clinton to meet Mother Teresa in person. Clinton recalls: “We began to talk, and she told me that she knew that we had a shared conviction about adoption being vastly better as a choice for unplanned or unwanted babies.”

After that, Clinton visited Mother Teresa’s orphanage in India, and worked to help open a Mother Teresa Home for Infant Children in Washington, D.C. in 1995. Mother Teresa flew from Kolkata for the inauguration of the home and said that she and the First Lady had found “common ground to fight abortion through adoption.”

Alas, the common ground project between Mother Teresa and Mrs. Clinton seems to have been short-lived. The Mother Teresa Home was closed after a few years of providing adoptions. Among other reasons, Mother Teresa would not agree to give children for adoption to “nontraditional” families. It seems that the agreement and common ground did not stand the test of time, and the roads of Mother Teresa and Mrs. Clinton would go in very different directions. But Mother Teresa kept in contact with Clinton until she died. Mother knew how to be stern but docile, true and truthful, gentle and genuine, and persistent in her message while displaying an unbending fidelity to the Church’s teaching.

What, then, is Mother Teresa’s lesson for the millennials and pro-life people who march in Washington? It is this: Love life and fight for life, “be a center of love and vivifying ferment in the dough” as Pope St. John XXIII said, never be afraid to uphold the Church’s teaching.

And for all these reasons she is indeed the pro-life heroine of the pro-life millennials!

This article originally appeared Jan. 31, 2018, at the Register.