It’s become an iconic moment—the diminutive sister with a foreign accent, her head just visible above the microphones, delivering an impassioned defense of the lives of unborn children while standing a few feet from some of the most powerful people in the world, who also happen to be vocal proponents of the right to kill those children.
Earlier this week I realized, while reading in preparation for Mother Teresa’s canonization this Sunday, that while I had of course read excerpts and quotes from her famous 1994 address to the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, DC, I had never watched the speech itself.
The US Embassy to the Holy See has put together a website commemorating the soon-to-be-saint’s many trips to the United States. As Amy Welborn points out, the National Prayer Breakfast address—certainly among Mother Teresa’s most memorable moments in the US, if not the most memorable—is pointedly down-played on the site; it is mentioned on the timeline of Mother’s visits to the US, but is one of only a handful of items on the list to not include any photos, video, or links to relevant news coverage.
You can watch the video below; here’s the more-or-less complete text of the speech (while delivering it Mother added some anecdotes and asides).
Jim Towey, who was Mother Teresa’s American legal counsel and good friend, describes the scene at the National Prayer Breakfast in a recent CWR interview:
Towey: Only Mother Teresa could have stood there in the grand ballroom of the Hilton Hotel in Washington, DC, with the president and first lady at her right, and all the leaders of Washington assembled, and decry the evil of abortion. But, she did it in a loving way, without any politics involved.
She met with the Clintons afterward and Mrs. Clinton wanted to open an adoption home with her. It did open in 1995, but eventually closed [in 2002] due to “adoption politics.”
It was the beauty of Mother. She saw herself as a pencil in the hand of God. God used her to write love letters to the world, including to Mrs. Clinton.
CWR: Were you at the 1994 speech? What happened?
Towey: I was there. The ballroom erupted in a standing ovation. Some no doubt wanted to humiliate the Clintons, but Mother was not interested in politics. She was delivering a message she knew needed to be heard.
CWR: How did the Clintons react?
Towey: I watched the president keep bringing an empty coffee cup to his lips as if to drink. It was an awkward moment. But only Mother Teresa could have done it without there being bedlam.
I think the Clintons respected her. Mrs. Clinton and I were representatives of the United States at Mother’s funeral.