It was at the National Prayer Breakfast in 1994 that Mother Teresa of Calcutta delivered her speech about the sanctity of life in the presence of President and Mrs. Clinton and Vice-President and Mrs. Gore. It was an unforgettable moment, as this short nun proclaimed to those in high positions of power: "… If we accept that a mother can kill even her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another?…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."
The President once again heard about abortion from representatives of the Gospel at the National Prayer Breakfast on February 3, 2000. Senator Connie Mack, who organized the event, had actually invited the Pope to attend. In place of doing so, the Holy Father sent a long, clear letter, which was read at the event by his representative in the United States, Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo.
I attended the prayer breakfast this year to represent Priests for Life, and watched so many in the crowd listen attentively and nod in agreement with the strong words of the Pope: "Will America continue to inspire people to build a truly better world, a world in which freedom is ordered to truth and goodness? Or will America offer the example of a pseudo-freedom which, detached from the moral norms that give life direction and fruitfulness, turns in practice into a narrow and ultimately inhuman self-enslavement, one which smothers people's spirits and dissolves the foundations of social life? These questions pose themselves in a particularly sharp way when we confront the urgent issue of protecting every human being's inalienable right to life from conception until natural death. This is the great civil rights issue of our time, and the world looks to the United States for leadership in cherishing every human life and in providing legal protection for all the members of the human community, but especially those who are weakest and most vulnerable."
The Pope reiterates here what he has said on so many other occasions. Freedom must not be divorced from truth. If it is, then democracy itself begins to crumble, because we lose the norms by which freedom itself must be governed, and the destiny of the people is then subject to the whim of the powerful. Notice that in his words, the Pope speaks of "the foundations of social life." When the Church points to the central importance of the abortion problem, she does not simply point to a single, isolated issue, and certainly not to a narrow political ideology. She points, rather, to the very foundations of our society. The question is not "Whose party or religion will prevail?" The question, rather, is, "Do we or do we not stand on the foundation that every human life deserves protection and is equal in dignity?"
May God grant us national leaders who will say Yes.