We are misunderstood, we are misrepresented, we are misreported. We are not nurses, we are not doctors, we are not teachers, we are not social workers. We are religious, we are religious, we are religious.
A third of a century ago President Reagan awarded Saint Teresa of Calcutta the Medal of Freedom:
The President. This great house receives many great visitors, but none more special or more revered than our beloved guest today. A month ago, we awarded the Medal of Freedom to 13 heroes who have done their country proud. Only one of the recipients could not attend because she had work to do — not special work, not unusual work for her, but everyday work which is both special and urgent in its own right. Mother Teresa was busy, as usual, saving the world. And I mean that quite literally. And so we rather appreciated her priorities, and we’re very happy, indeed, that she could come to America this week.
Now, a moment ago, I said we’d awarded the Medal of Freedom to heroes who’ve done our country proud. And I believe Mother Teresa might point out here that she is most certainly not an American but a daughter of Yugoslavia, and she has not spent her adult life in this country but in India. However, it simply occurred to us when we wanted to honor her that the goodness in some hearts transcends all borders and all narrow nationalistic considerations.
Some people, some very few people are, in the truest sense, citizens of the world; Mother Teresa is. And we love her so much we asked her to accept our tribute, and she graciously accepted. And I will now read the citation.
Most of us talk about kindness and compassion, but Mother Teresa, the saint of the gutters, lives it. As a teenager, she went to India to teach young girls. In time, Mother Teresa began to work among the poor and the dying of Calcutta. Her order of the Missionaries of Charity has spread throughout the world, serving the poorest of the poor.
Mother Teresa is a heroine of our times. And to the many honors she has received, including the Nobel Peace Prize, we add, with deep affection and endless respect, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
[At this point, the President presented the award to Mother Teresa.]
May I say that this is the first time I’ve given the Medal of Freedom with the intuition that the recipient might take it home, melt it down and turn it into something that can be sold to help the poor. [Laughter]
And I want to thank you for something, Mother Teresa. Your great work and your life have inspired so many Americans to become personally involved, themselves, in helping the poor. So many men and women in every area of life, in government and the private sector, have been led by the light of your love, and they have given greatly of themselves. And we thank you for your radiant example.
Mother Teresa. I am most unworthy of this generous gift of our President, Mr. Reagan, and his wife and you people of United States. But I accept it for the greater glory of God and in the name of the millions of poor people that this gift, in spirit and in love, will penetrate the hearts of the people. For in giving it to me, you are giving it to them, to my hands, with your great love and concern.
I’ve never realized that you loved the people so tenderly. I had the experience, I was last time here, a sister from Ethiopia found me and said, “Our people are dying. Our children are dying. Mother, do something.” And the only person that came in my mind while she was talking, it was the President. And immediately I wrote to him, and I said, “I don’t know, but this is what happened to me.” And next day it was that immediately he arranged to bring food to our people. And I can tell you the gift that has come from your people, from your country, has brought life — new life — to our suffering people in Ethiopia.
I also want to thank the families here in United States for their continual and delicate love that they have given, and they have shown, by leaving their children to become sisters and to serve the poor throughout the world. We are now over the world and trying to bring the tenderness and the love of Jesus.
And you, you cannot go where we go. You cannot do what we do. But together, we are doing something beautiful for God. And my gratitude to you, President, and your family and to your people. It’s my prayer for you that you may grow in holiness to this tender love for the poorest of the poor. But this love begins at home, in your own family, and it begins by praying together. Prayer gives a clean heart, and a clean heart can see God. And if you see God in each other, you will have love, peace, joy together. And works of love are works of peace. And love begins at home.
So, my sisters, brothers, and fathers, you are going — and all our poor people, thousands and thousands and thouands of people that we deal with, I bring their gratitude to you. And keep the joy of loving. Love them, and begin in your own family first. And that love will penetrate right through the furthest place where no one has ever been — there is that tenderness and love of Christ.
And remember that whatever you do to the least, you do it to Him, Jesus said. You did it to me. What a wonderful opportunity for each one of us to be 24 hours with Jesus. And in doing what we are doing, as he said, if you receive a little child in my name, you receive me. If you give a glass of water in my name, you give it to me. What a wonderful and beautiful tenderness and love of Christ for each one of us.
So, once more, I want to thank you for this beautiful gift, which I am sure it will bring great joy to our people by sharing it with them.
God bless you and keep you in his heart.