by Frances Guniley
MOTHER TERESA challenged the comfortable priorities of the western world when she accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo this week for her work among the destitute. She reminded the distinguished international gathering that poverty should not be assessed merely in terms of material deprivation.
She insisted that respect for the individual at all stages of his or her life was the only true evidence of wealth. "Those countries with legalised abortion are the poorest countries in the world," she said.
Her uncompromising statement received an unexpectedly warm welcome from the Norwegians. Professor John Sanness, the chairman of the Nobel Committee, said that the choice of Mother Teresa as the prize-winner had introduced a new concept of peace work — veneration for life.
He said he felt sure this concept was fully in keeping with the original aims of the prize.
In accepting the cheque for £88,000, Mother Teresa said that the award would be a channel of understanding between the rich and the poor and that generosity always heriefitted both giver and recipient. Such understanding does not seem to extend to the Indian government which has threatened to swallow up 80 per cent of the prize in tax on the grounds that Mother Teresa has been an Indian citizen for only 33 years.
Mother Teresa has a unique skill for making people do things they did not expect to do and the prize-giving ceremony was no exception. She persuaded all those at the prize-giving to join her in the prayer of St Francis, making them repeat it after her line by line.
But the Peace Prize Committee had expected to hold a formal dinner in her honour. Once again Mother Teresa intervened, and to their surprise the would-be diners found that instead the money for the projected meal would be used to feed 400 people for one year in Calcutta.
On her way back from the ceremony Mother Teresa was accompanied by several thousand well-wishers carrying torches. The people of Oslo have collected a further £33,000 which they have given to the Missionaries ol Charity already based in the city. The Indian government has threatened to tax this money as well.