Mother Teresa, the elderly Roman Catholic nun from Calcutta, India, who served the sick, dying and destitute, received the Medal of Freedom from President Reagan, who called her a ″citizen of the world.″
Mother Teresa told Reagan, his wife Nancy and about 150 guests in the White House Rose Garden, that she personally was unworthy but was accepting the honour in the name of the millions of poor people in the world to whom she had dedicated her life.
The short, wrinkled nun used similar words in accepting the 1979 Nobel Peace Prize and numerous other honours for her charitable work.
Reagan noted that Mother Teresa was a month late in receiving the Medal of Freedom, the highest U.S. civilian decoration. Her medal was to have been presented with a dozen others on May 23, he said, but ″Mother Teresa was busy as usual saving the world - and I mean that quite literally.″
Reagan added, ″The goodness in some hearts transcends all words and all nationalistic considerations. Some people - some very few - are in the truest sense citizens of the world.″
Quoting from the citation for her award, Reagan said, ″Most of us talk of kindness and compassion, but Mother Teresa, the ‘Saint of the Gutters,’ lives it.″
Referring to the nun’s dedication to the poor, the president said jokingly it would not be surprising if she melted down the medal of gold and silver alloy to ″try to turn it into something to help the poor.″
He praised her for providing ″a radiant example″ that has inspired ″so many Americans to become personally involved in helping the poor.″
Thanking Reagan for responding to her personal appeal for food aid for starving Ethiopians, Mother Teresa said that until then, ″I never realized you love the people so tenderly.″
″I can tell you that the gift that has come from your people has brought new life to our suffering people in Ethiopia,″ she said.
From the White House, Mother Teresa went to George Washington University Hospital a few blocks away to visit a patient suffering from acquired immune deficiency syndrome. The AIDS patient, whom the hospital did not identify, had written the nun requesting a visit while she was in Washington.
Mother Teresa visited four AIDS patients in hospital, distributed medals and prayer cards to patients and staff members and toured the hospital’s maternity ward.