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 CNS Story:

DEMS-OBAMA Aug-29-2008 (790 words) With photos. xxxn

Obama invokes American spirit, echoes 'Faithful Citizenship' themes

By Dennis Sadowski
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Appealing to America's spirit of decency and Americans' respect for each other, Sen. Barack Obama has set the tone for the final two months of his historic presidential bid by urging the country to embrace personal responsibility and the fundamental belief that everyone is "my brother's keeper ... my sister's keeper."

In accepting the Democratic nomination for president on the final night of his party's convention in Denver Aug. 28, the junior senator from Illinois introduced his blueprint which offered what he called a way into the future.

The 42-minute speech to 85,000 people at Invesco Field and an international television audience echoed several themes from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' 2007 "Faithful Citizenship" document, which calls for individual voters to form their conscience around a variety of social concerns based on Catholic social teaching.

Obama targeted issues such as affordable health care, affordable housing, comprehensive immigration reform, funding energy alternatives, access to quality education, including college, and making the poor, homeless and unemployed a priority in economic policy.

He was critical of the war in Iraq, promising to develop a timeline for returning troops. The U.S. bishops also have sought a responsible end to the war in Iraq.

The candidate made a pitch for building stable families, saying that "fathers must take more responsibility to provide love and guidance to their children."

Missing from Obama's discourse, however, was an extensive discussion of life issues, which the bishops have made a primary focus in their document that is being distributed during the 2008 election cycle. His comments on the issue were limited to two lines near the end of his speech.

Obama said that, while people may disagree on whether abortion should remain legal or not, "surely we can agree on reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies in this country."

He steered clear of discussing euthanasia, embryonic stem-cell research and cloning, all of which the bishops consider fundamental life issues.

That was a concern of Stephen F. Schneck, director of the Life Cycle Institute at The Catholic University of America in Washington. The institute is a think tank on public policies and Catholic social thought.

"In keeping with the spirit of the 'Faithful Citizenship' document Catholics should be concerned Obama is not really addressing the abortion issue directly," Schneck said. "The whole culture of life issues, this was an area studiously avoided last night. From the spectrum of 'Faithful Citizenship' we should be a little unhappy with that."

Sister Simone Campbell, a Sister of Social Service who is executive director of Network, the Washington-based Catholic social justice lobby, said she believed Obama is in a better position to reduce the number of abortions because he plans to fund health care programs that would enable women to carry their children to term. In many cases, she said, women turn to abortion because they lack access to prenatal care and the economic means to support a child.

Underlying Obama's presentation, delivered on the 45th anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech in Washington, was a theme that has guided his life's work: that political participation has a moral dimension requiring people to consider the needs of others and that solutions are best developed in cooperation with the people in need.

"For 18 long months you have stood up, one by one, and said enough to the politics of the past," Obama said. "You have shown what history teaches us: that at defining moments like this one, the change we need doesn't come from Washington. Change comes to Washington."

Sister Campbell said she was pleased to hear Obama call for each person to work to change the direction in which the country is headed.

"It's really what the bishops say about the responsibility of citizenship," she said. "When he said this wasn't about him, this was about the citizens, that we are the ones who can make the changes happen ... that's so in keeping with what the bishops say is our moral responsibility to be involved."

John Roos, professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, said Obama's belief that change starts at the bottom and works its way upward converges with the bishops' belief in subsidiarity -- ensuring that the voices of the marginalized are heard -- in their "Faithful Citizenship" document.

"It's the language of the common good," Roos said. "He (Obama) never used that term. But as a Catholic I heard him talking and time after time I thought those are the things that we believe. Community over the individual. The emphasis on conscience, doing the right thing. It's fundamental to 'Faithful Citizenship.'"


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