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 CNS Story:

NDAME-VIGIL May-18-2009 (680 words) With photos. xxxn

Vigil allows Notre Dame graduates to voice concern about Obama visit

By Dennis Sadowski
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- They wore mortar boards and gowns, but they weren't standing with the vast majority of their fellow graduates on another part of campus.

About 30 University of Notre Dame students opted to bypass the school's traditional graduation ceremony in the Joyce Center May 17. Instead they joined several hundred people in an outdoor campus setting to offer prayers for the unborn and supporters of legal abortion during a vigil organized by a student-led group as an alternative event.

The dissenting graduates said they disagreed with the school's decision to invite President Barack Obama, a supporter of legal abortion, to speak at the commencement and present him with an honorary degree.

During the afternoon vigil, convened at the same 2 o'clock hour that the traditional ceremony began across campus, the graduates placed white roses at a statue of Mary in an area known as the grotto after praying the rosary, organizers said.

Hundreds of others watched the events at the grotto on video screens set up a short distance away on the south quad, an open area on the south end of the campus where most of the day's events were held.

The roses symbolized unborn children who died during an abortion, said Tyson Marx, 28, a law student who helped organize the events as a member of Notre Dame Response, a coalition that was formed soon after the school announced Obama would speak at the commencement.

"There was this real sense that we were doing something good," he said in a telephone interview with Catholic News Service May 18. "We were trying to be positive rather than negative."

He explained that the coalition was organized to stress the importance of authentic Catholic teaching on a Catholic campus.

The events, which began late May 16, involved traditional Catholic prayer, including overnight eucharistic adoration, Benediction, Mass and the rosary. A rally was sandwiched between the morning Mass and the afternoon vigil.

Bishop John M. D'Arcy of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Ind., one of more than 50 bishops who voiced their disapproval of Obama's appearance on campus, spoke during the noontime rally to a crowd which two organizers estimated at about 3,000.

The gathering included students, Notre Dame alumni and pro-life activists from as far away as Louisiana and California, organizers said.

Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, led the graduates in a reflection on the glorious mysteries during the vigil. The third glorious mystery, the Pentecost, can serve as a reminder that the Holy Spirit provides the grace to lead people to advocate for the most vulnerable, particularly the unborn, he said he told the gathering.

"The Holy Spirit makes us take risks. It's not only preaching but doing, laying down our safety and popularity," he told CNS May 18.

He criticized Notre Dame officials for failing to take the risk to "lay down earthly prestige for the sacredness of life."

During the interview with CNS, Father Pavone also commended the students for their stance.

"They (students) were pure in their intention," he said. "They were so completely willing to witness. They were not bitter. They were like, 'This is what commencement is about. We're starting our life in witness to the community of life.'"

Off campus, at least 39 people were arrested on trespassing charges during a May 17 morning protest, the last of several high-profile events organized by abortion opponents in recent weeks. Norma McCorvey, the plaintiff identified as "Roe" in the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion, was among those arrested. She now opposes abortion.

John Daly, a 2008 Notre Dame graduate who has spent the last year volunteering at a South Bend medical clinic, said Notre Dame Response had no connection with the off-campus protesters.

"We wanted to give witness and use it as a springboard that what we're doing here is going to have an effect in our society, our culture," Daly explained. "We're going to tell people that we're not a group that's radical. We're mainstream, a group of students who feel they need to do what's right."


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