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Lay Catholic group discusses significance of debate over visit

Laura McCrystal | Monday, April 20, 2009

A discussion sponsored by Notre Dame’s Communion and Liberation student group examined the nature and significance of Notre Dame as a Catholic University Sunday afternoon in response to the University’s invitation to President Barack Obama to speak at Commencement May 17.

Communion and Liberation is an international Catholic lay movement that seeks to make judgments as a group of friends, president of Notre Dame’s Communion and Liberation group Juliet Joly said.

Joly, a junior, said Communion and Liberation has not officially aligned itself with any group in response to the University’s invitation to President Obama. Rather, the group released a pamphlet titled “A New Commencement,” which they distributed and printed in The Observer last week.

Notre Dame Law Professor Paolo Carozza and national Communion and Liberation leader Chris Bacich led Sunday’s discussion, which was based on the pamphlet. More than 30 students, faculty and other community members attended and voiced questions and opinions about the true nature of a Catholic university.

“People weren’t invited here … because there’s a presumption that we have a common way of thinking about things,” Carozza said. “It’s an effort to help us understand the truth of things better.”

The pamphlet acknowledges the controversy, but neither condemns nor approves of the University’s decision to invite President Obama.

“What then is at stake in this Commencement Day?” the pamphlet asks. “Much more than merely defending values – even the most sacred – or affirming a Catholic institution’s ‘openness’ to the world. At stake is our hope for the future of the University and the future of society.”

Bacich said the pamphlet is meant to promote discussion.

“For us, hope begins from the recognition that with Christ we discover a new way to live life, to study, to do research, to be involved in politics and economics, to work in the world,” the flier states.

Carozza asked the discussion participants to examine the meaning of Notre Dame as a Catholic University.

Some students argued that Notre Dame is not true to its Catholic identity, yet Carozza and Bacich both said that Catholic identity is based on a presence found within each individual.

“We have to answer these questions for ourselves and among ourselves on the basis of personal experience,” Carozza said.

Carozza is currently spending the year as a visiting professor at Harvard, but he said he has chosen to stay at Notre Dame because he sees it as a truly Catholic university.

“We can take the institution as a whole and judge it as an institution and keep tallies of whether they invite a president who’s promoting the destruction of embryos … and many of the other things that rightly exert us and excite us,” he said. “But at the end of the day, it is a human presence that matters.”

Bacich said the same contradictions of faith that exist in a Catholic university like Notre Dame are also present in each individual. Both individual human beings and the University as a whole must focus on personal encounters with Christ.

“In this sense, the mind can’t be formed in a Catholic way without this opening of the heart,” he said. “The essential is the opening of the heart and the encounter.”

Carozza said that while several constantly changing factors could define Notre Dame as a University, personal encounters with Christ continue to define it as Catholic.

“If we really expect everything from Christ, then that’s the thing that doesn’t change,” he said. “To say that the encounter with Him generates a University, that is infinitely beyond anything that we can build for ourselves.”