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Seniors prep for ceremony as protesters arrive in South Bend

Jenn Metz and Aaron Steiner | Sunday, May 17, 2009

    As students made their way to security checkpoints to enter the Joyce Center for the 2 p.m. Commencement exercises, they crossed paths with protesters who held their posts at the main campus gates.

Standing on the corner of Notre Dame Ave. and Angela Blvd., amidst graphic images of aborted fetuses, a cutout of Pope Benedict XVI and a protester dressed as a

Revolutionary War-era soldier, graduating senior Nathan Menendez shook hands with a protester supporting a large cross.

Menendez, holding three white carnations and a mortar board decorated with a cross and infant footprints, described the Catholic nature of his university and the importance of the pro-life movement.

“We are a Catholic university, and it is important to remind ourselves to witness to the pro-life culture,” Menendez, who is graduating with a double major in chemical engineering and theology, said.

He said the white carnations are a traditional pro-life symbol.

When asked if he thought President Barack Obama would address the abortion issue in his Commencement address Sunday afternoon, Menendez said he “personally [doubted] it will be a dramatic speech.”

Graduating senior and former Observer staffer Greg Podelej waited to cross Angela Blvd. to enter campus while standing near the protesters.

“The light was kind of awkward,” he said of his wait on the street corner. “There was a long pause, it was silent, but I was congratulated.”

Podelej said he felt “disappointed” at the protesters presence.

“I feel there is a controversy overshadowing this day,” he said.

He also said he didn’t think the images on protesters signs were appropriate for the audience at Commencement.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate to show these images to little kids,” he said.

As to what Obama will say to his graduating class, Podolej said he wasn’t sure of the president’s exact message, but that “he’s excited to hear his sendoff speech.”

“[Obama] will invite us to change the world with the gifts we received here at Notre Dame,” Podolej said.

The now-familiar plane bearing images of aborted fetuses flying over campus, busses of protesters from Midwest cities – like St. Louis, Chicago, Detroit and Ann Arbor – made their way to South Bend Sunday morning.

A bus from St. Louis, carrying 54 protesters, made its way to Main Circle. Those on board made the trip to Notre Dame to join with ND Response and the group’s planned activities in place of Commencement around 10 a.m. Sunday.

ND Response, after holding an all-night prayer vigil, held an outdoor Mass on Notre Dame’s South Quad at 11:15 a.m. Sunday, to be followed by a 12:30 p.m. rally and a 2 p.m. meditation at the Grotto.

John Ryan, from St. Louis, stepped off the bus at Main Circle, and dropped off a student. He told The Observer the St. Louis group had 97 protesters in all, traveling by bus and several vans.

“As soon as I heard Notre Dame was honoring the most pro-abortion president in history, I knew I had to come here,” he said.

Ryan said he and his group will “pray with students boycotting the ceremony.”

Three busses from Michigan arrived shortly after 10 a.m. at St. Joseph High School.

Monica Migliorino Miller, director of Citizens for a Pro-Life Society (CPLS), said some 180 people arrived with her group. Miller estimated that another 150 people arrived from the Chicago area on three busses affiliated with her group.

The protesters brought posters and T-shirts with graphic images and messages directed at both the University and Obama.

Miller said some 20 people from her group were planning to move their protest on to the University campus at 12:30 p.m., aiming to be arrested outside the Joyce Center, where Commencement is taking place.

Cindy Clos, who came on one of the CPLS busses, said she came to send a message to both Obama and the University.

“The key reason we’re here is because we believe in the sanctity of life,” Clos said. “We came because of his (Obama’s) stance on abortion.”

Clos and her husband, Steve, said they also wanted to send a message to other Catholics.

Wendy Sable drove with her three children and husband from Prospect Heights, Ill., to join the protests.

“We’re devout Catholics, and we think it is a crime that a renowned Catholic university would invite him (Obama),” Sable said. She equated Obama’s position on abortion as equivalent to “throwing grenades at” infants.

Sable and her family held a poster which showed a picture of her family and noted that she was a survivor of abortion – her mother’s father attempted to have her aborted three times – and noted that her husband, Jim, was conceived by rape. Both Sable and her husband were adopted, the poster said.

Jim Sable said they were protesting “the policies the President has but in place and his plans.” He said he did not believe Obama’s supposed “moderate” stance on abortion, given Obama’s recent comments in a press conference, in which Obama said the Freedom of Choice Act was “not his highest … priority.”