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Notre Dame Response holds prayer rally

Sarah Mervosh | Monday, April 6, 2009

Approximately 400 people participated in a prayer rally Sunday to protest the University’s decision to invite President Barack Obama to speak at the Commencement ceremony and award him with an honorary degree.

The purpose of the rally, which took place in front of the Main Building, was to kick off the Notre Dame student response and set the tone for a respectful, prayer-centered disagreement, Notre Dame Right to Life Club president Mary Daly said.

“Since 1973, a plague has ravished our country,” said senior Chris Labadie, the chair of the newly-formed Notre Dame Response coalition, in a speech at the rally. “It’s a plague that not only kills the body, but also souls. This plague is abortion.”

Palm Sunday “is the perfect day to begin our struggle,” he said.

“This prayer assembly is our first work, our first action, with many more to come,” Labadie said. People from across the country attended the rally, Daly said.

The rally consisted of several speeches and a rosary prayer. White flowers were also passed out to be placed at the Grotto.

“The flowers are meant to represent the innocent life of children that are aborted,” said senior Caitilin Podlaski, who was helping hand out flowers.

Sophomore Ashley Meklis said that although she found it “a little disturbing” that the University invited a pro-choice leader to speak at Commencement, that is not the primary reason she attended the rally.

Meklis said she attended the rally because “preserving the Catholic identity of this institution is important.”

Stephanie Martin, a staff member at the University, said she attended the rally to support the students and join others in prayer.

“We don’t pay the University, the university pays us,” Martin said. “But we can … respectfully request that [Jenkins] reconsider [his] decision.”

“I don’t think anybody here means any disrespect or unkindness,” she said.

Anti-abortion activist Randall Terry created the Web site stopobamanotredame.com, which aims to stop Obama from speaking at graduation and calls for the dismissal of Jenkins. He also attended the rally, and held a large banner with pictures of Jesus on the cross, Jenkins, Obama and a fetus that said “Would you invite Pilate after he condemned Christ?”

Terry said he attended the rally “to hold the sign and be on point,” in addition to showing support for the students.

“Our goal is to create a political slime pot so that President Obama’s advisors tell him that it’s not worth it for him to wade through the political mud,” Terry said.

If nothing changes and Obama speaks at Commencement, Terry said he plans to be at Commencement to protest and “create such a crisis around this that no other Catholic university stoops to this level of atrocity in the near future.”

In response to the graduating seniors who say that Commencement is their day to enjoy, Terry said “it’s much bigger than them.

“This is like the rape of Catholic orthodoxy, sociology and justice. This will affect the Catholic world for at least a generation,” he said. “It’s not just about the students, I’m sorry to say.”

Nationally recognized attorney Harold Cassidy was the primary speaker at the rally. Daly said his speech was meant to show that the issue at hand spreads beyond Notre Dame and “affects the secular section of society.”

Cassidy said abortion is not just a Catholic issue, but “transcends any one religion” and also, “transcends religion itself.”

“A truly Catholic belief is a belief in the immaculate conception,” Cassidy said. “Secular expressions of the sanctity of life … are everywhere.”

Many believe there is a consensus among Americans that abortion should be legal, but no such consensus exists, he said.

“The majority of Americans thought in 1973, and still think today, that abortion should be illegal,” Cassidy said. “If Roe vs. Wade did not stand in the way, [the fact that the majority believes this] would be immediately evident.”

Cassidy’s also said many think being anti-abortion means being anti-women. But abortion is not good for women, he said.

“Instead of liberation for women, abortion has brought enslavement,” Cassidy said, explaining that some women feel they must get an abortion because their parent, or boyfriend or society, expects it of them.

Cassidy said he once attended an event where women who had abortions testified about their experiences. He recounted their stories for the crowd gathered at the rally.

He said one woman, who had been raped and had an abortion, said, “I’m here to testify that that abortion was a second rape that was worse than the first one.”

Labadie said beginning Wednesday, which is 40 days before graduation, ND Response will be holding a 40-day rosary campaign “for the conversion of President Barack Obama’s heart.”

They aim to have one million rosary prayers by Commencement, and each rosary prayed can be logged on the ND Response Web site, he said.

“President Obama has many fine qualities. … We respect him as a devoted father and loving husband,” Cassidy said. “Our disagreement is over an issue [whose] magnitude outweighs any other issue and all other issues combined.”