Obama calls for understanding at Notre Dame

Some Chicago area residents among protestors
May 17, 2009 (SOUTH BEND, Ind.)

"So, let us work together to reduce the number of women seeking abortions," Obama said to the graduates. "Let's reduce unintended pregnancies."

Outside of the celebration, both prayers and protests were voiced by those boycotting Sunday's commencement. They said the Catholic university should not have invited Mr. Obama because of his pro-choice stance and support of embryonic stem cell research. Protestors say those views are in direct opposition to church teachings.

At one point, the president's speech was interrupted by protesters.

However, the roar of approval was deafening as the nation's 44th president arrived to address Notre Dame's 164th commencement. It wasn't until after the he was given an honorary doctor of law degree and began his speech that the tension bubbled to the surface.

Chants of 'We are ND' quickly overwhelmed the heckler who was removed and placed under arrest.

"I'm a graduate of 1983, and I'm dying of shame," the man said as he was being removed.

After the disruption, the president began the central theme of his message on abortion.

"How do we remain firm in our principles and fight for what we consider right without, as Father John said, demonizing those with just as strongly held convictions on the other side?" the president said.

Before Air Force One landed in South Bend, thousands of pro-life protestors ringed the campus and held an alternative program on the university's quadrangle.

"We are standing up for the Catholic identity," one protester said.

"Abortion is a non-negotiable situation. We can't compromise on it," said another.

Graduate Andrew Chronister of LaGrange, along with his parents, chose not to attend the official ceremony.

"I will remember the controversy, but I will remember making a stand for my beliefs," the graduate said.

"We are proud they have taken the stand," his father, Joe Chronister, said.

University president, the Rev. John Jenkins, said the invitation to Obama suggested nothing about Notre Dame's commitment to Catholic beliefs.

"President Obama is not someone who stops talking to those who differ with him," Jenkins said.

And the nation's president called on both sides to take a new approach to the abortion debate.

"When we open up our hearts and minds to those who may not think precisely like we do or believe precisely what we believe, that is when we discover at least the possibility of common ground," Obama said.

We are told by university police that approximately 30 people have been arrested for acts of civil disobedience on or near the Notre Dame campus Sunday, and one of them taken into custody was the 61-year-old woman names as Roe in the landmark Roe v. Wade case that legalized abortion in the United States in 1973.

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