President Barack Obama addressed graduates of the University of Notre Dame this afternoon. As he spoke about the importance of diversity and the "call to love," hundreds of protesters gathered in a prayer vigil for the conversion of the President on his stances on life issues such as abortion.
As the President began his speech, according to Fox News, protesters in the crowd began to shout before they were drowned out by others in the audience.
President Obama told the graduates that they must find a way to "reconcile our ever-shrinking world with its ever-growing diversity - diversity of thought, of culture, and of belief."
"For the major threats we face in the 21st century - whether it's global recession or violent extremism; the spread of nuclear weapons or pandemic disease - do not discriminate. They do not recognize borders. They do not see color. They do not target specific ethnic groups."
"Moreover, no one person, or religion, or nation can meet these challenges alone. Our very survival has never required greater cooperation and understanding among all people from all places than at this moment in history," he continued.
Finding common ground isn’t easy, he said. "Part of the problem, of course, lies in the imperfections of man - our selfishness, our pride, our stubbornness, our acquisitiveness, our insecurities, our egos; all the cruelties large and small that those of us in the Christian tradition understand to be rooted in original sin. …And so, for all our technology and scientific advances, we see around the globe violence and want and strife that would seem sadly familiar to those in ancient times."
He went on to ask, "how do we work through these conflicts?" "How does each of us remain firm in our principles, and fight for what we consider right, without demonizing those with just as strongly held convictions on the other side?"
"Nowhere do these questions come up more powerfully than on the issue of abortion."
The President the discussed a letter received from a Christian, pro-life doctor who was bothered by a phrase on Obama’s campaign site. It said that he would fight. "right-wing ideologues who want to take a way a woman’s right to choose." The doctor then said that he assumed Obama was reasonable, but that if he "truly believed that every pro-life individual was simply an ideologue who wanted to inflict suffering on women, then I was not very reasonable."
The doctor wrote: "I do not ask at this point that you oppose abortion, only that you speak about this issue in fair-minded words."
"Fair-minded words," repeated the President.
He explained that after reading the letter, the President changed the words on his website and prayed that he might "extend the same presumption of good faith to others that the doctor had extended to me. Because when we do that - when we open our hearts and our minds to those who may not think like we do or believe what we do - that's when we discover at least the possibility of common ground."
The President then urged the crowd to seek to reduce the number of abortions "by reducing unintended pregnancies, and making adoption more available, and providing care and support for women who do carry their child to term. Let's honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion, and draft a sensible conscience clause, and make sure that all of our health care policies are grounded in clear ethics and sound science, as well as respect for the equality of women."
He continued: "Understand - I do not suggest that the debate surrounding abortion can or should go away. No matter how much we may want to fudge it - indeed, while we know that the views of most Americans on the subject are complex and even contradictory - the fact is that at some level, the views of the two camps are irreconcilable. Each side will continue to make its case to the public with passion and conviction. But surely we can do so without reducing those with differing views to caricature."
The President went on to explain that as a community organizer he worked in neighborhoods with a diversity of people: Catholics, Protestants, Jews, African-Americans and Hispanics. "All of us with different beliefs. But all of us learned to work side by side because all of us saw in these neighborhoods other human beings who needed our help - to find jobs and improve schools. We were bound together in the service of others."
During that time, the President had the opportunity to hear Cardinal Joseph Bernardin when he was Archbishop of Chicago. Obama said, "I can still remember him speaking at one of the first organizing meetings I attended on the South Side. He stood as both a lighthouse and a crossroads - unafraid to speak his mind on moral issues ranging from poverty, AIDS, and abortion to the death penalty and nuclear war. And yet, he was congenial and gentle in his persuasion, always trying to bring people together; always trying to find common ground. Just before he died, a reporter asked Cardinal Bernardin about this approach to his ministry. And he said, ‘You can't really get on with preaching the Gospel until you've touched minds and hearts’."
He continued: "My heart and mind were touched by the words and deeds of the men and women I worked alongside with in Chicago. And I'd like to think that we touched the hearts and minds of the neighborhood families whose lives we helped change. For this, I believe, is our highest calling."
"You are about to enter the next phase of your life at a time of great uncertainty," the President said, "In this world of competing claims about what is right and what is true, have confidence in the values with which you've been raised and educated. Be unafraid to speak your mind when those values are at stake. Hold firm to your faith and allow it to guide you on your journey. Stand as a lighthouse."
The President then made a call to love. He said, "for if there is one law that we can be most certain of, it is the law that binds people of all faiths and no faith together. It is no coincidence that it exists in Christianity and Judaism; in Islam and Hinduism; in Buddhism and humanism. It is, of course, the Golden Rule - the call to treat one another as we wish to be treated. The call to love. To serve. To do what we can to make a difference in the lives of those with whom we share the same brief moment on this Earth."
He continued, "I will not pretend that the challenges we face will be easy, or that the answers will come quickly, or that all our differences and divisions will fade happily away. Life is not that simple. It never has been."
"But as you leave here today," he concluded, "remember the lessons of Cardinal Bernardin, of Father Hesburgh, of movements for change both large and small. Remember that each of us, endowed with the dignity possessed by all children of God, has the grace to recognize ourselves in one another; to understand that we all seek the same love of family and the same fulfillment of a life well-lived."