By Genevieve Pollock
SOUTH BEND, Indiana, APRIL 1, 2009 (Zenit.org).- A coalition of student groups at the University of Notre Dame will hold a prayer rally to protest the school's choice to honor President Barack Obama at this year's commencement.
The rally, to take place on Palm Sunday, is sponsored by Notre Dame Response, a coalition that formed to speak out against the Catholic university's decision to invite the U.S. president to give its commencement speech, and to receive an honorary law degree.
In a press statement released Tuesday, the coalition noted its hope "that through this prayerful and public demonstration on Palm Sunday, the university community will be respectfully reminded to celebrate its Catholic character and to defend those non-negotiable principles for which Notre Dame stands, including an overarching recognition of the inherent dignity and value of all human life.
The event will include an address on the role of Catholic institutions in the abortion debate, praying of the rosary and an offering of flowers at the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes.
The coalition reiterated its commitment to "acts of witness that will be characterized by respect, prayerfulness, outspoken fidelity to the Church, and true concern for the good of our university."
Stephen Wallace, president of the St. Thomas More Society, a law school student group and part of the coalition, told ZENIT that the university's choice of commencement speaker is "deeply and bitterly disappointing."
The law student described Notre Dame as a whole, a "serious Catholic institution" in which "the sacraments are a vital and ever-present part of campus life."
Wallace explained that the school's decision to honor Obama "sends conflicting messages to the faithful and encourages dissent against the rightful authority of the bishops, who as a body have spoken clearly on this matter."
"Those are wounds against the Church that are heavy to bear," he added.
In an editorial article published Tuesday in the Notre Dame student newspaper, law professor Charles Rice denounced the university's leadership as "reckless" for making the invitation to the pro-abortion president.
Our leaders, he asserted, "have committed, in perception but also in fact, the name and prestige of Notre Dame to the side that is hostile to the imperatives of faith and reason affirmed by the Catholic Church."
The professor continued: "Our leaders act in what they think is the best interest of Notre Dame. But that is no excuse. The invitation should be withdrawn. It implies no personal animosity to suggest that Father Jenkins and the other fellows and trustees responsible for this fiasco should resign or be removed."
He suggested responding to this situation with an appeal "to a higher authority," by "peaceful prayer" during the commencement ceremonies, "to make reparation and to petition Notre Dame, Our Lady, for Notre Dame, our university."
In a letter dated March 22, publicly released this week, the superior general of the Congregation of Holy Cross, the founding order of the university, wrote to Obama with a pro-life appeal.
Father Hugh Cleary told the president, "I have been deluged with angry e-mails regarding Notre Dame's decision to invite you to campus for the honors you are to receive."
He noted his inability to influence these decisions, given the legal alienation of the congregation from the university, and the primary role of the boards of fellows and trustees.
However, in his role as superior of the school's president, the priest asked the president "to rethink, through prayerful wrestling with your own conscience, your stated positions on the vital 'life issues' of our day, particularly in regard to abortion, embryonic forms of stem cell research and your position on the Freedom of Choice Act before Congress."
"It is clear," he noted, "that your positions on some of the fundamental 'life issues' of our nation can neither be supported by the mission and ministry of the Congregation of Holy Cross, the University of Notre Dame nor the faithful Catholic community."
Father Cleary stated: "Mr. President, may I be so audacious as to suggest that you have made a mistake in your position supporting abortion rights as the law of the land.
"May I suggest, with all humility for I am far from perfect, that you give your conscience a fresh opportunity to be formed anew in a holy awe and reverence before human life in every form at every stage -- from conception to natural death. For we are all the Children of God."
He appealed to Obama to take the Catholic views and principles seriously, and to "stand up for the truth of life, walk through that door and take us, as a nation, with you."
Law student Wallace concluded: "This isn't about academic freedom or judging the president by Catholic standards or anything like that. This is about what a Catholic university has chosen to say, and in this case it has chosen to speak falsely.
"Those who know and love this institution, as I do, and who understand how important it is will take this as a call to renew their efforts to conform that which is lacking at Notre Dame more completely to God's Will for it."