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Notre Dame Protests Go Round-the-Clock Ahead of Obama's Address

Father Norman Weslin arrested

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Protests are continuing at the University of Notre Dame ahead of Sunday's commencement address by President Obama.

Bishop John D'Arcy helped Notre Dame students protesting the president's visit kick off an all-night prayer vigil Saturday night, leading them in prayer for more than 20 minutes.

About 150 people, including students, parents and alumni, prayed with D'Arcy for three things: that Obama will change his support of abortion rights and embryonic stem-cell research, that people throughout the world gain a greater respect for life and that Notre Dame and other Roman Catholic universities will more fully embrace their Catholic identity.

D'Arcy said he thought the students approach was better than those who have been holding up graphic signs outside the university and those who have been arrested protesting on campus.

Meanwhile, 19 protesters were arrested Saturday on trespassing charges and four also faced a charge of resisting law enforcement. A university spokesman said none of those arrested were students.

Among those arrested was the Rev. Norman Weslin, founder of the Lambs of Christ abortion protest group. He also was among 21 people arrested during a similar protest Friday.

Graduation festivities got under way at the University of Notre Dame on Saturday -- as well as another day of demonstrations over President Barack Obama's appearance Sunday.

University spokesman Dennis Brown said there were no reports of protests on campus at any of the ceremonies held by various schools, centers and institutes. For the most part, the only difference on campus was the heightened security for Obama's visit, he said.

Students with their gowns on walked along happily Saturday afternoon with their parents apparently oblivious to the protest just a few hundred feet away.

Protesters say Obama shouldn't be allowed to speak at the Roman Catholic university because of his support of abortion rights and embryonic stem-cell research.

About 12,000 people attended commencement Mass at the Joyce Center on Saturday evening. Neither the Rev. John Jenkins, the university president, nor Bishop John D'Arcy, who plans to skip Sunday's commencement because of Obama's presence, mentioned the controversy during the 85-minute service.

At the school's front gate at intersection of Angela and Notre Dame Avenue, more than 100 people gathered to protest the decision to invite Obama to speak at commencement and receive an honorary degree.

Shortly after noon, 23 protesters marched on to campus. Nineteen were arrested on trespassing charges and four also faced a charge of resisting law enforcement, said Sgt. Bill Redman, St. Joseph County Police Department spokesman. They were being held on $250 bond.

Among those arrested was the Rev. Norman Weslin, a Catholic priest and founder of the Lambs of Christ abortion protest group. He also was among 21 people arrested during a similar protest Friday.

None of those arrested Saturday were students, Brown said.
Former Republican presidential candidate Alan Keyes and five others were arrested Friday and held overnight. Keyes was released Saturday evening after posting $1,000 bond.

Also protesting Saturday was Norma McCorvey, the plaintiff identified as "Roe" in the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion. She now opposes abortion.

She said she had planned to be arrested on Saturday, but changed her mind when a security officer ushered her to the side and gave her a chance to walk away.
"I didn't know why he just kind of gently moved me away. So I'm like, maybe this isn't the right time," McCorvey said.

Some driving past the protesters on Saturday waved in support. Others yelled at them. One man honked his horn in protest and held up a handful of hangers, a symbol of the gruesome procedures some pregnant women resorted to before Roe v. Wade.

Later, about 10 pro-Obama demonstrators assembled across the street holding up placards with slogans such as "Honk if you support Obama" and "Pro-Jenkins/Notre Dame." Jenkins has been criticized by many, including dozens of bishops, for the school's decision to invite Obama.

On campus, though, there were no signs of protest. Students generally favored Obama giving the graduation speech. The graduating class voted to name Jenkins their Senior Class Fellow.

A full page advertisement in the South Bend Tribune on Saturday had the headline: "Catholic Leaders and Theologians Welcome President Obama to Notre Dame." The ad, signed by university professors around the country, many of them at Catholic schools, said that as Catholics committed to civil dialogue, they were proud Obama was giving the commencement address.

There were some students, though, who opposed Obama giving the speech. ND Response, a coalition of university groups, has received permission from Notre Dame to hold a protest on the west end of the South Quad on Sunday. Spokesman John Daly said he expected 20 to 30 graduating seniors to skip commencement and attend the prayer vigil.

Some students who planned to attend the commencement said they would show their displeasure at the Obama invitation by putting a yellow cross with yellow baby's feet atop their mortarboards.