I seem to be all things Notre Dame and Obama lately. Oh well. I wanted to share one more, which is the personal account of Paolo Carozza, Associate Professor of Law at the University of Notre Dame, who led, with Chris Bacich (National Responsible of Communion and Liberation in America) an assembly (discussion) on the CLU's judgment/flyer on the invitation of President Obama to Notre Dame as the commencement speaker. It was written as a letter to Giorgio Vittadini, the International Visitor of Communion and Liberation to America. It is moving to read his account because you see that for him, this event was a point of certainty in the relationship with Christ. This is what we hope for, no?
I would like to tell you a little bit about our assembly at Notre Dame yesterday, which I think was a great and important sign of our presence as something new and exceptional in the university and in the society.
The room we used – in the middle of the campus, in the campus ministry building – was full, with 35 or 40 people, mostly undergraduate and graduate students, with a few others from faculty and staff. We had published the flier in the student newspaper and invited many administrators and faculty to the assembly, too.
We played music to begin (Beethoven’s violin concerto) and a few of the students then sang a song (A New Creation). They explained their singing as a way of being united, and the song as an expression of the same ideals that the flier contained. I gave an explanation of the purpose of the flier and what we mean by a “judgment”, and invited everyone to use our experience of faith together as a method of knowledge, referring to the Beethoven to explain how we depend on our belonging to the community in order to grow in a mature relationship to reality that frees us. Chris introduced the theme of Catholic education and why we thought it was important in the flier to begin not from a specific approval or condemnation of the university’s decision but instead to call attention to the “something that comes before,” the presence of Christ and the unity of faith and reason that makes the university have a meaning. Then we immediately opened the conversation up, and for an hour and a half it was very intense and lively.
It was very clear that our judgment touched upon an open wound, a theme of great relevance that many wanted to talk about but that had not been raised openly in any of the debates on campus so far. Instead of the typical factions, the taking of sides on Obama or on prolife policies, we had a discussion that was new, that provoked people to ask deeper questions about what was going on in our environment. We talked a lot about what makes Notre Dame Catholic, and even more about why it should matter – why do we care about building and living a Catholic university at all? What does it mean? What is our responsibility before this great ideal? What does it imply for student life, for teaching and for research? One thing in particular became very clear to me in this moment: that we carry the hope and ideal of the university in our presence here. While others might be prepared to give up on their hope for Notre Dame because it is based on who controls the power of the university, we can give reasons for it that do not disappoint – we are the witnesses to why Notre Dame does and must exist, and what it aspires to be, and for those reasons we will still be here even when everyone else has gone in disillusionment.
Chris was wonderful, and through his words and responses in particular the discussion seemed inevitably to grow from one about the university into a great announcement of our charism, of what we have met that makes us passionate for the heart of man and for the education of all. One friend of ours wrote this to me afterwards: “As I sat there yesterday listening to the dichotomy of remarks made by those who grasped what you and Chris and the flyer were proposing and those who saw it only as a fog (or worse), I was struck by the fact that what I have experienced in CL is truly extraordinary. Not just for me, as someone for whom the Movement was a path to Catholicism, but extraordinary even as amongst lifelong, serious Catholics…”
This morning, the student newspaper published a front-page story about our assembly, which I attach for you below (it’s not exactly the story as we would have reported it, but for student journalism it is not bad, at least basically accurate).
Based on other conversations that I have had since Sunday with friends among the faculty and administration, I have very good reasons to believe that our presence and our approach has not only been noticed, but it also is having a real impact in internal discussions around the university among those who desire to turn this “crisis” into an occasion to reaffirm the Catholic character of the university, including its clear commitment to the sanctity of human life. You see, our capacity to propose something that really starts with Christ and not from values or from politics or from ideologies has already struck people as something truly worth looking at and following!
Finally, I want to emphasize how beautiful the relationship is that Andrea Simoncini and I have had with some of our students and friends in all of this. Those who have stayed with us, and who truly used our companionship as an experience of faith to judge this situation with openness and sincerity, have grown up before our eyes, seeing what they could not see before and going out and bearing witness to their friends of what they have encountered. And in the process, we ourselves have been changed, have moved, as well – in our fatherhood we have again rediscovered ourselves to be children of another Father.
I am so grateful for what we have been given, and so awestruck that Jesus should show a human preference in this way, through us who are nothing… Thank you for your help and guidance in all of this, which has been so important.
In friendship and affection